Visiting Croatia: Beautiful and Damned literary / movie tourism

Currently in film production is the “Beautiful And Damned,” based on the book by one of the greatest American novelists, F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is the story of Fitzgerald and Zelda, his problematic wife, as seen in the characters of Anthony Patch and Gloria. They are two of the “Beautiful People,” a part of the uninhibited class who entertained, traveled, and indulged in every frivolity and excess of life in the early 1900’s. The well known British actress Keira Knightley as Zelda and Leonardo Di Caprio as Scott (if rumors are correct) should do a masterful job in portraying the intensity, the genius, and often harsh reality that characterize Fitzgerald’s writing. Although few other details are available, the anticipated release date is some time in 2011.

Scenes are being filmed in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and at the Opatija resort on the Adriatic Sea. There are just under a million people in Zagreb, once a familiar stop for the Orient Express, offering travelers a variety of things to see and do. Divided into Upper and Lower Towns, visitors will find an interesting contrast between the two. Below the hilly streets of old buildings, bars, and cafes, the Lower Town features more hotels, wider and pedestrian only streets, and a nice stretch of park grounds in the center, similar to Central Park, known as the Green Horseshoe.

Accommodations: Most hotels cater to business travelers; however, vacationers can find more luxurious places to stay. The Regent Esplanade and the Hotel Sheraton, both near the train station, offer 5-star amenities and prices to match. The Hotel Westin, part of the Starwood chain, has accommodations and facilities to please most tourists in an excellent location for sightseeing. Guest Rooms & Suites: $200 and up. For comfort and convenience, the Hotel Arcotel Allegra is near the train station, with rooms averaging $140, the Aristos by the airport, and there are several other good, but less expensive hotels in and around Zagreb.

Things to Do: Not far from the train station, travelers will enjoy the pleasant surroundings of the Botanical Gardens. Here you’ll find a large area of trees, shrubs, a formal English garden, two ponds, and four rock gardens with over 10,000 native species of plants.

Hours: 1 Apr – 1 Nov, 7 days a week, 9am to 2:30pm Mon & Tues; open to 6pm the rest of the week. Admission is free.

Attractions: Highly recommended by art aficionados is the Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters located in the old Academy of Science and Art palace, built in 1880. The Gallery on the 2nd floor of this Italian Renaissance palace opened to the public in November 1884 and features works by Bellini, Carpeaux, and Bruegel. The original 284 pieces created by Austrian, German, Dutch, French, and Flemish artists were donated by the Museum’s founder, J.J. Strossmayer. Since then, the artwork in the Gallery has increased through the years to over 784 from individual and collector donations. In addition, there are over 4,000 exhibits of paintings, sculpture, and graphics with collections from Uzorinac, Csikos, and the contemporary art of Sebalj. On permanent display in the Gallery are 254, and the rest kept in storage or at other establishments in Croatia. One of the most interesting pieces in the Museum is the Baska stone slab of Croatia’s ancient Glagolitic script, displayed in the atrium of the Gallery.

Hours: Tues – Sun, 10am to 1pm, & 5 to 7pm.

Admission: $5 – students & groups, $10 – adults.

Visitors will find fine examples of Croatian culture in folk costumes, tools, and handicrafts in the Ethnographic Museum. You can explore the Archaeological Museum, with its displays of artifacts and the oldest coin collection in Europe. Mimara Museum houses collections of the Far East, archaeology, and the European old masters (restoration, however, is not great, so authenticity has been questioned.)

Restaurants: Very reasonable, with lunch around $5 and a 3-course meal with wine about $15 to $20. Worth mentioning are the Boban for pasta, the Dubravkin Put for fresh seafood, and the popular Kaptolska Klet for traditional cuisine and friendly service.

(Note: Much of the information on museum and restaurant websites is in Croatian.)

Nightlife in Zagreb is inexpensive entertainment, popular from September to June, before the summer when travelers leave the city for the coast. There are bars, dance clubs, pubs, and live music in both the Upper and Lower towns.

Transportation in Zagreb: Besides walking, trams or buses are an option; taxis are usually too expensive. The best way to see Zagreb is by the tourist train, which is free and runs every hour from 9:30am to 7:30pm.

Opatija, a popular tourist spot on the Bay of Kvamer about 125 miles from Zagreb, was also chosen for scenes in the Beautiful And Damned. Easily accessible by car, train, or plane from several major cities in central Europe, Opatija is about 7 miles by bus from Rijeka, with connections to other cities and ferries to Italy. The mild climate, beaches, and gardens of this Adriatic Sea resort have lured travelers since the mid-1800’s and the time of Austrian emperors. Besides people watching, sunbathing, water activities, and strolling along Opatija’s boardwalk, the 8-mile Lungomare, the town offers an open-air summer theater of comedy, drama, and music, carnivals, and festivals throughout the year. Numerous business, sports, and cultural events are held here, as well as conventions on health and wellness therapy.

Attractions: Among the interesting 19th century buildings still standing is the Villa Angiolina, built in 1844 by a wealthy merchant and later changed into a hotel. As the railroad brought more travelers to the area, other hotels soon followed such as the Hotel Kvarner and the Hotel Imperial. Other attractions include the Maiden with the Seagull by Zvonko Car, overlooking the sea, and The Fountain – Helios and Selena by the Austrian sculptor Rathautsky in 1889 located near the Church of St Jakov on the grounds of an old Benedictine monastery. Opatija even has its own Walk of Fame, with 32 stars for prestigious artists, scientists, and athletes.

Accommodations: There are numerous hotels in the center of town and by the sea including the Hotel Ambassador with rooms and suites from $125 to $400, and the popular Grand Hotel Adriatic, with a casino, fully equipped spa, tennis courts, and convention facilities. Sample packages are reasonably priced at $135 p/p for double room, 4 hours daily at the spa, morning workouts, buffet breakfast and dinner, as well as entrance to the casino and hotel beach. Other hotels include the Bristol and the older Hotels Kvarner and Imperial. Visitors will find a good selection of villas, a few apartments, and hostels for budget travelers in and around Opatija.

Restaurants: Travelers can indulge in a wide variety of excellent seafood, Croatian dishes, Italian and Mediterranean specialties, wild game, and a fine selection of wine at Opatija restaurants. Many of these such as Bevanda, with its unique champagne, vodka, and caviar bar, Ika, Mali Raj, and the Yacht Club have open terraces and wonderful views of the sea. Smaller cafes offer less expensive pizza and pasta.

Entertainment: The Hemmingway Bar next to Angiolina Park is probably the most popular spot for nightlife in Opatija. Since many places close before midnight and drinking laws are strict, this is a good choice for after dark entertainment. Partygoers can find a few other places near the harbor, but Opatija is more about relaxation and leisure fun than the big party scene this Riviera resort might suggest.

Visiting Croatia is something you may not have considered before, but it does offer travelers something different in vacation destinations.

Sharon L Slayton

Filed Under: Movie tourism

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