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Phespirit goes to Croatia
Zagreb     March 2011

A fresh budget airline route from London to Zagreb presented Phespirit with a fresh opportunity to chalk-off another European capital ..... but what would he find? Whereas Croatia's Adriatic coastline, with its plethora of verdant islands, its rich architectural heritage, and the magnificant cities of Dubrovnik and Split, is a well established holiday destination, Zagreb, at the heart of continental Croatia, has no tourism profile whatsoever. Why might that be? Phespirit boarded his cheap flight and jetted off to find out.

One difficulty for Zagreb may be its want of a visual landmark or historic asset that is either instantly recognisable or of pan-European significance. Which is not to belittle the fine assets it does have: its Mimara and Strossmeyer Old Masters galleries display high quality collections; its twin-spired cathedral is tall, grand and imposing; its busy squares and wooded parkland are good for getting amongst it all or getting away from it all; and its top football team, NK Dinamo Zagreb, plays an attractive passing game, albeit only managing a goalless draw with Slaven Belupo when Phespirit went to watch them. Perhaps Zagreb is the sum of its parts and no more. To its credit, the modern generation of creatives has had a go at addressing this want with two simple yet ingeneous new parts:

  1. The Museum of Broken Relationships.

    Quite simply one of the most fascinating and enjoyable museums Phespirit has ever visited. Ordinary folk across the world send mementos of past partnerships to be exhibited here, together with a few words on how it all ended. Sometimes funny, sometimes emotional, it's brilliantly conceived and brought alive. Phespirit spent an hour reading all the stories. Most of them concerned failed love affairs, but he found the most touching to be a small collection of prayers from the Philippines. The sender had spent a fortnight reciting them at the hospital bedside of her husband after a car crash. When he died they were no longer needed, but she thanked God that the prayers had given them those last two weeks together. Moving stuff, even for an old atheist.

  2. The Zagreb Solar System.

    Phespirit found himself at a loose end in the city centre so he consulted his 'Zagreb In Your Pocket' guide and found this: "If you've ever wondered what the great big metal ball in Bogovićeva ulica is, the answer is, of course, the Sun - a sculpture made by Ivan Kožarić in 1971. In 2004 Davor Preis created a scale model of the solar system around this mighty Sun, including planets at the following urban locations: Mercury - Margaretska 3, Venus - Trg bana Josipa Jelačića 3, Earth - Varšavska 9, Mars - Tkalčićeva 21, Jupiter - Voćarska 71, Saturn - Račićeva 1, Uranus - Siget 9, Neptune - Kozari put, Pluto - Aleja Bologne (underpass). Preis never revealed the locations of the planets, so finding them turned into a game lasting until the last planet was "discovered" in 2006. It's a great way to get a feel for the dimensions of the solar system and to discover random corners of the city." Phespirit managed to get as far as Jupiter. Anyone unfamiliar with the dimensions of the solar system can also get an idea here: www.troybrophy.com/projects/solarsystem

Those were examples of Croatian inspiration; now here's an example of Croatian kindness. Phespirit decided to spend a relaxing day outside of the city, so he boarded the 09:15 bus from Zagreb to Tuheljske Toplice. Unfortunately he must have missed a change of buses at some point as he ended up at Krapinske Toplice instead, about 7km to the northeast of his target. He thought about walking, but had no faith in either the signposts or his maps. Help was needed, and generously given. First of all the kind lady at Krapinske Toplice tourist office made a phone call, wrote down connecting bus times, and arranged that no further bus tickets would be needed. Then the fine gentleman driving the 11:30 from Krapinske Toplice to Zabok not only waved Phespirit aboard with a hearty "no problem" but also took him into the Zabok bus station office to gather further assistance. Finally the good lad in the office pointed him in the direction of the bus for Tuheljske Toplice and explained matters to the driver. Throughout the exchanges between Croats, the only understandable word was "tourist". If it had been prefixed with the word "stupid" then that would have been fair enough.

Having arrived in Tuheljske Toplice at 12:30 (it's only sixty minutes from Zagreb), Phespirit whiled away five and a half hours lounging about the vast spa complex of Terme Tuhelj. The return bus - the last one back to Zagreb - frayed his nerves by arriving ten minutes late, but thereafter the journey was much like Zagreb: unremarkable. And so it is that Phespirit concludes that, whilst Dubrovnik remains in his top twenty world cities, Zagreb is now simply somewhere he was pleased to become acquainted with.

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