Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Belgrade, Serbia to Zagreb, Croatia - Day 13

Monday, September 18, 2017

There was no avoiding it -- today was going to be a long day. First one woman forgot something in her room safe after we started so that was a 30-minute delay. Then we had a rest stop 1-1/2 hours into the trip.  About 30 minutes later we reached the border with Croatia. There was a long line of trucks exiting Serbia and entering Croatia. All of our border crossings have required 2 stops (exiting and entering) with about a half mile in between. It took us 2 hours to get into Croatia. We all had to get off the bus and go into a facility to see an agent. Every exit and entry requires a stamp in your passport so it is starting to get full.

Shortly afterwards we stopped at a small hotel where we ate a bag lunch. The hotel also had a campground with large barrels for rooms. Very quaint. The trip was still about 4 hours with another stop. There was no scenery to look at, just miles and miles of farmland, much of it harvested and ready for winter - which is very cold here. I spent my time reading a book called "How we survived communism and even laughed." It was about all the hardships women in Yugoslavia faced trying to be women -- like finding makeup and even sanitary napkins because these were not a priority for "the state" to make. Even toilet paper was a precious commodity and the state-run newspaper was an uncomfortable alternative.

We reached Zagreb about 4:30 and didn't have time to check into the hotel. We picked up our guide and we drove around the city. He gave us a little more information about Croatia. It is shaped like a "C," is about the size of West Virginia, and has 3,600 miles of coast. There are 4.5 million people, of which nearly 800,000 live in Zagreb, the capital of the country. The population has 90% ethnic Croats (Catholic) and 4.5% Jews. 

We were all blown away with how beautiful the city is. There are multiple buildings, done in the neoclassical or art nouveau style that hold large art collections or exhibits. Many of these buildings were constructed during the Austro-Hungarian rule and are done in "Habsburg yellow," a tradition started by Empress Maria Theresa for important public buildings. In fact, our guide said there are 630 art museums and galleries (that includes small ones) in the area. I couldn't get the names of all these buildings but they are all worth including here to provide an overview of the style of the city with expansive green spaces. I did not expect this.

Then he took us to the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen. We have Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, which is very park-like, but this one has amazing architecture. Known as Mirogoj's Cemetery, it was designed by famous architect Hermann Bolle.  Here are a few of the burial sites. There is also a church on the grounds for funerals.

Then our guide took us downtown where we did a walking tour of the Upper Town.  The most remarkable thing about this was St. Mark's Church which has the Coat of Arms for Zagreb on the right and the region on the left.

We passed some shops and town squares, one where the city market is held every day.  One of the more unusual museums is the one of Broken Relationships.  I did not have time to visit it but there are artifacts and stories about people's love lives that didn't work out.It was starting to get dark but we went to a street where we could get an overview of Zagreb. 

It was really getting dark, so we walked to our restaurant Vinodol near our hotel. After dinner I took a walk and caught this shot of Zagreb's Cathedral in lights.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Novi Sad, Serbia - Day 12

Sunday, September 17, 2017

From Belgrade we took a field trip to Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia, founded in 1694 when Serb merchants formed a colony across the Danube from a Habsburg fortress.

The old city was a lovely place for a walking tour. Our guide seemed to want to impress us with the diversity of religions represented here with their large physical houses of worship, but that does not really translate to reality. More than 70% are Orthodox Christians, 17% Catholic, 3% Protestant, and less than 1% of everything else. This is consistent with what we have been learning about Serbia.

Case in point. He took us first to a beautiful synagogue where he went into much detail. When it was built in 1909, there was a thriving congregation of 4,000. Now there are only 400 and services are no longer held.

From there we entered the main square which is the best part of a tour here. Today they were having a honey festival.In 1848 there was a revolution and the city was brutally bombed by the Hungarians in the fortress across the river. Ultimately, the city was under the control of the Habsburgs who rebuilt the town. It is a museum of neoclassical and art nouveau architecture from the second half of the 19th century and has been well preserved in spite of numerous conflicts in the region.

From the square, we could see St. Mary's Catholic Church with its 200-ft. spire built in 1894, and the Orthodox Church of St. George. Nearby was the Palace of the Archbishop of Bačka.

While we were touring, we saw this man playing the gusle, a single stringed lute-like instrument from the Dinaric region.

We had some free time so I walked along a pedestrian street. Then I visited nearby Danube Park and headed for the Danube River. I walked across the bridge and got some great views of the Petrovaradin Fortress, sometimes called "the Gibraltar on the Danube." It was built by the Austrians over 88 years, beginning in 1692, with German prisoners of war.

Then we headed to lunch in a small restaurant in a nearby village. While we were there, it poured rain, so much so that the street outside became a river. But it cleared afterward and we headed to our next stop. 

The Fruska Gora mountain area was once home to 35 monasteries, but many were annilated in wars. There are still 16 in use and we visited the 15th century Krusedol Orthodox Monastery.

  It was quite a peaceful setting, with a well preserved church. However the electricity was off so we could not see the frescos inside very well. There are still about 16 monks in residence.

