Here we are in the Paris ring road traffic madhouse again. Scooters and motorcycles blasting by, zipping in and out of lanes, their hazard lights flashing and their beeping horns giving ample demonstrations of the doppler effect.
Ahead there has been an accident, we crawl and crawl forward making slower progress than when we were walking the Camino.
At last we pass the scene, a scooter has been hit by a car. I am sympathetic to the riders physical plight but unsurprised by the occurrence.
After the accident site we make good progress for five hundred meters or so. Warning signs start flashing overhead…..accident ahead.
The crawling recommences.
Finally we reach the next accident site, a scooter has been hit by a car.
Is anyone seeing a pattern here?
After the second accident site the traffic remains at a gradual crawl for what seems an eternity, finally we accelerate only to find our exit is coming up on the right and the queue to join the exit stretches back about a kilometer on the ‘freeway’.
We had left Bantard early and stopped at Orleans for lunch and a quick view of the city. We had anticipated making our hotel near the Charles de Gaulle airport mid afternoon however we really had not compensated for the ring road traffic.
By the time we have actually left the ring road the sun is setting.
Apparently, if you put your hazard lights on, it entitles you to stop and park anywhere on Paris streets. Want to duck into the local pizza shop for a takeaway, just park in the middle of the street and put your hazards on and you are good to go.
Maybe I exaggerate a little, no one parks quite in the middle of the street however the outside lane of a two lane road is undeniably fair game.
Our progress is slow and the Clio’s uncomfortable steering wheel has my fingerprints indelibly pressed into the slippery vinyl and Pam’s bootprints are stamped into the passenger firewall by the time we have left the main road and are heading to our hotel.
We spy a street sign advertising our hotel location on the roadside as we approach a roundabout that states take the first exit. We follow these directions and find ourselves on a rough pothole filled street, rusting car wrecks line the side. The road narrows and we find ourselves driving into a very rough looking cul-de-sac, caravan doors creak, a fire of wooden pallets burns in the street.
We hightail it out of the Parisian Hillbilly area as fast as we can navigate the pothole filled road, take the next exit off the roundabout and finally make our hotel unscathed.
The drive in the morning passes relatively smoothly when you factor in the three times driving around terminal one that we require to find the correct car park for returning a Firefly vehicle.
Like the Rolling Stones famously sang……’tiiiiiiiime is on my side’…….we had left early to compensate for such adventures.
Of course the downside of early arrivals at airports is the interminable waiting.
The flight from Paris to Zagreb takes about an hour and a half, we cross four or five countries during the flight which is amazing in itself to me. The flight itself is completely unremarkable which is exactly what I prefer when it comes to air travel.
Zagreb – Day One
We touch down in Zagreb, exit the plane onto the tarmac and are taken by bus to the small terminal. No internal trains here.
The customs process is smooth and painless and we are walking out into the chilly Zagreb air in no time.
Our taxi driver has a heavy right foot and engages us in conversation as he weaves in and out of lanes, hands waving, never using an indicator.
He speaks pretty fluent English and simultaneously gives us a compact history lesson of Croatia and a very basic language lesson. It turns out that prior to the most recent war he was a teacher, he now drives cabs and works in nightclubs. He teaches English on the street. He advises us that most of the young people in Croatia speak reasonable English. He mourns the corruption of Croatian politicians and the short sighted nature of their greed. He tells us that Croatia are playing Iceland for a qualifying spot in the 2014 Soccer World Cup in Iceland tonight and that the city will be full of beautiful women with no men in sight. There are two matches to play and tonight Croatia play in Iceland and on Tuesday night in Zagreb. We hear about the new coach and the troubles in the national team. Croatia must win to qualify.
This guy talks faster than he drives and he is driving pretty damn fast.
We cross the Sava river and I comment that it appears to be nearly bursting it’s banks. Our driver informs us that it has been raining very heavily for five days just prior to our arrival and that the river level had gotten as high as half way up the enormous levees that line each side of the Sava. Today is the first day the river has been back within it banks since.
Zagreb is flashing by our windows. We pass a tram. Zagreb has trams, lots of blue trams.
Finally our driver/philosopher pulls into the street where our apartment lies, he can’t find our number however we are close by, and the less time we spend in that cab the higher our chance of continued life on Earth, so we happily pay and alight.
We orient ourselves. We are standing on a T intersection that gives the impression of a right angle street corner, tram lines follow the street curves and a blue tram rattles by. The street our apartment is on apparently ends at the right angle however the numbers indicate there should be more. We cross the wide street and make our way up the narrower part of the street that lies beyond.
There is no number for the building of the apartment and no signage indicating apartments of any kind. Finally we enter a little archway where the apartment should logically be and are standing in a doorway wondering what to do next when the intercom fires into life and asks ‘if we are Pam and Michael’?
We are greeted by a lovely friendly girl who speaks perfect rapid English. She ushers us up two flights of stone stairs and opens the apartment. Our apartment is clean, modern and spacious, we have paid a lot more for small hotel rooms in Spain.
Pam is rapidly looking up vegetarian restaurant addresses, she had already researched Zagreb in this respect and has charted out our dining for the coming six days, meal by meal (I jest of course).
