The War of the Roses

Ha ha! Starting the next post just days after the last one.  Truly, I am a god amongst bloggers!

Mainly, I want to get Croatia wrapped up and done, which will get me to the end of May and very nearly caught up.  In theory, this should be difficult: I spent 2 months in the next place, and I should have had a ton of stuff to write about. And yet… well, let’s get on with it.

Tuesday, March 22nd

I woke up early in Split, had a nice breakfast, finished my packing, and set off down the pier towards the ferry area, which had the closest bus terminal, to catch my 9:00 bus to Zagreb.  I’d been feeling kind of rough the last couple of days — I think Spring may have been starting to arrive, and bugging my allergies, making me feel headachey and unpleasant and out of alignment, much as I had just before leaving Florence (and for a few days after, too, though a remote session Roger helped handle that). But I got it settled down for the day of the trip itself, and managed my travel without much difficulty.  As I write about getting down to the terminal (consisting of a ticket shop and a row of buses parking outside it on the street), it occurs to me that, as I put together my previous post, I didn’t run across any photos of the slightly seedy looking ferry zone, a row of inexpensive looking shops, coffee houses and bakery counters, casino, at least one strip club, and the bus terminal, opposite where the ferries docks.  I thought I’d taken one or two pics, but oh well.

[ It has been occurring to me, since the last post, “Hey, you didn’t mention X”, or “You’d meant to include a picture of Y”.  I don’t know that we need to get into Y… what happens in Split stays in Split, after all (not counting my previous 6000 words about the city).  Did I sufficiently emphasize the pleasure of listening to the rain on the vaulted roof of the studio?  Did I mention that I was sleeping really well there, like 8-9 hours a night, really ever since I arrived in Europe?  No? Well, regardless, you should probably assume that other things happened, and that they exist in the realm between too trivial to mention and too classified to share, and that the curve probably skews to the left.  In particular, if you’ve ever looked at my photos and exclaim, “How does he get such amazing pictures?!” — and, in my head, you often do — just know that for every picture I include there are 5-10 that get discarded and sent to the trash.  Not scenic enough, not funny enough, too many other scenic photos just like it, just tired of writing,… gone.  If it doesn’t make it to the blog, I don’t keep it. (Except for Y. Y is just for me.) ]

So, I got down to my bus in plenty of time, picked up a pastry to eat while I waited and a sandwich for later.  Then the bus arrived, and I figured out that the bus had arrived (two very different things), boarded, found my assigned seat on the aisle, and shoved my giant backpack into the seat next to me.  Then, not long before we were supposed to depart, a Croatian guy in my age-ballpark came to take my backpack’s seat, and I had to get off the bus and get them to stow the pack under the bus for me.  The bus ended up quite packed with the Zagreb-bound — probably because it was one of the few express trips from Split to Zagreb, not stopping at a dozen towns along the way.  (Which might have been more scenic, I guess. But also maybe more tortuous.) We took off mostly on time, with a driver and, I guess, the driver’s assistant.  We stopped for 30 minutes at a transit stop along the way, where people could get food (and I could eat my sandwich), and arrived in Zagreb at almost exactly 2pm.

Google insists on showing me several routes with different times; I *think* we took something like the blue one, but it was basically 5 hours including the stop.

Google insists on showing me several routes with different times; I *think* we took something like the blue one, but it was basically 5 hours including the stop.

You may remember I said it was dry in Split. This was the countryside for most of the time we were on the coast. Makes southern California look kind of lush.

You may remember I said it was dry in Split. This was the countryside for most of the time we were on the coast. Makes southern California look kind of lush. (Probably not now, during the LA-area wildfires, but other times.) It did turn into green farmland and trees as we headed inland and north.

Zagreb

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, situated on the edge of the country’s northern mountains (that I’m going to call the foothills of the Alps, because it sounds cooler that way).  It’s been around in various forms for around 1800 years, but only formally existed as a single town starting in the 19th century.  Croatia was merged into Yugoslavia, in what seems to have been a very messy and confused process, in the early 1900s, became communist under Tito at the end of WWII, agitated increasingly for independence even before Tito died in 1980, and then fought their way clear as Yugoslavia broke apart into 6 different countries in the early 90s. There are constant reminders that the Croats were unwilling partners in communism, and glad to be free of it.

No, no, it's just about simple geography. We're not resentful at all.

No, no, it’s just about simple geography. We’re not resentful at all.

We all remember what a mess of ethnic warfare the Yugoslavian disintegration was. Interestingly, a lot of folks moved out of areas dominated by the other ethnic groups, and moved into the deserted houses of the other groups who had fled the other way, becoming much more ethnically pure countries in the process. It’s hard to think well of “ethnic purity”, but it sounds like the result is that Yugoslavia is much more cleanly partitioned than a lot of other messy places, and has been more peaceful since as a result.  (Is my distant and cursory impression, at least.  We certainly haven’t heard much from any of them since it all settled down.)