Perhaps the real highlight of the day was a visit to a Beekeeping Museum/Winery (who knew they went together) also in the Fruska Gora area. A winery has been located on this property for 300 years but the Zivanovic family has owned it since 1910. 

He showed us the old underground wine cellar where they turn out 60,000 liters a year. He pointed out that these cellars have a constant microclimate of 12.5 degrees Celsius (about 54 degrees Fahrenheit) with their dirt floors and moldy walls. Due to the natural evaporation of wine from the barrels, mold is created over decades which helps maintain the humidity and temperature. Unlike other alcoholic beverages, wine is still alive when you drink it. 

Then we went to the beekeeping museum which went into great detail about honey production (not the "secret life of bees"). Until the late 1800s, the method for obtaining honey from hives was to kill the bees. This made it rare and expensive, not to mention inhumane. The Museum was a kind of memorial to a man who developed the moveable wooden slats to obtain the honey without killing the insects.

Now it was time for wine tasting -- and honey tasting. We sampled about 8 different wines, both red and white, and the last two wines were medicinal with 27 different herbs infused. All were good.  We also tasted 3 different types of honey.

Then we headed back to the hotel for a substantial dinner at the hotel and to bed.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Belgrade, Serbia - Day 11

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Belgrade's name translates to "white city" because of the white limestone that has been used for centuries for construction. We saw it first hand today with both old and new buildings.

First we went to the Church of St. Sava. He was the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and an important figure in medieval history. Actually, there are two churches. One is small and was built in 1895. It is lovely but obviously holds few people. 

Then in 1935, construction started on a much (much) larger church beside it. Unfortunately, work stopped in 1941 and did not continue again until 1985. (No churches were built during that time period.)  

As of today, work is complete on the exterior, but much remains on the inside. When it is finished, it will be the fifth largest church in the world and will hold 12,000 people standing (people don't sit for services). We did view the crypt on the lower level and it was beautiful. 

Near the church is the city library with a statue of Nikola Tesla, the famous Serbian American who made many discoveries in electricity.

Then we went to Tito's Museum and Mausoleum. I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting it was. I had forgotten what an important figure he was in the 20th century. He rose to power in Yugoslavia after World War II, having been part of the resistance to drive out the Germans. He was the perfect person to lead the country because his father was Croatian, his mother was Slovenian and his wife was Serbian. He was a very charismatic man and was not only respected but friends with many world leaders. When he died in 1980, he had the biggest funeral of a world leader in the 20th century. All but about 12 countries sent a delegation. Although not formally educated, he spoke 4 languages and was an accomplished pianist and photographer.  Yugoslavia was more socialism than communism and citizens were free to travel abroad and tourists were welcomed there. Still, as one of our speakers put it, "soft communism is still communism." Religion was not banned but you couldn't be a member of the Communist Party if you belonged to a church, and being a member of the party was the only way to get ahead.

The museum was a typical "presidential library" with personal artifacts and gifts from other countries. One of the most interesting things were these batons. Every year around his birthday in May they would have a celebration of youth that was like a junior olympics. Teams from different regions would carry unique torches and present them to him. There are 12,000 in storage and here are a few.

We ended our morning tour with a trip to Kalemegdan Fortress, which is now a huge park situated on a slight hill overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers.

 Started in 535 AD, the fort has been added to over the centuries, but the Austrians built most of what we see today in the early 1700's.  Now it is used by families on outings and for rock concerts. It was wonderful to see so many people enjoying it on a Saturday. As always, I enjoyed the old gates and interesting structure.

We had lunch at Dorian Gray Restaurant and then free time. Armed with a map, I enjoyed walking the city streets and found my way to the Ethnographic Museum. Although small, it had an amazing collection of authentic clothing from the late 19th and early 20th centuries from different Serbian regions. I couldn't believe the handwork and detail that went into these garments and that they were still wearing this clothing in the early 20th century.

I walked to Republica Square and found a wide pedestrian mall. I walked on it for awhile but, as in many cities, it has been taken over by chain stores.

I headed out to find the Tesla Museum but briefly was lost. I overestimated my ability to read Cyrillic (my map was in English but the street signs are in Cyrillic). With a few requests, I got pointed in the right direction.  I passed by the National Assembly and St. Mark's Church, among other sites. 

I found Tesla's Museum, which is relatively small but well done. It exhibits a number of his inventions and information about his life. He was born in Serbia, educated in Hungary and emigrated to the US in 1884. He is known as an inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist. His main claim to fame is his work on modern alternating current electricity supply system. His company worked with Westinghouse to build the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls in 1899.  Of the 13 patents licensed for this project, 9 were Tesla's. In 1893 he even foresaw wireless communication. I lack the education to understand many of the examples of his inventions at the museum, but I saw enough to realize the important contributions of this man.

I found my way back to the hotel to relax a bit. Tonight we went to dinner at Restaurant Ima Dana on Skadarluji Street in the bohemian quarter. We ate outside in perfect weather and were treated to four musicians and some traditional dancers. What a lovely evening.