Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Komarna: Exploring Croatia's Newest Wine Region

Sunset over the Pelješac Peninsula in Croatia, viewed from the Rizman Winery in the Komarna region. The natural beauty of Croatia is exquisite, from the mountains to the ocean, from the grape vineyards to the pebbly beaches. There is a special serenity accompanying these views, bringing with it an inner joy and a deeper connection to our natural world. Those living in more urban settings need to take time to visit such areas, to reclaim that connection.

One of the primary objectives of my recent journey to the Republic of Croatia was to visit and explore the Komarna appellation, the newest wine region in Croatia. This region is occupied by the K7 Cooperative, an association of seven wineries, including Rizman Winery, Saints Hill WinesVolarević WinesTerra Madre, Modro-zelenaNeretvanski Branitelj and Deak Family Farm. As I've mentioned previously, the K7 Cooperative is working with the Boston-based Croatian Premium Wine Imports, which has recently started importing their wines to Massachusetts. This import company is owned by Win Burke and Mirena Bagur, husband and wife, and they were also our guides during our trip to Croatia. 

The Komarna appellation is located in Southern Dalmatia, in the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and across the water from the Pelješac Peninsula. Komarna is about 97 miles south of Split and 47 miles north of Dubrovnik. And the drive from either of these two cities to Komarna is quite scenic. The region takes its name from the tiny village of Komarna, which has a population of less than 200, and is located on the coast of the Mali Ston Bay.

Before grape vineyards were ever planted in Komarna, olive trees were most commonly planted in this region, and olives are still grown here, used to produce delicious olive oil. In addition, this region was once a popular hunting region, with wild boars being one of the most popular types of game. In 2008, grapes were first planted in this area by the Rizman Winery, and five years later, in 2013, Komarna became a legally recognized appellation.

When you walk through the vineyards in Komarna, you'll see plenty of rocks, as much of the land in this area is limestone with small amounts of topsoil. Some of the larger rocky areas needed to be blasted to make the land amenable to planting vines, so it wasn't easy or inexpensive to create these vineyards. The vines need to create deep roots, so time is needed for those vines to best express their grapes. As the years pass, these vineyards will produce better grapes.

Most of the vineyards face south and southwest, and receive about 2600 hours of sunshine annually. The intense heat of this region means that irrigation is necessary, though the heat doesn't stop the grapes from possessing excellent acidity. The vineyards are located from sea level up to an altitude of about 750 feet, and you'll find some vineyards with as much as an incline of 30%, which makes tending to the vines, as well as harvest, laborious and difficult. These vineyards reminded me in some ways of the vineyards in the Douro region of Portugal.

Komarna is the only Croatian appellation where all of the wineries are certified organic. This is an important stance and philosophy for all of the wineries in the K7 Cooperative, and extends beyond just their vineyards. Approximately 92% of their vineyards, which contain over 500,000 vines, are planted with indigenous Croatian grapes, including Plavac Mali, Pošip, Tribidrag, Maraština and Babic. Plavac Mali is the most planted variety, occupying over 60% of the acreage. A few international varieties, usually used as blending grapes, are grown as well, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Viognier.

The Komarna region consists of approximately 200 hectares, with about 82 of them planted with vineyards and additional hectares planted with olive trees. The Rizman winery is the largest, with about 22 hectares of vineyards and 7 hectares of olive trees. There is little room for additional vineyard growth in Komarna, with the wineries generally indicating they only have potentially 1-3 additional hectares that they can plant. As such, this region will remain a relatively small production area, each winery producing less than 7000 cases annually, unless at some point they extend the boundaries of the appellation, which doesn't seem likely in the near future.

The unity of the seven wineries in Komarna is a significant strength, helping to promote the general interests of the region. As there are only seven of them, it relatively easy for them to work as a unity, and they basically agree on all major decisions. For example, they all agreed to maintain organic vineyards throughout the region. In addition, they share information together, assisting each other with issues in the vineyards and in the winery. They can share their experiences with growing Plavac Mali, helping each other improve the quality of their grapes and wines. They are more akin to collaborators, and as Mihovil Rizman stated to me, "If you have quality, you have no competition."

