Eastern Europe Trip – Day 1 – Travel Day & Zagreb, Croatia

Today I embarked on a 3-week trip to Eastern Europe to complete an Eastern European journey across 8 countries. The countries that I will be visiting are Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Vienna, Estonia, and Finland. During my trip I’ll go into a brief history of each country I visit, as well as go into more detail about specific places in each country that I visit.

My journey started in Calgary with a 9 hour flight on an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 to Frankfurt, with a quick layover before flying on a Lufthansa Airbus A320NEO to Zagreb, Croatia. I booked the outgoing flights in Premium Economy, however was upgraded to business class, which was nice. On the Air Canada flight I had Smoked Duck Breast as an appetizer, Chicken thighs with lemon mustard sauce and sautéed gnocchi for the main course, and cheese and crackers with Port for dinner. Breakfast was fruit, oatmeal, and cheese, however I skipped eating the oatmeal.

Upon arrival in Zagreb I picked up my rental car from Budget; a Skoda Kamiq, a mini SUV, which I only paid $65 CDN for two days.

After picking up the rental car I drove to downtown Zagreb. Before we dive into my adventure out let’s talk about Croatia’s history.

Croatia’s History

Croatia’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC. After 390 BC the Greeks settled in colonies along the coast line. After 229 BC the Romans gradually took control of Croatia, and ended up ruling the entire country by 12 AD. The Romans divided up the area into provinces of Dalmatia (the coast), Noricum (which included part of Austria), and Pannonia (which included part of Hungary). The Roman control of Croatia came to an end in the 5th Century when the Roman Empire collapsed.

In the early 7th Century Slavic people, known as Croats, migrated to the area. They first settled in Dalmatia, expanding further northwards and inland in the 8th Century. During the Middle Ages trade flourished in Croatia, which allowed many towns to grow significantly. In 1202 of Venetian Crusaders took the town of Zadar to repay a debt that the Croatians owed them. In 1205 the Venetians also captured Dubrovnik and Istria.

In 1358 the Hungarian-Croatian king defeated the Venetians and took back control of Dalmatia, however this didn’t last long because in 1409 after a war the king of Hungary-Croatia sold Dalmatia (except Dubrovnik) to the Venetians. The reason why Dubrovnik wasn’t included was in 1382 Dubrovnik became independent and remained so until 1808.

In 1493 the Ottomans defeated the Croatians during the battle of Krovsko Poje. Peace in the area remained short lived with another war occurring in 1526, when the Hungarians were invaded by the Turks during the battle of Mohacs. The king of the Hungary-Croatian empire was killed and the kingdom was based to Austrian, Archduke Ferdinand of Habsburg, however the Turks continued to control most of Croatia until 1716 when they were defeated during the battle of Petervaradino.

In 1797 Venice was forced to return its Croatian territory to Austria. In 1809 Napoleon formed the territory into a new stated called the Illyrian Provinces, but this was short lived because in 1815 Napoleon was defeated. Austria took back the territory, including Dubrovnik.

In 1848 the Hungarians and Croats had a falling out and went to war, but the Austrian monarchy was still able to maintain power until 1867, which the Austrian Empire was split into two halves; Austria and Hungary. The Austrian monarch remained king of both independent halves. Croatia was eventually split; Dalmatia was ruled by Austria, while most of Croatia was ruled by Hungary.

In October 1918 the Austro-Hungarian empire broke up and Croatia declared its independence. On December 1 1918 the Croats agreed to join with the Slovenes and Serbs to form a new state called the kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The Croats soon became upset, as they wanted the new state to become a unitary state. In 1929 King Alexander suspended parliament and introduced a royal dictatorship, and named the state Yugoslavia.

There were two extremist parties in Croatia during the 1930’s; the Communists and the Fascist Ustase. In 1939 the Yugoslavian government gave into the demands for Croatian autonomy and created an autonomous region called the Banovina.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In May 1990 elections were held, with the Croatians seeking to leave Yugoslavia, but with a substantial number of Serbians living in Croatia this created issues. In May 1991 the Croatians voted for independence, but The Yugoslavian army invaded to protect the Serbians living within the Croatian borders. This was the beginning of a long war, which didn’t end until 1995 with the signing of the Erdut Agreement. Croatian independence was recognized by the European Union on January 15 1992, even before the war was over. Eastern Slavonia was ran by the United Nations until 1998, when it was handed over to Croatia.

