Reflections of Croatia- Zagreb

After returning back from our two week vacation in Croatia, and frankly after any vacation, I find myself with the arduous task of uploading the hundreds of photos that we took, significant captures of our experience.  There is an urgent need–a priority–to ensure that these captures are saved, uploaded, then organized. But I think, for me at least, this process temporarily causes me to lose focus of the most essential aspects of the travel experience: the impressions, the realizations the expanded perspective and deeper understanding of another culture, people and place.

Sometimes, even during the vacation, the almost desperate need to document the experience–photographing every viewpoint, getting the perfect shot–starts to erode the most important part of all—the actual moment and experience.

I did catch myself a few times, upon first entering Plitvicke Jezera National Park,  (the photo above is from our hike in this lovely park) without even looking at the pathway I started just snapping away–the waterfall from this angle, from that angle, the lake below, the path etc. And although I do appreciate the photos retrospectively, I stopped myself and reminded myself that “dude, chill out, stop photographing and just LOOK around with your own eyeballs, breathe the fresh air and absorb the beautiful paradisical scenery (I believe I made up that word hehe–but it means “paradise-like”), experience this live experience!” The article linked below totally reminded me of this “phenomena.”

http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2013/09/27/the-secret-to-remembering-travel/

So thus the inspiration of this post!

I figure that my photo albums on picasa should tell the day by day photographs captured, and so here I will just free-form share random things that stood out to me or crossed my mind while on our lil Croatian adventure 🙂

ZAGREB, CROATIA

FIRST IMPRESSIONS VIBE:  Walking around the capitol of Croatia, I sense a vibe of somberness…it seems I can see the residual communist influence–and I don’t mention this to per say state that the buildings were all uniform and boring–no, because they weren’t, but there was just something –perhaps it was the residual vibe of a relatively recent war (90s are not so long ago…)–but there was an underlying seriousness–the concrete buildings on certain streets, with black scrawls and swirls of graffiti, giving a sense of hard urbanness. However, not once (even with my hyper-paranoid self) did we ever feel in sense of danger or even uncomfortable, safety-wise (which I couldn’t state the same for France and Italy). The people too although also initially with a more somber countenances, are genuinely kind and earnestly so, making their kindness somehow more meaningful. It is hard to specifically describe but yesh..that is what I come up with….”somberness.” It is a unique difference from the sunny warmth and expressiveness of Italians that we’d encountered, and the polite aloofness of the French people we came across while traveling in Europe prior. 

We most enjoyed walking around the Jelacic Square area (shown below)–the outdoor cafes lining the walkways, the cobblestone paths leading to Upper Town with its quaint colored buildings and traces of the historical past—but most importantly to me, was the people watching.

I always seek to observe the characteristics (hah for bionerds…the phenotypes) that present when in another culture, country…I found taller than average peeps, ranging from dark haired and eyed with strong nasal structure -with pale almost “Portlandish” complexions. What is it about the minute lengthened or shortened distance between eyes, or nose length, or mouth or face shape that causes one to innately begin to become familiar with how a certain people from a country look?

Here is a cute sample of said graffiti:

CONNECTING WITH THE LOCALS: When thinking of this trip, what jumps out most, as with all past trips, are the experiences when we connect with the locals. How does this happen? Well I’d highly suggest that a glass or two or three or four always helps to facilitate things (and indeed this is a universal Law I would imagine, amongst all cultures 🙂 But most importantly is this: Take the time to learn a few basic phrases of the native language and speak it. I would say 99% of the time, the local (most likely a waiter in a restaurant or cafe) is pleasantly surprised by your effort–perhaps they are so often bombarded by ethnocentric “ugly uhmerakins” as we like to refer–those that disrespectfully expect all other cultures to cater/bend to their will with no awareness that hello! you’re in another country (most likely with a much longer history) and as a guest, you should be respectful.

So our first true night in Croatia, we ate at a lovely restaurant named Trilogija (which later we would be told by the owner Boris that it stood for: Good Food, Good Wine, and Good Company—a philosophy after our own hearts 🙂 Also we realized that not having a reservation and having to sit at the bar, actually worked to our advantage; we were able to tentatively try out a few phrases of Croatian (Zelim jelovnik, molim = I’d like the menu please) and thus it set the tone for the evening. We started chatting with the two waiters Bob and Zdraivko (I’m sure I have mis-spelled this)–asking about the wines, the dishes and ingredients, and learning a few more fun Croatian phrases. After several refills of wine with each course, Boris the owner joined and our conversation progressed to which country to send his sons to college (America? but that is so far from home…or the UK? that is closer…) —and then it gets fuzzie. We then join Bob after dinner (we stayed apparently until the restaurant closed) to visit his friend Nino, who owned a pizzaria–and yes, more vino, pizza and blabbings 😉 Good times, good company indeed…

SO! A few key highlights from this meal was discovering that wow, Number 1: Croatians know how to perfectly cook their fish filets! Perfect air-crisp skin, with juicy filet meat, not even a whisper of being dry or overcooked, and Number 2: Glorious earthy truffles are quite a common ingredient in the dishes (Yahoooo!)

A first introduction to truffles, along with handmade Croatian cheese on toast (sorry for the blurry image)…as well as perfectly cooked Adriatic bass:

Culinary theme of deliciously cooked fish and truffles continued: Our meal at Agava Restaurant with a Truffle pasta (truffle’s perfumey earthy richness pairs sooo well with a cream sauce, and this one was not too heavy but balanced to let the truffle flavors shine.) And then I had the absolutely most juicy Blue FIn Tuna steak (now, normally, it would seem cooking Blue Fin tuna is blasphemy–cuz you must have it raw! But this was a mind-opening exception—the meat was so tender, none of that stiff dry texture that I would fear from cooking through a tuna steak—and sooo absolutely juicy–but beyond that, the flavor- something you don’t really get when having it raw, was this hearty meaty rich flavor! sigh…

And last but not least, a photo representing the lovely cheese and wine representation of Croatia (Pag cheese…Truffle (surprise;) cheese…and an intro to the Plavac Mali grape)

More highlights to come 🙂

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