Downtown Zagreb, with a few significant sites. Where I stayed was at the star to the upper right.

Downtown Zagreb, with a few significant sites. Where I stayed was at the star to the upper right.

Like a lot of these old cities, Zagreb is divided into an Old City in the center north and a new city sprawling beyond it to the south and sides.  The Old City, occupying most of the center of the map above, is mostly 18th-19th century buildings, with a few Soviet-era grotesques, and a few more modern glass and steel buildings.  The new city, sprawling beyond it, I gather looks rather more modern, though I spent no real time in it.  (There is a big sports village and stadium and park and some other things, but I spent no time down there.) There are very few tall buildings, thanks to a height-limit in the municipal code.

A view across much of the Old City, from its upper level to the north.

A view across much of the Old City, from its higher level to the north.

You’ll see, at the bottom of the map, a congestion of railway lines, which is where I’d expected to arrive, before I learned that the bus was faster and easier.  It appears that I’m now adding buses to my travel repertoire, something I’d never have seriously considered for most of my life but that seems to be working out pretty well and has been no where near as horrible as Tales of Greyhound Travel make it sound.  I say that confidently, from my sample size of 2 experiences.  (It seems likely that bus travel across the vast, empty distances of the U.S. might be rather different from shorter, European hops, but let me cherish my illusions.)  The bus arrived at a part-terminal/part-mall on the right hand edge of those rail lines, just below that major intersection in the lower right.  Once there, I found a restroom, sent a quick e-mail to my host and started walking north along that road, for about 40 minutes: up Avenija Marina Drzica, bending right up Subiceva ul, left on Srebernjak, and splitting off onto Dugi dol where my Airbnb was.  (Like a lot of Slavic languages, Croatian sounds a little like you’re talking through a mouthful of gummi bears.)

In Croatia, you park on the curb, not on the street. This was in Split, too, but this is the first place where I saw parking lines drawn on the sidewalk. Usually, people just drove up over the curb and parked, hopefully leaving you enough room to walk past their cars. It was weird.

In Croatia, you park on the curb, not on the street. This was in Split, too, but this is the first place where I saw parking lines drawn on the sidewalk. Usually, people just drove up over the curb and parked, hopefully leaving you enough room to walk past their cars. It was weird.

The place I stayed at was this one, booked while I was still in Chiang Mai.  It’s a rather large 2 bedroom suite, forming the entire middle floor in a 3-floor house, in a quiet neighborhood with a back patio at ground level against a green hill, which sloped up to a row of houses up at the top.

In theory, the people in those houses could look down on us sitting out on our patios, so nude sunbathing is probably not advised. In practice, that is not advice that I generally need.

In theory, the people in those houses could look down on us sitting out on our patios, so nude sunbathing is probably not advised. In practice, that is not advice that I generally need.

The owner, a woman called Nevia of about my age, blondish and generally attractive but a bit worn looking (as most Croatians seem to look by their 40s), lived in the lower level, which also had a ground-level patio opening out onto a private garden on the street side of the house, and her husband lived on the top level.  It would never have occurred to me to ask why they didn’t live in the same space, but when she mentioned the arrangement she followed that with “Some marriage, huh?”  She then moved on to another topic — not in any apparent rush, but more quickly than I could have formulated a neutral reply to a line like that.  And, in fact, she was in a bit of a hurry: her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were visiting, and they were going to be leaving to do things around town.  So, after she gave me a quick run-through of the place, she took off — promising that we’d get together for coffee soon (which we never did) — and I told her I’d be fine and encouraged her to hang out with her family while they were here, and we could deal with anything that needed dealing with later.

This place ran me around $940/month, more than I’d normally be keen on spending, and you may be asking why I got a 2-bedroom place at all.  Well, I was having a really hard time finding a Zagreb location, when I was in Chiang Mai.  One location, a little out of the way but a good rate, responded that they’d rented the place out to a physics doctoral student (I replied that I was happy to make the sacrifice for Science, but grumbled to myself about people not updating their listings for availability and making people waste their time).  Another didn’t respond to my inquiry about their internet until about a month later.  A third looked very promising, and not terribly pricey, but was kind of away from the center of things. I expanded my price range, ran into this place and it seemed nice but expensive, and then I thought, wait, my Chiang Mai friend Damien said he was going to Europe in the spring; maybe he’d be interested in seeing Croatia and we could split the rent and have the pleasure of each others’ company.  So I sent him an e-mail, and he said, basically, “Yeah, sounds great, as long as you don’t mind the risk of my schedule changing that far out and me canceling.”  I said, works for me.

Then about 2 weeks out, after I started sending him update/scheduling info, he canceled.  There were Reasons, but I strongly suspect that the biggest one was that given a choice between early-spring Zagreb and Bali, Damien was not finding it a challenging choice.  He likes him the warm weather, to the extent that I had privately been giving him no better than even odds of going through with Zagreb in early Spring.  So, I ended up rattling around in a pretty large space for 2 months, and spending 3 months of my preferred target rent on a 2 month stay.

