We arrived in the capital of Croatia, Zagreb, on Friday afternoon November 1, and after our city walking tour with Road Scholar, there were no other organized activities, other than our final dinner together on Saturday night. Everyone else heads back to the States on Sunday morning, but John & I have two extra days here on our own before flying out (to Athens via Belgrade) on Tuesday Nov. 5.
Zagreb is the most walkable city we have ever seen. For at least 1/2 mile (or more in all directions) in the area surrounding our hotel (right on the main square), all streets are for pedestrians only. On Saturday morning, John & I took our own walking tour, riding the funicular to the Upper Town, and then gradually returning to the Lower Town. We had been told that the city cemetery is really worth a visit, especially in the early days of November. The population of Croatia is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic (95%), so huge numbers of people visit the graves of friends and relatives on All Saints Day, followed by All Souls Day. The buses run from downtown, and they are free on those days.
John returned to the hotel after our walk, and I decided to check out the action at the cemetery. It seemed like the entire population of the city was there, or at least they were with me on the bus. I befriended a 15 year old girl who was sitting below me, to make sure that I would know where to get off and later where to get a bus back to downtown. I told her that her English was excellent, and that she should ask her teacher for some extra credit when she returns to school on Monday, since she was able to have a complete conversation with an American woman on the weekend! She told me that she has a friend who spent a year living in NYC, and that whenever they are together, they speak only in English, so they can practice what they have learned in school or overseas.
I have never seen as many flowers on graves as I did today, not to mention the giant votive candles that are left at the foot of various tombstones. I felt a bit self-conscious taking a few photos, since nobody else was doing so. I tried to be discreet. Most people were in family groups, with both children and older people along. Even though there is a free tram to drive visitors to any location they want, very few folks used it. I saw lots of senior citizens using canes or walkers. The area is huge and really quite lovely, with interesting architecture and lots of old growth trees. I'm glad I want, if only to see how the general population lives.
I got back on the bus, met John in the hotel, and we headed out for lunch. We have only a few days left in this country, and we've realized that it's time to spend the cash we have (it's called Kuna). Usually we'll use a credit card for meals, but now we are actually focusing on getting rid of currency that's in our wallets. We had rain this afternoon, but there were still a lot of people out and about, with thousands of Croatians sitting at outdoor (but covered) coffee shops. But the city doesn't feel crowded at all.
John writing now.
We had a nice treat later this afternoon. We went to see Sandra (our Road Scholar rep in Croatia) and her family at her home. We had mentioned to Sandra while we were on the ship, that on a previous trip we had visited our guide's home and family when we were in Brazil, and how much we enjoyed it. Now that we are in Zagreb, she took the initiative to invite us to meet her husband and two children at her condo not far from our hotel. One of the reasons we travel is to learn about how people in other countries live, and sometimes that is hard to do in your tourist bubble, so it is nice to be invited into someone's home.