Friday, November 7, 2014

Zagreb: A walk at The Upper Town

I reached Zagreb, queued up for the toilet, came out to find only one luggage rotating on the conveyor belt...and it wasn't mine. After quickly asked one of the workers there where to find the lost & found counter, I went on my way. I passed by the Qatar Air counter on my way to find the Lost & Found counter, so I stopped and asked to check. Upon seeing me, the staff behind the counter told me my luggage was left in Doha.

Long story short, lodged a report and request for them to forward it to Sarajevo, nothing else could be done, so I took a bus and went out to see Zagreb city. Before the trip, I was checking for luggage locker to deposit my backpack and found out online that there isn't any in the airport due to some regulations. The plan was to lug the bag and deposit it at the bus station in the city. The positive outcome of this delayed baggage? It eliminated the need to hunt for luggage deposit. ;)

There was a Tourist Info office at the airport but it was closed when I was there, but getting a bus to the city wasn't difficult. The airport bus is parked outside of the main arrival terminal. The trip with the airport bus to the main bus station takes about 30 minutes. Once you reached the main bus station, there will be tram connection to the city centre and train station. One way ticket costs 30Kn but return ticket costs only 40Kn. I had a blond moment and bought a one way ticket :( but as fate has it, I found 20Kn in the city ;)

Tram Network Map

Tram lines 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 run by the bus station and you can buy tram ticket (tramvajska karta), single ticket (10Kn) or a pack of tens at a Tisak (newspaper kiosk). If you take the airport bus to the bus station (Autobusni Kolodvor), there is a Tourist Info nearby, as well as a Tisak. If you want to get to Trg Bana J. Jelacica, take tram number 6 (towards Crnomerec) and exit at the fifth station (Trg Bana J. Jelacica). From memory, it was the one further away the bus station. You would need to validate your ticket on the tram, the validate machine is usually on the first carriage. The rest are mostly for the tap cards.

Zagreb City Map
Ok, now back to why do I specifically write about Trg Bana Jelacica? Because... if I only have time to see one thing in Zagreb, I wanted to see this.

Yes - St Mark's Church (Trg svetog Marka). Church of St Mark is a 13th century three-aisled Romanesque church. The roof tiles were decorated with the coats of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on the left, and the emblem of Zagreb on the right.

I actually have enough time for more than St Mark's Church and followed the route suggested on the map. I've cropped the above map for a bigger picture.

Once the tram reached Trg bana Jelacica, you won't miss it. The status is really quite noticeable.

Trg bana Jelacica or Ban Jelacic Square was the city's commercial heart since 1641. The square was officially renamed to honour Ban ("Governor") Josip Jelacic. Ban Josip Jelacic was a general in the Austrian army and governor of Croatia from 1848 to 1859. He abolished serfdom and held the first ever elections for the Croatian Sabor or Parliament. Jelacic also helped Austrian forces put down the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 in the hope that this would lead to greater autonomy for Croatia. Aside from this statue and a square to his name, his portrait currently graces one side of the 20Kn banknote.

Going up the road on the right of the statue, one would see the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

This church is characterized by its soaring twin towers (somewhat), the other one was under restoration. :P
I met up with K after she made her way here too and we entered the cathedral together and lighted a candle. I didn't go in when I walked by earlier.

Next up was Dolac Market. I would love to walk and poke my nose around this market, unfortunately we were there on a Saturday where the market finished at 2 pm. My flight touched down passed 2 pm and by the time I reached the square, this was the only stall that was still opened.

I only found about this Stone Gate after reading up on Zagreb. This Stone Gate (Kamenita vrata) was the only old town gate that has remained intact. It was built in the Middle Ages and assumed its final form after being rebuilt in the 18th century.

Under the arch of the gateway is a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It holds a painting of the Virgin that was miraculously saved from a devastating fire in the 1731. There were quite a few patrons praying at the time of my visit, so I didn't take any closed up photos as it felt kind of intruding given the smallish space.

St Mark's Church was the next monument according to the route but I have jumped the gun and put it up earlier.

The final monument on map was this Lotrscak Tower.

Lotrscak Tower is the only preserved medieval tower from the 13th century fortifications and undergone slight modification in the 19th century. It was said that the bells of the Lotrscak tower were used to summon the townsfolk to return to the town at sunset when the gates were locked for the night. Nowadays Lotrscak housed a cannon which is fired every day at noon. Needless to say, I didn't hear that either.

From here, there are a few steps options all leading back to the Trg bana Jelacica. There was also some food and souvenir stalls nearby. After taking some photos from the top of the hill, I walked back down.

