Saturday, October 20, 2007

zagreb on a sunday

Getting to Zagreb turned out to be a spot of fun. It wasn't fun for some others, but I thought it was a chuckle. Boarding the train in Ljubljana, I was slightly miffed when a young guy came into my otherwise peaceful cabin and started dropping off armloads of luggage, including a bunch of baby items. Uh oh. He must have dropped off five trips worth of stuff before the wife and toddler darkened the doorway. Turned out they were a rather nice Croatian family who were moving back to Zagreb from Munich. The train they were originally on had some sort of problem, and they were told, with no warning, to get on a new train in Ljubljana. Discovering me cramming for a new country with my Croatia guidebook, they gave me the lowdown on where to go, things to see, and a little dose of Croation history. It was like having two free travel agents.

Crossing into Croatia was my first land border crossing on this trip, which all went fine, except just past the border, we were told to disembark from the train and board buses to continue the journey. The Croatian couple were understandably put out by having to do it all over again; I was just glad they were there to explain it to me. I'm not exactly sure why we had to get off the train, but I think it was related to the broken train from Munich — the train we were on wasn't the one that was supposed to cross into Croatia, and Slovenia wanted their train back. Croatia couldn't play with Slovenia's toys, not that day. I helped the couple with a piece of luggage, and then did my good deed for the day by somehow convincing the bus driver to not drive off before the husband finished transferring all their luggage. Everyone safely on board, the husband threw me a big smile. "Welcome to Croatia!"

On the bus I had sat myself next to an Australian girl, Janet, and we were coincidentally both headed for the Ravnice Hostel. We needed tram tickets to get there, and I got shortchanged on my very first Croatian purchase. Refusing to be taken advantage of, I went back to the kiosk, and with a piece of paper and pen gave the kiosk lady a basic math lesson: 100 minus 13 is 87, not 77. She handed me 10 kuna. People who shortchange travelers, like those who steal from the hostel fridges, are destined to be reborn as something bad. Maybe an earwig. Waiting for the tram, it was evident that something soccer was afoot for the evening; the Croatian red and white checkers were everywhere, and a sea of it was outside the football stadium. There was also a large police force present, in full riot gear. I found out later that the opposing team was Israel, and the riot police stood as a barrier around the very small contingent of their supporters. Arriving at the hostel, the girl womanning the reception desk was rummaging through a bag of keys and looking shellshocked. Soccer fans had descended en masse on Zagreb, and there were no free beds in town. Janet and I were in, since we had luckily both made reservations. As it was, I was put into what they considered the emergency room. I don't know why it was an emergency room, it was perfectly cozy and functional. The only odd things about it were a large electical panel and tiled walls; the walls and some other fixtures made me think it used to be a bathroom.

I hadn't planned on staying too long in Zagreb; all the Croats I spoke to from there said that a couple of days was sufficient. I only lingered one day past the evening of arrival, and spent that day ambling through the streets with the aid of a walking tour map I picked up from the tourist office. Akin to Ljubljana, there's plenty of architecture eye-candy. Mirogoj Cemetery is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. It is beautiful when you stand back and take it all in, but I didn't find so many of the tombstones and markers all that noteworthy. Lots of what I think is laser cut marble, too tidy for my tastes. It's like making death as neat and orderly as a period at the end of a sentence. I prefer my cemeteries overgrown, tangled, and with snaggly tombstones leaning at crazy angles. Zagreb also has many museums that have promising collections, but most of them were closed by the time in the afternoon when I started reading up on them. Traveling alone offers pretty much unlimited freedom, but also means that I have to make time to do all my own research and planning. Sometimes after figuring out where to go next, how to get there, getting there, securing accomodation, and sniffing out something to eat, I can't be bothered to figure out what activities will result in peak cultural edification. I suppose I can always stay put longer, but some persistent wanderlust has been keeping me going every few days. Although, hmm...maybe I should have stayed in Zagreb one day longer. Guess I'll just go again when I revisit Slovenia. Maybe I'll be treated to another transportation adventure.

I do love the Zagreb public transit system. It's basically free. You buy tickets for the tram and bus, which are supposed to be validated in machines once you board, but no one ever does. I took a number of rides while I was there, and saw two people validate their tickets. On our first tram ride to the hostel, Janet and I dutifully tried to validate our tickets. The machine stamped one, but staunchly refused to stamp the other. Janet surmised that, since the machine never gets used in the first place, validating two tickets in a row was clearly too much for it to manage. I should have looked at the one it did stamp; it wouldn't surprise me if the date was sometime in the 70s. I couldn't even validate my ticket on the bus ride to the cemetery, which required me to walk right past the driver. Again, the machine wouldn't cooperate. Holding up my ticket, I gave him an inquisitive look. He gave me smile and a shrug, and waved me on. If the driver doesn't care, why should I.

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