Friday, 21 May 2021

Osijek to Get Underpass, 13 Buses in Bid to Improve Public Transport System

ZAGREB, 21 May 2021 - Agreements on EU-funded grants for the construction of an underpass and for the procurement of 13 new buses for public transportation system in Osijek were signed on Friday in that eastern Croatian city.

In attendance at the ceremony was Prime Minister Andrej Plenković who said that the 93-million-kuna underpass in S. Leopolda Bogdana Mandića Street would reduce traffic jams in that part of the city.As high as 85% of this investment will be covered by the European Union's funds while the remaining 15% will be covered by the state budget.

Also, 32 million kuna will be set aside for the procurement of 13 new buses for public transportation. The 85% of the amount is also covered by funds from the EU.

All these projects are part of our policy which we have been pursuing since 2016 as part of the "Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem" project, and we have contracted 17.7 billion kuna under that programme, Plenković said.

The outgoing mayor Ivan Vrkić said that during his two mayoral terms, HRK 1.6 billion had been invested in Osijek since Croatia joined the European Union.

(€1 = HRK 7.508080)

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Escape to Osijek-Baranja County and its Epic Sights and Flavours

May 14, 2021 – Breathtaking views of the Danube at Erdut and Aljmaš, the bona fide masterpiece of Đakovo cathedral, the unique winemaking traditions of northern Baranja, the wildlife-rich wetlands of Kopački rit and the OPGs of Osijek-Baranja County. There's a whole other world to discover in this epic corner of Slavonia-Baranja.

It seems like the world is speeding up. Everything now is that much more immediate. In this age of Instagram and 'influencers', we quickly scroll past postcard-pretty pictures on our phones. 'Like'. Forgotten, in an instant.

Croatia is a country not without postcard-pretty pictures. But, to snatch attention in this super-fast, vacuous age, all too often we are shown the same images. Heart-shaped islands from above, dolphins at dusk, sunset over the Adriatic and its epic Dinaric Alps. You could be forgiven for thinking that every view in Croatia contains the sea.

reSlavonija_Aero0060.jpgSlavonia © Romulić & Stojčić.

There are very few mountains in the Pannonian basin. And there is no sea. Well, not any more. Instead, these flatlands stretch 600 km from east to west and 500 km from north to south through several countries. They engulf the eastern section of Croatia we know as Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem.

Unsurprisingly, such a vast plain is not without its epic qualities. But, the epic nature of Osijek-Baranja County in Slavonia-Baranja is difficult to capture in a competing image on social media. Its special qualities instead lie in the sounds, the tastes, the tradition, the sights and the people. This is a place that has to be visited to be understood. And, if you do, it's an experience that will far outlast any fleeting photo on Instagram. Here, we take a look at just a small section of the unforgettable offer in Osijek-Baranja.

Imperial horses and the bona fide masterpiece of Đakovo cathedral

State Stud Farm Đakovo

Horse breeding in Đakovo is thought to be even older than 1506 when first written mention of the town's stud farm comes from. An endeavour of regional bishops, it bred horses of Arab stock. But, that changed at the beginning of the 19th Century.

re45123_1507774006692_993915_n.jpgIn the fields, Lipizzaner horses © Silvija Butković.

Lipizzaner horses were the prized breed of the Habsburg monarchy, their genetic line today traced back to eight stallions from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With the advancement of Napoleon's army across Europe, Lipizzaners were sent further east in order to protect them. This imperial horse has been bred in Đakovo ever since.

Born with black skin and black hair, their hair gradually turns to a characteristic light grey (although, some other colours occur). Traditionally, when the colour change was fully complete, the horses were ready for royal duty.

Denis_Despot_Ergela_Đakovo.jpgYounger horses on the State Stud Farm in Đakovo © Denis Despot / Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County.

Today, at the State Stud Farm Đakovo, the Lipizzaners are bred and trained in dressage. The farm contains Croatia's largest indoor riding hall, in which public performances take place. Previous visitors to the farm include several members of the British Royal family. Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip and their daughter Princess Anne came in 1972, while Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall came in 2016.

Đakovo cathedral

reDjakovo_katedrala0012.jpgExterior of Đakovo cathedral © Romulić & Stojčić.

