Our Airbnb in Croatia’s capital Zagreb had a pair of bikes so we got right to business and went for an easy ride around the city’s lake.
We were headed to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which collects memorabilia and accompanying stories from broken relationships of all types from around the world. The pieces ranged from heart-wrenching to hilarious; in the latter vein, here was one of the objects:
We’re glad to report that our relationship is safe from the museum’s exhibits, but spending 24 hours a day together for the last 350-odd days was more challenging than we expected. For anyone going on a similar trip, we advise regularly-scheduled alone time. 🙂
After the museum, we stopped for a photo of the tiled roof of St. Mark’s Church:
before heading down to enjoy some of the many craft beers on pub street and reading about the sad tale of Zlatarevo Zlato (The Goldsmith’s Gold) (depicted here) on the way.
Zagreb was only two hours from the small town in Slovenia where Sarah’s great grandmother grew up, so we fired up Season 2 of the Serial podcast and followed our GPS to Velika Polana, cutting a 15-minute corner through Hungary. On the way, we were deeply amused by the Google Maps navigation lady’s attempts at pronouncing consonant-rich place-names, like Nalješkovićeva and Ljubešćica.
Sarah’s maternal great grandmother was Katalin Hojzan. She immigrated alone to the US in 1910, when she was 18 years old, with $20 to her name. She then moved to Cleveland to meet a brother and a few years later, she married another Slovenian, Josef Tkalec. Here they are – looking extremely enthusiastic about their wedding day.
All we knew about Katalin’s life in Slovenia was the year she was born and that she had a brother who stayed behind and gave her money to come to America. With this minimal information and only a 2-sentence translated message (we didn’t have cell service to use Google translate in real time), we had an awkward but fun adventure trying to track down some long-lost relatives.
After reading the message, this guy excitedly replied that he was a Hozjan — but it was hard to carry the conversation beyond that since he spoke no English and we spoke two words of Slovenian. So he showed us his pumpkin seed harvest and we tried elsewhere.
Sarah had Facebook-stalked a guy named Ludvik Hozjan who lived in the town, but she wasn’t able to get a hold of him, so we just real-life stalked his house instead. (He did get back to her later, but by then it was unfortunately too late for us to meet up.)
On the way out, we visited the town’s cemetery, hoping we’d find the graves of Katalin’s parents or siblings. We quickly realized the comedy of our efforts: there were hundreds of Hozjans — nearly half the headstones — in the cemetery. We met one woman there who did speak English and when we told her our mission, she laughed and said, ‘Good luck — everyone in this town is a Hozjan’. So perhaps it wasn’t so surprising that we had randomly run into one on our second try. Oh well, it was still fun to see where Katalin had come from.
We spent a quiet night at a ‘farm stay’, including an off-road bike ride through the lush farms and fields.
Continuing westward, we had a leisurely lunch at the beautiful Gostilna Grič vineyard.
We both felt like we could have stayed longer, but we still had a long way to go to reach our final destination of Dubrovnik on the southern tip of Croatia. On the way, we stopped by Lake Bled (one of the top sights of Slovenia):
as well as Castle Predjama, which is built into a cliff face in front of a giant system of caves.
Many of the stories on the audio tour involved Erazem Lueger, a robber baron who survived a long siege of the castle in the 15th century by gathering food through a secret entrance via the cave system.
From the castle it was less than an hour to Trieste, Italy, so we swung through there for some delectable gelato before passing back through Slovenia to Rijeka, Croatia. This beautiful coastal town has a fascinating history, having been ruled by eight different countries in the 20th century.
Our Airbnb host Emir was a super interesting guy who gave us a brief history lesson and some great recommendations. We had a lot to talk about, since he had spent more than a decade in the software industry in San Francisco after fleeing Bosnia as a refuge during the war.
Before heading down the coast to Zadar, we stopped for lunch at an Italian place. Jason tried to order the chicken parmesan, until the waiter shamed him into ordering something more interesting: “Chicken parmesan?? That’s a meal for the kids.”
and strolling the promenade of Zadar taking in the views of the surrounding islands while listening to the wave organ,
and walked around the ‘old town’, which is built around the early 4th century palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
Finally we arrived to Dubrovnik, a very popular Mediterranean tourist destination which many friends said is a must-visit. The Old Town is a giant walled city:
and the sets for an number of Game of Thrones scenes including King’s Landing harbour:
while planning our final destination of the trip: Greece.