This may have been just as well, though, because I turned out to be largely trapped in my own home by the introduction of my mortal enemy:

Spring

I arrived at the end of March, and stayed until the end of May.  The first few days, I was getting over what had hit me at the end of my Split stay, and so I made it out for groceries and that was about it.  I ended up totally retreating into the Fallout game that I’d started in November, because I could play it without having to do or think or focus much, and that’s about what I felt up to.

Then, I had maybe a week where I started to get out more — though not quite as much as I might have because I was kind of hooked into the game again, and I had 2 months in Zagreb, so there was no hurry, right?  So, I made it to the city center, wandered around the area a bit (more on all that later), bought a really nice French press and a coffee grinder, found an organic grocery store (Zagreb has a *lot* of organics, it was very nice), and was generally easing into things.

Then, it happened. You remember that parking picture from above? See the bare trees in it, still leafless from Winter?  This is a similar street, just 2 weeks later:

Spring. Springing. Like a tiger upon its unsuspecting prey. Which, in case any element of that simile is unclear, would be me.

Spring. Springing. Like a tiger upon its unsuspecting prey. Which, in case any element of that simile is unclear, would be me.

Spring blasted its way out of whatever crevice it had been lurking, and the city transformed.  From a chilly place of old stone buildings into a slightly less chilly place drenched in procreating plant life.

Along the sidewalks.

Along the sidewalks.

Across people's lawns.

Across people’s lawns.

In the trees.

In the trees.

The trees.

The trees.

The other trees.

The other trees.

The other other trees.

The other other trees.

My gods, they're everywhere.

My gods, they’re everywhere.

Strewing petals and pollen across the ground.

Strewing petals and pollen across the ground.

I'm sorry, that last one was too understated. How about this one?

I’m sorry, that last one was too understated. How about this one?

Coating every surface. I picked my iPad off the patio table and thought, what's this brown dust? Pollen.

Coating every surface. I picked my iPad off the patio table and thought, what’s this brown dust? Pollen.  The city smelled like a perfume shop. Not a normal flower shop, mind you, but an actual perfume shop, so dense that you’d give its doorway a wide berth. Except here, the doorway was a season, and you’re trapped in the shop with no way out.

They're all around us! Run! Run for your lives!!!

They’re all around us! Run! Run for your lives!!!

I kept the double-paned windows shut tight, and every time I went outside, my allergies flared up.  I discovered that I had maybe an hour that I could go outside, to walk down to the grocery stores, stock up on supplies, and then walk straight back — and then spend the next day in recovery.  I’ve had worse allergy attacks in my life, during Santa Annas in Los Angeles.  But they would only last a few days, and I had Roger then.  Now… I called him a couple of times, and he worked on it remotely, and then advised me to pray.  (Well, technically, he told me to work with my MAP team, but the distinction between “Do your best to resolve your holistic issues with your group of disembodied entities” and “Pray to god, ’cause I’m out of tools” is a slim one.)  Every so often I’d consider the outdoors…

It looks pretty outside the window....

Scritch, scritch, scritch,… Charles… Open the window, Charles… You like fresh air, don’t you? Just let me in…..

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

And that lasted for a solid 5 weeks.  Every so often, it would rain, flushing all of this out of the air, and I would leap out and dance in the streets (in my usual subtle way, often mistaken for a brisk walk), inhaling great lungfuls of air and rejoicing in my ability to stay out for hours on end.  Which made up for the once or twice, at the start, that I underestimated just how heavy the pollen was, and came back 2 hours later with my skin itching, wanting to scream, scrubbing and soaking in the shower hoping to get it all off.  But, for the most part, I just stayed inside.  I played Fallout like its nuclear apocalypse had already happened.  I watched Jessica Jones on Netflix, and Daredevil season 2, and a bunch of network TV from my TiVo.  I read a lot of Twitter.  And even caught up on a few books (one of which I’ll mention below).  But it was a long, slow, trapped sort of time, and rather a challenge to get enough movement to keep my toes from swelling up like little sausages.  I managed.

I did start sleeping more poorly again, and thought that my brief window of sleeping like a normal person might be over.  But, as I started to be able to get out more again, I started sleeping better again, and got back to full nights’ sleeps once more.  Stress.  Who knew?

And, with all of that, it was still better than my spring in that hellish little beach bungalow in southern Thailand.  So, yay that.

This might be a good time to mention one of those books I read, and I shall choose Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. Every Heart a Doorway

I’d read a recommendation about this — I don’t really recall where.  Maybe it was nominated for something, I don’t know.  But I mentioned it to my friend Jenni and we decided to co-read it and talk about it over Skype afterwards, which was an excellent and very enjoyable choice on our part.

The book, also, was excellent and very enjoyable.  It is, however, so full of unexpected quirks and surprises (pleasant and dark) that I’m reluctant to describe it in very much detail for fear of spoiling any of them.  So, here’s the book description on the Tor website, which I advise you read before continuing.

