Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Wining and Whining in Sarajevo and Zagreb

It's amazing how an act of kindness can totally change your day. I woke up this morning to more grey skies in Zagreb (ten days straight of rain in Croatia, so they tell me) and just felt discouraged (yes I know I'm in beautiful Croatia, cry me a river. It's what I said to myself this morning). But it's really hard to see the sights when there is constant rain interspersed with torrential downpours, and it's so cold and damp outside. Indoor activities seemed like a good way to start the day, so I headed out to a yoga class at a studio near my hostel. I had a hard time finding the studio and had to wait outside in the cold for 15 minutes before the studio opened, but once I entered the building everything changed. I was so warmly welcomed by the teacher and the studio was on the third floor of a historic building and absolutely beautiful. The teacher asked all the participants if she could teach the class in English for their visitor (I was prepared to muddle through the Croatian and just copy everyone around me) and everyone agreed. I felt so at home and had a wonderful 75 minute restorative flow class (very yin with sun salutations and flow thrown in).

After the class, a few people stayed to visit with me, and a girl named Nicolina offered to tour me around the city square and show me the highlights. It turned out that she was a yoga teacher in training who had studied nutrition in Denmark and we had a great visit. She left me at Johann Franck, which she said was the nicest café-bistro in the city for a latte. Everyone's kindness at the yoga studio really changed my day and underscored my belief that yogis around the world are a pretty amazing group of people.
Sights from Zagreb's central square

So let's rewind this story to yesterday....I arrived in Zagreb last night after spending a day in Sarajevo. I had an okay day in Sarajevo but nothing great. Sarajevo was nearly destroyed in the Yugoslavian War of the 1990s and although a great deal of rebuilding has taken place, there are still many bombed out, crumbling buildings. I arrived at 1 pm and you guessed it, it was freezing cold and pouring rain. I successfully caught a taxi this time and checked into my hotel. I stayed at Hotel Old Town, which was nice, but cost more and was nowhere on the level of Hotel Pellegrino in Mostar. The best part of my hotel was its fantastic location on the edge of the historic Old Town.
However, exploring the Old Town had to wait as I decided that warmer clothes were imperative. I took a taxi to Sarajevo City Centre for a quick shopping trip. This mall was fantastic--it totally reminded me of a smaller version of Fashion Show Mall in Vegas. When I arrived, there was this huge dance party going on and they were dropping balloons from the ceiling. Jeans were a must, but there were no recognizable brands from home other than Levis, so I headed to the Levis store. I bought a great pair of skinnies, then visited Bershka and Stradivarius for a toque and sweater. After cabbing back to my hotel (taxis are dirt cheap in Sarajevo), I changed to explore the Old Town.
Doing what I can on a backpacker's budget... and wearing Levis
Lots of little cobbled streets, hundreds of little shops selling pashminas, evil eye pendants, Turkish tea and coffee sets, and anything else you could imagine, made for a fascinating few hours. I stopped for Turkish tea at one point, and the hot strong tea was perfect on such a cold chilly day. I even visited the famous mosque that was right behind my hotel... the call to prayer could be heard through my window.
Famous fountain in the Old Town
Mmmmm Turkish tea!
My time in the Old Town went pretty well, except for two things. I was buying fruit at a fruit stand, and decided to ask the man who was working for directions to the other shopping area (he seemed normal).  He said he wasn't from Sarajevo and ran off to ask someone else. He returned with a creepy looking man who took my hand and said to follow him. I immediately put my brakes on and said no thank you, I just needed directions as I was meeting a friend soon. Then I was afraid to go there anyway in case he was lying in wait for me. I can never decide in cases like this if I'm paranoid or smart. The other thing that scared me a bit happened when I was buying a scarf in a store. The shopkeeper was very nice, and as I was leaving she asked if she could tell me something. I said of course, and she informed me that there was a very experienced pickpocket working the street the shop was located on. She said the woman was very well-groomed and looked classy, and that she was very accomplished at opening bags and stealing money and credit cards. She told me to keep my handbag in front of me at all times and not to let down my guard. At this point it was getting dark, so I decided that it was time for wine in the room and headed back to my hotel!

The next morning, I visited the Latin Bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, kicking off World War I. Truthfully I expected a much more exciting bridge.

After visiting the bridge, I had a 7 hour bus ride yesterday, and I was really surprised when I had to get off the bus at the Bosnian-Croatian border and unlock my backpack for them to search (I've crossed a lot of borders via bus lately and this has never happened). The customs officer saw all the stuff in my backpack and just looked overwhelmed. I offered to unpack it all and he just said, "Just close it up please." Ha ha the benefits of overpacking!
Above: my sweet ride for 7 hours, smiling in the face of adversity as pigeons attack me at the bus stop in Sarajevo, and an amazing wine selection at a service station stop. I just can't get over these gas stations with bars that sell liquor!

So back to Zagreb....following yoga today I bought more warm clothes as I was still freezing. Woollen tights and a huge leopard print cape to wear over my denim jacket.
Note the ever-present umbrella and toque
I visited Zagreb's famous cathedral and had lunch at a highly-rated pizza place in Zagreb's upper town (kaptol) area called Chateau des Jardins Pizza House.
The cathedral was stunningly beautiful!
Delicious thin crust bacon and mushroom pizza at Chateau des Jardins
 After my yummy pizza, I wandered around the kaptol area in search of a famous wine bar...Vinoteka Bornstein. It was only a few steps from the pizza place and it was truly amazing. It was this beautiful underground cellar with many, many kinds of Croatian wines as well as wines from all over the world. I had a fantastic flight of Croatian reds, and the owner and my waiter were both really informative and helpful. The funniest thing that happened? Some random man came over to my table:
Man: American, right?
Me: No, I'm Canadian.
Man: Oh really? Well did you know that Canada is actually larger than the United States?
Me: Yes, I knew that.
Man: Did you know that Texas is the largest state?
Me: Yes I thought that Texas was pretty big.
Man: Did you know that thousands of Californians are moving to Texas because of rising property taxes?
Me: No, you got me on that one. I didn't know that.
He was then able to leave satisfied, I think.
The biggest hazard of solo travel? Your selfie arm gets worn out.

 So I'm finishing off my time in Zagreb at another wine bar (Basement Wine Bar, doesn't compare to Vinoteka Bornstein, but it's 50 feet from my hostel). And yes, I'm back in the land of hostels again. I'm at Chill Out Hostel which is pretty good as far as hostels go and has a perfect location. I picked it for its great ratings and fun social activities, but there is absolutely no social scene--I tried to sign up for the pub crawl and they said I was the only one interested so they weren't running it. They offered to give me a map so I could do my own pub crawl but I declined... drinking my way around Zagreb solo doesn't sound like a super idea to me. It's a total myth that hostels are this wild party scene!
And tomorrow it's goodbye Croatia... when it wasn't raining, you've been absolutely beautiful! Thanks for an amazing two weeks!
It's autumn here and there are maple leaves everywhere. O Canada!



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