No, we haven’t jetted over to the States to visit L.A., or headed closer to home to the other “City of Angels” Krung Thep (Bangkok).
We’re in Varazdin Croatia, VERY loosely referred to as the “City of Angels” mostly because an artist who has painted angels for 30 years, Zelijko Prstec, decided to open a shop here. And the shop is called the “Angel Museum”. But it’s not a museum, it’s a shop and showroom. And in his brochure he compares his artistry to Van Gogh and Monet. Too bold. I don’t dig it.
Anyhoo, the star of Varazdin is our apartment. It is seriously beautiful, opulent, and fancy, and we feel unworthy every time we come home. The ceilings are double height and in each of the four rooms they’re decorated with tapestries, or super fancy plaster work. There are herringbone timber floors and it’s filled with antique furniture and fittings. The owners Sanja and Sebastijan live in the apartment next door, and told us it was built some time in the 1700’s.
Look! It’s on a post card!
So why did we choose to stay for a spell in Varazdin? We wanted a bit of small (not Hum small) town time, and Varazdin offers day trips to other towns, to castles, and to the snow, although it hasn’t snowed anywhere near enough to go skiing, so that option was crossed off the list. In 1756 Varazdin was the capitol of Croatia. Its position of power was short-lived however after a city fire in 1776 destroyed 80% of the town’s buildings. The capitol was moved to Zagreb.
Town highlights include the old town and castle, the town hall, the daily farmer’s market and the “square of makers”, although mid winter there was only one “maker” there, a poor lonely hat dude who I doubt sold a hat all day. Varazdin is about an hour from Zagreb, but it’s not a commuter town like say Geelong, Gosford or Wollongong. The thought of driving for an hour or more just to get to work is beyond a European’s comprehension! You live where you work which makes MUCH more sense, and Varazdin is a small, family focused town with locals just getting about their daily routines of work, grocery shopping and getting it done!
Ptuj is actually over the border in Slovenia, but we thought we’d take a day trip to one of Slovenia’s oldest towns. Ptuj was founded in AD69, and was one of the biggest Roman settlements in the area. The Austrians ran the show for a while, Turks attacked, and in the mid 1700’s four city fires destroyed most of the medieval town. A statue of St. Florian, the patron saint of fire, has protected the town ever since.
Many Slovenian towns have bizarre costumes and rituals that are unique to each area. In Ptuj, it’s the Kurenti: mischieveous creatures in shaggy sheepskins who chase away winter and herald in spring. Just before Shrove Tuesday each year Ptuj holds a 10 day festival. Lots of colourful characters make an appearance, including the star attraction the Kurenti who swing wooden clubs and clang cowbells to scare away evil and bad winter spirits. Originally, unmarried men were the only ones privileged enough to be a kurent, and town damsels would offer handkerchiefs as gifts. Today, married men, kids and women can also wear the outfit. Look at them…adorable!
Driving in the outer suburbs of Varazdin was a mostly dull affair apart from every 5th or 6th house that decided to go crazy with the Dulux. Grey, grey grey, MARIGOLD, grey, grey, grey, TURQUOISE, grey grey, MAGENTA! Concrete lions were a bit of a theme as were swan statues in the gardens. Moving on to more rural areas, huge dried corn stores for the chooks and geese were in most yards, and out further again, guys pulled hunting rifles out of their boots.
We’ve managed to sample many a cake/slice/dessert on this trip, and we found a cafe in Varazdin that had the most amazing cakes we’ve tried so far. Kavana Grofica Marica is a little bit fancy, with chandeleirs and monogrammed seats, and their cakes are top-shelf; the kind you’d wrap up a great meal in Australia with, and probably pay about $15. Here they’re under $5. Cakes here aren’t over-sweetened like back home. The flavours are more subtle, with lots of nutty tastes and a variety of textures. The gold star winner had a crunchy shortbread base, rich caramel goo covered in a caramel mouse and covered with a hard caramel shell. None of it tasted like that condensed milk caramel slice you know so well. It was just perfect. Anyway, we’re now regulars at Marica!