Done? Great.  Well, what I *can* say is that you quickly learn the book’s basic premise: that occasionally a child will go through a portal into a magical realm (as the stories tell us), but everyone’s realm is different, matching the peculiarities of their own personalities.  And, in some of those cases, the child ends up coming back to our own world, intentionally or not, but now they no longer fit.  They’ve been in the land of their heart’s true nature, and they can’t bear to be back in our own, ill-fitting world.  But very few of them ever find their portals again.  And for the rest, the lucky few make it to a sort of half-way house / boarding school, designed to support them until they learn to fit in to our own world again.  It’s a brilliant and original premise — and I might have hated it when I was younger.  The idea of being cast out of your fantasy world might have been too terrible for me. I have hated Time Bandits ever since it was released, thanks to those stupid dwarves wrecking the young hero’s perfect new life as Sean Connery’s adopted princely son.  It was horrible, and I hate it to this day. Hate.

This book, however, was delightful.  I’m now old and cynical and have learned that you’re much better off learning not to want things, and I can appreciate with more detachment the agonies of those who still do.  And the book was cleverly written, the characters have engaging personalities, and the book did not go in any of the directions that I thought it would, pretty much all the way through. (There was a brief risque bit near the start that I was *not* expecting, and it made me laugh from surprise.)  If I had any complaint about it, it was that it was too short — maybe a 2-2½ hour read.  I think that the author means to write more of them, though, so that will be something to look forward to.  And she’s written other books, which I will now have to read.  So, yaaay!

So, the lethal nature of the nature around me paid off.

Non-Lethal Nature

In fairness, it really should be noted that if you are *not* cursed with allergies — and I’m normally pretty good at keeping mine under control, but this was insanely excessive — Zagreb in the spring is really quite beautiful.  The lush foliage and flower-strewn streets were gorgeous — like a flock of beautifully plumed birds, before you realize you’re an extra in a Hitchcock movie.  No, I’ll be serious for a moment: this little window of the Blooming Season lasted for about 5 weeks, as every set of plants took their seasonal turns to have public sex on a truly vast scale, and it neatly divides those with allergies from those without.  I said this in my review for the Airbnb place: if you have allergies, schedule your trip for a different time of year.  But if you don’t have allergies, this is the very best time to go.  It was amazing.  There was the giant Maksimir Park about a 25 minute walk east of where I was staying, and I went there several times — during the rainy parts of the Blooming Season, and a couple of times after it was over.  It was very pretty.

The park map. I'd typically enter at the top of the open glade on the lower left, and then meander for a couple of hours.

The park map. I’d typically enter at the top of the open glade on the lower left, wander east along the red path toward that little round central hub (where there was a small outdoor stage), and then meander for a couple of hours.

In Zagreb, it's easier being green than it is in other places.

In Zagreb, it’s easier being green than it is in other places.

Rain on one of the small lakes.

Rain on one of the small lakes.

Sooo green. ❤️

Sooo green. ❤️

If you were ever going to encounter Dryads, this is the place. Walking through these trees, I suddenly got the strongest sense of how legends like that get started.

If you were ever going to encounter Dryads, this is the place. Walking through these trees, I suddenly got the strongest sense of how legends like that get started.

In Narnia's more civilized days, the Park of the Lantern Tree was the only sign that the path to War Drobe and Spair Oom had ever existed.

In Narnia’s more civilized days, the Park of the Lantern Tree was the only sign that the path to War Drobe and Spair Oom had ever existed.

The park has a gazebo, dedicated to the Goddess Echo.  It’s pretty cool, and the recording turned out really well!

I took one of these walks on a rainy day that turned out to be May Day.  That’s normally a pretty big holiday, in countries that are/were communist and/or have strong workers’ rights movements.  And there was a bit of a festival going on here, although I think the turnout cannot have been what the organizers were hoping, given the rain.  But they did have some decent music, if not at all what I was expecting for Croatia.

I confess, this made me miss my Dad rather a bit; he’d have loved this.  He was an accomplished dancer, in his own sphere, a long standing member of Alabama bop clubs and Cajun dancing, played the banjo and Cajun music, and I think he’d have happily joined in here.  I remember it struck me then how much he’d have liked this whole lifestyle I’m engaged in.  He looked back on his travels in the Navy with great fondness, and the time I visited him during his couple of years in Florida, and took him to Disneyworld (’cause there was no way I was going that far without seeing that park), the international part of Epcot Center was the only part of the whole Disney thing that he really sparked to.  (He was an emotional lead weight the rest of the time. Gods, that was a painful trip. But that’s another story.)  Substitute banjo for video games, and this is really the retirement *he* should have had.  Oh well; better luck next life, mate.

OMG, it's clearing! We must flee, before the agents of Nature attack again!

OMG, it’s clearing! We must flee, before the agents of Nature attack again!