The presence of Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer looms large in the history of Croatia. Nowhere does that presence loom larger in a physical manifestation than Đakovo cathedral. By far, it is the largest sacral building in Slavonia, the second-largest in Croatia.

reDjakovo_katedrala0002.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

This part of Slavonia is completely flat. Therefore, you can see the cathedral for miles as you approach Đakovo. Once up closer, its red bricks give it the appearance of a modern building. In fact, Josip Juraj Strossmayer oversaw its construction between 1866-1882. In truth, he'd wanted to build it for much longer, but struggled to get the funds required for his vision. Indeed, the project was so delayed that the artist Strossmayer chose to paint the interior, German Nazarene Johann Friedrich Overbeck, died before he could begin the task. Instead, father and son Alexander Maximilian Seitz and Ludwig Seitz assumed the task.

reDjakovo_katedrala0023-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_4.jpgInterior detail in Đakovo cathedral © Romulić & Stojčić

The building's construction actually only took four years, but it took a full 19 years to complete decorations inside. It's easy to see why. The interior of Đakovo cathedral is a bona fide masterpiece. Ornate frescos depicting scenes from the Old Testament and New Testament radiate from above. Regardless of your faith, it is a breathtaking experience to walk within.

reDjakovo_katedrala0028-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_9.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

reDjakovo_katedrala0019-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_12.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

13 of the frescoes are by Alexander, 20 are by Ludwig. The detail of their work captivates the eye. The Neo-Romanesque architectural flourishes design inside are similarly grandiose. Visiting while on a journey to Bulgaria, future Pope John XXIII proclaimed it to be the most beautiful church between Venice and Constantinople.

reDjakovo_katedrala0026-Djakovacka_katedrala_interijer_7.jpg© Romulić & Stojčić

Breathtaking views of the Danube at Erdut and Aljmaš

re1234rt5y.pngThe Danube, as seen from the Brzica winery terrace in Erdut © Marc Rowlands.

Slavonia is defined by its two longest rivers. To the south, after passing through Zagreb and Lonjsko Polje, the Sava forms a natural border between Slavonia and Bosnia. To the north, the Drava river first separates Croatia and Hungary. Then, after Donji Miholjac, it serves as the border between Slavonia from Baranja. Just a mile or so from Aljmaš, the Drava flows into the Danube, which partially separates Slavonia from Vojvodina.

reSlavonija_Aero0123.jpgThe Danube in eastern Slavonia © Romulić & Stojčić.

When you're standing overlooking the Danube in Erdut village, you could almost believe you're on an island. The peninsula in which the village lies is surrounded on three sides by the Danube. It weaves in and out of the landscape, causing great gulfs between the dense forest that occurs on each side. This area is noticeably raised above the height of regular, flat Slavonia and in Erdut, a small castle tower stands on a hill. It's one of the best places to look at the Danube. The other is from the Brzica winery, less than a kilometre away.

At Brzica, you're some 80 metres above the Danube. Here, winery owner Ivo Brzica has taken advantage of the view. He's built a beautiful holiday home where guests can stay. It's right next to his own dwelling and the winery. The properties share a huge, open and informal terrace overlooking the river. It's a great place to try the award-winning Brzica wines. They plant Graševina, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Vranac. On some bottles, the label reads 1378. It's the number of kilometres the Danube has travelled to reach this point.

re99127089_1304385849765541_5021631833557696512_n.jpgA glass of Brzica wine overlooking the Danube.

Erdut visitors wanting to get up closer to the Danube can now do just that. A newly appointed 10-kilometre footpath now runs alongside the river all the way from Erdut to Aljmaš. It's a beautiful walk through epic nature.

The unique landscape and winemaking traditions of northern Baranja

While much of Slavonia is uniformly flat, the topography is more varied in Baranja. Baranja Mountain stretches in a northeast-southwest direction between Beli Manastir and Batina. It is 21 kilometres long, three kilometres wide and much of its slopes are used for agriculture, grapes for winemaking, predominantly.

Krešimir-Čandrlić-TZ-Osječko-baranjske-županije.jpgA Surduk in Baranja © Krešimir Čandrlić / Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County.

Long ago, heavy rains began to produce natural gorges which cut through the higher ground. Over time, some of these became considerably deep, widened by the flow of water and sometimes mud. Eventually, these gorges between hillsides became passageways for horses and carts. In Croatia, these narrow routes are exclusive to the Baranja region and are very pretty to walk. Their walls are lined with tree roots, which stop them from collapsing. The branches and leaves of these trees often overhang the gorge, sometimes giving you the impression you're in a tunnel. Such a route in Baranja is known as a Surduk.

