Due to the huge number of refugees surging through Europe, Croatia had closed its rail services from Hungary. Information no one thought to tell us when we booked our train tickets on line. Luckily we gained this information the day before we were due to leave thanks to being incredibly pedantic and heading to the station to print our train tickets a day early. After being shunted around various information desks across the station we were at a loss with our void tickets to Zargreb. The price of last minute flights was incredibly expensive and buses were booked out 😦 With a last ditch effort involving a swathe of internets we found a car sharing website which had a couple of rides from Budapest to Zagreb at the right time. We lucked out and before long we were speeding across the border in the pelting rain and fog into Zagreb. Soon after we were nestled in the warmth of a cute apartment on the edge of a forest near the city. Enjoying the hospitality of our host Branka in the form of hot tea and berry liquor both forage from the local forest.
With the freedom of another set of wheels and new stars on our Spomink map we arose the next morning for a crisp drive through the thin sunshine to Podgarić, a small village about an hour and a half drive from Zagreb. Gorgeous and quaint countryside moved past our car windows, slowly reveling a sleepy farmers village by a lake with a large, shadowy object atop a hill looming over the town. There stood the spomenik known as the ‘Monument to the Revolution of the people of Moslavina.’ This spomenik was designed by the Macedonian sculptor Dušan Džamonja to commemorate the people of the Moslavina region of Croatia who had lost there lives in World War 2.
As we drove through the village the road to the Spominik alluded us. So we jumped the fence of a small farm and hiked directly up the hill to the sculpture. Like a compound eye with wings the huge concrete form had a proud quality to it. Themes of many standing together and the watchful and triumphant eye of the proud people of Moslavina came to mind. Although it could also be mistaken for a spaceship in a sci fi novel. Its isolated location seemed to be in an unlikely place in this tiny town, but the grass was mowed and the sculpture was not damaged or in major disrepair.
As we left Podgarić behind on the quest for more Spomeniks a sign with a castle icon on it showed up on the road, so we decided to investigate. The small rocky road led up into the hills in a lovely forest and we found a beautiful old ruin of a fort hidden among the trees.
Originally a medieval walled city called Garic Grad originally built in 1256 AD. Now just another ancient ruin slowly returning to the forest.
After contemplating the ancient lives of medieval ghosts we returned to the road on the hunt for our next Spomink. Driving right to the border of Bosnia & Herzegovina to the site of Jasenovac. Jasenovac was one of the biggest concentration camps in Europe and home to a memorial Spomenic by Bogdan Bogdanović. We were also to discover that the memorial site now houses a museum and highly contentious archive. It was here that we begain to learn more what our friends in Belgrade had spoken about. The Jasenovac concentration camp is said to have killed between 100,000 and 700,000 people, the vast majority being Serbians, between 1941 and 1945. The quoted figures vary wildly and for a time at the end of Yugoslavia the funding for the monument was cut and the place was vandalised by Croatian forces. Since then the museum has changed hands many times and is now back under control of the Croatian government. There has been a lot of criticism of the handling of the archives and monument site with complaints that the Croatian authorities are trying to downplay the brevity of Jasenovac and the atrocities committed there. Despite all this the memorial site is breathtaking, disturbing and incredibly sad. The museum is highly modern and is home to stories, remnants and archives of the people killed at Jasenovac and the operations of the camp.
As we walked the path to the memorial spomenik we passed a train used for transporting inmates. Often depicted in movies, it was strange to see one of these up close. The track trailed away ahead of the train before merging with the footpath of the monument made up of old train sleepers. This and the tightly sealed compartments made the approach all the more eerie.
The whole grounds of the monument had been designed around the layout of the original concentration camp with large mounds and holes placed at mass grave sites and where buildings once stood. A lake reflected the huge stone flower of the monument creating amazing symmetry. The stone flower itself was huge, mournful and beautiful.
Our day of Spomeniks had left us depleted and in need of the comfort of a home cooked meal and curling up on the couch with a light movie.
In order to break up the war and horror which was starting to build up in us on the Spomenik trail for our next adventure out into the country side we decided to go visit some natural wonders. One of the most beautiful places in the world was within driving distance and it did not disappoint.
The road to Pitvice lakes was stunning in its own right with beautiful riverside towns and stunning canyons. When we arrived there were a few large buses, so we were worried, but luckily the hoards were minimal. There was a beautiful fog in the air which gave the forest a sense of mystery and the paths were incredible boardwalks built over lakes and rushing waterfalls.
The waters were so incredibly clear and green with thousands of fish swarming along the boardwalks in the hope of crumbs.
We explored as much as we could before the rain started and then some more before retiring to the car, happy and soaked.