If the park had one failing, it was that there weren’t enough benches, and none under cover.  It would have been lovely to come out here with a thermos of coffee and a snack and read and listen to the rain.  Nakajima Park in Sapporo did that part much better.  But this really was beautiful.

Things Other Than Nature

It turns out, Zagreb is a city, and cities have buildings and stuff.  So, maybe I should show some of them?

I was living about a 25 minute walk north east of the city center, so a brisk walk soon took me from residential buildings into commerce and architecture.  The downtown area was almost one large outdoor mall, with a giant farmers market open most days of the week, a large array of shopping and dining streets, museums, and the like.

I passed the Church of the Eternal Condom almost every time I went into town. I'll miss its well protected glory.

I passed the Church of the Eternal Condom almost every time I went into town. I’ll miss its well protected glory.

The shop where I bought my coffee grinder, in case you're wondering what an average Zagreb street looks like (pre-Spring).

The shop where I bought my coffee grinder, in case you’re wondering what an average Zagreb street looks like.

Another Zagreb street.

Another Zagreb street.

And another. They had a ton of them!

And another. They had a ton of them!

The few glass-and-steel buildings really stood out. It's hard to call this an eyesore, but it doesn't really fit.

The few glass-and-steel buildings really stood out. It’s hard to call this an eyesore, but it doesn’t really fit.

An unusual and cool car.

An unusual and cool car.

Ok, that's... odd.

Ok, that’s… odd.

"Hah, it's a Hello Kitty car. Wait, that looks weirdly like... Surely that's not... Ah. Ok. It is. Right."

“Hah, it’s a Hello Kitty car. Wait, that looks weirdly like… Surely that’s not… Ah. Ok. It is. Right.”

The Zagreb Art Pavilion. I was actually doing one of my tour app walks, and wanted to hit all the stops, so I didn't go in at the time. Then, Spring. Then I went other places instead. I'm sure it was lovely.

The Zagreb Art Pavilion. I was actually doing one of my tour app walks, and wanted to hit all the stops, so I didn’t go in at the time. Then, Spring. Then I went other places instead. I’m sure it was lovely.

I was tempted by Fashion Victims Square! Then I realized that it was actually Fascism Victims Square, which doesn't sound nearly as funny. I kept walking.

I was tempted by Fashion Victims Square! Then I realized that it was actually Fascism Victims Square, which doesn’t sound nearly as funny. I kept walking.

The Croatian State Archives building. Still sorry I never got to see the Dewey Decimal System in Croatian. Another bucket list item left unchecked.

The Croatian State Archives building. Still sorry I never got to see the Dewey Decimal System in Croatian. Another bucket list item left unchecked.

Apparently, the Chippendales tour stopped in Zagreb. Sadly, the allergies drove the event right out of my recollection.

Apparently, the Chippendales tour stopped in Zagreb. Sadly, the allergies drove the upcoming event right out of my recollection.

A panorama of Marshall Tito Square, which has several museums around it. You'll also notice the partial cars driving by; Croatian economy is struggling, and it takes some people a while to save up enough to buy a whole car. They make do.

A panorama of Marshall Tito Square, which has several museums around it. You’ll also notice the partial cars driving by; Croatian economy is struggling, and it takes some people a while to save up enough to buy a whole car. They make do.

The National Theater building in Marshall Tito Square.

The National Theater building in Marshall Tito Square.

Ban Jelačić Square, the central square in Zagreb. It features a mounted statue of a great Croatian hero, Ban (Governor) Jelačić, who joined two local towns into the city of Zagreb, and won the country's independence from Hungary. (Turns out, the Hungarians don't like him nearly so much. Go figure.)

Ban Jelačić Square, the central square in Zagreb. It features a mounted statue of a great Croatian hero, Ban (Governor) Jelačić, who joined two local towns into the city of Zagreb, and won the country’s independence from Hungary. (Turns out, the Hungarians don’t like him nearly so much. Go figure.)

Ban Jelačić Square is essentially the center of the huge downtown outdoor mall that the Old City has become.  There are 3 or 4 electric trams lines running efficiently through the center (and more on the periphery), there’s tons of shopping, a few small indoor malls, a giant farmer’s market up the hill to the left of this scene, museums, restaurants, etc.  And there were different things going on here most weekends.  When I took the picture above, there were touristy shopping stalls there.

I came back another time, it was all cleared out... Much easier to get around like this.

I came back another time, it was all cleared out… Much easier to get around like this. I think this turned out to be a national holiday that I didn’t know about, because almost all the shops were closed and the streets were almost empty. Just a few tourists like me wandering about, wondering if the zombies had risen and why we were the last to know about it. It was eerie.

On another day, in late May, I found the square filled with this:

It started a couple of blocks away, and OMG those whistles were far more intense than they sound on the video.  Thank gods for my noise canceling headphones.  Seems it was end of term and graduation day for the local schools — I don’t know if it was just college, or high school also.  Very cheering, either way. 🙂

This was also pretty close to one of the two places that I had really wanted to go in Zagreb: The Tolkien Pub.  How do you not go to a place called The Tolkien Pub?