A few of the wineries haven't yet started producing wine, but should in the near future. I tasted many of the Komarna wines that are currently available and overall, I was impressed with their quality, especially considering the youth of this region. I found the winery owners and winemakers to be sincerely passionate about their endeavors, and they certainly are driven to continue learning and improving their wines. Additionally, the different wineries shares commonalities, similar vinous philosophies, indicative of their basic unity. They are all also looking to the future, thinking of various ways to attract more wine consumers.

The diversity of the wines I tasted, Whites, Rosé and Reds, was compelling, especially the various expressions of Plavac Mali wines I encountered. Plavac Mali is a red grape that is worthy of attention. The Komarna wines were food friendly, wines which would appeal to almost any wine lover. There were easy drinking wines, great for everyday drinking, while there were also intriguing, complex wines which would brighten any special occasion. As I tasted a significant amount of Croatian wines from other regions besides Komarna, I can make some comparisons, and believe that the Komarna wines certainly hold their own against any other region. It's also fascinating that the quality of the Komarna wines will only continue to improve with more time. There is such great potential in this newest region and I can't wait to see what happens there in the next few years.

Currently, about 6,000 bottles of wines from Komarna have been exported to the U.S., and that number will grow each year. In the near future, additional tasting rooms will be constructed, and they will then all be joined by a wine trail. There are also plans to open a wine hotel at some point, desirous of promoting wine tourism, to keep visitors in the region for more than a single day. I also learned about a few future plans which I cannot yet write about, but which sound exciting and I look forward to when I'm able to share information about those projects.

I believe the future is extremely bright for Komarna, and in the next couple weeks, I'll be writing, in detail, about some of the wineries of this region and the wines they are producing. And if you're in the Boston area, you can buy wines from the Komarna region at these restaurants and wine shops.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Croatian Wine Production & Exports: Lots of Questions

The oldest advertisement I found in a U.S. newspaper for Croatian wines was in The Lake County Times, July 1, 1910 (Indiana). So, we know that Croatian wines have been exported to the U.S. for over 100 years. Croatian wines though were mentioned prior to 1910, in articles describing Croatia and the surrounding regions. For example, the Evening Star, January 17, 1898 (Washington D.C.), in an article describing Vienna cafes, mentioned that "In southern Tyrol, Styria, Corinthia, Moravia, Illyria, Dalmatia, Hungary, and Croatia first-class wine is made..."

How much Croatian wine is currently produced? And how much Croatian wine is now exported to the U.S.?

As I searched for answers, I found more questions and answers remained elusive to some degree. I uncovered some statistics, but others remained elusive, and few explanations seemed to be provided. One of the problems is that Vina Croatia, a website of The Wine Association in Croatian Chamber of Economy, appears to contain some statistical information but the site isn't operative.

In short, I did discover that at least from 2011-2017, wine production in Croatia decreased. That doesn't seem like it would benefit a country which is seeking to expand its wine exports, and trying to make a bigger name for itself in the world wine market. What was the reason for the decline? Has the decline stopped? How much wine is currently being produced in Croatia? How much of their wine is being exported, and specifically, how much is being exported to the U.S.?

Let's begin our examination with an article in Total Croatia Wine, January 9, 2018, which noted the decline in production. "Wine production in 2016 was 21.6 percent lower than 2015. Trends in 2017 are also negative and estimates are the 2017 production will be more than 10 percent smaller than 2016." A nearly 22% decline is quite significant, and no explanation for the decline was provided. Despite the production decline, there was an increase in exports. "In the first six months of 2017, the export of wine compared to 2016 was growing." Tempering that good news though was that "... the average export price dramatically fell in 2017 and is 2.25 euro per litre, while in 2016 it was 3.31 euro."

In Total Croatia News, June 25, 2018, a little more detail was provided on the value of Croatian wine exports. The article noted that from January to November 2017, wine exports reached 11.89 Million Euros, over 30% higher than the 8.73 Million Euros exported in 2016.

The Dubrovnik Times, November 17, 2018, provided the first positive news concerning wine production. It was noted that in 2018, Croatia would produce about 777,000 hectolitres of wine, 35% more than 2017. The first increase in a number of years and hopefully a sign that the decline is finally over. The EU has noted that this would be the "second largest growth in wine production this year, with only Slovenia with a growth of over 57 percent seeing a more impressive season." Despite the decline in 2017, that vintage would allegedly be "a memorable year for wine producers."