Exploring Zagreb

Zagreb’s history dates back to the Roman times, and was founded in 1134. Today Zagreb is home to 1.1 million people, housing about 25% of Croatia’s population. I spent the late afternoon exploring the old city including Lotrščak Tower, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, Zagreb 360°, Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Mark’s Church, and Atelijer Meštrović Museum.

As I drove into Zagreb I saw how beautiful the streets were. They reminded me quite a bit of the Czech Republic.A notable building was the circular Croatian Society of Fine Artists. I parked my car in the downtown area and explored for a bit before having to take my COVID test @ 430pm.

Lotrščak Tower is a fortified tower that was built sometime in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall. Gradec is an old part of Zagreb known as Upper Town. The name is derived from the Latin saying “Campana Latrunculorum”, meaning thieves bell, making reference to a bell that was hung in the tower in 1946 to signal the closing of the town gates. The tower had a cannon placed on the fourth floor, and since January 1 1877 the cannon is fired from the tower to mark midday so that bell-ringers of the city churches know when it is noon.

Ban Josip Jelačić Square is Zagreb’s central square. The square has existed since the 17th century, and was first named Harmica. It was renamed to its present name in 1848 after Count Josip Jelačić, who was in office from 1848 to 1859. In 1946 the square was renamed Republic Square and Josip Jelačić’s statue was removed the following year as the new Communist government of Yugoslavia denounced him as a “servant of foreign interests”. After the breakup of Yugoslavia Josip Jelačić’s historic role was again considered positive and the statue was returned to the square, but in a different location on the north side, facing south. Today the square is a common meeting place for the people in Zagreb and is a pedestrian only zone, as well as the main hub for the ZET tram lines. The square is adorned by a variety of architectural styles ranging from classicism, secession, and modernism.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a museum in a baroque palace displaying personal objects from former lovers along with brief synopses.

St. Mark’s Church was built in the 13th century and was radically reconstructed in the second half of the 14th century to a Gothic architecture style. Massive round columns support heavy ribbed vaults cut in stone and an air of peace and sublimity characterizes the church interior in its simplicity. Outside, on the northwest wall of the church lies the oldest coat of arms of Zagreb with the year 1499 engraved in it. On the roof, tiles are laid so that they represent the coat of arms of Zagreb. There was police tape all around the building so I wasn’t able to enter. I couldn’t figure out why there was police tape all around.

The Atelijer Meštrović Museum is dedicated to the artwork of Ivan Meštrović, a renowned Yugoslavian and Croatian sculptor, architect and writer of the 20th century. He lived from 1883 to 1962, where he died at an age of 78 in South Bend, Indiana, USA.

During my walks I also saw a vineyard in the middle of town.

For dinner I had a Truffle Strukli from La Štruk. Štrukli’s are a popular Croatian dish made of pasty, cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream, and salt. All I can say is WOW this dish is delicious!

I explored the night life walking the streets back to my car before driving back to my hotel called Hotel & Hostel Zagreb; a basic accommodation for about $40 CDN. I finished my blog, had a shower, did some work, and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I travel from Zagreb, Croatia to visit the Uprising Monument, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Postojna Cave, Predjama Castle, and Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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Edmonton – Fall 2020

Two weeks ago Julie and I decided to get away from the city for the weekend. I’ve been wanting to go to Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, for quite some time as the city hosts plenty of well preserved architecture. Julie’s colleagues at work also recommended her quite a few restaurants to visit while we were there.

We left Saturday morning around 9:00am and proceeded North towards Edmonton. First stop was the Reynolds Museum in Wetaskiwin, about two hours North.

The Reynolds Museum was conceived by Stan Reynolds, who had already amassed a large collection of agricultural machinery, airplanes, and automobiles during the mid 1900’s. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta. The province opened up the Reynolds Museum to exhibit these items on September 12th 1992. By the time that Reynolds passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts. Currently over 6600 artifacts belong to the collection, with the majority of them held in the museum’s storage facility.

Stan Reynolds was born on May 18th 1923. He started his career in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and served in Great Britain as part of the night-fighter squadron. He became one of the youngest pilots to fly Beaufighters and Mosquitos. After World War 2 he was discharged from the air force and returned to Wetaskiwin, where he started selling used cars and become one of the most successful automotive dealerships in Alberta. Reynolds repaired and pained the cars himself and studied for his welding and auto mechanics licenses. Between 1946 and 1958 he operated 13 used car lots. As his business grew he expanded to sell new and used trucks, farm machinery, industrial equipment, house trailers, and even airplanes!

