Pam is seeking to redeem our lazy days in Bantard by walking, walking, walking in Zagreb as much as we are able to. She is keen to walk along the Sava river and in a bid to match her sado-masochistic tendencies I plan a long and winding route.
The morning is grey, with cloud hanging so low it is almost mist.
Of course we get lost quickly.
We stop to enable Pam to have her morning coffee and gather our bearings in a large busy suburban cafe.
Our path eventually takes us past the Zagreb bus terminal (where I see a sign advertising a camping store) and I realise that despite having significantly veered from my intended longer path we are actually heading toward the river.
Near enough is good enough. We continue down the main road we have been walking beside for the last kilometer.
Much of suburban Zagreb is high density living full of utilitarian blocks of units in varying states of repair.
We are happy to make the river bank where we turn right at the Most Mladosti and start walking along the gravel track that tops the levee on the city side of the Sava.
Distances look much further on the river bank than they appear on the map.
The levee bank looks to be a popular place for Zagreb locals, there are many other people walking, pushing prams, jogging, walking their dogs, walking with their children.
There is even one other person walking with poles.
I still have a nearly irresistible urge to ‘Buen Camino’ passing strangers.
The Sava river has dropped a little since our arrival however is still very swollen.
The swirling brown waters have me thinking about the passing of Jeff Buckley and the enviable bullet proof madness of youth displayed in the glorious pursuit of hedonistic risk.
Modern Art fixtures are placed at intervals along the path so we are mixing exercise and culture as we stride along the levee.
We pass under the Most Slobode taking pictures of the more impressive graffiti and head towards the railway bridge in the distance.
Shortly beyond the railway bridge is a pedestrian bridge (Savski Most) crossing the river at the end of a tramway loop closely followed by a major road traffic bridge (Jadranski Most). After finding our way under these bridges our riverwalk continues towards Lake Jarun which lies in the flatlands inside the river levee walled area.
Across the river the sports stadium Arena Zagreb and the Arena Centar shopping mall dominate the skyline.
Lake Jarun is a large freshwater lake that has been modified and developed into an aquatic parkland for the Zagreb populace. There is an area for people to swim, a long straight section for rowing regattas and a large area for other aquatic endeavors such as windsurfing and kiteboarding.. Smooth broad concrete footpaths ideal for roller blading and cycling encircle the lake.
The swimming area is separated from the much larger rowing straight by a long tongue of land. Three wooded islands rise in the larger lake giving the impression of three distinct sections to the one body of water.
My plan for our walk was to continue along the Sava on top of the levee wall until we had done a complete semicircle around Zagreb. On reaching the lake area we realise that this remainder of this walk would have us passing mostly open marshy flats and would then involve a long walk following along Zagreb’s busiest freeway to return to the city.
Good exercise yes, good eye candy no.
Today the road around the lake area is the site of a fun run/cycle with participants wearing numbers and being cheered on by little groups of supporters. We chose to descend from the levee wall and walk around the lake area taking in the local activity.
Pam shouts her encouragement to the passing fun runners ‘You’re all winners’.
It has been a grey cool day in Zagreb and the stony lake beach only has a few people playing with their children. It is easy to imagine how busy this area must be in the heat of summer.
I walk to the waters edge, take a knee and dip my hand in the water, brrrrrrrr, thoughts of having a swim flee my tiny mind.
We make our way to a waters edge cafe and Pam has a coffee. She goes to use the facilities and returns with a tale of being unable to lock the toilet door. She had burst in on the person in front of her and a girl had then burst in on her. Pam and this second girl have then struck up a conversation.
We all leave the cafe simultaneously, Pam and our new young friend continue chatting as we walk.
She is a teacher, she is disenchanted with the government attitude to education in Croatia and the pay scales for teachers, ‘tram drivers make more money than teachers’, she has a friend in Perth Australia and has tasted Vegemite, she ‘loves Vegemite’. She laughingly corrects our pronunciation of the few Croatian words we know, it is closer to Fala (Hvala) not Koala. She tells us how easy English is learn compared to Croatian (she also speaks French, Italian and German) We talk about the very recent entry of Croatia into the EU (01/07/2013), she is fearful of massive inflation and cost of living increases if Croatia adopts the Euro as currency (a widely held fear apparently). She speaks about the turmoil of the war and the national effort in recovery, about the Croatian spirit and the Croatian people’s history of adaptation.
