CEESA Conference, Croatia
Off to the Conference
Due to its relatively close distance (229 miles), our school was able to
send a large number of its teachers to the CEESA (Central and Eastern
European Schools Association) conference in Zagreb, Croatia. After school,
we all boarded the bus at the nearest road wide enough to handle a coach
bus. With tote bags full of snacks (we wouldn?t stop for food), we were
prepared to undertake the approximately 7-hour journey.
Once outside of Belgrade, the hills gave way to flat land. The open rural
land was a stark contrast to the city of over 1,500,000 people. Although the
temperature was spring-like, the brownness and bare trees still reflected
the recent winter snowfalls. Water was standing in some fields that likely
were covered by snow just a week earlier. When I remarked that some of the
fields were already plowed, the local teachers remarked that this was
unusually late, due to the ?long? winter. If only the winters in Wisconsin
were that short! A few small tractors worked up the rich land. Small
villages dotted the land, with their terra-cotta tiled roofs and orthodox
spires emerging from the skyline. Although I spotted a few sheep, their
small numbers and absence of olive trees was evidence that I was not in
Upon reaching the border, we all showed our passports to pass from Serbia
and into Croatia. Local teachers commented on how different it had been a
little over a decade ago, when the region was known as Yugoslavia. As it
became dark, the movie ?The Last Samurai? was played, subtitled in Serbian.
As we approached the outskirts of Zagreb, a police car escorted us the rest
of the way to the hotel. Although we didn?t see this as a necessary measure,
it assured that no hostilities would occur to the Belgrade-licensed bus.
Even today, there is still resentment between some Croats and Serbs.
Friday, March 18
After the conference sessions were over for the day, many conference-goers
boarded busses to begin the tour of the city and the host school, the
American International School of Zagreb. The school, formerly a Catholic
seminary, certainly was larger than our rather homey campuses in Belgrade.
After a quick tour of the school and its crafts exhibits, interested parties
boarded the buses to begin the city tour. Even though we didn?t travel very
far, maneuvering the narrow, rather congested one-way streets made
traveling by bus take longer than it probably would have if we had walked.
Trams seemed to be the other sensible transportation method used by many
Interspersed throughout the old part of the city were buildings dating back
to the late 1800?s. This reconstruction occurred after a disastrous
earthquake that demolished many of its Baroque structures. Some of these
older buildings appeared to be recently restored, while others were in a
state of neglect. Several of the prominent buildings were painted in various
hues of yellow, beautifully contrasting the blue sky of the spring day.
Graffiti was scrawled over the bottom level of many buildings.
Ban Josip Jelačić Square
Driving past the famous Mirogoj Cemetery, our first stop was the Ban Josip
Jelačić Square. In the central part of the square was a prominent columnar
monument, with a golden statue of Mary facing the cathedral and several
golden angels surrounding the base. The sculptures were especially beautiful
as they glowed in the setting sun. We had a few minutes to peek into the
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a part of Zagreb?s visual
identity with its Neo-Gothic twin spires. Next to the cathedral was a
fortified-looking conical tower, with a gate that used to be the Kaptol?s
I was surprised at how quiet the streets seemed; there wasn?t the lively
atmosphere of the downtown walking street of Belgrade. There were, however,
some fancier sports cars showing off at high speed - something I hadn?t seen
in a while. Of course, I don?t think any Yugo cars will do much speed racing
anyway! Signs were all in the modified Latin script, making Croatian much
easier to read than the Cyrillic dominating the otherwise similar Serbian
At the restaurant, a large table had been reserved for us. Surprisingly, the
restaurant wasn?t all that smoky. The group dined on mixed meat platters,
which were quite similar to what I?ve eaten in Belgrade. Drinks consisted of
Croatian pivo (beer) or wine from the country. After the late meal some went
to a jazz club, while others walked back to the hotel, tired after a long
day of conference sessions.
Saturday, March 19
After conference sessions on Saturday, I departed the hotel with a few other
teachers and headed towards the street where we heard people were selling
and other crafts. Many of the vendors had already packed up for the weekend,
but we did get to see some of the ceramics (hand-made and moulded), handmade
jewelry, and painted eggs. I had enough money to buy a painted wooden egg
and charming tiny porcelain bishop figurine.
Determined to see St. Mark?s Church, whose multi-colored coat-of-arms tiled
roof was featured on the cover of the conference program, I headed onward in
spite of the continually graying sky. Walking up the steps next to the
funicular railway (built in 1891), I went past the famous Lotrščak Tower and
its rooftop canon which has faithfully fired for over 100 years exactly at
noon. I now had a beautiful view of the Lower Town. Church steeples
interspersed throughout the city peeked through the skyline. Nearby, a young
wedding couple posed by the stairs and a street performer played the guitar.
Drawn by the steeple of St. Marks, I walked on. Older women carrying
bouquets of flowers walked away from the church, now at the end of the
narrow street. A Croatian flag proudly waved from the side of one of the
older buildings. Although the sky wasn?t blue, St. Mark?s was still
impressive. Unlike the decorative roof, the inside was rather simple. After
enjoying my walk through the Upper Town, I headed back to the hotel in time
Sunday, March 20
Determined to see a bit more of the city before our bus left, I went for a
morning walk. Nearly all shops were closed and the streets were quiet. Men
and women stopped at flower stands in city squares to purchase fresh
bouquets of spring flowers. I also noticed more and more people carrying a
green, non-flowered plant, which I then realized was an olive branch bundled
with what looked like pussy willows. Outside some churches, I observed some
selling piles of olive branches. The sound of church bells tolling enriched
the festive morning.
Although I wasn?t following a map, the relatively grid-like layout, combined
with the landmarks of prominent buildings, statues, and grassy boulevards,
made it fairly easy to maintain one?s sense of direction. Once the spring
flowers were planted and things greened up, I?m sure these areas would be
quite lovely. I am looking forward to the same in Belgrade.
Back to Belgrade
The police car once again escorted us out of the city, where once again the
flat plowed lands dominated. As we neared the border, the lengthy queue of
semis (many from Turkey) was quite astonishing. Thankfully we didn?t have to
wait in that line. Back in Belgrade, things were unpacked and preparations
began for school for the following day.