In Zagreb, Day 1 - Balkan Dreams - CycleBlaze

August 21, 2020

In Zagreb, Day 1

I woke up in the middle of the night, went into the bathroom, and closed the door behind me.  Pitch black.  The light switch is on he wall outside of the room and I can’t see anything at all.  It’s like being deep in a cave.  When I stand up again, I’ve forgotten the orientation of the room and can’t find my way out.  After three or four minutes feeling my way along the walls, trying not to trip over anything, I’m about ready to pound on the wall and call Rachael to rescue me when finally I find the door handle and escape.

We wake up fairly early this morning feeling surprisingly refreshed, and after showering we’re down in the hotel restaurant for the breakfast that’s included with the room rate.  It’s a great spread, safely dispensed - a buffet, but you tell the masked and gloved staff what you want and they load up your plate for you.  Scrambled eggs, bacon, grilled vegetables and mushrooms, a croissant, OJ and coffee.  Wow!

We’ll be here for five nights, and then leave town for a loop northeast near the Slovenian border.  We were booked here for fourteen days in case we needed to be quarantined so we had that to show customs, but we cancelled the last nine days last night once they let us in without a quarantine requirement.  We’ll be back here again at the end of the tour for another five nights before leaving for who knows where.

We’re taking it easy today to settle in.  The first task is to organize our belongings into what will go on the road with us and what we’ll leave behind for the (hoped for) second half of the tour.

Sorting out our belongings, counting out pills for the first half. How many days are we planning to be here again?
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The view from our window is more cluttered than expected. Along with many of the buildings in old Zagreb, our hotel is undergoing restoration from the 5.5 earthquake that struck the city on March 22nd.
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Afterwards, we’ll step out for a first walking tour of the town before coming back to assemble the bikes and probably take a nap until dinner time.  And, come to think about it, maybe we’ll take a quick nap now too.  Jet lag is SO much fun!

Our first foray into the city is all we hoped for.  We quickly fall in love with Zagreb’s open spaces, spectacular architecture, largely pedestrianized core, and relaxed ambience.  I’m immediately surprised by how Austrian the city feels, but it’s because I hadn’t read the history.  Croatia was part of a succession of Austrian empires for almost 400 years, and Austria is still the country’s closest international relationship.

It’s hard to overstate how wonderful it feels to be here.  The exhilaration of arrival after so much uncertainty accentuates everything of course, but mostly it is just experiencing the warm livability and vitality of the place.  Arrival in Europe is always a shock for us.  Overnight we’re immersed in such a different culture that immediately draws us in.  We spent all morning walking through quiet open spaces - lovely parks, public squares, lanes lined with cafes, people strolling leisurely, children playing in the streets, cyclists, and above all few or no motor vehicles.  

We wander around more or less aimlessly for a few hours until it starts to feel uncomfortably warm, and settle into an outdoor cafe for a light lunch before returning to our hotel for another short nap.

Ledeni Park and the central train station.
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Ledeni Park and the art museum.
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We’re here at an appealing time. This week is the city’s first International Flag Festival, and about 350 flags designed by artists from around the world are strung out above several streets in the old city.
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In ban Jelačić Square. To the left is a statue of Jelačić, a Croatian national hero who helped liberate Croatia from the Hungarian Empire.
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In ban Jelačić Square. It is very quiet and relaxed here now - it feels like we are visiting off-season.
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At the edge of Ribnjak Park, another large public space in the city’s core. This one feels very child oriented - there’s a ring for pony rides, a puppet stage, playgrounds, and cheerfully colorful murals.
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In Ribnjak Park.
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This street looks like it could be set in so many middle European locations. We could just as well be in Austria, Czechia, Or Slovenia.
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Zagreb is a very colorful city.
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Andrea BrownGoogle Translate says this says, "Oh, be your own"
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Andrea BrownA Covid-19 warning then! Thanks, Andrea. Good to know.
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1 month ago
Saint Dismas Church, alleged to be unique worldwide because it is dedicated to a penitent thief - Dismas, who died on the cross next to Jesus.
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Andrea BrownI have a grand-nephew named Dismas. True story.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Andrea BrownI’d never heard this name before, at least as I recall. Tell him to go to Zagreb.
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1 month ago
Yes, it’s about that time. Plenty of options to choose from.
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A common sight in central Zagreb - the cyclist at the left is a food delivery man, returning to a restaurant for his next load.
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Later in the afternoon I finally have at the bikes.  There’s plenty of room to work with, and assembly goes fine.  No broken derailleur this time, which is of course very nice.  Both bikes need adjustment to the front brakes, but Rachael pulls up an excellent YouTube tutorial on brake adjustment that does the trick.  We’re all set for our first ride into the surrounding countryside tomorrow morning.

