Discovering Croatia’s Proud Heritage

Looking down on Zagreb from Mt. Medvednic (Bear Mountain)

Looking down on Zagreb from Mt. Medvednic (Bear Mountain)

If someone were to ask you, “What do you know about Croatia?” your answer would probably be a lot like mine – not much. Today, that perception is changing as we were shown around by professional guide, Hrvoye Kuček, or just ‘Harry’ to us Croatian-challenged types.

Entering Mirogoj Cemetery near central Zagreb

Entering Mirogoj Cemetery near central Zagreb

We first visited the 150 acre Mirogoj Cemetery. What sets this cemetery apart from amazing cemeteries like Recoleta in Buenas Aires, Argentina, is the greenery of gardens, trees and lawns that give the site a park-like setting with over 30,000 gravesites. Harry tells us families will come to Mirogoj Cemetery to walk stroll. November 1st, All Saints Day, is when everyone comes to place flowers or light candles at burial sites for loved ones and national heroes.

One of the most famous Croatian heroes is former NBA star Drazón Petrovic, who died in a tragic auto accident at the peak of his career. He is pictured at his burial site in the uniform of the Croatian National Basketball Team, which he captained.

In a newer section of the cemetery is The Wall of Pain on which are inscribed hundreds of the names of the 16,000 soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the War of Independence in 1991. Not all of the names are known to this day. This is one of the memorials with an eternal flame honoring those who fell.

St. Stephen's Cathedral is undergoing complete restoration.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is undergoing complete restoration.

We visited the main square of Zagreb with its shops and banks lining the perimeter. This is one of the few city squares in predominantly Roman Catholic countries that does not feature a cathedral. One block away is the Cathedral of St. Stephen which has undergone complete restoration. Also within easy walking distance is the open air market featuring a vast array for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fresh breads and pastries. One floor below the street surface are the refrigerated stalls for fresh meats, cheeses, fish, and everything you could want for your kitchen.

We took in two museum tours, the Natural History Museum which sits on one corner of the medieval city of Zagreb, and the Technology Museum featuring the inventions of Croatian inventor, Nikola Tesla, whose contributions include neon and fluorescent lights and the alternating current induction motor upon which all generators and alternators in use today are based.

A warm summer day in Zagreb is perfect for water sports at the Jarun rowing center alongside the Sava River.

A warm summer day in Zagreb is perfect for water sports at the Jarun rowing center alongside the Sava River.

We enjoyed a feast for lunch prepared by our hosts at the family-owned Hotel Puntijar, which we were informed was a typical sit down lunch in Croatia. For the non-vegetarians there was a cheese-based soup starter, grilled pork fillet with bacon, a grilled veal steak in an egg yolk and pine nut coating, and veal sautéed in lemon sauce. Dessert was traditional apple dumplings served with a plum sauce and ground cinnamon.

Our tour took us to the Jarun athletic park which includes a two kilometer long rowing lagoon. Several of us got into kayaks for an invigorating paddling experience and an informal race. I am pleased to say they did not throw the victor in the water to celebrate.

We are in love with the people and the sights of Croatia, and we are just beginning this amazing adventure. I am learning this country offers an amazing quality of life. We look forward to living here one day.