While I was waiting for friend to reach the square, I went to shop for some emergency clothing for the next day. I must say I was fairly optimistic that my luggage would reach Sarajevo the next day though friend was totally apprehensive. She was worried that we would end up chasing the luggage all the way till Poland :P

We left Zagreb the same night, taking a flight to Sarajevo.

Side note: Have you ever had experience when you move things to a safer or another place only to forget where the safer place is? :P

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

(Some) Yugoslavia history in bite size

To be honest, history wasn't my favourite subject in school but nowadays I find it fascinating. I blame it all on exams taking out all the fun of history :P

1. Josip Broz Tito was the president of Yugoslavia, the creator of modern Yugoslavia - Social Federal Republic (SFR) Yugoslavia.

2. SFR Yugoslavia was established by uniting six republics (BiH, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia), an autonomous province (Kosovo), an autonomous district (Vojvodina).

3. After the death of President Tito, ethnic tension grew in Yugoslavia. After series of wars, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence in June 1991, Republic of Macedonia in September 1991, followed by BiH on 3 March 1992.

4. In April 1992, Federal Republic (FR) of Yugoslavia was formed, consisting of the former Socialist Republics of Serbia and Montenegro. This was renamed on 4 Feb 2003 as Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia and Montenegro finally broke up during 2006-2008. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia as the Republic of Kosovo.

5. BiH declared independence on 3 March 1992 and received international recognition the following month on 6 April 1992. On the same date, the Serbs responded by declaring the independence of the Republika Srpska and laying seige to Sarajevo, marking the start of the Bosnian War.

6. Socialist Republic (SR) BiH was inhabited by Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Bosnian war was principally a territorial conflict, an international armed conflict between 6 April 1992 and 14 December 1995.

Side note: BiH stands for Bosnia and Herzegovina

Monday, November 3, 2014

Doha: A ninety minutes transit

There was a photo opportunity that I missed because I was busy eating *shifty eye*. I saw a plane from outside of the window, how often do you see another plane flying on a lateral line as your plane up in the sky? I was eating at that time and thought I'll finish my food before grabbing my camera. Unfortunately by the time I finished eating, the other plane was nowhere to be seen :(

Umm, yes I am one of those people who actually like flight food. And if I tell you the food is great, you can be apprehensive but if I said the food is bad, it would be pretty bad ok? ;)

It was a very short transit time and it was quite a rush transit. Somehow we were required to go through another screening, together with all other passengers (even the arrival ones) and the queue was loooongg. To make things more interesting, the other gate as wayyy far. So all I did in Hamad International Airport was queuing up to get through the screening, and brisk walk to the gate. I made it in time, only to have the flight slightly delayed. Grin. That was all to report on Doha, on my way to Europe ;)

Side note: By the way, have you read Gone Girl?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Central Europe: From Zagreb to Warsaw

Friend, K and I have been talking about seeing this part of Europe for awhile but it was sidelined many times for some unexpected reasons. Central Europe came up again this year, and the thought was, "Why not?" so got our tickets in May and off we went in mid August.

Despite our numerous chats, there wasn't much dwelling on which country except we both wanted to do Prague, Budapest and Poland. The rest were open for options. We have initially thought of including Russia and Ukraine but it was not the best time to travel there at the time, so we included Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)! After I found an excellent flight option (in reference to timing and number of transit) to Zagreb and out of Warsaw, K told me to go ahead and she will find a flight to coincide with mine.

There isn't much flights going in and out of Sarajevo without many transits. Most transports options out of Sarajevo are through Zagreb and Belgrade, and both of us hold a Malaysian passport which requires tourist visa to Serbia. It doesn't seem feasible in both cost and effort to apply for a visa for one train from Sarajevo to Belgrade, so we abandoned the plan.

Many asked us why not fly from Zagreb to Dubrovnik and travel north from there. Of course, it does seem like a good route but Croatia wasn't in our radar. In fact it wasn't in our itinerary in the first place, the only reason we fly to Zagreb as it was closest to Sarajevo and it involved only one transits for both of us. (I'm sorry Croatia but yes, you are allowed to gasp at me not considering the cities along the Adriatic City!)

Initially we wasn't keen on trekking back to Zagreb but direct train from Sarajevo to Budapest is no longer in service. After contemplating many options, we decided to do Sarajevo-Mostar-Split-Budapest. There are direct trains from Split to Budapest running on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer months but it didn't suit our plan, so we took a train from Split to Zagreb and from Zagreb to Budapest.