She has come to the lake area with two friends from the other side of town, her friends have left the lake footpath and are beckoning her to follow. Before we think to get her name and email address she is gone, bouncing up the stairs.
It really is fantastic to travel in a country where so many locals are both willing and able to converse with us. Our new multilingual friend has been funny, sweet, forthcoming with her opinions, a complete delight.
Pam and I are both a little sad that we didn’t get her details as we would have loved to offer her a place to stay should she ever make it to Australia.
While engrossed in conversation we have walked nearly to the far end of the lake complex, now we have to consider our return.
Rather than walking through the streets full of high density apartments ahead and then walking back to the city along a very busy road we elect to walk the quieter suburban streets back to the bridges we passed before the lake complex and then take a tram back to the city heart.
We have been walking several hours by now and lunch is starting to become the thought uppermost in our minds.
The walk back towards the bridges is flat and long, we pass a group of young people on roller blades who are performing on the street in front of a film crew.
Near the bridges we come across what looks to be a little bar/restaurant. A sign out the front declares ‘grill and pizza’. We decide to stop and enter.
This bar turns out to be like the Tardis, much larger on the inside than the outside as seen from the road. It is very busy inside, full of Zagreb locals and families, lots of children. We secure one of the few remaining inside tables and order some beer and wine along with a large vegetarian pizza.
Our waiter is swift with the drinks and we sit back comfortably watching the goings on. Once again we are struck by how young, happy and attractive the people are. All the kids and mothers are stylishly dressed, the women are done up to the nines, the men are lean and tall, broad shouldered.
All the meals being brought to the tables look delicious. The pizzas are being cooked in a large wood fired oven in one corner by a very busy chef, the grilled fish and meats are prepared on the far side of the room by a separate chef.
The warmth and smell of the wood fired oven fills the large dining space, our waiter appears with our pizza. The pizza’s are enormous and we have ordered one between us, our waiter has had the foresight to have it cut in half and delivers each half on a separate plate.
On one of the tables next to us a family has their meal delivered, a little girl of about ten has a full pizza put in front of her. Pam and I lay bets to see if she finishes.
The vegetarian pizza we have ordered is delicious, a hot thin crispy crust full of herbs and spices, Pam wishes she had ordered one each as she tucks into her last piece.
The girl on the table next to us is struggling to finish her pizza however she has a look of determination on her face. She makes it to about three quarters of the way through before giving up with a satisfied sigh.
Back on the street we only have a short walk to make the tram end loop we had walked past a few hours ago. Despite our Croatian friend’s advice that she ‘does not buy tram tickets as a method of protesting the disparity in wages between teachers and tram drivers’ and ‘that it is easy to ride the trams for free’ at Pam’s insistence we buy tickets at the local news stand.
For the first time we ride a blue Zagreb tram. Inside the seating is sparse however as we have gotten on at the start of a circuit we easily find seats, the trams accelerate fast and the travel between stops is rapid and smooth. Electronic signs hanging from the roof show the coming stops along with the usual indecipherable speaker announcement.
I am doing my best to follow along using the map of Zagreb which shows all the tram lines and I feel I am starting to get the hang of the city by the time we are dismounting on the corner we arrived at via taxi on our first day.
Our apartment is less than one hundred meters from this point.
We decide to have dinner in the city at one of the many outside bar/restaurant/cafes that line the pedestrian thoroughfares. On our previous walks into the city these have been bustling with people however on our arrival tonight we walk past business after business that is closed.
Ahhhh the penny drops, it is Sunday night.
Finally we find a couple of open restaurants and we sit under one of the radiant outdoor heating units in some comfortable chairs.
During our walk today I had noticed how little rubbish or trash there was on Zagreb streets or in the suburbs. Other than cigarette butts we barely saw any litter the entire day and I had brought this to Pam’s attention.
The city centre itself maintains this clean and tidy ethos, no litter other than cigarette butts.
The Croatians do like their cigarettes.
Earlier in the day we had been a little aghast when people inside the cafe we we first stopped at for coffee lit up and started puffing away.
By the evening we have realised that this is just the norm here, indoor, outdoor it’s all the same. It is like time traveling back to the 1970’s.
Tonight we are ringed on all sides except one by people drinking and puffing away. Suddenly the couple sitting to our left who have not smoked so far pull out these electronic cigarettes and commence breathing out this bizarre thick white odourless smoke which wafts over us. It feels like being enveloped in a cloud.
There is no escape.
I feel like I have smoked a pack of Winnie Reds by the time we have finished our meal.
Pam and Mick