Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Zagreb, Croatia’s Capital City–by Segway

Saturday May 18, 2013
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We flew from Istanbul to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, and were surprised and pleased to see how small the airport was. Zagreb’s small size is its charm. It is compact, made for walking, and filled with parks, inspiring architecture, and locals doing their thing. We had originally considered spending our first night there but, when we looked at our desired itinerary, we realized that we would have to settle for a short stop, and wouldn’t have time to see much if we walked. It was the perfect opportunity to take a Segway tour, which I booked online at Segway City Tour Zagreb.

Zagreb_map-OverviewWe picked up our rental car and headed toward town. It was my responsibility to be map reader, and know where we were and which way to turn at all times. I will just admit right now that this is a source of tension, because it is impossible to read a map and pinpoint where you are while in a moving car. Especially when the driver is saying “Where are we? What street are we looking for? Which way do I turn?” while accelerating through intersections which have no signage or, if they do it says something like “Hrvatske Bratske Zajednice.”

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At times like this, my Master’s Degree in Geography with an emphasis in Planning is an emotional burden. We had to turn around a few times, and when we finally made it to the city center, we still had trouble finding the Regent Esplanade hotel, our meeting place, because of the one-way streets. I was getting worried that we would be late and miss the tour, but we found the hotel, parked, and arrived just a minute or two before noon.

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Perfect timing, but where was everyone? The hotel bellman led us around to a tiny building outside the entrance, and there were a few Segways and a guy in a yellow shirt. “Are you Darko?” I asked, remembering my favorite male Croatian name from the confirmation email. “No,” he said, “he is the Owner, but I am your tour guide. My name is Z.” Where was everybody? Were we the only ones on the tour? YES!

I mentioned to Z that we were lucky to make it on time, and he was very sympathetic to my challenges as navigator. A few minutes later, Darko showed up, saying that he had tried to call my mobile number to confirm. Unfortunately, my phone was turned off and he got an Etisalat message in Arabic, ending with “shukran,” the Arabic word for “thank you.” I imagine he came out just to see us and find out whether I would be trying to ride the Segway wearing an abaya and niqab!

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We immediately hit it off with Z, whose full first name is Zvonko and now my #2 favorite Croatian name. Have we ridden a Segway before, or is this the first time? Mark’s answer was a definite no, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe I did once, I said, but if so I must have been drunk because I couldn’t remember clearly. Or maybe I dreamed it, or just imagined it. No worries, Z assured us, we would be experts soon. We had our first lesson right there in front of the elegant Regent Esplanade Hotel.

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At first it was disconcerting to be standing upright on this contraption that wants to move all the time, but after a few minutes you get used to it. It reminded me of characters in old space-age cartoons like The Jetsons, who hover in space. You are always balancing, and never quite still. We practiced forward, backward, and turns. Pretty soon, Z announced that we had graduated from Novice to Competent, and we were on our way.


Our tour was the two-hour Zagreb All Around Tour, a loop beginning and ending in the city’s planned Lower Town “Green Horseshoe” with its wide boulevards lined with parks, hotels, museums, and galleries, and winding up into the medieval Upper Town with its narrow streets, bars and cafes, outdoor market, and cathedrals.   

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Our first stop was Tomislav Square, which as a railway station and a monument to Croatia's first king. Tomislav, who reigned in the 10th century, is celebrated as the founder of united Croatia, also has a beer named after him


Croatia - Zagreb (17)Next we stopped in another square, mostly deserted, to learn higher level Segway skills. Z told us we had been in low gear, and would now graduate to Proficient. The Segway actually has a speed governor, and slows or even stops if you go too fast. Once again Mark and I circled around, practicing. For me, the trickiest part of driving the Segway was going up curbs where you had to speed up and keep your balance, hopefully without getting too much “air.” I made a few pretty big hops on some of the curbs but stayed on board.

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One of Zagreb’s most famous landmarks is the twin-spired Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary which, like most churches and cathedrals, has undergone many changes over the centuries as it has survived wars, conquests, even earthquakes, and been rebuilt and restored.

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We arrived at the same time as a tour group, which was something we would experience everyplace we went except for the Island of Brac. Croatia is unspoiled, but it is not undiscovered.

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We rested our feet here. A word of advice about riding on a Segway: it is not for everyone. You need to be able to stand and balance, and it puts stress on the knees, ankles, and feet. Wear really good, supportive shoes. I picked the wrong shoes – they were flats. Even with all the stand-up paddle boarding I’ve been doing, my feet and legs were hurting. Z joined me in some bending and stretching.

