I used the morning as an opportunity to sleep in as much as possible. The bed was remarkably uncomfortable, so I was thankful to finally have another opportunity to use the sleeping bag I’ve been lugging around with me these past three weeks (as a sleeping pad). I’d elected to stay in a hostel here to save some money and mingle a bit as I’d planned to be in Zagreb for four days. That morning, Igor, the calm, kind proprietor made pancakes for us and a few of us discussed the state of Croatian politics.
While it’s been overshadowed by the unrest in Egypt and Libya, Croatia has been subject to a steady string of protests these past few weeks. Fed up with deceit, corruption and inequity perpetuated by the people in power, protests of increasing scale have been mounting almost daily in the capitol of this southeast European nation. Despite it’s rich natural beauty, breathtaking coastline, and thriving tourist industry, Croatia is a poor nation with a large rural population that have apparently been largely forgotten by their political leaders. While the demands of the protestors aren’t exactly clear, the people are gathering to express their distaste. It will be interesting to see what it amounts to.
At three, I went outside to meet my host, Stjepan Dekanic, who approached the hostel front just around the time I stepped out to meet him. With wavy, long dark hair and sideburns and a coat to match (minus the sideburns - and the waves), Stjepan possesses a calm and even demeanor that is absolutely infectious. We slipped right into conversation and decided to head towards the city center to find a place to meet and talk about our plans for the next couple of days.
Stjepan is currently completing his phd work, writing his thesis that explores the reasons why pedulculate oak (Quercus robur) populations are in decline throughout Croatia. Likely the result of a confluence of factors, the pedulculate oak is the most valuable oak species in Croatia - so much so that it provided 44% of the total state forestry income in 2006. Today roughly half of the value of the pedunculate oak comes from the harvest of diseased trees. Often found thriving in lowland ecologies, some of the trees have been demonstrating drastic reductions in vigor in the recent past, which has dramatic implications for the Croatian forest industry.
Stjepan works for the Forest Research Institute, a research-based organization that carries out scientific studies to support the needs of the 16 nation-wide State Forest Offices that oversee the management of the nation’s forested lands. In exchange, the State Forest Offices provide the Forest Research Institute with funding. About 70% of the forested land in Croatia is actually owned by the State - the remaining 30% is owned by private landowners of which there are 6000 throughout the country. With a total forested area of 2,403,000 ha (5,937,942 acres), Croatia possesses 512,000 hectares (1,265,180 acres) of coppice woodland, comprising a total of 21% of their forest reserves. Comprised primarily of pubescent oak, sessile oak, holm oak, hornbeam and beech stands, Croatia also has some coppice in sweet chestnut, ash, pedunculate oak, willow, alder and poplar.
Stjepan and I took a trolley into the center of the city where we wandered through the streets exploring the old town. With over 700,000 residents, Zagreb is the largest city in Croatia. Given it’s size, it doesn’t feel quite as large as it actually is. We snaked up towards the top of the hill where some of more notable landmarks are - including St. Mark’s Chapel which features a bright, multi-colored, decorative tile roof (see photo below). From there we enjoyed the view out over the city, gaining a bit of context on the landscape we’d just explored. Given that it was a cold, gray day, it was about time for us to find an indoor space to continue our conversation.
A nearby ‘coffee bar’ suited our needs and we enjoyed several beers and lively conversation sharing views and opinions on a wide range of subjects and gaining from one another’s insights and contributions. I could quickly tell the next few days would be good fun and very informative. As the evening grew late and the beer more frequent, it was eventually time to go. We got sandwiches back in the town center and went our separate ways by trolley. We’d agreed to meet the following morning at 8 at my hostel.