So you can see, my excellent flight option was flying out on a Friday after work (I'm all about optimising my annual leave) and reached on a Saturday afternoon. Return flight involving flying out of Warsaw on a Saturday at 16:45 and reached Melbourne on Sunday night. Back to work on Monday ;)
Both flights only had one transit, in Doha. However the flight out of Melbourne had a technical stop in Budapest. I don't know, airline companies referred the stop as a technical stop - a stop where they pick up passengers at Budapest Airport but the ones going to Zagreb do not need to get off the plane)

N = night, A = afternoon, M = morning, E = evening
15/08, Day 0 - On flight
16/08, Day 1 - Half day in Zagreb, then fly out to Sarajevo* at night (Hostel & Guest House Bistrik)
17/08, Day 2 - Sarajevo
18/08, Day 3 - Sarajevo
19/08, Day 4 - Sarajevo, departed for Mostar* in the morning
20/08, Day 5 - Mostar*. Day trip to Blagaj, Pocitelj, Krevice (Hostel Miran Mostar)
21/08, Day 6 - Mostar, departed for Split in the morning. Night train* to Budapest with stopover in Zagreb
22/08, Day 7 - Reached Zagreb in the morning. Second leg of train to Budapest* (Avenue Hostel)
23/08, Day 8 - Budapest*
24/08, Day 9 - Budapest*
25/08, Day 10 - Budapest*
26/08, Day 11 - Budapest, train out to Prague* (Hostel Mango)
27/08, Day 12 - Prague*
28/08, Day 13 - Prague*
29/08, Day 14 - Prague*
30/08, Day 15 - Prague. Night train* to Krakow
31/08, Day 16 - Krakow* (Let's Rock Hostel)
01/09, Day 17 - Krakow*
02/09, Day 18 - Krakow*
03/09, Day 19 - Krakow. Evening train to Warsaw* (Oki Doki Hostel)
04/09, Day 20 - Warsaw*
05/09, Day 21 - Warsaw*
06/09, Day 22 - Warsaw. Afternoon flight* out to Melbourne, transit in Doha
07/09, Day 23 - Reached Doha just passed midnight. Reached Melbourne* at night.
Note: * referring to where we overnight

We roughly have an idea of where we want to go but decided to keep our options open and only booked our accommodation in Sarajevo. The rest of accommodations were booked after we got our train tickets, generally a day before leaving the city except for the Prague-Krakow leg where we booked our accommodation first. We turned up at the train station asking for the next train out. And many thanks for my friend who paid for my domestic flight from Zagreb to Sarajevo. :)

Side note: I know these countries are also referred to Eastern Europe or East Central Europe, but I'll go with Central Europe as I think Eastern Europe more of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fairfield Park Boathouse

My friend, A asked me to go for a walk on a Saturday morning and she suggested Fairfield Boathouse. It was an easy walk from home and I met her there. Umm.. despite it is more of a walk but we always end our walk with at least an iced coffee. There were once we had brunch there too. If we are planning to lose weight, we have definitely failed our objective. :P

One can also rent a rowboat out, to which we have not done that yet. Just walking around the trail, and having food at the boathouse, of course.

Side note: Another working day to a break!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Delhi: Qutb Minar

My second stop in Delhi was Qutb Minar. This was the only day I skipped lunch, somehow I wasn't hungry and was probably worried that if I eat anything, it would disturbed the otherwise only mild throbbing pain tummy.  Our driver dropped me to Qutb Minar from Humayun's Tomb. After letting me know where to look for him thereafter, I proceeded to buy tickets. There were bag checks and if your bag exceeds certain dimension, they would request that you deposit it. As we did not engaged the service of a guide in Delhi, I decided to get an audio guide. I was required to leave a form of ID and if you look at top right of the photo below, you'll see a time limit. The audio guide is to be returned to in two hours' time.

Audio guide loaded in a tablet
I sat on a bench to listen to the introduction of the audio guide. This Qutb Minar audio was presented in the form of story telling. There is one main character, a girl asking questions about the place and she was duly answered some elderly.

After getting through the entrance

View from first bench (I think) on the left after passing through the entrance
Qutb Minar is a soaring tower of 73 metres in height, making it the tallest stone tower in India. It was built in 1193 by Qutbud-Din Aibak immediately after the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu kingdom. 

The tower has five distinct storeys, each marked by a projecting balcony. The first three storeys are made of red sandstone, the fourth and fifth of marble and sandstone. Qutbud-Din Aibak has only managed to complete the first storey. The second, third and fourth storeys were completed by his successor Iltutmish. The fourth storey was dismantled and reconstructed with an additional storey after it was damaged by lightning.

Even though Qutb Minar is the highest stone tower in India, its height is 5 feet lesser than that of the Taj Mahal.