This is how. You find out it's a small building with people smoking inside at maybe 1/2-a-dozen tables, patio seating outside (in chilly weather), only drinks and no food, and nothing really Tolkien/Middle-Earth themed on the inside. I have no idea why it was called The Tolkien Pub. Maybe just to lure in a little extra random custom, without having to put any work into it? (Sounds kind of sensible, when you put it like that.)

This is how. You find out it’s a small building with people smoking inside at maybe 1/2-a-dozen tables, patio seating outside (in chilly weather), only drinks and no food, and nothing really Tolkien/Middle-Earth themed on the inside. I have no idea why it was called The Tolkien Pub. Maybe just to lure in a little extra random custom, without having to put any work into it? (Sounds kind of sensible, when you put it like that.)

Where I actually ended up eating the most was at the Bulldog Pub, in a strip of outdoor seating areas in the downtown demi-mall:

It seems pretty common in Crotia to have long rows of outdoor seating with awnings, next to or between the buildings. The Riva in Split was a good example, and there were strips like this all over downtown Zagreb. Really nice to sit under when it rained -- which, for some weeks was the only time I could be out there.

It seems pretty common in Croatia to have long rows of outdoor seating with awnings, next to or between the buildings. The Riva in Split was a good example, and there were strips like this all over downtown Zagreb. Really nice to sit under when it rained — which, for some weeks was the only time I could be out there.

The Bulldog Pub became sort of my Zagreb Cheers.  I’d eat there a couple of times a week, usually having an Irish Coffee and their “Beef Burger” — which was pretty good, though the fries that came with it varied significantly from day to day.  I became fairly friendly with a few of the waiters, and one of them would often comp me a second Irish Coffee at the end of the meal, which was super nice.  He was a career waiter in his late 30s — he’d served in the military, traveled a bit after, and lived in other countries, but he liked his current job of 12 years (if I remember that number correctly), was good at it, and felt no real urgency to do anything else.  Which, if it works for him, is fantastic.  And it worked out pretty well for me.

Here's a picture from the second seating area, looking towards where I was sitting the first time. Where I am now ended up being my normal seat, for about 90% of the times I ate there. It's not as smoky as the inside would be, but, being in a side street, is out of the direct wind on windier days. The awning keeps both the rain and sun off. It's near the edge of the seating area, so there won't be anyone sitting next to me on at least one side, and there's an aisle behind me so no immediate neighbor there either. It's close to the restaurant, and I can flag down waiters more easily, and it has a clear view of the main pedestrian walkway so that I can people-watch, without being so close as to actually ever have to interact with them. It was the obvious choice.

Here’s a picture from the second seating area, looking towards where I was sitting the first time. Where I am now ended up being my normal seat, for about 90% of the times I ate there. It’s not as smoky as the inside would be, but, being in a side street, is out of the direct wind on windier days. The awning keeps both the rain and sun off. It’s near the edge of the seating area, so there won’t be anyone sitting next to me on at least one side, and there’s an aisle behind me so no immediate neighbor there either. It’s close to the restaurant, and I can flag down waiters more easily, and it has a clear view of the main pedestrian walkway so that I can people-watch, without being so close as to actually ever have to interact with them. It was the obvious choice.

I did eat at a couple of other places: a sushi place, one of the first few days I was in the city, which was weirdly nostalgic. And another Croatian restaurant with outdoor seating, on a very rainy day, about a block from the Bulldog, that served (among other things) a nice little pork chop dish. And, at the Bulldog, I did once have the risotto (the national dish of Croatia) — and then spent most (all?) of the following night awake and feeling lousy.  I think it was MSG poisoning; it’s been so long since I’ve had any MSG in my food that I didn’t recognize it, but afterwards I put the taste and the after-effects together, and I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.  I stayed away from the risotto thereafter.

As usual, I ate mostly at home, shopping mostly at an organic food store that had some pretty great stuff (pricier than the regular supermarket, but whatever). And I learned to cold brew coffee!  (It’s not rocket science: use a coarse grind, let it sit in water for 18-24 hours, strain out the grinds (or just do the whole thing in a French Press to start with), and drink it cold or heat it in a pan.  I’m not convinced that it’s a lot better than a hot brew, but it is a little bit smoother, and the ‘experts’ say it’s better.  I really should do a proper taste test, but in lieu of that I’ve been cold brewing half on faith.)  And I enjoyed the occasional gelato at the local gelato shops.

Anyway, continuing on….

Apropos of nothing, really, this downtown shrubbery was insanely soft with new spring growth. I'd actually detour to walk by it, just for the brief moment that my hand would rest on it as I passed. It was a happiness shrub.

Apropos of nothing, really, this downtown shrubbery was insanely soft with new spring growth. I’d actually detour to walk by it, just for the brief moment that my hand would rest on it as I passed. It was a happiness shrub.

