Thursday, 25 September 2008

Hats off, Cravats on

How on earth did we come up with "Croatia" as a pronunciation for the country actually called by the people who live there "Hrvatzka"? A pretty poor approximation, really - the word we use for the Croatia-created necktie, "cravat" is much closer. Not that the Croatians - the Hrvatski - seem to mind, the English rendering - or should that be mangling? - of their country's name is used almost interchangeably with the Slavic version.

Theo and I spent a little under three days in Croatia - just enough time to get thoroughly lost, stressed out and fed up trying to find a campsite close to the capital, Zagreb; a day to wander around and see its main sites; and another day extricating ourselves in the direction of Slovenia. Incidentally, Slovenes do pronounce their land as "Slovenia", so we were closer with that one.

Most would agree that Croatia's strongest suit is its incredible coastline, with more idyllic Islands to boast of than Greece and the dual jewels in its crown of Split and Dubrovnik. But Zagreb is not without its charms by any means.

The Dolac fruit and vegetable market was well worth a visit and there we got some of the sweetest plums and mandarins I've ever tasted - for a very decent price, too, although Croatia isn't nearly as cheap as, say, Slovakia ("Slovenske"...hmm).

The snappily named Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was also of interest, although its most intriguing feature was the prone effigy of a Cardinal on his way to sainthood and currently celebrating ten years since his beatification. He could be seen laying in state in a glass coffin and the brass emblem on its front was shiny from the number of hands reverently (superstitiously?) placed upon it by the people paying their respects.

That same ritualistic approach to Croatia's Roman Catholicism could also be seen at the Holy Virgin icon contained within a shrine at the 13th Century Stone Gate. Inside the gate, all was a-flicker with candles, there were a few people praying in the three pews placed before the shrine and the walls surrounding it were crowded with plaques proclaiming the grateful thanks of the faithful. As we watched, a crowd of noisy teenagers passed through the gate, but almost all of them crossed themselves as they approached the shrine, although they continued their conversations as they did so.

A final hats off to the splendid restaurant, Kaptolska Klet. Despite specialising in indigenous dishes and Zagreb specialities like strukli (a sort of savoury boiled cheesecake, which is much tastier than it sounds), it also offered the most extensive list of vegetarian options Theo and I have yet come across outside an exclusively vegetarian eatery. We were spoiled for choice and as a result, over-ordered and both had to leave half our very tasty main-courses uneaten.

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