59929298_291292758447045_4092839649649623040_n-1.jpgA line of traditional Baranja wine cellars. Unique in Croatia to Baranja, such a building is known as a Gator © Visit Baranja.

On this same ground, you'll find another phenomenon unique to Baranja. A Gator is a traditional wine cellar of this region. Sometimes found on the lower course of a Surduk, a Gator is unlike a typical wine cellar in that it has no subterranean section where the wine is stored. Instead, a Gator extends back into the hillside. Wine is kept in the deepest recesses of the building, where it is coolest. In several places in Baranja you can see a street with several of these buildings side by side. Usually, each Gator is owned by a different family and each will make their own particular family wine.

Podrumi Kolar family winery in Suza

rrrrrrrrrrrr184522583_4216656801706120_7724425057568396905_n.jpgWith a 100-year-old cellar and great wines, the Podrumi Kolar family winery in Suza.

The Kolar family wine cellar is 100 years old, although the restaurant and tourism aspect of their enterprise has only been around since 2004. The whole family are involved and they purposefully intertwine their winemaking with a visitor offer. In addition to the restaurant attached to the wine cellar and they have a wonderful campsite just a couple of hundred metres down the road. All of their wines are great. But, if you visit, be sure to try their Sauvignon. Some say it's the best in the whole of Baranja.

Josić winery and restaurant in Zmajevac

reee80820150_10157752856922510_7899019450953760768_n.jpgTraditional Baranja and Slavonia flavours at the Josić winery and restaurant in Zmajevac.

At the Josić winery and restaurant in Zmajevac they make brilliant wines. Among them, Baranja shiller, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Graševina, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon. You can visit the wine cellars and try traditional foods of the region in their extensive restaurant.

Vinarija Gerštmajer in Zmajevac

reee10409647_797460223636993_347799443786816980_n.jpgIncredible views from the garden at Vinarija Gerštmajer in Zmajevac.

A deep dust gathers on some of the oldest bottles kept in the cellar at Vinarija Gerstmajer. And, there's plenty of those. The charming family patriarch is clearly a proud wine enthusiast and reserves some bottles from every year of their celebrated but small production. Sadly, this archive now stretches back only until the mid-1990s. It used to be much older, cataloguing all of the years his own father ran the winery. But, when the family returned after the war, they were greeted by empty cellars. The cellars are once again full. You can try them in the cellar or out on the terrace, overlooking a scene of uninterrupted nature.

The wildlife-rich wetlands of Kopački rit

reKopacki_rit.jpgWetlands of Kopački rit © Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County.

Occupying the marches, lakes and floodland between the Drava and the Danube, Nature Park Kopački rit is one of Europe's largest wetlands. Although a home to many different types of life, it is most famous for its bird population. As many as 300 different species of birds inhabit the park, many of them being migratory and nesting species. Of particular note, a large colony of grey heron and and the largest population of woodpeckers in the entire Danube basin. You can now tour a section of the waters in a large visitor boat. It is electrically powered so as not to disturb the life-rich riverbanks. After the boat drops you off, make your way through the rest of the park across specially constructed pathways that wind their way across the waters and reeds.

reee181763729_3395698553866665_437148493806686223_n.jpgThe wooden walkways of Kopački rit Nature Park in Osijek-Baranja County © Romulić & Stojčić.

The OPGs of Osijek-Baranja County

The landscape in Osijek-Baranja County is only so picturesque because of the people who live in it. It is their endeavours that shape it. Traditional agricultural pursuits explain the pretty rows of vineyards, the different coloured fields and gardens filled with fruit trees. While some agriculture here exists on a grand scale, many families in the region make the most of their own small plots of land.

Osijek-Baranja County family farms or OPGs preserve the traditions of the region, not only in the way they use the land but in the produce that results. From the beekeeping that makes EU-protected honey to the vineyards producing Croatia's best white wine, practices in these family farms are often passed down from generation to generation. The best way to learn how they do it – and try the amazing traditional flavours of Osijek-Baranja County – is to go to an OPG. Here are just several you can visit.

Zorić distillery in Erdut

Zoric.jpgZorić distillery in Erdut, Osijek-Baranja County.

The Zorić family in Erdut have long been growing fruit and making Croatian brandy aka rakija. But, this youngest generation, lead by youthful father Dinko and his wife Sanja, have upped their game significantly. They have built the most modern craft rakija distillery in the region. From there, they make one of Croatia's best new premium rakijas, Divania. In English or Croatian, they will guide you around the distillery and explain the process before letting you try it on their lovely terrace. If you're lucky, you might also get to try the family-made kobasica sausages – they're very good! Their rakijas are made from apricots, quinces, apples, pears and cherries and the family are great hosts.