However, the Central European Financial Observer, December 15, 2018, stressed the problems from 2017. The article noted that in 2017, wine production revenues was about 68.1 Million Euros, noting the decline of production which had been occurring since 2011. From 2014-2018, Croatia receiving subsidy funding, totaling about 57 Million Euros, for their wine industry from the European Union through the Wine Sector Program. The results of this funding weren't largely positive. For example, the article also noted, "In 2017, 230 businesses were engaged in wine production, with 151 or 65.7 being profitable. 79 enterprises reported loss,..."

The Croatian Bureau of Statistics, March 15, 2019, presented a report on the 2016/2017 wine-growing year (from August 1, 2016 to July, 31 2017), noting that total production was 760K hectoliters. Total exports were only about 54K hectoliters, about 7% of total production, and which would translate into 600,000 cases of wine. No breakdown of the exports markets was provided, though other information I've seen states the U.S. is one of Croatia's top five markets for wine exports.

It's clear that Croatians drink most of the wine they produce, which was further supported by The Dubrovnik Times, March 18, 2019, which reported that Croatians drank about 22 liters of wine per capita, making them the third largest consumer in the world. Wine is certainly a significant aspect of their culture.

Finally, a very brief article in The Adriatic Journal, March 21, 2019, indicated that in 2018, Croatia exported about $16 Million Euros in wine, with 939K Euros sent to Serbia, a 35% increase from the prior year. No additional information on other export markets was provided.

While I was in Croatia, I didn't find any additional statistical information, though several wineries noted that production in 2018 had been largely positive. Aggregate statistics, for the entire country, for 2018 though should soon start being reported in the media, and we can then assess whether the decline in production continued or not.

The modern wine industry in Croatia is only about 25 years old, after Croatia declared its independence in 1991, and then prevailed in a subsequent war in 1995. Prior to this point, much of their wine production was directed toward quantity rather than quality. With their independence, this began to turn around, and I strongly suspect that the decline in production was primarily due to wineries seeking to create higher quality wines, at the expense of large quantities. So, though they make less wine, they are making better wines, and my own experiences tasting a variety of Croatian wines convinced me that they are creating plenty of excellent wines.

We should keep an eye on Croatian wine production in the coming years, and hopefully the decline in production will even out and we will start to see increases. Croatia isn't alone in its situation as other countries, with lengthy histories of wine production, have been involved in the modern wine industry for relatively short time periods. For example, Georgia is in a similar situation, after having attained its own independence for the Soviet Union.

It's important to support these countries, to help their economies by buying their wines. As I've written previously, it can be important to be a Wine ActivistPeter Weltman, a sommelier and writer in San Francisco, summed it up well by writing, "With our wine purchases, I believe, we can help advance regional peace, provide support for farmers in war-torn regions, have a voice in geopolitics, and aid in economic recoveries." As the wines of Croatia can be excellent, it should be an easy decision to purchase their wines.

Fortunately, in Massachusetts, Croatian wines are becoming more readily available, especially due to the recent efforts of Croatian Premium Wine Imports. They currently import a number of Croatian wines, from the Komarna appellation, and are working on importing others, from different regions of Croatia. Let's hope that the other local importers/distributors who have Croatian wines in their portfolios also start promoting those wines more. Make it your goal this season to try some Croatian wines.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Zagreb: Art & Shopping--Plus A New Fedora (Part 4)

Some of the rest of my free time in Zagreb was spent wandering around the city, and doing a bit of shopping. One of my goals was to acquire a new hand-made hat, and I was successful. During my wanderings, I also saw a number of interesting sculptures, which seems to be indicative of their love for art, as well as their desire to honor numerous individuals.

Above, at a local bookstore, I saw copies of the various Game of Thrones novels, by G.R.R. Martin, in Croatian. Plus, there were Harry Potter novels in Croatian. I wouldn't be able to read any of these books, but they certainly looked cool.