Our beautiful hosts, Sanja and Sebastijan and their son Luka invited us out to a new bar in the ‘burbs called Living Rooms, hidden underneath a block of apartments, and decorated with lots of little living areas, each “room” sponsored and themed by a different wine/spirits company. We ate a fabulous platter of locally made cured meats and cheeses, drank wine, craft beers and pudding-thick hot chocolates, and had a brilliant night connecting and learning about each others’ lives.
Later that night we had our first snow of trip! It’s been 0-6 degrees most days we’ve been here, but it hasn’t rained or snowed once. As the church clock outside our apartment struck midnight, Avalon and Cam were out there catching snowflakes on their tongues, and watching the snow collect on the rooftops.
The small fall of snow meant that the forest around fairytale Trakoscan Castle, 40 minutes west of Varazdin, had been dusted white, and the lake was frozen solid. We walked part of the way around the lake, skimming rocks over the ice which made a Star-Wars blaster type ring across the snow. Of course the girls wanted to try to walk on the water. Of course we said no. Until we saw a bunch of yahoos yahooing about right in the middle of the lake, not drowning. Walk on water the children did.
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the castle, but check out this site where you can go through ever room for free! The custom made wood work in each room was beautiful.
After trekking around the lake, and climbing up and down castle stairs, a soak in 35 degree thermal waters at Krapinske Toplice was the perfect way to end the day. There was a real suburban family vibe, and the pools were packed. An indoor waterslide for the kids, and spa jets for the adults. You could float through to an outdoor pool area where guys were smoking and drinking Pelinkovac (wormwood liqueur) and the 2 degree air bit at your face while your body was comfy and warm. I would have loved to have filmed the girls in the wave pool which was more like a “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” hazard. The pool was a tepid soup of toddlers, mums, big blokes in small swimmers floating in pool rings, and Avalon and Milana acting as St.Clair family tributes, all being violently thrashed against each other with limited supervision. Fun!
On the ol’ Pelinkovac. It’s big in Croatia, either sipped cold or mixed with Coke. If you like sipping cough medicine (not recommended), you MAY enjoy this. We didn’t.
We popped into Ludbreg where, we were told, you could stand in the middle point of the world. We assumed this meant if you laid out a map of the world, this was the centre point. No.
A Swiss guy was mucking around with a compass drawing circles on a map, and realised a bunch of important cities could be placed on circles surrounding Ludbreg. He then declared it was the centre of the world. That’s it. So in theory, I could pick any ol’ town, let’s say Coonabarrabran, draw a few circles around it, get shocked when “what! Auckland is on a circle…Gee wizz, so is Santiago”, and claim it to be the centre of the world. The townsfolk of Ludbreg even celebrate “Centre of the World Day” on April 1. I wonder if that’s just until midday.
Journey to the centre of the world. Tick! We scoured the web to find what else was on offer in Ludbreg. “Eucaristic Miracle?” PERFECT!
In 1411 a priest who doubted the belief of transubstantiation (that the bread and wine turn into the body and blood) was shocked when he went to take a sip of his communion wine and (yikes!) it had actually turned into blood. Instead of saying something to somebody, ANYBODY, he bricked the cup up in a wall (as you do) and on his death bed told someone, who told someone else, who sent an owl to the Pope. The Pope at the time did what any science-minded dude would do and carried out a number of in depth forensic toxicology tests. Ha. Only joking. Answer was “MIRACLE”.
A drop of this miraculous blood is in a church in the centre of Ludbreg. The old lady who runs the candle shop (and it was lucky she rolled up because the holy candle vending machine pinched 5 of our kuna) sent her grand-daughter round to let us in to the church to check out the golden reliquary the blood is in. She didn’t turn the lights on or anything…just let us stumble over the church pews in the dark and I THINK we saw it glinting in the three beams of light struggling through the stained glass windows.
Apparently if you prey to the blood, your prayers will be granted. Cam whispered a little something, and what do you know, ten minutes later we were in the car and out of Ludbreg. It worked!
We also stopped into Varazdin’s cemetary for a wander. Don’t all kids like hanging at the cemetary? This one is said to be one of the prettiest in Central Europe. The designer wanted it to be a place of beauty and planted over 7000 trees.
On our last night in Varazdin we caught up again with Sanja and Sebastijan for pizza at Domenico. They were wonderful hosts, and I have no doubt will become lifelong international friends. Thanks Varazdin! You showed us a beautiful piece of Croatia and made us feel at home.