Five hours on a bus there, and five hours back. I have now determinedly plodded past the town of Karlovac, both there and back. As any local knows this town-on-a-road-sign is the name and birthplace of a rather pleasant beer. Given that the landscape is alpine in feel, it seems appropriate that I'm thinking more pivo than vino. Grapes and the Adriatic seem to be far behind and in front.
The journey up reminded me of a few weeks ago, when the now far away one and I were endlessly commenting on the inevitable yet barely perceptible changes in the tone of the landscape. Familiar damp cold Northern European French agricultural farmland, gothic spires, giving way to warm Mediterranean palms and the Romanesque; Italian rainscapes and medieval campanile; then reaching elegant Split on the Adriatic, which is utterly Venetian gothic with a dollop of Slavic romance.
Despite not crossing any international borders, this new capital city had a familiarity to it which has nothing to do with any previous knowledge. Heading over the countryside around, the small farmsteads and elaborately elongated onion church domes seem to proclaim their Central European influences. Add to that the multitude of incredible cake shops and elegant cafes, wide streets of yellow buildings of Zagreb and it's almost like being in Austria or south eastern Germany.
Above all, my impression of Zagreb was as exceptionally quiet and unstressful city. The main shopping street was bustling but never overwhelming, and the restaurants welcoming and really relaxed. I had the absorbing yet challenging town museum to myself for the most part, and I enjoyed a good chat with the receptionist thereabout travel and London. The Croatian Museum for Naive Art was busy but a tour had just started so I was happy to join it surreptitiously. However I could have spent all my time in the Zagreb 360 degree Eye just looking at the view. Only then could you appreciate the mix of city architectural styles.
Seeing Zagreb has been a fulfilment of yet another dream. On my first visit to Yugoslavia in the late 80s, it was fairly unthinkable - not just because of the political situation, but I don't think my dad could have driven much further from Herefordshire in the two-three weeks we had available. I have never yearned more for a time machine to compare how it was then, with now. Thankfully the city reassured me that its mystique which I'd carried around for so many years, was utterly justified.
Don't tell me that the bear I saw in the service station on the way back was a hallucination.