As I've mentioned before, Croatians invented the necktie, the cravate, which was basically a scarf tied in a knot around their necks. In 1635, the cravate wearing Croatians impressed King Louis XIII of France who helped to launch the fashion for the rest of Europe. So, there are plenty of shops in Zagreb where you can purchase ties and cravates.

There are two different statues of St. George and the Dragon in Zagreb. The above statue, created by Austrian sculptors Kompatscher and Winder, is located near the Stone Gate, showing St. George paying his respects to the slain dragon. The statue was originally displayed in Austria but in 1937, it was gifted to a person in Zagreb, and has been in its current location since 1994.

This is a bit of a strange bronze sculpture. Created by sculptor Vanja Radauš, it primarily depicts Petrica Kerempuh, known as Croatia's National Jester. He was a popular entertainer as well as a cynical commentator on current events. In folk stories, he was considered to be a wandering trickster, carrying a mandolin. However, I'm unsure why there is another figure (and who is represents) in the sculpture, a figure that appears to be possibly dead. My preliminary research didn't uncover that info so I need to go deeper.

In Ban Jelačić Square, the central square of Zagreb, located near the Dolac Market, you'll find this equestrian statue of Ban Josip Jelačić, who ruled from March 1848 to April 1859. The statue was created by Austrian sculptor Anton Dominik Fernkorn and put in place in 1866. In 1947, Yugoslavia chose to remove the statue from the square and it wasn't until October 1990 that the statue was restored to its place in the square. For Croatians, Jelačić is considered a positive historical figure,  though Hungary has a much different view of him.

The pigeons voted and this is their most popular statue! Created by sculptor Ivan Rendić, this statue represents Petar Preradović, a famous general as well as a poet and writer. This is considered to be Ivan's best work. The statue, which was emplaced in its current location in 1956, also represents "freedom on the square."

This statue was also created by Ivan Rendić, and depicts Andrija Kačić Miošić, an 18th century Croatian poet and Franciscan friar. Zagreb seems to embrace and honor many poets and writers.

Another writer who was honored with a statue, created by Marija Ujević Galetović, was August Šenoa, a 19th century Croatian-language novelist who also introduced the historical novel to Croatia.

The strangest sculpture I saw seemed abstract, through with a potentially erotic theme. I later learned that the sculpture was created by Kosta Angeli Radovani, who often depicted nudes and the bodies of women. He created over 30 large-scale public sculptures, including this one, and many of his sculptures were called Dunja ("quince") as Kosta often compared women's bodies to fruit.

This well-known sign stands outside Cahun, an 80+ year old hat shop located at 59 Vlaška Street.

Cahun, a family business, was established back in 1935 and is presently owned and operated by Josipa Cahun. They make various hats by hand, following old techniques that have been passed down through the generations. They sell various other hats as well, including some not made at the store like Panama hats. If you love hats, this is certainly a destination for you. Prices are commensurate with the high quality of their products.

I knew I wanted to own of their hand-made hats and eventually selected, after much indecision over the exact style and color I wanted, this black fedora. Looking forward to wearing it this fall and winter.

Earlier this week, I had my first opportunity to wear my new hat, to an outdoor chef's event, and I was very pleased with my look, a memory of Croatia that will always remain with me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Zagreb: Agava Restaurant--Mediterranean & Croatian Specialties (Part 3)

On Friday evening, my first night in Zagreb, I'd done some prior research and decided to dine at the Agava Restaurant, located at 39 Tkalčićeva Street. Agava opened in 2005, and is operated by owner/partner Chef Belizar Miloš, who previously worked at the famed hotel Esplanade in Zagreb. The restaurant has received numerous positive reviews, from a variety of sources, and was one of only four Croatian restaurants to receive the Bib Gourmand award in the Michelin Guide 2019This is awarded to those restaurants that offer a good quality menu, simple but skillful cooking, and cost under 40 Euros for three courses. Their menu and wine list also were enticing, so I made my choice.

On the street level, there is patio seating (great for people watching) but I opted to dine inside, and climbed the stairs up the hill, which would provide me a different viewpoint.

Inside the restaurant, there are a few small rooms, as well as their bar. It has a warm and welcoming vibe, almost as if you were dining in someone's reconfigured home.

