The Hendersons       2008 Choir Tour - Zagreb


2008 Choral Union European Concert Tour and Our Subsequent Vacation

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The Croatian Coast




Martina Franca




The Concert Tour in Zagreb

Thursday, July 10 – Bled to Zagreb, Croatia

Back on the bus - not a long drive, but now into the fifth country of this trip, Croatia, once part of Yugoslavia. We had lunch at a mini-mart along the way and arrived in Zagreb around 2:30.

Zagreb is a strange mix of Communist era buildings (boxy and ugly), Austro-Hungarian Empire opulence, and lots of graffiti. There is a lot of road construction, so driving in the city must be awful - turn a corner and find that the intersection ahead is blocked because the road is torn up. It took our driver lots of turns and maneuvering to get to the hotel, the Best Western Astoria, which was very well located - about 1 km. from the main square in town.

Tow truck

Our room was small, but pleasant. Electricity must be very dear here, because the halls and rooms are equipped with motion sensors that turn the lights off and on. The only complaint with the hotel is that the bar, right at the foot of the stairs leading to the rooms, is terribly smoky - it smells awful. The deeper we travel into the former Yugoslavia, the more smokers we encounter. They haven't managed to separate smoking from non-smoking areas in all cases, so the smokers can make life rather unpleasant for us non-smokers.

After we unloaded our luggage and got into our rooms, we had a combination driving and walking tour of Zagreb. Our guide is an art and history teacher. He told us that the streets change every day - sometimes a street is open in the morning, but by late afternoon it is closed. Makes navigating the city a real challenge.

The city has some very fine Hapsburg era buildings - all painted the same color, a sort of mustard. Maria Theresa mandated this a few hundred years ago and the mandate has stuck. It seems that they don't suffer from the graffiti that the rest of the buildings do - most likely the authorities eradicate the graffiti.

Someone was told that the reason there is so much graffiti is that the residents lived under so much control for so many years and now the young people are being a bit anarchistic.

We went up to the lovely cathedral - currently being cleaned and refurbished. Croatia is a very heavily Catholic country - about 86% of the people are practicing Catholics.

Cathedral exterior  Cathedral interior  Cyrillic text  CU

Interesting church roof

Our tour guide took us through some of the old streets in Zagreb - for example, the gate remaining from the original city walls. The evidence of the country's Catholic devotion is everywhere - many statues, churches and monuments. Evident, too, is the joy the people feel from being released from the oppression of the Tito years, followed by war and unrest. The streets at night a teeming with people - enjoying themselves, conversing, flirting and being very sociable.

Tom and I decided to have dinner at a restaurant near the cathedral - "Leonardo" - rather appropriate considering that our showcase piece for the choir tour is "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine." We ate outdoors rather than inside where it was sure to be smoky. Even outdoors was a bit problematic - the Croats are heavy smokers and the restaurants don't designate non-smoking areas. However, we had a very nice meal - a caprese salad with wonderfu fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzerella. I had a gnocchi bolognese and Tom had a gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce. They were both very good.

Friday, July 11 - Zagreb

We had a morning rehearsal today, which meant that our day was a bit broken up. We trooped up toward the cathedral and beyond to the performance venue, the Franciscan monestary only a few hundred meters from the cathedral. It was a nice location and reasonably spacious. We knew it was going to be hot, though - Zagreb is sweltering in the summer.

After the rehearsal, Tom and I went to the nearby fruit and vegetable market where we bought some raspberries and grapes. We had planned to meet some of the rest of the tour members, but somehow didn't manage to connect, so we had lunch in a place that was near the city center. Italian food is very big in Croatia. Once again we shared a caprese. Tom had a pasta with quattro formaggi and I had a pasta with a pesto sauce. We shared some bottled water, which is more expensive than beer in restaurants.

Outdoor market  Market

We headed back to the hotel - I decided to do a little exploring on my own and went into the large underground shopping area by the train station - it is enormous - a collection of many small shops, mostly selling clothes and shoes for a younger clientel. I was surprised at how many American goods there were - Wranglers, Levi's, Champion, Nike, Addidas.

Time for the concert - change into concert dress and troop u the hill with risers, music and programs in hand. There was a service in progress when we got there, so we waited in a room to the side of the church - my goodness, it was hot. We got everything set up and were delighted that the church was packed - a much better turnout than in Bled. The audience was very enthusiastic and we sang very well, even though we were all dripping wet by the end.

Afterwards, we congregated with the audience beside the church (outdoors). People were so appreciative of our performance - they were very complimentary.

A few of us went back to Leonardo for a late night meal - pizza this time. Even at 11:00 pm, the streets in Zagreb are lively.

I don't think Zagreb is a place we'd chose to return - there isn't all that much to see, but it does have some interesting sites.

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