Well we have reached the end of the alphabet but not the trip. Hmm, will Google let me use “alphabet” now? Not my worry for now.
First a bit about the group. We are ten women and five men. There are three couples so there are two unattached men, Jim and Joe, to simplify matters they are from opposite coasts. The seven women traveling alone or in pairs are a mix of married traveling alone, widows and divorced. All in all a fairly normal mix. We are getting along well and get together in free time or not as the spirit moves us. Carol and I get off on our own from time to time. Today we ran into most of the others in galleries or on the street.
That last tells you that the central tourist area of Zagreb is fairly compressed. We took a group city walking tour this morning through the old city. Like Budapest, Zagreb was once two cities divided by a small river. The river was mostly filled and directed into a culvert so the city today is one. We visited the upper old city traveling up in a very short funicular to save the steps. We saw the government buildings and were pointed to several galleries to consider for our free time. We toured the Cathedral which was rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1800’s and has been under continuous reconstruction ever since since the stone they chose disintegrates rapidly with exposure to air. During free time Carol and I went to two galleries. The first is the Croation Museum of Naive Art. This small museum has a marvelous collection of naive art, much of it painted in reverse on glass. From there we went to the home and studio of Ivan Miestrovic, a famous sculpture who worked in the US and lived and worked most of his life in Zagreb. We picked up lunch on the street and headed back to our hotel to meet Michal who we had hired to provide a guided tour to Jewish Zagreb.
Ordinarily we have a fair understanding of the history of the Jews of most cities we get to. Somehow Zagreb seemed to be a blank spot in our memory. I wondered if there were any Jews here and what the prewar community might have consisted of. Michal turns out to be a professor of history in the Department of Judaic Studies, University of Zagreb. Her husband is a tour guide. We made four stops in a brief walking tour. The synagogue is now a parking lot owned by a Jew, leased to another Jew, keeping the money in the community at least. Rick, the location is superb, a few steps off the main square. Two other sites were features in the main Park, the gazebo and a meteorological plinth, both donated by members of the Jewish community before the war. The final site was a passage through a building that had included the home of one of the leading members of the community. We sat on a coffee bar and heard the story of the community. Briefly, they arrived in this area after running from the Inquisition and making many stops before arriving, that was the Sephardic group. The Ashkanazi arrived much later in the 1900s when they were driven out of Poland and other eastern European countries. The story of their deportation to Auswitch is like so many others. Some escaped to Italy and others to Israel. Croatia actually served as a passage for Aliyah Bet so long as no locals were included in the transport. Today fewer than 1,000 Jews remain. There is no functioning synagogue in Zagreb. They gather in a hotel for the holidays when they can get the time off.
We parted with Michal at the hotel door to get some rest and then go out to dinner at Bistro Fotic not far from the hotel. We do recommend it should you happen to be in this part of the world.