If Croatia ever gets its own section in Epcot, it's going to look like this.

If Croatia ever gets its own section in Epcot, it’s going to look like this.

Those twin spires above were part of a very respectable cathredral. (Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, as its proximity to Italy might suggest.)

Those twin spires above were part of a very respectable cathredral. (Croatia is a predominantly Catholic country, as its proximity to Italy might suggest.) I like the way they cover the construction work with a picture of what it’s supposed to look like. It’s weirdly surrealistic.

An interior shot (in case that wasn't obvious).

An interior shot (in case that wasn’t obvious).

The cathedral, which has some very fancy external stonework, had deteriorated under communist Yugoslavia. But it's now being restored, and had a little before/after display of one of the many little spires that is being worked on.

The cathedral, which has some very fancy external stonework, had deteriorated under communist Yugoslavia. But it’s now being restored, and had a little before/after display of one of the many little spires that is being worked on.

Just outside the cathedral, a group of costumed marchers decided to, well, march by, with a couple of flags and 3 drummers. Have no idea what the occasion was, but if memory serves, that was the same day another group of marchers had passed where I was eating at the Bulldog. Except that was one guy with a drum followed by a line of supermodels. It was... odd.

Just outside the cathedral, a group of costumed marchers decided to, well, march by, with a couple of flags and 3 drummers. Have no idea what the occasion was, but if memory serves, that was the same day another group of marchers had passed where I was eating at the Bulldog. Except that was one guy with a drum followed by a line of supermodels. It was… odd.

A little bit north of where I was staying, there was the huge Mirogoj Cemetery, which I wandered up to one afternoon. I'm not sure how many acres it occupies, but this pano is only a tiny fraction of it.

A little bit north of where I was staying, there was the huge Mirogoj Cemetery, which I wandered up to one afternoon. I’m not sure how many acres it occupies, but this pano is only a tiny fraction of it.

I wandered around Mirogoj Cemetery for a couple of hours and didn’t see all of it — it’s large enough, and famous enough, that there’s an online database for finding out who is buried where.  What I did notice was that: (a) even the older graves were being visited fairly regularly, judging by the offerings; (b) the Croats like having pictures of the person embedded into the tombstone, in progressively better renderings as technology has advanced; and (c) Mirogoj Cemetery is multi-religious, and while there are clearly some sections with more of one religion than another, I saw Christian and Muslim and Jewish graves right next to each other, without any apparent need for distinction other than their symbology.  Which was, in an odd way, nice, and probably very supportive of tolerance among the living.  (Elsewhere, I saw a church that served both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox communities, so maybe that was an effect of that laid back attitude I was seeing.) I’ll also say that, after looking at tombstones for a while, it gets progressively harder to look at the graves of those who died young, thinking of the feelings of those who buried them.

Vacancy! Apply within.

Vacancies! Apply within.

On the walk home, I passed a university, and the nearby housing struck me as rather pretty.

On the walk home, I passed a university, and the nearby housing struck me as rather pretty.

And I appeared to be walking back along Consulate Row; there were several of these sorts of plaques on buildings.

And I appeared to be walking back along Consulate Row; there were several of these sorts of plaques on buildings.

Burkina Faso? My gods, I haven't heard of them in years! Decades? Wow.

Burkina Faso? My gods, I haven’t heard of them in years! Decades? Wow.

I don't know what goes into a PSA for wolves. Probably warnings about domestication, or "Always eat the girl in the red hood first."

I don’t know what goes into a PSA for wolves. Probably warnings about domestication, or “Always eat the girl in the red hood first.”

Did I mention their comprehensive electric tram line? I did? It almost made me wish I wasn't close enough to walk everywhere.

Did I mention their comprehensive electric tram line? I did? It almost made me wish I wasn’t close enough to walk everywhere.

I have no idea why this building has a whale painted on it, but good choice!

I have no idea why this building has a whale painted on it, but good choice!

You just can't buy this kind of irony.

You just can’t buy this kind of irony.

I wanted this in the worst way. But (a) I think it's designed for women and (b) I really can't travel with it. Sigh.

I wanted this in the worst way. But (a) I think it’s designed for women and (b) I really can’t travel with it. Sigh.

My gods, the Dead Kennedys are still a thing? I remember Mark being offended by their name back in college! I thought they were as dead as their namesakes. Wow.

My gods, the Dead Kennedys are still a thing? I remember Mark being offended by their name back in college! I thought they were as dead as their namesakes. Wow.

Eyesore, or cool? I never could quite decide.

Eyesore, or cool? I never could quite decide.