By the time I’m done with the bikes, it’s dinner time.  We backtrack this morning’s walk to a restaurant we liked the looks of earlier and enjoy our salmon and grilled vegetables, once again eating outdoors in a largely empty sidewalk restaurant with abundant elbow room.

After that we walk over to the cathedral, a structure impossible to miss for its two towering spires that rise above the old city.  The spires are a recent addition to the cathedral as I understand it, added after the 1880 earthquake destroyed the old single spire.  This spring’s earthquake attacked the church again, and one of the two spires was badly damaged with parts of it falling off.  It’s under scaffolding now, and all around the base of the cathedral are fallen fragments from the church, either waiting for restoration or serving as models for new replacement stone.

We end the day sitting on the edge of Ledeni Park, eating store-bought ice cream bars and watching a new moon rise above the western horizon.  The ice cream bars were fall-back choice - we had meant to stop at a gelato stand for a cone, but walked out of the feeding zone before making a selection.  We’ll do better tomorrow.

Back in the room, we give mom and dad a call.  We had a voice mail from dad when we arrived here.  He had heard from mom that we were coming over here and was concerned or even alarmed that we were in harms way.  We reassured him that we felt safer here than at home, and then listened as he talked enthusiastically about the books he’s been loading up his Kindle with.  Dad has always been a voracious reader, particularly of old favorites he first read many decades ago.  He’s quite the eclectic reader, and recently has been rereading Jane Austen’s Emma as well as some of the Tarzan books.

Rachael is so excited to see her BFF BF again. Her Straggler has gotten really out of adjustment and she’s been counting down the days until she can finally change bikes.
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Jeanna & Kerry SmithI share your dad's taste in literature. Who doesn't love Jane Austen, and I was surprised at how much fun the Tarzan books were.
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1 month ago
Back in ban Jelačić Square again. We’re going to be seeing a lot of this square before we leave town.
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The gothic Zagreb Cathedral, dating back to the 1200’s, is the tallest building in Croatia.
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The original cathedral was destroyed by Mongols in 1242, but rebuilt a few years later. This Renaissance watchtower was built in the 1500’s along with surrounding fortified walls to protect the cathedral from invasion by the Ottomans.
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I think this must be a collapsed part of the damaged spire.
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Admiring the remains of the fortified wall that protected the cathedral.
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Reconstructing a detail of the damaged cathedral, apparently modeling it from an old photograph.
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I’m not certain, but I think this clock was frozen in time during the great earthquake of 1880.
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Jen GrumbyWow .. if I were there I could probably spend some time looking at both the clock and the wall behind it.

Beautiful!
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1 month ago
Ledeni Park is a lovely place to end the day.
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A new moon rises over Zagreb.
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I love this wonderful old locomotive outside the main train station, manufactured in Budapest in 1891.
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Kathleen ClassenYou are going to have so much fun! Looks fabulous 👍.
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1 month ago
Jen GrumbyI can only imagine the feeling of actually being there after the very long stretch of uncertainty.

Can't wait to read about the first bike ride!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyBike rides? Should there be bike rides? Thanks for the reminder. We’ll get right on that.
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1 month ago
Suzanne GibsonYou guys really pulled it off! Amazing. Congratulations and welcome to Europe!!!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonIt’s wonderful to be back. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay here for awhile, and hopefully things will be. Bit less crazy next year and we can make it up your way.
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1 month ago
Carolyn van HoeveThank you Scott & Rachael! Finally something to look forward to reading in the morning with my coffee. Hooray!
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1 month ago
Ron SuchanekAs we did after Joe's big speech the other night, we can all exhale now that you're there. Have fun.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Carolyn van HoeveGlad to be of service, Carolyn.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekThis may be the first time that Team Anderson has ever been cited alongside a future POTUS. We feel honored.
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1 month ago