It’s getting cold in Zagreb! I’m envious of the Eskimo-like, ankle length coats locals wear to keep warm. My multi-purpose travel coat needs several “under layers” to do the job. If I were staying in the cold winter climate longer, it would be prudent to purchase a warmer one.
During my last weeks in Zagreb, I’ve been mingling with locals, visiting galleries, and spending time at Christmas Markets and the beautiful ice-skating rink in Zrinjevac Park. I’m looking forward to a Strauss opera and philharmonic performances.
Lisinski Concert Hall
This week, I attended my first production at Lisinski Concert Hall. It’s the home of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra. The functional modern building is much different than the Viennese-designed Baroque National Theatre for opera, ballet, and drama.
Christmas at the Winterhouses Concert
Christmas at the Winterhouses began at noon in small hall. When viewing the website, I didn’t notice that the performance was for children :). Three adults and a talented young girl, Tia Mikić, sang and danced. Everything was in Croatian and clearly intended for a young, local audience. I did research after the fact, and discovered children’s performances are a popular Lisinski Christmas event. Small hall was packed with children and their teachers.
The actors were accompanied by the Zagreb Philharmonic conducted by Dinko Appelt. Even though I didn’t understand the words being sung – maybe a Croatian Christmas tale – the children loved it, and the music and dancing were fantastic. These are the stars of Christmas at the Winterhouses:
- Hana Hegedušić – Zim
- Jan Kerekeš – Grozni
- Dražen Bratulić – Tata, Jelka, Ptica Krešimir
- Tia Mikić – Maria
Underground Shopping Center
During the 30-minute walk to Lisinski, I passed parts of Zagreb Lower Town new to me, including an underground shopping center. I got lost, not realizing it was necessary to take an underground route near the ice-skating rink in order to bypass the Main Train Station and come out on the other side. Google Maps was clueless. There were no markings for the stairway near the train station leading underground, and I went in circles for a few minutes while figuring things out. It’s good to know about the warm underground areas.
Lisinski is far removed from Upper Town and the more frequented parts of Zagreb graced with elegant Austro-Hungarian style architecture. The walk to Lisinski proceeds through stark, semi-barren streets lined with functional Brutalist architecture, trashed abandoned buildings, soviet-style apartments, and graffiti – a shocking contrast to other parts of Zagreb.
“People who visit former socialist countries seek artefacts that depict what life was like ‘on the other side’. Architecture is a powerful statement of that era in Europe’s history.” Andrea Pisac Croatia Honestly
Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall is referred to as the “temple of music”. In 1957, the “Municipal Assembly, led by Mayor Većeslav Holjevac – described as an anti-fascist, visionary patriot – decided to build a concert hall”. Construction began in 1961, and the hall officially opened in December 1973. Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall is named after Vatroslav Lisinski, composer of the first Croatian opera, Love and Malice (Ljubav i Zloba).
Lisinski functions as a setting for both concerts and congresses, with performance halls and conference rooms throughout. Everything is “aesthetically and acoustically designed, featuring the latest technical equipment”. The Hall is the “venue for film premieres, exhibitions, and international congresses”. It’s supported by “ties to the Croatian Association of Science Art and Culture, Croatian Composers’ Society, and Music Academy of Zagreb”. These organizations promote “musical life in Croatia and Croatian music at home and abroad.”
Lisinski hosts a variety of musical programs, including jazz, contemporary compositions, and creations by promising young Croatian musicians. In additional to the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, the hall is home to the Croatian Radio & Television Symphony Orchestra and Choir and hosts “world-class concerts by international soloists and ensembles.”
Lisinski Concert Hall Day
December 29 is Lisinski Concert Hall Day, an anniversary celebration of the creation of Lisinski Concert Hall and its December 1973 opening. This year, celebratory performances include the “world’s most famous opera arias, waltzes, and ballets written by great masters”. On the 23rd, I’ll be attending a performance featuring music by Rossini, Francesco Cilea, Verdi, Bizet, Puccini, and Pietro Mascagni.
“The production and organization of superb musical and multimedia events have given Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall a leading position in Croatia’s concert activities.” www.lisinski.hr
Opposite Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall, there’s a Monument to the Homeland created by Croatian architect Nenad Fabijanić. The area around the monument is “a special urban space for community gatherings and official ceremonies”.
“The Monument has three elements symbolic for Croatians – The Portal, Wall of Pain, and Altar. The Portal is an architectural reference to city gates and triumphal arches. The Wall of Pain is inspired by a previous brick monument dedicated to the Croats who died during the violent 1991–1995 Homeland War of independence. The Altar is a large stone holding the eternal flame.”
FIFA World Cup 2022
Sadly, Argentina defeated Croatia in a World Cup semi-final game. The loss was a heartbreaking blow for Croatians, especially after losing the 2018 Final to Russia. The “resilient,” experienced Croatian team is led by captain Luka Modrić.
“The Team That Refuses to Lose – Croatia, a small nation of four million people, needs one more win to reach a second straight World Cup final. If it happens, it will probably come on penalties, and certainly after extra time.”
