It's been kind of nice to be on our own for the past two days here in Zagreb. On Sunday morning John & I slept in a bit, and after breakfast, took a city tram out to a huge public park called Maksimir. We walked in about 1/4 mile until we reached the entrance to the zoo. It was apparent that we were the only non-Croatians there, and that's what we wanted. Enough of the locals speak English that we are never totally lost.
The zoo isn't large and it isn't particularly lavish, but the animals seem to be well taken care of. We did see red pandas, a new animal for us. As we explored, we noticed a sign that the sea lions would be fed at 11:30, so we headed over to their enclosure. The keeper came out to speak before the feeding (the only word I caught was California), and obviously told everyone about the individual animals. Also, all the kids would be able to help out, by being given some fish to throw into the pool. What a great idea! The kids had a ball. There were three smallish sea lions in the pool, and then one huge one that had been hanging out behind the scenes, and he came out near the end of the session. Even when a fish hit him in the head, he didn't react. So then the keeper went into the enclosure and fed the big guy minnows by hand. A woman who was standing next to me explained that the big sea lion was 27 years old and was blind. The normal life expectancy is 17 years! Another highlight was the petting zoo, so it was neat ot see little kids caressing some very tame goats.
We took the bus back downtown and had some lunch. John took a little nap while I went out to do some more walking in the area. I encountered a sign that gives the latitude, longitude and altitude of Zagreb, and I was really surprised that it is a bit further north than my home in Traverse City! By the way, it warmed up quite a bit today, with sunshine and a high of 70 degrees. And we also noticed an abundance of fall colors too! I also took a free 20 minute tram ride that toured the immediate area near downtown. Then I saw a huge number of temporary barriers plus a lot of hubbub going on in the park around the corner from our hotel. It turned out that there was to be a 10K race, and this was the location of the finish line. The starting time was 7 PM, and they do this every year, with 3000 runners! The race is two circuits of a 5K loop, and we went out to watch a few hours later. It goes through city streets, but the front runners were so fast that they lapped those in the rear, along with the police escort. There was also a drumline performing near the finish line, and we could still hear it when we returned to our room.
Earlier in the evening, we went together back to the Mirogoj cemetery. It was really interesting to see the tens of thousands of candles still burning. It is not the unlike the celebration surrounding Dia de Los Muertos in Spanish speaking counties.
John writing - Here are some of my general comments about Croatia.
If you look at the borders of the country of Croatia, you will see that there is a long thin strip of land running south along the Dalmation coast, and then a thicker piece in the north, that curves east and a little south. We are now in Zagreb in the north central part of the country. We have noticed a difference between the people, the architecture, and the food between the coastal regions and the area around Zagreb. The people along the coast seemed to smile a lot more, and in general be happier. Perhaps that's because they are depending on tourists for their livelihood. The people along the street or in the bus in Zagreb seem kind of dour, yet if you talk to them, they are very pleasant and helpful. They also have a great sense of humor, like the sign in the zoo that said, "Don't let your children fall into the enclosure because the sea lions won't give them back". The buildings here in Zagreb seem heavier, like the photos we have seen of other cities in eastern Europe. Our guide here in Zagreb described Communist era buildings as brutish.
As you might expect, there was a lot more seafood offered in restaurants along the coast. However, the food in all of Croatia is pretty bland. The most common dishes seem to be a plain piece of meat or fish, boiled potatoes, and some boiled vegetables. In most foreign countries we have visited, I discover a new taste. Sometimes it is as simple as the beans and rice in Costa Rica, a new fruit in Southeast Asia, or soursap ice cream in Vietnam. That has not happened in Croatia.
This is not that surprising when you learn about their history. People along the coast were controlled, or at least dealt with, the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire. The people in the north central part of the country were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, so it is not surprising that the people in Zagreb exhibit the characteristics of Germanic people. Note from Lois: the Germans we have met are all very friendly and have superb skills in English. The other day I talked to two twenty-something sisters who were visiting for the weekend from Frankfurt. We were all lamenting the behavior of the Chinese tourists who have incredibly bad manners!
A last minute addition on Monday morning.
It was raining pretty hard as we made our way to the Museum of Broken Relationships (it is not only real, it is a chain!), and an old man told us with a smile, "It is a bad time to visit Zagreb!" The museum was a fun and sad place to visit, and Lois told me she was glad to still have me:-)