7 zany things in Zagreb

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1 Z-z-z at a hip hostel

Housed in an old dye/dry-cleaning factory, Swanky Mint is an arty place that’s made a virtue out of up-cycling the original industrial fittings. Staff in the café, terrace and bars were super-helpful and friendly (going out of their way to get gluten-free bread, for instance). Locals seem to love it, plus you can walk from here to all the main sights. http://www.swanky-hostel.com/mint/ 

2 Shop for kitsch…

… at the funky flea market in Britanski Trg on Sunday mornings. The stalls include art and designer stuff but you can stock up on war medals too. The square, with its red traditional umbrellas, is perfect for drinking coffee and people-watching.

3 Cool in the pool

Getting to the Olympic-sized Mladost pool near the Sava river involves a likeable tram ride through the Lower Town and suburbs. It’s a tad shabby and, well, real. A complete bonus in my view is the goofy  ‘swimmers’ statue outside (do note the bum cracks)!

Take tram line 5 or 17, get off at Jarun and head to Sportski Park. http://swim.isport.com/swimming-pools/hr/city-of-zagreb/zagreb/sportski-park-mladost-39953

4 Go underground

A hidden maze of tunnels has just been opened up again as a kind of walking ‘Underground’, linking streets around the centre. Built in 1943 as an air raid shelter, it feels cool, dark and mysterious after the heat outside. Also (good to know) the Gric Tunnel houses some new, lush loos!

5 Chill where time stands still

When the Big Earthquake struck Zagreb at 7.03am on November 9, 1880, the Cathedral clock in the old town stopped. It shows the exact same time today, as the city chose not to restart it. So, it may not be a time machine but there are benches to meditate on in the shade… Meanwhile, in the nearby streets, gas lamps are lit at dusk as they have been for 150 years. So popular is this tradition, new ones are being installed.

6 Stumble upon street art

From wacky to off-beat, there’s art for free everywhere. There’s the edgy Art Park with its graffiti and psychedelic artworks. But just wandering the Upper town, you may come across a newly vegetarian St George beside the dragon he just killed, or perhaps a random bloke who’s turned his car into an installation.

7 Seek out heartbreak

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a quirky collection of objects, each with a true story attached. Every one explores a break-up between child-parent, siblings, friends or lovers. (So what is the lovers’ story behind that axe??) It’s funny, touching and unexpectedly mesmerising. So much so, I failed to take any photos. https://brokenships.com/visit

 

Scrapbooktraveller.wordpress.com helps fund Bright Sparks School in Mohali, India to educate children from a slum area. Any donations go straight into books, materials and school expenses. If you can give even a little, it counts for a lot. You can donate from your phone here. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/scrapbooktraveller

 

Chandigarh: Rock Garden is a sur-real gem

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I adored the Nek Chand Rock Garden as will any seeker of quirk. It is a delightful sculpture park built entirely out of junk and one man’s idiosyncratic vision. nek-chand-ticket-p1060098This contemporary-sounding project began as long ago as 1957, and has an interesting back-story.

Nek Chand was a lowly transport official when Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab and Haryana, was being built. He started collecting rubbish from the villages that were being pulled down to make way for the new city. He used pebbles, rocks and other materials to make a small garden for himself in the forest. As the project grew, he worked secretly at night to hide his activities from the authorities. Meanwhile, goose-img_3969new construction methods involving reinforced concrete were being used to build the centre of Chandigarh and Nek Chand drew on them to create his own structures, spaces and humorously quirky sculptures. It was ten whole years before inspectors finally discovered the secret kingdom he was making!

At first they wanted to destroy it, but soon they had a change of heart and gave him not only the site, but also some labourers and even a salary so he could carry on with the work. Nek Chand eventually became a national hero, and his Rock Garden one of the most visited tourist sites in India. He died in 2015.

The gardens are a wonderful contrast to Chandigarh itself, which was designed by Le Corbusier to have wide streets and a regular grid pattern. In Nek-Chand-Land, everything is labyrinthine, with narrow, twisty paths, surprising views and hidden-away areas to discover. Doorways are tiny, making people stoop. And water-features appear everywhere. During my visit, signs telling people to duck their heads were in French, due to the recent visit of Francois Hollande. British PM Theresa May was expected next.

Most engaging of all are the thousands of statues made from junk: dancing girls made from old bangles; young boys made from broken plates and pots. Whole walls are constructed out of broken sockets or oil drums or pipes. The theme appears to be – well, all aspects of life…childhood, commerce, soldiering, physical labour, sex, child-rearing, fantasy, spirituality. Shakespeare would have felt well at home.

The pathways, as you explore this 25-acre site, are also lined with the animals and birds that live among us, and some imaginary ones that don’t. This is ‘folk art’ at its best – poignant, mischievous, insightful and surreal. There’s surely something in this garden to delight absolutely everyone. Me, I liked the monkeys best!

Nek Chand Rock Garden, Sector no-1, Chandigarh, Punjab. Open daily, Apr-Sept 9am–7.30pm; Oct-Mar 9am-6pm http://nekchand.com/welcome

Scrapbooktraveller.wordpress.com helps fund a school in Mohali, near Chandigarh to educate children from a slum area. Any donations go straight into books, materials and school expenses – no overheads. If you can give just a little, it really counts for a lot. Help lift kids out of poverty: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/scrapbooktraveller

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Albania: Komani ferry trip – into the wild

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The ferry journey from Komani to Fierza in northern Albania was billed in the guide books as ‘world class’ and ‘spectacular’ – and so it was. For a start, the ride from Shkodra had a touch of the James Bond about it. The town minibus collected us from our lodgings with a knock on our door in the early hours. After a long slow wind uphill, we were waved on by some kalashnikov-wielding guards outside a hydro-electric plant. The minibus sped into a low dark tunnel under a mountain, just wide enough for one vehicle. Happily, nothing came the other way.

We emerged onto a chaotic little quay, crammed with minibuses, people and goods. We bought our tickets and found some floor space on the top deck of the tiny car ferry. The locals stayed indoors below, but we and the other foreigners on board all wanted to see the views. Most of us were going on to hike in the Albanian Alps. For an ordinary ferry ride, there was a glorious sense of ‘into the wild’ about this trip.

Lake Komani is a vast flooded gorge that feels like a fjord. As the boat set off through the dark-turquoise waters, the tree-scattered hillsides gave way to soaring limestone cliffs. The sky was a happy postcard blue, but the mountains that towered around us kept their sense of aloofness. There were no roads. On gentler slopes, we saw the occasional distant dwelling, farmed terraces, a mule. Who could live out here, so far from roads or shops? Yet people do. The boat zig-zagged through the calm waters, stopping off at tiny landing stages where someone would disembark and tramp away with their bags, to some hidden homestead, hidden life…

Minibus leaves Shkodra 6-6.30am, takes 2 hrs, cost 5 euro; Passenger and car ferries depart from Komani to Fierza 9-9.30, takes 3.5 hrs, cost 5 euro; Transfer by bus or taxi to Valbona, takes 1 hr, cost 3-5 euro.