A central midfielder, Modrić is described as “multi-talented with exquisite ball control, adept at winning possession, and a phenomenal distributor and finisher”. He won The Best FIFA Men’s Player Award in 2018.
“Luka Modrić spoke about the referee, then bowed to Messi: He is the best in history and deserves success.” Sportske Novosti
The game was broadcast on a mega screen in Zagreb Ban Jelačić Square, where thousands huddled on a cold Tuesday night to watch. Since the world cup games began, there’s been the customary commotion in the streets, when the Croatian home team wins or scores a goal – fireworks, horns honking, and loud cheering.
I’ve watched a few games with the crowd, and when I didn’t, the ruckus was audible throughout central Zagreb, so everyone was aware when something exciting was happening. Watching the home team play in Ban Jelačić Square is a very special exhilarating experience! After the devastating game last night, there was dead silence throughout the city.
I read an article in the local sports paper, Sportske Novosti. indicating that some “believe the penalty kick last night shouldn’t have been awarded”. They even went further to say that throughout the tournament “everything is being subordinated to Lionel Messi and Argentina winning the World Cup”.
“Croatia should have taken a corner, but instead the ball was awarded to Martinez.” Sportske Novosti
Croatia vs. Morocco December 17
I don’t know enough about soccer to have an educated opinion, but during my travels, I’ve witnessed how deep emotions run among soccer fans! After a few months in Zagreb, I feel a connection with the people, and was sad Croatia lost…
On December 17, Croatia plays Morocco in the 2022 third place playoff for bronze. Once again, the game will be broadcast in Ban Jelačić Square, and thousands will gather to watch and support their beloved home team. On Sunday, December 18th, the team returns to Zagreb, and there’ll be a proper welcome party in the Square!
I was curious about the Croatian flag “chessboard” and what it symbolizes. Chessboard images were noticeably visible during the FIFA World Cup games, since almost everyone in Croatia was displaying them in one way or another – from dog coats to ear warmers and hats. The checkerboard is the national symbol of Croatia and one of the “oldest symbols in Europe”. It’s said to have “first appeared on Croatian national symbols during the 10th century”. Today, it covers the main shield of the Croatian Coat of Arms.
Chessboard Controversy and Medieval Croatian King Stephen Držislav
There’s an ongoing controversy about the origin of the chessboard, and my favorite version is an interesting legend about Medieval King Stjepan Držislav. Some suggest that “Croatians brought the chessboard from Iran” – that adds another layer of confusion. Others “focus more on the colors, rather than the chessboard itself, saying that white squares indicate White Croatia (lower Dalmatia), and red indicates Red Croatia (southeastern Roman Dalmatia)”. Huh – honestly, the more I learn about Croatia, the more of a puzzle it becomes!
“Among all the stories and legends, there’s a particularly thrilling one – the legend of Medieval Croatian King Stephen Držislav. Držislav saved his life and gained rule over some historical territories by being a skillful chess player.” chessify.me
Legend of King Stephen Držislav
The Venetian Doge, who knew that the Croatian King loved playing chess, decided to offer him a deal. They would play a three-game chess match, and if King Držislav won the match, he’d be set free. The King accepted the Venetian leader’s challenge and won all three chess games.
“The main Croatian coat of arms is a checkerboard that consists of 13 red and 12 white fields. It is also informally known in Croatian as šahovnica (chessboard, from šah, chess). The five smaller shields represent the five different historical regions within Croatia – Mainland, Dalmatia, Kvarner, Istria, and Slavonia.”
Držislav regained his freedom and, according to some versions of the legend, even obtained rule over Dalmatia and other Croatian cities along the Adriatic coast. When King Držislav returned to Croatia, he made a chessboard his coat of arms, as a memento of his victory.”
This legend was “created and popularized in the 19th century”. It isn’t considered historical truth, but it’s such a great story. “There’s no doubt the chessboard is a major Croatian symbol.”
Next Stop – Essaouira Morocco
I’ve been pondering my next stop, and cold weather is pushing and pulling me south. At the end of December, I’ve stayed my max of 90 days, so the destination must be outside European Schengen countries – the world’s largest visa free zone. My thoughts turned to Africa – a vast, mysterious continent I can never get enough of, even though it’s often difficult for travelers.
Initially, I was thinking about Zanzibar, which I’ve visited twice before. After learning about the current visa process and realizing that I would need malaria protection, I decided on Essaouira instead – a small, ancient seaside city along Morocco’s South Atlantic coast. I visited years ago, before starting my travel diary. It was a quick overnight after Marrakesh, Casablanca, and an extended trekking adventure in the High Atlas Mountains. I loved everything about Essaouira – food, beaches, the exotic local vibe – and have always wanted to return.
The hard part will be downsizing my luggage and getting there from Zagreb without expensive flights and torturous airport changes with grueling looooong layovers. After considering the options, I finally found what works best for me – a inexpensive flight from Zagreb to Amsterdam with a 10-hour layover (short compared to other flights) and a connection to Marrakech. After arriving in Marrakech late morning, I’ll take a bus or train to Essaouira – a three-hour trip. I found an apartment near the beach and booked the flights, so it’s happening. I’m happy and excited to be in Morocco at least through January 2023! :o)