where I haven’t been

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I have a stamp in my passport from a country to which I have never been.

Countries that are part of the Schengen Area in Europe stamp your passport whenever you enter or exit that area–not whether you enter or leave a specific country. The agreement allows for greater freedom of movement within most of Europe (a convenient arrangement, even if it does come at the expense of fewer stamps for stamp collectors like me). The stamp also shows your mode of transportation, whether you arrived or departed by plane, train, or ferry. I already had train and plane stamps in my passport; I was excited to finally get the ferry stamp on my trip to Croatia.

When Jo and I queued up to board the ferry in Trieste, Italy, I expected to go through customs at the port. When we didn’t, I thought we would at the dock in Pula, Croatia. Unlike other ferries I’ve been on, the seats inside this ferry were aisled like they would be on an airplane. We managed to get seats by the window, where we watched as the Mediterranean coastline passed by, Croatian guidebooks and phrasebooks sitting on our laps. At some point, Italy became Slovenia and we came into port. Some passengers left, others boarded, and with them came a Slovenian customs officer. He took up all of our passports and, after a few tense moments (as is the case whenever my passport is taken from me, however legitimately), returned them. Jo’s passport came back empty, due to being a British national; mine came with a stamp saying that I was departing Slovenia by ferry.

That is, I was exiting the Schengen Area. My passport was stamped at the last port in the Schengen Area before crossing into Croatian territory.

I feel a bit like it’s cheating, to have a stamp from a country I haven’t actually visited. It does, however, give me another reason to visit Slovenia someday.

Photo: Slovenian coastline.

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Summer holiday: Zagreb

Yes, another instalment in my Summer Holiday posts! I’m almost finished documenting Joanna’s and my whirlwind trip from Italy to Croatia to Turkey. This post is about our final day in Croatia, when we went to Zagreb, the capital.

The city of Zagreb’s coat of arms in flowers.

The hostel we checked into gave us a map that had marked out a walking tour of the Upper and Lower towns of Old Zagreb. The map had helpful miniature illustrations of the major sites, but unfortunately did not say what they were! So it was an adventure walking around the Old City.

First we went to Zagreb Cathedral, which is currently undergoing restoration (and has been for some time). The inside was beautiful and quiet.

At the back of the cathedral was an incredible sculpture of the crucifixion. It took up the entire wall, and above it was what I presume to be a passage from the Bible written in ancient Croatian. Beside it was a shrine to the Virgin.

   

As we continued on our walking tour, we also took a little detour. While chatting over steaming mugs of Turkish coffee, the hostel receptionist asked us if we were religious and then told us about a shrine in the Old Town Gate. Inside the gate is a shrine to the Virgin and to St Anthony. The painting of the Virgin is said to be holy because it was the only thing to have survived a large fire that destroyed most of the area, even though it is made of wood. People pray there, lighting candles, and the walls are covered with plaques of thanksgiving for answered prayer. (Hvala is ‘thank you’ in Croatian.) It was beautiful.

   

What struck me most were the plaques: not only did people come here to pray, but they came back to give their thanks. The walls were covered with the testimonies of answered prayer. I, too, lit a candle in that special place.

Outside the city gate was a statue of St George and the Dragon. Several countries claim St George as their patron saint (England included). I’m particularly fond of depictions of St George and the dragon, though ever since I used the painting by ___ as my writing totem for The Faerie King, I’ve felt sorry for the dragon. I was glad to see that this statue showed St George and his horse looking particularly sorrowful.

We finally did go to a couple of museums — the Croatian Naive Art Museum and the Museum of Broken Relationships — but not without first passing St Mark’s Church. This church probably has the most colourful roof I have ever seen on a church:

Neither Joanna nor I knew anything about Croatian Naive Art, so we went to the museum to find out. From what we could gather from the leaflet and the labels of the paintings, Croatian Naive Art is a type of modern art. A couple of my favourites were Zima s velikim nebom (Winter with a Big Sky) by Mio Kovačić and Velika Jesen (Big Autumn) by Ivan Lacković.

As for the Museum of Broken Relationships — that is one of the weirdest museums I have been to. The concept behind the museum is that society has events and ways to mark the beginnings of relationships, but not for the endings of them, even though the ending of relationships can be just as emotional. The museum’s collection consists of items that people from across the world have donated to the museum, often with a little anecdote, which is put on display next to the item. The galleries are arranged by theme. The first gallery was funny, with humourous anecdotes and really quirky items, but it quickly became depressing, making the visitor take part in some sort of odd voyeurism. Joanna and I left the museum somewhat downhearted, and, vowing never to receive gifts, especially of the plush toy kind, went to get ice cream.