The has been some debates on the origin of Qutb Minar. Some said it was erected as a tower of victory to signify the beginning of the Muslim rule in India, while some believed it was served as a minaret to the muezzins to call the faithful to prayer. 

Next to this stone tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. Beautiful carvings decorated the pillars of this mosque. Even though this was a mosque, there were motifs of Hindu influence, such as tasselled ropes and bells. 

Aside from a stone tower, there's an iron pillar near the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. This iron pillar is from the 4th-century, originally made as a flagstaff in Vishnu's honour. It is a tribute to ancient Indian metallurgy. 

If you think Qutb Minar is not tall enough, Ala-ud-Din Khalji has had the same thought long before. There is an unfinished minar started by him, twice the size of Qutb Minar named Alai Minar. The construction was not completed due to his demise. 

This is hardly the first storey...
And this last one, not of any historical story to it, but an Indian man requested that I took a photo for him at this site. He was doing those pose where he looked away to the left, those cool-posing thingy. Somehow after I helped him to take his picture, it ended up with we had a photo taken together as well. Another photo in some stranger's facebook page...

I left just before my two hours' was up. Mr driver was surprised I was away for so long. LOL. He drove me to see the Lotus Temple but it was already passed visiting hours so I only took some photos from outside the gate. The photos were not any good, in fact most parts were blocked by trees so I won't put it up here. 

Thereafter we stopped by a shop and I picked up a couple of magnets. I decided I should try to eat some food before flight but it was a bad, bad idea. By this time I was walking at some 45 degrees due to the ongoing cramp and just wanted to get to the airport. (Read: At least airport has easy access to heaps of toilets!). I was surprised I managed to hang on all the way to the airport. It was a long journey as it was pouring with rain and we were stuck in a bad traffic. I had to present my flight itinerary before they even let me in to the airport! = ="

I hereby extend my heartiest gratitude to the complimentary premium lounge. It made all the difference being able to have a shower after going on the road for the whole day and I was in such bad pain at that time. Such a shame I wasn't able to try all the food! :(

Grin, I actually left India in food poisoning mode. 

Side note: Back to pistachio cravings...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Delhi: Humayun Tomb

After dropping Little P to the airport for her domestic flight back to Mumbai before connecting to the international leg, I had the day to spare as my outbound flight was not till night time. Due to the lack of time in Delhi, I figured I would only have enough time for two sights. Initially I wanted to see Red Fort but it was a little further away, so I abandoned that thought and decided one of the two places I wanted to see was Humayun's Tomb.

The first tomb as I entered the compound was Isa Khan Tomb Enclosure. This tomb is an octagonal tomb, pre-dating Humayun's Tomb by 20 years. There is a three bay wide mosque in red sandstone.

As you can see from the above picture, the tomb was surrounded by two walls, a smaller and lower one nearer to the actual tomb, and another one higher. There were steps if you want to walk around it, which I did, that was where the two pictures were taken.

Once you moved out of this tomb area and continued to walk on the main path, you would come to the the main entrance of the Tomb-Garden of Emperor Humayun which is the West Gate. This West Gateway stood at 16 metres high.

Humayun is the second Mughal Emperor of India. His tomb, yes, named Humayun's Tomb (nothing fancy) was built by his widow, Hamida Banu Begam or Haji Begam 14 years after his death. The construction cost of this tomb was 1.5M rupees.

Humayun's Tomb-Garden is described as an example of a char bagh. In Persian, 'char bagh' means four gardens with four streams). It is also said that Humayun Tomb inspired the architecture of the world famous tomb, Taj Mahal about a hundred years later.

The tomb stands in the centre of a square garden. There's a shallow water-channel right smack in the centre too.

The Tomb Chamber showed of a plain white marble sarcophagus stands on a simple black and white marble platform. The grave itself lies in the rather dark, bat-filled basement below.

Throughout the building, one can see fine trellis work in stone.

Not far from Humayun's Tomb lies the Barber's Tomb. The compound is said to include the tomb of Humayun's favourite barber! Though the information slate stated as, "Folklore refers the building as the 'Barber's Tomb'". Somehow, it feels like it is a folklore, instead of really Humayun's favourite barber...

See the couple at the side of the steps? The girl was crying while talking to the man when I was visiting, I did feel like I was intruding but then again, this place must be really therapeutic if someone paid an entrance fee to sit down when feeling teary... mmm...

Also has beautiful trellis work
My last stop before exiting Humayun's Tomb compound was Afasrwala Tomb & Mosque. It is said that both this building dated from the Mughal period, and likewise the rest of the tomb, covered with red sandstone.

Side note: Got to curb the snacking after dinner habit!!!