Seoski turizam Lacković in Bilje

re20431767_822347511276386_375301605997322700_n.jpgFilled with flowers, Seoski turizam Lacković in Bilje.

A beautiful family-run farm, with 16 beds for guests, Seoski turizam Lacković are used to hosting visitors. The farm itself has pretty rows of vegetables out back. Next to them, a variety of birds are kept. The hosting area has a lovely terrace with a view of the pretty tree-lined path that extends down through the large garden. During the recent Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje), visitors tried their hand at making traditional baked foods pita and kiflice.

OPG Čudesna šuma

rROMMM182218841_3395418300561357_8222892496436052806_n.jpgMeeting the llamas at OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

Visit the llamas or a special gastronomic event at this future eco-village and food forest. To read a detailed reportage from our spring 2021 visit to OPG Čudesna šuma, look here.

Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to thank the following for their invaluable help in creating this article: Ivana Jurić and the Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County, Marija Burek and the Tourist Board of Đakovo, Renata Forjan and Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit and Domagoj Butković of expert travel guides to Slavonia and Osijek-Baranja County, Kulen travel.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

OPG Čudesna šuma: Paradise Reimagined in Beautiful, Traditional Baranja

May 13, 2021 – OPG Čudesna šuma: How an unexpected turn of events helped world-renowned photographer Mario Romulić realise his lifelong dream.

War and genocide and the aftermath. Famine. Disease. Death. In a former life, harrowing images filled the lens of internationally renowned photographer Mario Romulić. But thankfully, we're now far from such scenes.

In fact, at OPG Čudesna šuma - Mario Romulić's home and family farm - we're pretty much far from everything. One other eco-farm is his only neighbour. Well, unless you count the llamas the Romulić family keep out back. Occasionally, through the rich green of surrounding trees, you see birds flying above the branches. Probably they're toing and froing from Kopački rit. The nearby Nature Park is less than a kilometre from OPG Čudesna šuma. Famously, the wetlands are home to over 250 species of birds. They are also the reason why Mario Romulić is here.

ReeeeeMG_2366_DxO-GŠ-e1559901697596.jpgKopački rit Nature Park © Kopački rit Nature Park.

“Back then, I was very occupied with Kopački rit,” remembers Mario of the time, 21 years ago, when he moved to what is now OPG Čudesna šuma. “I was working as a cameraman for people like Reuters, all over the world. The assignments would last 7-10 days and I'd be in places like Afghanistan, Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, Bosnia. It was often quite dangerous. For the next 20 days, I would spend a lot of time in Kopački rit, trying to calm my nerves. It was something like a cure after seeing all these horrible scenes. Eventually, instead of travelling every day from my home in Osijek to Kopački rit, I decided to try and find something close by. And this is what I found.”

Just as this beautiful, natural landscape in Bilje, Baranja once served as a peaceful getaway for Mario Romulić, his OPG Čudesna šuma today does the same for others. Because, after dreaming for two decades of turning this blissful plot and homestead into a forest farm and eco-village, Mario Romulić is finally turning that vision into a reality.

REEEEE123849689_631301844230484_3242943399468051911_n.jpgThe impossibly pretty OPG Čudesna near Kopački rit Nature Park, Bilje Municipality, Baranja © OPG Čudesna šuma.

“Because of my job - first, travelling all around the world, then travelling Croatia - I did not even have much time to think about it, let alone do it,” says Mario. “But, then Corona came. Finally, I found myself at home. At last, I had time to work on my dream.”

OPG Čudesna šuma in the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje)

A group of 30 or so are Mario's guests today at OPG Čudesna šuma. They're here for a presentation of speciality cooking. It's the grand finale of the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje).

Over previous weeks, OPGs from all across the region have welcomed guests to try goulash, soups, stews, perklet and other traditional foods of the area. While visiting, they've been embraced by the beautiful landscape of Baranja. Not only have they discovered how this delightful, distinct cuisine tastes, but also they've learned exactly how it's prepared. However, they've evidently saved the best for last. On the menu today, river fish inventively cooked, accompanied by a riotous rainbow of seasonal vegetables.

reOPG_Čudesna_šuma181580000_726510768042924_6910637969151864081_n.jpgSeasonal vegetables of Baranja in springtime at the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje) © OPG Čudesna šuma.