Having had our spirits lifted by ice cream, we continued our tour. We went by the Croatian National Theatre:


‘Alas, poor Seamus! I knew him, Joanna.’ *

Outside of which was yet another statue of St George and the Dragon. This one is by K.K. Kunst-Erzgiesserei and it’s of George fighting a rather vicious looking dragon.

The horse looks particularly terrified. I don’t blame him!

With the light quickly fading, we ate dinner and went back to the hostel to pack and prepare to leave Croatia. The next day we would be flying home, taking a rather circuitous journey…

* Who is Seamus? Only Seamus the Traveling Duck, of course.

Summer holiday: Zadar

From Pula, we took another ferry to Zadar. I caught this last photo of Pula on our way to the port. Someday I want to go back there and sit in that bench when I’m not so much in a hurry!

Pula is in Istria and Zadar is in Dalmatia and the ferry between the two went out to open sea and was five hours long. This ferry was even larger than the one we took the day before; the inside looked a bit like a large transatlantic airplane. Unfortunately, on this trip neither Joanna nor I got seats by the windows but sat in the middle of the ship. I promptly fell asleep once we left the harbour and missed most of the excitement. According to Joanna, when we were between islands, the sea was really wild and the ship rocked a lot. She and most of the passengers were seasick. Meanwhile, I slept blissfully unaware and the sea was calm when I woke up again. The sea got a little choppy later on, but I thought it was fun. 🙂

It was so deliciously hot in Zadar that we went first to the beach to wait out the hottest time of the day. We had to go out the Land Gate to get there. Again it wasn’t quite like a beach: this time it was a little wooded area that dropped off into the sea. There weren’t any waves and an area was roped off for swimming, so it felt like swimming at a lake, only it was the Mediterranean.

We spent most of our time wandering. A lot of places were closed, or cost money, or we weren’t terribly interested in going inside (or were turned away, because, gasp, our skirts were too short! Probably a first in my life…). One place we did go inside was the Ancient Glass Museum, in which Joanna and I learned that glass blowing was developed far earlier than either of us had thought, and that medicinal and toiletry bottles in the Roman period were far more attractive than our plastic bottles.

Fortunately there were plenty of things to see from the outside, like St Donat’s Cathedral.

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As the day waned, we made our way to the harbour to watch the sunset. There we walked along the Sea Organ, an amazing work of musical art. Wide steps lead down to the sea and holes are cut all along the top step. Under the pavement are pipes, and as the wind blows in from the sea it goes through the holes into the pipes. The resulting music is beautiful, eerie. We sat, watching the sun sink into the water, hanging our feet over the waves and listening to the music of the sea.

 

That was our last evening to watch the sunset over the sea. The next day, we went to Zagreb…

Summer holiday: Pula

From Trieste to Pula we took a ferry and a bus. We passed by Slovenia on the ferry before landing in Croatia.

We landed in Rovinj; from there, we took an hour and a half bus to Pula. After checking into our flat in Pula, and receiving a map and suggestions of places to go from our host, Joanna and I set out for exploring. Of course, the first place we went was the Roman amphitheatre:

That week Pula was having an open-air film festival, called ‘Under the stars’. The venues for the festival were both the amphitheatre and the castle. A huge screen was erected at the front of the amphitheatre with chairs filling the open space in front of it (seen above in the lower right photo). It was neat to see the space still being used as a venue for entertainment.

And, of course, I couldn’t miss out a photoshoot with The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. It has become a tradition of mine to take one of Turner’s books with me whenever I go to the Mediterranean. I thought this shot of The Queen of Attolia would go well with the ones that I took of The Thief in Cyprus. (I also took a moment to pretend to be a thespian.)

The chambers underneath the amphitheatre held a small olive oil production exhibit. We learned that Istria — the area of Croatia that we were in — was second to Italy in producing olive oil in the Roman empire.

After wandering around the town, passing by the medieval town hall, the temple to Augustus, and stepping into a Franciscan church, we went out to one of the beaches. ‘Beach’ is a bit of a misnomer, as it was rocky cliffs that suddenly met the sea, not sand. Joanna and I clambered down to one of the tide pools where we could watch the waves crash mere feet away from us. The sea was so warm and so salty — enough that my hair was stiff after it dried. It was wonderful to sit on the rocks in the sunlight, reading and watching the sunset.


We turned in early because our ferry the next morning left very early in the morning…