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Mark had a couple of things that were must-do, and one of them was to get a photo of a certain statue of a woman wearing a scarf and carrying something on her head, which was in a picture that his Croatian cousin Mirta, who now lives in the USA in North Carolina, had sent after her trip to the homeland. At first Z was puzzled, and then he realized that Mark was referring to the statue of the typical peasant woman at the top of the stairs above Dolac Market.

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She represents the women who have grown food and sold their wares in the market here throughout the centuries. I think if I had been born in another time and place, I would have been one of these ladies. I love growing food.

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I can’t get enough of these markets, with the beautiful produce and flowers. We look forward to traveling at a more leisurely pace in the future, when we will stay someplace for a month or two, we have a kitchen, and we can shop and cook like locals. Maybe even have a garden.

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We wound our way through the maze of shops and cafes where locals were enjoying a Saturday morning coffee or mug of beer. One of Zagreb’s pastimes is to see and be seen in the outdoor cafes, and we were a curiosity as we rolled by on our Segways.

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The other item on Mark’s to-do list was St. Mark’s Church. Mirta had also sent a photo of this church, built in the 13th century with a colorful tile roof added in 1880. On the left is the medieval coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Slavonia. On the right is the emblem of Zagreb.

Z then took us up a steep and winding street to a viewpoint where we came upon a group of school children, who seemed more interested in viewing us and our Segways than the landmarks below that were being pointed out by their teacher. “You have it easy,” she remarked to Z. “You only have two.  I have 64!” I could relate.

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Everywhere we went, we attracted attention, and Z seemed to know many of the locals.

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Next stop was the Ban Jelačić Square, the meeting point and heart of Zagreb. The statue in the background is Governor Josipa Jelacic, who led an unsuccessful campaign for Croatian independence against the Austrian crown, and whose symbolism as been alternately positive or negative, depending on who was in power.
Installed in 1866 by the Austrian-Hungarian government despite protests from the Zagreb city council, it was later denounced, removed and put into a cellar by the Communist government in 1947, then returned to its original location in 1990, this time facing south toward modern Croatia instead of its original orientation, which was north, facing the victor, Hungary.

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We went through a passageway with a beautiful domed ceiling, where Z paused and he and Mark discussed politics. It’s only been a few years since the Croatian war for independence, known locally as the Homeland War, which lasted from 1991 to 1995, when Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia, which was opposed by ethnic Serbs in Croatia, who then attempted to establish their own independent nation within Croatia, and fought for their cause. Croatia eventually won a total victory.

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This, along with communism and its aftermath, are the life experiences and personal history of everyone Mark’s and my age and younger. Yet they move on. “What happened, happened,” Z said. “I have Serb friends. It’s not a problem. They were not part of that. You just let it go.” So they gather peacefully in their rebuilt outdoor spaces to drink coffee, beer and raki.

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This is Tklaca, Zagreb’s Saturday morning place to stroll and drink coffee, see and be seen, and where again we were ogled. Rather, our Segways were ogled.

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It was time to head away from the lively Upper Town, back through the comparatively quiet, staid and imposing gardens and architecture of Lower Town. We recognized all of the buildings, which we had circled a couple of times by car looking for the Regent Esplanade.

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What a charming city Zagreb is, and Zvonko was a really fun, funny and thoughtful tour guide. He pronounced us to be Experts, and gave us each a souvenir heart that said “Zagreb” on one side and “Segway 2013” on the other. We could not have asked for a better experience.
Now it was time to hit the road. The clouds were moving in, but we took no notice. We were headed to Northern Dalmatia and Croatia’s oldest national park, Plitvice Lakes.

Thanks for reading, and please stay tuned for the next few posts, including an amazing original source connection to Mark’s Nona on Island Brac.


gloria miskulin said...

Thanks Anne for this wonderful blog! My Grandmother was from Zagreb and I have always wanted to go there! You make me want to go even more now! Looks like you had a great time too!

Anne Schreiber Thomas said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you can go there, Gloria. I love it that you have that connection to Zagreb!

Sewgay Team Croatia said...

We just came across your blog and it's excellent! We're so glad to here that you've liked the tour so much and Croatian capital Zagreb! Thank you once again!
Warm regards from Zagreb,
Segway Team Croatia

Anne Schreiber Thomas said...

I'm so happy you found the post! I have been intending to send it to you, but am still busy writing about Croatia. We loved the tour, and I will be writing a TripAdvisor review as well. Next time we visit we will do another tour with you. And I will wear good shoes.

Segway Team Croatia said...

:) Yeah, good shoes are important :)
We'll share the blog on our FB page
and we already tweeted it!
Simply great! Thank you a lot! :)