Back to the City

Zagreb (21 – 22 May 2013)

It was time to move away from the Adriatic coast and spend a few days in the interior of the country.

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and comparing this city with the other places we had visited in the country, Zagreb was so very different. It looked nothing like the Adriatic coastal cities but more a central European one like Vienna or Prague. It also felt more like the sort of city that I am accustomed to, the sort that feels big and filled with all the products of modernity. Zagreb made me feel like I had returned to city life.

The most interesting attraction in Zagreb for me was the Museum of Broken Relationships. E was very eager to visit this place because of her life experience. I too was very eager but because it sounded so different from everything else that I had visited before.

The museum exhibits items related to, as its name suggests, broken relationships. These were donated by people from around the world, including Singapore, and they could be quite interesting. There was a teddy bear carrying a heart with the words “I Love You” on it and was donated by a girl from Zagreb whose ex boyfriend had dated her only to get into her pants, according to her. There was an axe a guy from Berlin had used to chop, a piece a day, the furniture his ex girlfriend had left behind in his apartment to vent his frustrations. There was a metal tag engraved with the telephone number of this Singaporean girl’s ex boyfriend. Another Singaporean girl, who was Chinese, used to date a Malay boy, and she donated the last remnant of that relationship to the museum.

The engraving reads “If found, call 90661808.” E and I were quite tempted to call the number.

The caption reads, “My Malay Bear (2006 – 2007) My ex gave me two Ralph Lauren bears not long after we started dating. One is the brown one here, the other has white fur. He is Malay, I am Chinese. We decided that I would take the darker half of the pair, and he took the bear with lighter fur, so that we would have something representing the other person when we were away from each other. I didn’t display anything from our relationship in my house/room as my parents didn’t approve of my dating him, so I had to keep the relationship secret. No photos of us, no cards, no romantic trinkets. Only the little “Malay” bear that sat on my bed for the rest of the relationship. When we broke up, I cried into that bear and hugged it to fall asleep for nights. Eventually I packed him up and no one noticed the bear’s absence.”

Every item in the museum was a reminder of a break up. Most though not all seemed to involve some heartbreak. I suppose the donation of an item was an act of catharsis for each donor. At the same time, I think it was comforting for the visitors who were going through a break up to see and read about the similar experiences of other people.

There should be more museums like this one. There is a need for people to know about other people. The museum shows that human emotions and imperfections cut across race, religion and space. All the tears, idiosyncrasies, neediness, fears, anger, passion, love, ability to love, hate, ability to hate, they are all blind to colour and beliefs. I am not that different from you!

Another museum that was definitely worth visiting was the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. This exhibits pieces belonging to a classification of art that is often characterised by a childlike simplicity in its subject matter and technique. Therefore the name “naïve art”. The pieces do look like they would fit very well in some book of fairy tales but I felt that the naïveté extended only to its style and not its artistic achievements. They may not follow the rules of perspective and proportion like the Renaissance masters do but no one made it law that these ‘rules’ must always be followed in order to make art.

“Deer in the Forest” Ivan Generalić 1956 (any copyright in work not mine!)

“Woman in Winter Landscape” Mijo Kovačić 1965 (any copyright in work not mine!)

I just love art galleries.

E and I each had a museum that we really wanted to visit. E wanted to visit the Museum of Arts and Crafts. I wanted to visit the Archaeological Museum. Somehow I cannot remember much about the Archaeology Museum and this is extremely surprising since I love ancient things. I had some photos from that visit but I had to do a bit of research to find out what they were of. I do however remember the Museum of Arts and Crafts more. I also remember that E was really fascinated by the clock collection in the museum and I have to say that it was quite an extensive collection.

The Zagreb Mummy (some of its bandages are inscribed with the oldest Etruscan writing in the world)

Vučedol Dove (The Vučedol culture flourished between 3000 and 2200 BC in eastern Slavonia)

Clock at the Museum of Arts and Crafts

The cathedral is a large neo-gothic structure and having it as part of the cityscape makes the city look even more like a central European city and different from the coastal cities in Croatia.

Zagreb Cathedral (dedicated to the Assumption of Mary)

Cathedral sanctuary

Mary Column in front of the cathedral

Perhaps the most iconic building in Zagreb, in my opinion, was the Church of St Mark. I did not manage to see its interior, which was a great pity, but its exterior was simply adorable.

Church of St Mark

Original Gothic sculptures of Church of St Mark

It is possible to be really religious in Zagreb, although I should add that very often being really religious is a prelude to asking for favours. There is a Marian shrine in the Kamenita Vrata or Stone Gate. This used to be the East Gate of Gradec, an area that forms part of the mediaeval core of Zagreb and called the Upper Town because it is on a hill, and is the only 1 of the 4 gates still standing. I of course went to the shrine to be really religious, and ask for favours. To achieve both I bought and lit 3 candles, one of which was for A. He had asked me to offer up a prayer for him during this big journey of mine and I thought that this was the perfect place to do it for him.

Kamenita Vrata

The shrine

Making a wish … with the cleaning lady

E also bought and lit some candles. She said that one of the candles was lit to ask for retribution against this man. I told her that based on my experience as a Catholic, and I have been one all my life so I am very experienced, prayers do not work that way. She was very disappointed I could tell.

Of all the places that I had visited in Croatia, Zagreb felt the least touristy. There are many tourist attractions in the city of course but firstly it is nowhere as famous a tourist destination as some of the coastal cities and secondly it is not a place that can be given entirely away to tourism. It was a living and breathing city that still retained much of its history and character and it felt wonderful to be a part of it in those 2 days I was there.

Zagreb street

Zagreb street

View from the Upper Town

Marshall Tito Square with the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb

Zagreb street corner

Ban Jelačić Square

“Unfortunate Fisherman” Simeon Roksandić 1907


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