We settle on Vegehop which happily lies on the same street as our apartment and make our way downstairs and into the chilly Zabreb air once more. The waiter at Vegehop also speaks great English, the food is delicious and inexpensive and Pam is in virtual heaven realising she finally has a nearby good vegetarian restaurant at her disposal.
From Vegehop we wander into the city centre. Zagreb is a juxtaposition of old and new. Huge advertising billboards cover entire walls of historical looking buildings. Modern fashion stores and restaurants abound. The enormous twin spires of the ancient cathedral tower above everything.
If I could only use five words to describe the general populace in Zagreb the following would suffice.
Young, tall, slender, attractive, friendly.
Add stylishly dressed to the equation and you have a pretty heady mix.
The previous day of stressful driving and the flight into a new country have left us both tired and we don’t wander too far in the city. The city centre square is only about five hundred meters walk from our apartment and we make our way back for rest and research.
The storm and rain that has occurred in the last few days has damaged the apartment TV arial and there is no reception. That night we have dinner in the bar/restaurant that lies right next to our apartment. When the football comes on all the cliental other than Pam and myself suddenly vanish.
We watch the game from our table while the chef and waiter watch from the bar. Pam and I make plans to go to the live match on Tuesday night.
Our cheers of support for Croatia earn us smiles from the staff.
The game ends in a nil all draw despite one of the Icelandic players being red carded. Croatia must absolutely win the next match to qualify. A draw will not suffice.
Should be a red hot game come Tuesday.
Zagreb – Day Two
Pam has determined that we shall be doing two walks today. The first around the older section of Zagreb and the second around the main town area. Our map of Zagreb we have obtained from the tourist office clearly shows the two walks and I am wisely nominated navigator for the day.
The main square in Zagreb lies only a few hundred meters from our apartment, from here we wander through the maze of fresh produce market stalls in the area above the main square. I am amazed to hear that the Dolac farmers market occurs every day in Zagreb.
With access to cheap tasty fresh everything in the heart of the city no wonder the populace is so lean and attractive.
We have passed the cathedral and stopped to take photos on the way into town so our next waypoint is the ‘little train’ (The Funicular which is the shortest passenger railway in the world) our taxi driver had described to take us to the top of the hill and the buildings of the older town area.
Of course Pam is having none of the ‘little train’ and we both end up walking the stairs along the side of the tracks. I am sure I have seen this train or something very similar to it in many movies.
From the top we wander through the cobblestone streets taking in the sights such as the tile mosaic rooftop of St Marks church.
We have a great view of the cathedral spires and little church across the city from our high vantage point. Pam is making lists in her head of the many museums and galleries in the area for us to come back to.
Old Zagreb streets can be narrow and confusing, I also have a fair bit of trouble finding roadsigns and following the tourist map which only lists one street name in ten.
Finally we find a cobblestone street leading down around a right angle corner that passes under a building via an archway to Gradec Stone Gate, where people are lighting candles and praying.
The exit from this strange arch leads down to a street below where we turn right at a statue of St George & the Dragon. This street leads us back down past the cathedral again and from here it is a short walk back to our apartment.
The restaurant across the street from our apartment prepares vegetarian food (Pam is in heaven) and is doing such good trade that Pam and I have to sit in the colourful wooden outdoor area outside that takes up a fair area of the road.
Luckily the day is fine and nearly still for the air is chilly enough for me to be blowing steam on each breath in the middle of the day.
After lunch we set out again into the town square and cross the tram tracks for the lower city walk which follows a circuit taking in Zagreb’s beautiful parklands and historical buildings.
The large parkland beyond the huge yellow Art Pavilion looks to be a local lovers haunt. There is a newly wed couple having photos taken and young people making out on just about every spare park bench.
Sometimes it is better to join them, Pam and I sicken a couple of local youths by having an ‘old person’ pash in the shadow of a large statue depicting King Tomislav on horseback.
The larger part of Zagreb is built on the river flats on each side of the Sava and is protected from flooding by massive grassed levies running the length of the city. This means the city is mostly quite flat, it is easy to walk long distances and owning a bicycle would make absolute sense for anyone living here.
Our stroll round the lower part of the city takes a couple of hours and as we are making our way back towards the main square along one of the many streets that are blocked to motor vehicles we come across a busy cafe selling delicious cakes and ice-cream.
It is either the store owner or a very enthusiastic manager who greets us and having rapidly determined we are English speakers requests one of the girls serving behind the counter to ‘describe all the cakes in English’ for Pam.
I need no such description for my eyes have been transfixed from our moment of entry by the tray of dark, dark brown chocolate ice-cream just to the left of the cakes.
The cafe has seating inside on both the floor and an upper level along with quite a lot of seating in the street. The decor is bright, rock and roll, Led Zepplin are playing on the sound system. The place is packed.
Pam describes her cake as fantastic. My ice-cream knocks my previous top contender for worlds best chocolate ice-cream (which had a 20 year tenure) down into second place.
I am really liking Zagreb.