Reynolds recognized the growing important of aviation and needed a place to land his plane so he built and operated the Wetaskiwin airport until he transferred it to the City and County of Wetaskiwin in 1969. He sold the airfield for $30,000 for less than half the market value, and in return he was given perpetual free use of the airstrip and taxi trip between the airport and his property.

As his business grew, so did his collection. One of his business slogans was ‘Stan Takes Anything In Trade’. By 1992 he had donated over 850 artifacts to the Government of Alberta and by the time he passed away in 2012 he had donated over 1500 artifacts.

Motoring started in Alberta in 1906 when the Alberta Government passed the first motor vehicle act. Vehicle owners had to register their cars with the provincial secretary for $2. They were then allowed to travel at 10 kph in settled areas, and 20 kph in rural areas. They were held responsible for damages in any accident with a horse drawn carriage. In 1911 the act was revised to give horse-drawn vehicles the upper hand by requiring motorists to slow down when passing a horse, or even stop when requested by a wagon or buggy driver. The act also required motor vehicles to have “adequate brakes” and a horn, gong, or bell. By 1911 there were over 1500 motorized vehicles on Alberta rodes and the horse-drawn carriage era was coming to an end.

Early vehicles were right-hand drive, a direct carry-over from horse drawn carriages. Many cars had leaf springs and wooden spoked wheels like their carriage counterparts.

One of my favorite cars from the collection is the 1929 Duesenberg Model J. The car was donated to the museum on December 21st 1993. Bernand and Joan Aaron drove across Canada to deliver the automobile to the museum. The vehicle had over 20 owners by the time it was donated. Only 470 Model J’s were produced between 1929 and 1937. The original price tag was roughly $20,000 USD in 1929, which equates to roughly $305,000 USD today.

The rest of the museum featured cars from the early days of motoring up to about the 1970’s. My second favourite part of the museum is the old fashioned art deco style gas station with the cars displayed out front.

After spending a good two hours in the museum we drove to Leduc to have lunch at Vietnam Paradise Restaurant. We both had sate beef pho. It was decent, but a little oily for my taste.

After having lunch we drove to downtown Edmonton, where I ended up parking my car at the Art Gallery of Alberta so that we could walk around. The Art Gallery of Alberta was established in 1924 as the Edmonton Museum of Arts. In 1956 the museum was renamed the Edmonton Art Gallery. Between 1924 and 1969 the museum occupied a number of locations until it was relocated to its present location in 1969. The building was originally a brutalistic style building until it underwent a $88 million redevelopment from 2007 to 2010. The building has a collection of over 6000 pieces of art work.

We walked around downtown exploring various old buildings such as the Kelly Building, Churchill Wire Centre, The McLeod Building, Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, and the 100 Street Funicular.

The Kelly Ramsey Building was built by blacksmith John Kelly. The building, owned by James Ramsey, was built because James required more space for his department store. After Kelly’s death in 1926 John purchased the building for $100,000. He added an extension to his ever-growing business. IN the 1940’s the Government of Alberta purchased the building, until it was purchased by Worthington Properties. In 2009 a fire broke out and destroyed most of the interior of the building. It was later determined that arson was involved, and a man was arrested. In 2013 the building was demolished and replaced by the 25-storey Enbridge Center, which recreated the original building facades on the tower’s podium.

The Churchill Wire Centre, also known as the Telephone Building, was built between 1945 and 1947. It is an excellent example of the Stripped Classicism style of architecture, which is a subset of the Moderne style. The two and a half storey granite and terrazzo clad structure is a great example of the early use of prefabricated exterior components, and was designed by Edmonton’s former city architect Maxwell Dewar.

The McLeod Building is a nine-storey building that was built between 1913 and 1915. It was designed in the Chicago Commercial style, and is the only remaining terracotta-clad building in Edmonton. The building reflects the Edwardian-era architectural influences that were prevalent in Edmonton at the time. The Edwardian-era is a spinoff of neo-classicism that was reinvented at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, which became very popular in American cities in the early twentieth century. The building was designed after the Polson Block in Spokane Washington, and was designed by the same architect, J.K. Dow.

