a unique perspective on this crazy world

Archive for July, 2018

a tale of two georgias…

I am going to skip the chronology for a while and bop between continents so…

A lot of my travels are booked really far in advance so it was purely accidental when I realized I was hitting both Georgias within a couple of months of each other.  Both trips were great but about the only thing they have in common is the name.

stunning gardens

Getting to the state of Georgia was pure coincidence.  A couple of years ago I went to a Christmas party for a client and some consultants from Portland were able to attend the party.  I had been to South by Southwest not long before and got into an animated discussion of indie music with Brian, which made him recommend the Savannah Stopover.

It’s a fairly new music festival focused on young bands that are generally undiscovered except by a few fervent fans.  His sister had moved to Savannah from NYC and discovered a lot of fledgling bands drove through Savannah on their way to Austin and were keen to have more chances to showcase their music so she found some likeminded people and started Savannah Stopover where bands can play the weekend before South by Southwest.

If you are like me and knew about SXSW before the internet back when indie music was very indie and new band recommendations generally came from college radio stations or word of mouth, you will love the Savannah Stopover because it is like South by Southwest was in the early days before the corporations and Ashton Kutcher discovered it.

It’s actually fun to do both but Savannah will be a lot cheaper and easier to navigate than Austin.

Since it was going to take me close to a day to get there and get home, I went for the full VIP package, which is very reasonably priced and comes with some extra perks like hanging out with the bands late at night and an after party where I actually got to meet Brian’s sister, which was very cool and closed the loop on the whole lucky chapter.

she started it all

I got a little overly ambitious and tried to do historic inns at the same time so it was late and dark by the time I got to headquarters to pick up my festival pass so decided to not be too ambitious about finding all the venues that night.  Wanted to first enjoy the early evening complimentary wine and

they said kayne gives them the best bands 😉

snacks perk at the inn.  Was good enough to count as a light dinner.

I’d walked by the El-Rocko Lounge on my way to pick up my pass so decided I could give it a try.  The place was fairly deserted as the first band was just warming up so I got a seat at the bar with a great view of the stage and met one of the volunteers who was sitting beside me eating his dinner.  It would end up being extra meaningful.  Once things got started, a friendly young girl from Florida with some links to Canada sat down beside me and we chatted a bit.  In a completely bizarre twist of fate, I would learn her name was Danielle since we ended up completely unplanned in the exact same seats at El-Rocko for the final show of the festival.

There was lots of happy coincidence and serious fun, which we will explore more in the next post…

the joys of serendipity :)

My journey to Zagreb was definitely mixed.  Both food and entertainment on KLM were sub-par and then there were issues with the plane in Amsterdam so we arrived later than expected and my luggage didn’t make the journey for a couple of days.  The hotel transfer I’d booked didn’t work so I had to find my own taxi but then I arrived at the hotel and everything changed!

The hotel wasn’t perfect.  Most staff were amazing but there were some that still adhered to surly and uncooperative Soviet era customer service standards.  The arrival staff were part of the great ones so that really cheered me up as I had only the clothes I was wearing and had worn new shoes, which seemed really comfortable at first, but were proving to not be comfortable at all worn for over 24 hours straight!  I stayed at the Arcohotel Allegra, which sadly recently closed.  I have stayed in some of their other properties and it’s a good value choice with a little more style than value usually gets you.

Much like Zagreb was a random choice, my luggage woes forced me into the city center to try and find some wardrobe options until my luggage arrived.  The big shopping street in Zagreb is Ilica.  It’s well worth your time to discover.  It’s a little extra challenging to shop in foreign cities and is definitely more pleasant when you don’t NEED anything but I discovered eastern Europe has gotten pretty stylish but at much more wallet friendly prices than in the west so it’s definitely worth putting on your itinerary.

Another area to check out is Vlaška.  It’s a charming street filled with well-preserved one-storey houses and traditional crafts workshops

cool croatian craft beer

Another wonderful surprise was the quality of eating and drinking, all at a wallet friendly price.  The best place for a fancy cocktail was in my hotel at Joe/s Bar.  Since it is now closed, a good alternative is the art deco bar at the Esplanade but it will hit your pocketbook harder.  If you want great value, check out Caffe Bar All In at Draškovićeva 31 – my first beer in Zagreb and a great introduction to the thriving craft beer scene.  If beer is your thing, also look for Pivnica Medvedgrad at Ilica 49.  I decided to take a chance and it was fabulous – an

beer heaven 🙂

outdoor beer garden in the back where you can sample 7 different craft beers and eat delicious and very filling rich cheesy štrukli, a Croatian speciality.  Don’t be in a hurry…

Croatian wine is also spectacular both in flavour and value as I learned in Dubrovnik.  It is next door to Italy so it’s not surprising the wine is so good but it’s still a big secret to most of the world.  My favourite glass was an outdoor patio near the fountain at the Esplanade Hotel.  I discovered you want the independent outdoor café near the Esplanade, not the Esplanade patio – the view is the same but the price differential is significant.  I also had a memorable glass of wine at the Café de

quite the decor

Paris just off Ilica (Trg Petra Preradovića 5) when I needed a break from shopping and a bathroom.  It’s worth stopping just to admire the over the top décor.