It's a beautifully sunny day, right at the start of May. It depends on your preference, but looking across this happy vista in the glorious sunshine, it's difficult to imagine this not being the perfect time to be in Baranja. Young children are raised to chest height by their parents so they can meet Mario's free-roaming llamas face-to-face. The children's faces flit between surprise, curiosity and delight. The llamas return their stare. They're used to welcoming new guests.

re182218841_3395418300561357_8222892496436052806_n.jpgMeeting the Romulić family llamas at OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

Partially shaded by trees, the smiling adult guests sit casually on wooden benches around a central, outdoor cooking area. Several open fires display a range of traditional cooking methods. Steam rises from a cast-iron stove suspended over one. Beneath the vapours, you can make out the dish is fish paprikash. It's unmistakable because of the deeply red coloured bubbles, a result of generous amounts of paprika.

RErommy.jpgGuests enjoy a warm springtime day at OPG Čudesna šuma during the Month of Baranja Cooking (Mjesec baranjske kuhinje), as fish paprikas cooks over an open fire © OPG Čudesna šuma.

A huge bag of this paprika sits propped up, close by. It's from another organic OPG, just a kilometre or so from here. The colour is vivid, impossibly red, unrecognisable from anything store-bought. At the next fire, pike impaled on wooden sticks are placed far enough from the flickering flames so they cook slowly and do not burn.

RRRRRRMG_9076.jpgPike impaled on sticks, cooking by an open fire at OPG Čudesna šuma @ Marc Rowlands.

In the outdoor kitchen, Mario Romulić's co-chefs prepare an unending supply of fish dishes and vegetables. Carp, catfish, trout, bream. There's a bounty of fresh asparagus. It's that time of year. With the restraint of experience, they've cooked it perfectly. After the crunch of the bite, the flavour explodes. They're seasoned simply – delicious olive oil and sea salt.

RRRRRMG_9083.jpgSeasonal asparagus, perfectly cooked, served with smoked river fish © Marc Rowlands.

A group of peers – accomplished chefs from Osijek-Baranja restaurants – peak over the shoulders of Romulić's co-chefs. They're admiring the inventive techniques employed. Although, being chefs, they can't help themselves. They end up briefly forgetting their families in order to help out.

Mario Romulić, the host with the most

re181662505_3395417317228122_5675229268416633172_n.jpgMario Romulić © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

After all the guests arrive, Mario Romulić holds court. Cheerily he welcomes us all to OPG Čudesna šuma and the event. Without question, the success of rural, village tourism depends on the personalities of the hosts. It's no good plonking a group of visitors in a pretty place and throwing some food in front of them. We've all seen trees, grass and food before. Rural tourism is not just about the place, it's about the experience, the ambience. And, especially, it's about the people.

Hands down, the OPGs of Slavonia and Baranja are the best in Croatia at this. The folks here are famous for their friendliness, warm welcome and big personalities. And, Mario Romulić has one of the biggest of them all.

In the research for this reportage, looking back at archive pictures of Mario Romulić is startling. During his years spent as an international photographer, he himself has been photographed many times – on assignment in distant countries, at the opening of exhibitions that have showcased his celebrated work. In most, there's an intensity to his stare. It's sometimes difficult to look at. He looks like a man who has tales you never want to hear, like a man who has seen too much.

re181833835_3395419193894601_1580949382978993421_n.jpg(L- R) OPG Čudesna šuma co-chef at the event Mihael Tomić, renowned Osijek chef Ivan Đukić currently of Osijek's Lipov Hlad and a happy Mario Romulić © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

By comparison, the Mario Romulić that welcomes us at OPG Čudesna šuma today is unrecognisable. Sure, there's a little more grey to his long hair and beard but, otherwise, he looks incredibly healthy and happy. The intense stare is gone, replaced by a warm, wide smile that shows across his entire face. Even in early May, he has a darkened skin tone, the telltale signs of a man who spends much of the day outdoors. Romulić's enthusiasm for his guests and the event is palpable. After his sincere welcome, this enthusiasm is immediately transferred to each of his guests.

Mrs Romulić ensures everyone's glass is overflowing with wine or juice. One of Mario's teenage sons helps out with the food, while the other is taking photographs of the event. Well, someone has to do the photography now that dad wants to be a chef and host! Mario himself is engulfed in smoke. Among the other duties he's assumed today, Mario is tending a smoker. Without a doubt, this is the most revelatory cooking method we meet today.