The Fairmont Hotel MacDonald was designed by architect’s Ross and MacFarlene and was constructed for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway in 1915. The hotel which stands 48 metres (156 feet) tall and contains 11 floors and overlooks the North Saskatchewan River. When the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway went bankrupt its management was taken over by Canadian National Hotels, before being sold to Canadian Pacific Hotels in 1988. Today it it currently run by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. The hotel has undergone several renovations and expansions, including an expansion wing that was added in 1953. In 1983, Canadian National Hotels ceased operations, and the expansion wing was also demolished. The design of the building was inspired by designs found on French Renaissance architectural-era chateaus and features pitched sloped roofs which include chimneys, finials, and turrets. The façade of the building is made from Indiana limestone.

Out front I saw a beautiful Mercedes C Class sedan outside the front of the hotel. I feel this image could be featured on a Mercedes ad campaign.

The 100 Street Funicular is a newly built funicular in front of the Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, which has a staircase that runs alongside it, brings people from 100 Street by the hotel to the area around the Low Level Bridge. The funicular, which cost $24 million, was designed by DIALOG, and opened in 2017.

After walking around it was time for dinner. We moved the car and parked it outside the Neon Sign Museum, which is an open-air display of historic neon signs. We walked to Sabor Restaurant, a Tapa’s style restaurant, where we ordered Piri Piri Prawns, Seared Fresh Scallops, Pork Belly, Spinach Salad, and some drinks. Julie had a glass of red wine, and I had some local pale ale beer.

After dinner we drove to our hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Edmonton West. I obtained the room for only $40 as I had a $60 Hotels.com voucher that I needed to use before it expired. Even so, the hotel was very inexpensive compared to normal due to COVID-19 really hurting the hospitality industry. You can really find a bargain on hotels at the moment. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching television before going to bed.

The next morning we woke up around 8:30am. We got dressed and went to a nearby McDonald’s for breakfast. I had an Egg McMuffin and Julie had two hashbrowns. We also both ordered coffee’s. We had about an hour of time to kill before we met up with my friend Heather, who I hadn’t seen in many years. Heather and I used to work together at Golder Associates, before we both decided to pursue different career paths.

We explored the Oliver Exchange Building, the Alberta Legislature Building, the Federal Building, and Edmonton Public Library – Jasper Place, and The Gibson Block Building.

The Oliver Exchange Building is a two-storey wood and brick structure that was designed by Allan Merrick Jeffers, one of the architects responsible for the Alberta Legislature building. The building was built in 1913 and was one of the most unique telephone building in Canada because it was highly automated. Instead of staffed pull-and-plug switchboards, it featured state-of-the-art automated switching equipment to keep up with the growing demands of the city. The building was purchased and renovated in 2016 and currently houses a bunch of boutique shops.

The Federal Building was built in 1958 to house the Western Canadian offices of the Government of Canada. It was sold to the Government of Alberta in 1988 and sat vacant until 2020. The building was first proposed in the 1930’s but construction didn’t start until 1955. This Art Deco building took its inspiration from the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, located in New York City.

The Gibson Block Building, also known as the Flatiron Building, is a large wedge-shaped four-storey brick building, which resembles a mini version of New York’s Flatiron building. The building was designed by William Gibson and was constructed in 1913. The building was originally built to provide first floor retail space, with offices on the remaining floors. The building was used for a variety of different things over the years, including the Turkish Baths, which were closed in 1978.

We met with Heather at Earls for lunch and had some great conversation before saying bye. It was great to catch up with Heather after all these years.

After lunch we drove to old Strathcona, where we walked around and explored all the old buildings, as well as got some candy from a store called Rocket Fizz. We then had a quick stop at Situation Brewing for a quick pint before heading home towards Calgary. For dinner we stopped in Red Deer for Vietnamese food at Vietnamese Garden.

What’s in store for me next? I’m not entirely sure as COVID-19’s second wave is here, and there is rumours of another lockdown coming soon. I will most likely focus on my drone photography skills over the winter time, and we also hope to travel to Northern Alberta to have a chance of seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora). Be sure to check back from time to time to see what I’m up to. Until next time…

If you like the content that I produce and want to donate money towards the upkeep of my site, or buy me a cup of coffee please feel free to contribute towards it. I really appreciate it.