I was seated next to one of the front windows, with a view onto Tkalčićeva Street.

The food menu is separated into two sections, Mediterranean dishes and raditional Croatian dishes. A Tasting Menu is also available, 5 courses for 420 kuna ($63 US) with an optional wine pairing for an additional 210 kuna ($31.50). The Mediterranean section features Starters (5 choices 68-110 kuna), such as Angus Beef Tartare or Foie Gras de Canard; Pasta & Risotto (3 choices 108-165 kuna), such as Ravioli with hummer, sweet tomato confit, burratina, & basil oil or Risotto with beetroot, foie gras mousse, & almond crocant; Soups (3 choices 42-49 kuna), such as Oxtail or French Onion; and Main Dishes (6 choices 85-329 kuna), such as Angus Beef Tenderloin, or Bluefin Tuna Steak.

The Croatian section features Starters (4 choices 48-87 kuna), such as Zagorski štrukli (Dough stuffed with fresh cheese & light cream) or Octopus SaladSalads (3 choices 25-89 kuna), and  Main Courses (3 choices 99-160 kuna), such as Dalmatian "Pašticada" with home made dumplings or Oven Baked Octopus. Prices are very reasonable.

The Wine List is primarily composed of Croatian wines, with some French Champagnes and a few Dessert wines from France and Portugal. There are about 19 wines available by the glass, in a 0.1 liter size, priced from 15-39 kuna ($2.25-$5.85 US). By the bottle, you'll find about 3 Croatian Sparkling Wines, 5 French Champagnes, 28 Croatian Whites, 2 Croatian Rosés, 26 Croatian Reds, and 9 Mixed Dessert Wines. The list has a diverse selection of Croatian wines and certainly is an excellent place to learn more about what Croatia has to offer. Many bottles cost from 155-300 Kuna ($23.25-$45.00 US), which are also comparatively very reasonable prices.

I started my meal with a glass of 2018 Dvanajščak Kozol Pušipel (26 kuna). This winery is located in the Međimurje region, which is adjacent to Hungary, and they started producing commercial wines in 1996. Pušipel is the Croatian term for the Furmint grape, which is native to Hungary and commonly used to crate the famous Tokaji dessert wine. I enjoyed this dry, fresh and fruity wine, which had excellent crisp acidity. There were bright lemon and green apples flavors, with a backbone of minerality, and this would do well with seafood, which happened to be my first pairing.

I began with a Starter of Wild Fish Tartare (98 kuna) with raspberry bonbons and dehydrated capers, topped with a bit of Croatian olive oil. The Sea Bass was fresh and delicious, silky smooth with a nice contrasting crunch of the capers and mild sweet of the raspberry. The olive oil added a touch of fruit with a hint of bitter.

The Tartare was accompanied with some warm bread, sprinkled with Croatian olive oil. This Starter was well presented, and an excellent beginning to my dining experience. The Pušipel worked well with this dish.

The 2018 Poletti Rossella (32 kuna) is a Rosé produced by a winery in the Istrian region. The Poletti winery has owned their farmland since 1842, and currently have 7 acres of vineyards, growing 6 different grapes. This Rosé is produced from Muškat Ruža, "Red Rose Muscat," a grape grown in a few areas within Istria but which is native to Italy, where it is better known as Moscato Rose del Trentino. I found this wine to be crisp and dry, with more rustic and herbal notes atop some cherry and cranberry flavors. An intriguing Rosé, which I also paired with some seafood.

For my second course, I chose the St. Jacques Shell (95 kuna), with a pepper coulis, black pig sausage, and lemon pearls. The silky scallops melted in my mouth, enhanced by the textures and flavors of the toppings. Tiny crunchy bits of pork, slightly spicy pepper, and the bright citrus of the lemon bubbles. Another winner of a dish, showcasing such excellent fresh seafood. The Rosé was a nice choice, especially how it interacted with the pepper coulis and the salt of the pork.

For my next wine, I opted for another from the Poletti Winery, their 2016 Poletti Teran (31 kuna). Teran, also known as Terrano, is a red grape, native to Croatia (the Istrian region), Slovenia and Italy, and its known history extends back nearly 700 years. I found this wine to have an alluring nose of black cherry with a subtle earthy element. On the palate, it was a bold wine, though with restrained tannins, tasty flavors of black cherry, raspberry and plum, a spicy backbone and some earthy notes. A moderately long finish, good acidity, and it worked with my truffle pasta dish.