For dinner, there are plenty of options.  I ate in different parts of the city.  One memorable meal was at Vinodol, recommended by the charming guy on the front desk at the hotel.  It’s on the expensive side for Zagreb but, if you have been hanging out in western Europe, it will seem great value. Another good option is Agava on Tkalčićeva Street.  It’s also a more elegant option and there are lots of choices on the street for every budget.  The surprise option was the Hemingway Bar Bistro.

channeling paris 1930s

I worried they were just using Papa’s name and I would be disappointed but I was hungry and there was a lovely patio with a view of the square so I took a chance and even returned for a second visit as the ingredients were fresh, the portions plentiful and

spectacular view

the prices reasonable.

If it’s quirky local souvenirs you are looking for, check out Kloto on masarykova 14.

I mentioned the Hotel Esplanade in my last post.  I flew from Zagreb to Belgrade and then spent a couple of nights in Zagreb before heading home so splurged and stayed at the Esplanade.  If you appreciate grand, old world hotels, it is worth the extra dollars.  I did have a drink at the bar because it’s beautiful (and the bartenders are highly skilled) but skipped the outdoor bar and the restaurant as it was easy to eat and drink well in Zagreb for much less inflated prices.

My final recommendation for Zagreb would be to look for a good weather day and then do Zagreb 360.  It offers an outstanding view over the city as there are very few skyscrapers in the Old Town.  I went for sunset, which was sublime.

The charming young servers I encountered assured me tourists were discovering Zagreb and you need to go sooner than later.  It’s a beautiful city filled with great eating and drinking where you can still feel like a pioneer tourist.  Having seen the fate of Prague first hand, I am sure it won’t last 😉

 

 

surprising croatia!

I finally have time to write something for the blog and it is sadly poignant to be writing about Croatia the day they lost to France in the World Cup Final.  But how amazing their World Cup journey has been and France needed some luck to surpass them.  It’s a great metaphor to how you will feel as a tourist in Croatia.  It’s a tiny place but filled with all sorts of wonders from incredible Mediterranean sailing to fascinating world history to delicious cuisine – and it has only recently been part of the tourist map (and the World Cup) so what it has accomplished in such a short time is extraordinary.

So… back to the tourist trail.  If you are lazy – or short of time – there are some attractions that are mostly on level ground although they span a wider geographic area than I had anticipated.  Getting exercise in Zagreb is easy 🙂  Your route will depend on your starting point.  We’ll start at Ban Jelačić Square and branch out from there.

pretty park

A beautiful place to start is Nikola šubić Zrinski Square.  It was a meadow until the late 19th century when it was turned into an elegant public square.  A meteorological post and a bandstand were donated to the city by wealthy citizens and joined by a fountain known as “The Mushroom” shortly after the opening of the Zagreb waterworks in 1878.  There are also some museums in this part of town but I didn’t check them all out.

many treasures

My pick was the Arts and Crafts Museum, which I would recommend.  The highlight was a good collection of art deco pieces.  It’s a good insight into the development of arts and crafts in the Balkans.  The museum is next to another, more famous, statue of St. George.  It’s on Marshal Tito Square where you will also find The Croatian National Theatre, the Well of Life and Zagreb University.

The most spectacular public space is King Tomislav Square.  There is a monument dedicated to Croatia’s first king – the warrior who united Croatian lands for the first time.  There is lots of green space for lounging.  Opposite the square is the Main Railway Station.  The railway arrived in Zagreb in 1862, connecting it to Vienna and Budapest.  Visitors exiting the railway station were treated to a spectacular view of Zagreb.

art pavilion

The square also houses the Art Pavilion.  The Art Pavilion was built for the 1896 Budapest Millennial Exhibition using the latest technology and then dismantled and reassembled in Zagreb following the exhibition.  There are several art deco buildings next to the square that reward a slow walk and a sharp eye.  The other beautiful building is the Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925, to

historic hotel

accommodate guests on the Orient Express in high style.  These days you can stay, dine or drink at the hotel and pretend you are in an Agatha Christie novel 😉

If you are ambitious and interested in historical architecture and landmarks, there are some other things you can check out a few streets away.  The Kalina House has Art-Nouveau inspired ceramic tile details, including stylized bats. Nearby is Zagreb’s first skyscraper at the corner of Masarykova and Gundulićeva.  The nine story building set records in 1933 Zagreb.  This is Nikola Tesla territory and you will find a statue of him reminiscent of Rodin’s The Thinker.  It’s also worth looking for the Oktogon off shopping street Ilica.  It is an elegant reminder of the trajectory of commerce over the centuries – a spectacular arcade full of extravagant materials rather than a Fedex cardboard box on your doorstep…

A final quirky thing to search for is The Grounded Sun.  It’s an unusual bronze sphere celebrating the sun.  It inspired Davor Preis to create the Zagreb Solar System – metal spheres representing the planets are placed in positions all over the city.  The sizes of the planets and the distances separating them are all in exact proportion to Kožarić’s original sun.  A quirky way to explore intriguing Zagreb…

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