On our return to the apartment Pam begins researching what is going on in Zagreb for the next few days. It is late Saturday afternoon by now and she discovers that tonight at the Europa Cinema there are going to be two screenings of the Battleship Potemkin. This is a very old (1925) black and white silent movie which will be accompanied for these two screenings by the Zagreb Philharmonic orchestra.
By the time we are ready to leave the first screening has already nearly begun however we think we will be in plenty of time to catch the 9pm session.
The cinema is just one street off the main square, we walk to the end of the street and buy Vegetarian burgers (I have a Hemp seed burger) which we munch sitting on a bench in the centre of the traffic free street.
It is about 7:30pm by now and thinking we still have plenty of time we stroll back to the cinema and go to order our tickets.
It turns out the session is already nearly sold out, the only remaining tickets are in the fourth row. As the first three rows are closed to enable the orchestra room to perform this means we will have to sit in the first row of the audience.
Pam and I have a thirty second discussion, front row is fine, we buy our tickets and spend the next hour or so lubricating our minds in the cinema foyer bar to ready for the experience.
The exit of the previous session is preceded by wave after wave of applause.
We are getting excited.
The cinema seats at least two hundred people. By the time Pam and I have taken our seats, which are front row and a little left of centre, the cinema is nearly full.
A stage has been erected in front of the cinema screen and some of the screen area will be slightly blocked by the musicians. I practice my slouch so that I don’t further block the line of sight for those unfortunates sitting behind me.
The audience sits hushed, expectant.
The musicians make their way onstage and tune up.
The conductor strides to his stand, taps his baton, you can hear a pin drop.
Some cigarette burns flash on the screen which cues the conductor, his arms raise….then drop…..the orchestra comes to life….frantic escalating music greets the flickering screen as the movie begins.
As previously mentioned this is a black and white, silent, subtitled movie. The subtitles are in Russian and on the left hand side of the screen there is a Croatian translation of the Russian subtitles.
Pam and I will just have to get the gist of it from non verbal cues of which there are plenty.
The crew on the Battleship Potemkin are being fed a diet that is almost entirely meat.
A crew member finds his ration crawling with maggots…..all the hanging carcasses are inspected….and found to be crawling with maggots also.
The crew are very disgruntled by now and are ordered by their superiors to either eat the rotting meat or starve.
There is a mutiny directed by a small central cadre of rank and file crew members which swells till almost the entire crew is in mutiny.
The officers quell the mutiny by force and order the ship guards to shoot and kill the central cadre who are by now roped together, shrouded under a sail.
Tension builds….the orchestra is going at it hard core….the lead violinist is nearly leaping from his chair with each swipe of his bow in his enthusiasm….the ship guards relent and refuse to shoot their fellow crew members. The central cadre throw off their bonds and the mutiny swiftly builds again. This time the officers have to fend for themselves, things do not go well for them.
In the ensuing melee the initial crew member who discovered the rotting meat is shot and dies, his corpse hanging in the ship rigging.
The orchestra play a funereal piece…..the now sombre crew make their fallen comrade into a martyr whose corpse is ferried from the ship to the mainland ….grief and outrage fill the minds of the populace…..huge queues form to view the martyr’s body…..people are flooding from their workplaces…..economic output grinds to a halt….the mutiny is spreading and becoming a citywide uprising against unfair socio-economic conditions.
The government call in the police and army to quell the population…..the orchestra’s rhythm section sounds out the gunshots….mothers and children are killed….a baby in a pram miraculously rolls down a huge staircase unscathed.
An armada of small fishing boats sail out to the Battleship Potemkin and inform the crew of events onshore……the ship turns its guns on the police and army barracks and the parliament.
Boom Boom….cymbals and kettle drums…..boom boom….bodies of policemen fly through the air.
The navy is called in to sink the Battleship Potemkin….a race to the haven of safe waters (I am assuming it was Russian waters) ensues.
The Battleship Potemkin is tiny compared to the huge ships called in numbers to sink it. The crew race to feed the boilers to outrun the enemy vessels….the orchestra is playing a long piece now that gains and gains in unrelenting intensity…..the lead violinist is a lather of sweat…watching the orchestra is just as interesting as watching the movie….I switch from one to the other.
Twenty….thirty ships are now in the wake of the Battleship Potemkin….surely their annihilation is at hand…..the music is like a fever…..my heart is racing.
Suddenly some international ocean border is crossed……the pursuing ships turn around……the crew of the Potemkin go wild…..the orchestra erupts in triumph.
The house lights come on.
The audience erupts in applause as the conductor turns and bows, the applause intensifies as he beckons the orchestra to stand.
The conductor leaves the stage….the applause just continues….he returns and bows again….he signals the lead violinist to stand….the applause redoubles.
With the applause still continuing the conductor leaves the stage once more….the orchestra are looking deservedly chuffed with the audience response…..the applause just keeps on keeping on…..the conductor returns….signals the orchestra to stand once more…..my hands are getting sore but I just keep on clapping with everyone else.
Finally the applause comes to an end.
Doors to the side of the cinema suddenly open and the bulk of the audience is able to walk straight out into the cool Zagreb night air without going back through the foyer.
Now that is something you just do not see every day.
Mick and Pam