For my entree, I opted for the Pasta "Fuži" with Black Truffles (160 kuna), a traditional Istrian dish. The compelling earthiness of the truffles wafted up as this dish was brought to the table. The pasta tubes were light, cooked to a nice al dente, and the creamy sauce wasn't overly heavy. Truffles certainly dominated this dish, though in a delicious way. I also liked the lightness of the pasta, which contributed to ensuring the dish wasn't overly heavy. The Istrian Teran wine worked with the truffles, the earthiness of the wine working with the truffles, and its acidity, cutting through the creamy sauce.

Though I didn't order dessert, my server brought over a complimentary glass of 2007 PZ Svirče Ivan Dolac Selection. PZ Svirče is a wine cooperative, of about 220 members, that was founded in 1997 and is located on the island of Hvar. Ivan Dollar is a protected wine region, situated on the sunny southern slopes of Hvar. This late harvest wine of Plavac Mali grapes is available only in excellent vintages, aged in barrique and only a couple thousand 500ml bottles are produced. It is a semi-sweet wine, with nice acidity, smooth tannins, and a delicious blend of red and black fruit flavors, with a touch of dark spice. This complex wine seduces your palate, and I was pleased to see this different expression of Plavac Mali.

What a superb dining experience in Zagreb! Not only were the food and wine excellent, but the service was excellent as well, attentive but not obtrusive, knowledgeable and personable. It is very reasonably priced for the quality and quantity of its dishes, and the wine list is very reasonable as well. This restaurant would stand out wherever it was located. It earns my highest recommendation and if you visit Zagreb, you definitely need to dine here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Zagreb: Strolling Down Tkalčićeva Street (Part 2)

Upon my Friday afternoon arrival in Zagreb, after 16 hours in airports and airplanes, I was a bit tired from minimal sleep. Though a nap sounded good, I simply freshened up at my B&B and trekked out into the city. My time in the city was limited so I didn't want to waste any time sleeping. I wanted to immerse myself in Zagreb, to feel its culture and history, to interact with its people. I wanted to gain some understanding of what it meant to be Croatian. I began my explorations by wandering down the famed Tkalčićeva Street.

Known locally as Tkalča, it is a lengthy and curvy street filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, and small shops. It's a major tourist destination, and as you walk down the street, past many other people walking along, you see plenty of others sitting at the various outside patios enjoying drinks or food. This busy thoroughfare is much quieter in the early morning, though you'll see plenty of employees cleaning the area, their patios, and store fronts. Despite being touristy in some respects, there is much else of interest here, from intriguing sculptures to historical items. If you visit Zagreb, you definitely should check out Tkalčićeva Street, and be sure to keep your eyes out so you don't miss anything.

Tkalčićeva was once known as Potok ("Stream" or "Creek") Street as this is where the Medveščak stream was once located, separating the medieval communities of Kaptol and Gradac, as I mentioned yesterday. Kravi Most street crosses Tkalčićeva at one point, indicating the location where many of the battles between Kaptol and Gradac occurred. Potok street was later named after Ivan Krstitelj Tkalčić (1840-1905), a Kaptol priest, historian and archaeologist, who wrote many historical books about Zagreb and the church.

Near 45 Tkalčićeva Street, you'll see a bronze sculpture, known as “Lady in the Window,” which was created by sculptor Vera Drajh Kralj. Why is this naked woman peering out of a window? The sculpture is an homage to the risqué history of this street. Zagreb was the first European city with a legal red light district, and from 1899-1941, almost every house on Tkalčićeva street was a brothel, known as "houses of love!" There was a City Brothel Ordinance and all working women, who had to be at least 17 years old, had to possess a legal permit, have medical insurance and protection. The above sculpture symbolizes a prostitute waiting for a customer.