 

The Museum of Broken Relationships

By this point, I’m well into May, and the pollen was starting to settle down, and I finally made it to the second place that was on my list of things to do in Zagreb:

I fell in love with the name of this place when I saw it on Google Maps the fall before, and there was no way I’d leave Zagreb without visiting.  What this turned out to be was a series of rooms of various sizes, on one floor, lined with small exhibits generally consisting of an object that represented a relationship that had, at some point, stopped, and accompanying text in Croatian and English telling the story behind it.  The rooms tended to have themes: most of the relationships were romantic ones, in various age and gender combinations, but there were also sections about parents and children, told from both directions.  And while some of the stories were sad, or tragic, or angry, or resentful, many were funny, and not uncommonly a celebration of a thing that had existed for a time and been wonderful, and then had come to an end in a fairly natural time.

This plaque at the beginning is their statement of purpose. I also see that it's on their website's About page, but I like the look of the photo so I'm including it instead of copying the text.

This plaque at the beginning is their statement of purpose. I also see that it’s on their website’s About page, but I like the look of the photo so I’m including it instead of copying the text.

If you go to the website above, you’ll see some samples in the Exhibits section.  I did take a couple of pictures of things that I particularly liked.

I was astonished to see this exhibit with art from my favorite TV show, which I've mentioned here before: the anime Cardcaptor Sakura. Awesome!

I was astonished to see this exhibit with art from my favorite TV show, which I’ve mentioned here before: the anime Cardcaptor Sakura. Awesome!

The Toaster of Vindication!

The Toaster of Vindication
“When I moved out, and across the country, I took the toaster. That’ll show you. How are you going to toast anything now?”

A Linksys router We tried. Not compatible.

A Linksys router
“We tried. Not compatible.”

You could donate things, with stories, and the museum gets things sent to them from around the world, to rotate through the museum or include in traveling exhibitions.  They also had a book you could write in, telling a story of your own.  I was tempted, but decided against it.

If you’re in LA, they have opened a new branch there in June.  Based on the Zagreb location, I can highly recommend it.

Other Museums

One day, I’ll come back to Zagreb — in a different season — and see more of its museums.  There were a bunch of them near the downtown area.

I'll skip the Museum of Torture, though. There are modern art museums in New York that will serve that purpose well enough.

I’ll skip the Museum of Torture, though. There are modern art museums in New York that will serve that purpose well enough.

This little church, in a government square just north of the Museum of Broken Relationships, is a bit of an iconic structure in Zagreb. The doors were closed when I was there, but it's an older, smallish building, so I suspect I wasn't missing much.

This little church, in a government square just north of the Museum of Broken Relationships, is a bit of an iconic structure in Zagreb. The doors were closed when I was there, but it’s an older, smallish building, so I suspect I wasn’t missing much.

I ran into a Museum of Croatian History nearby, and decided to go in.  They seemed to have been specializing in WWII, with a fairly fascinating large screen in the lobby showing an animation loop of the main events and movements of armed forces and territorial control during the overall war.

Unsurprisingly, they had a fair amount of detail on what was going on in Croatia at the time, but that was also interesting. So many ways that war could have played out differently. Good thing we never have to worry about a crazy person like that taking over a major industrialized nation again, am I right!

Unsurprisingly, they had a fair amount of detail on what was going on in Croatia at the time, but that was also interesting. So many ways that war could have played out differently. Good thing we never have to worry about a crazy person like that taking over a major industrialized nation again, am I right?!

The lobby was also filled with cubes, on which were printed information about events going on the the world at the time, like scientific discoveries, the release of classic movies, etc.

The lobby was also filled with cubes, on which were printed information about events going on in the world during the war’s final year, 1945, like scientific discoveries, the release of classic movies, etc.

2016-05-20_BlockMartin

2016-05-20_BlockDewey

Something for Brandon.

Something for Brandon.

Block - Eniac

The upstairs had most of the exhibit, including a room full of official war time documents, a large diorama of prison ditch-digging, official portraits, art and music and clothing of the time, etc.

In case you've never watched a period movie in your life, here's what people looked like.

In case you’ve never watched a period movie in your life, here’s what people looked like.

Bars you don't necessarily want to bring back matchbooks from.

Bars you don’t necessarily want to bring back matchbooks from.

That moment when you first realize the guy next to you on the official podium is a raving lunatic.

That moment when you first realize the guy next to you on the official podium is a raving lunatic.

And this, which set me back a bit:

A rather sobering thing to run across unexpectedly. (I never did like camp.)

A rather sobering thing to run across unexpectedly. (I never did like camp.)

 

And Now For Something Completely Different

Not really interested in ending on that particular note, so here, have a completely different remembrance of my time in Croatia.  It’s only slightly exaggerated.

That brings me to the end of my trip.  On May 23nd, my hostess Nevia had kindly arranged a taxi for me to the airport (I’d considered walking to the buses/trams, but it seemed like a serious schlep to start my day with, so I thought I’d cheat for a change).  My taxi driver, a guy in his mid-20s showed up promptly, and spent most of the ride complaining about poor job opportunities in Croatia and pumping me for advice on how to get move to another country (and maybe work in computers).  I did my best, but I’m not optimistic about his chances.  The plane ended up a bit delayed, but all went smoothly otherwise and I was off for Edinburgh!

 

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