However, by the law, prostitutes couldn't just sit in a window naked and wait for customers, and they couldn't have signs either. Thus, some brothels would put up a colored light, and not just red lights. For example, one of the most popular, and expensive, brothels was the Kod Zelene Lampe, the "Green Lantern." Some other brothels and prostitutes would place a "garden gnome," or colored dwarf statue, outside their window. If it was standing up, the prostitute was available and if it was lying down, then she was busy with another customer. During this forty year period, the prostitution  trade was valuable to the city's economy and advertised as a tourist attraction.

Around 33 Tkalčićeva, there is a small park, which includes a bronze sculpture of Marija Jurić (1873-1957), who was better known by her pen-name Zagorka. She was the first female journalist in Croatian as well as a women's rights activist.  She wrote numerous articles for various newspapers and magazines, also having started a few of her own magazines. She also wrote a number of novels, though none of them yet have been translated into English.

This park has several benches where you can sit, including this one with a couple large, red hearts.

At the edge of this park, there is also an old building with a Sundial on the wall, which was created in 1955, and it is intended to accurately tell the time.

There is an interesting signpost on the street, with arrow signs pointing to locations that are relatively close and others which are quite a distance. From a Souvenir Shop which is only 3 meters away to Dubrovnik which is 580 kilometers away.

What is Iron Man doing in Zagreb? At 34 Tkalčićeva, you'll find a statue of Iron Man standing in front of Here Be Dragons, a small "ultimate geek shop." They sell a variety of pop culture t-shirts, glasses, statues, jewelry, and much more, from Game of Thrones to Harry Potter.

I picked up a Game of Thrones flask, with the words of Tyrion. Will be a good flask for my new Croatian Rakija, a brandy spirit.

Speaking of Rakija, also known as Rakhia, you'll find a bar dedicated to this brandy at 45 Tkalčićeva, a spot that boasts of offering over 100 types of Rakija. Rakija is common in this region of the world, and in Croatia, it can be made from about any type of fruit, though plums (šljivovica) and grapes (lozovača) are the most common. Some Rakija may also have the additions of honey, herbs and spices, such as Travarica, which contains a blend of wild herbs, though the exact blend will vary from producer to producer. Its alcohol content will vary from 20-40 proof

Previously, many people made their their own Rakija at home, and though it is not as prevalent as it once was, you'll still find people producing it at home. It used to be what people did with any leftover fruit. In Dalmatia, it's a tradition that when a guest comes to your home, you greet them with a shot of Rakija, a custom I encountered on a couple different occasions. On one of those occasions, I even had the chance to taste three different flavors of homemade Rakija, and it was delicious and well-made, nicely balanced. In a later article, I'll highlight the best Rakija I tasted in Croatia.

At the Rakhia Bar, there was a list of about 30 different Rakija, all priced at 12 Kuna per shot, about $1.80 U.S. However, prior to 8:00pm, all of these were offered at 50% off, so a shot cost less than $1.00 U.S. I asked the bartender to select five for me to taste, and I received Biska, Jagodicka, Limoncello, Lješnjak, and Bazga.

The Jagodicka (strawberry) and Limocello (lemon) were pleasant, with nice fruit flavors and a mild sweetness, although nothing special. The Lješnjak (hazelnut) had a strong nutty flavor, a mild sweetness, and went down smoothly but again, wasn't impressive. The Bazga (elderflower) was more interesting, with a strong floral aspect, a hint of sweetness, and a pleasing finish. My favorite though was the Biska (mistletoe), with a 30% ABV, with possessed more complex herbal notes, mild sweetness, and a smooth, satisfying taste. I suspect that these brands were more entry level Rakija, especially based on some of the much better examples I later tasted during my trip.

From Tkalčićeva Street, you can cross under this stone wall onto Opatovina Street, first passing through a corner of the Opatovina Park.

You'll then come to Veliki Tolk ("Tolkien's House") at 49 Opatovina, a pub with a Lord of the Rings theme. You can sit outside on their patio or take a seat inside the small pub.

This corner of the pub displays a variety of swords, axes and other weapons.

Much of the pub also displays and advertises various beers, ales, ciders and such.

For dinner Friday night, I chose to dine at a restaurant on Tkalčićeva Street, the Agava Restaurant, and I'll provide my full review tomorrow.

Have you ever explored Tkalčićeva Street?