RAFGGMG_9033.jpgMario Romulić tends to smoked river fish, a revelatory gastronomic experience at OPG Čudesna šuma © Marc Rowlands.

Smoked fish of Slavonia and Baranja at OPG Čudesna šuma

reOPG_Čudesna_šuma181569372_726510701376264_2349368327366088172_n.jpgAn American-style smoker, loaded with river fish. TOP TIP: A great way to stop fish sticking to the grill of your barbecue or smoker is to place them on top of a layer of lemon slices © OPG Čudesna šuma.

“We do have smoked fish here, but not in this way,” he says. “This is more like an American grill. I never heard of anyone trying Baranja cooking like this. Actually, I never heard of anyone nearby who has a smoker like this. The first time I tried stuka (pike) in the smoker, that was unbelievable. It's incomparable, really special.”

re182065042_3395417427228111_6987374227558501361_n.jpgExquisite presentation of river fish by the enthusiastic team of OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

“In Slavonia and Baranja, there are just a few ways we usually cook our river fish - carp on sticks, fish paprikash, perklet and fried fish. So, we tried something new, to expand the palette. For instance, almost nobody eats Babuška (a type of carp). They feed it instead to their pigs. It costs 5 kuna a kilo! But, if you cook it in this completely natural way, it's delicious.”

re181464507_3395417533894767_3887484501591319798_n.jpgMore river fish, cooked by the team of OPG Čudesna šuma © Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit.

He's not wrong. Today's mountain of different smoked fish is the talk on most of the adult lips. The rich flavours surprise. Compliments and returns for second helpings ensue. Mario stands to one side, happily watching as his smoked fish secret escapes. In the future, he plans similar events based on other regional foods - Black Slavonian pig, wild meats like deer or boar. Eventually, in the seven hectares of land he owns here, he would like to expand OPG Čudesna šuma as an eco-village, with beds for visitors, a natural swimming pool and then surround it with a food forest. Big plans. It looks as though the camera may stay more permanently in the hands of his son. Because it's difficult to imagine Mario Romulić leaving his happy place and the realisation of his long-held dream.

re60723980_10157204309393875_1954899380326629376_n.jpgMario Romulić in his happy place, with a friend © OPG Čudesna šuma.

Both the author and Total Croatia News would like to thank the following for their invaluable help in creating this article: Ivana Jurić and the Tourist Board of Osijek-Baranja County, OPG Čudesna šuma, Mario Romulić and family, Renata Forjan and Turistička zajednica Općine Bilje - Kopački rit and Domagoj Butković of expert travel guides to Slavonia and Baranja, Kulen travel.

Monday, 30 November 2020

PHOTOS: The Amazing Natural and Seasonal Art of Slama Osijek

November 30, 2020 – Autumn's vivid colours explode onto the nature canvas of parkland in the Slavonian capital. For 15 years, Nikola Faller and his Slama Osijek project have been creating amazing natural sculptures and land art in tandem with the changing seasons. In a series of incredible photos, we take a look

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Slama Osijek is an NGO. I like to think of it as an NGO for the promotion of creative consciousness. Our biggest annual project is the Slama Land Art Festival which is already 15 years old now, since 2006. My second biggest endeavour is the urban land project Four Seasons. As the name suggests, the project has four parts. I work outside using natural materials which are typical for each season.

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In autumn, it's leaves. The leaves fall from the trees and create a beautifully coloured carpet on the ground. I then go with a rake and I draw. Afterward, I take pictures with a drone. It's difficult to see the pieces otherwise because they're quite big. You can walk through them, a bit like walking through a maze, but it's only possible to see their full dimensions properly from the sky. I'm making my final autumn piece with leaves today (30 November). It will be dedicated to my home city because in a few days it is Osijek City Day.

Tomislav ŠilovinacTvrdsnow.jpg© Tomislav Šilovinac

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In winter, I do sculpture with snow and ice. It depends. I can only use snow if it snows, ha! The ice can be produced artificially.

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In spring, I do lawn mowing. These are also usually large geoglyphs – drawings made on the green areas around Tvrda. I use a lawnmower and trimmer for those and again take pictures from the drone.

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In summer, I use straw and sand. Osijek gets its name from the shallow waters and low tide here of the river Drava. There are a lot of sandbanks here when the river is low, particularly at the end of summer. They are ideal for making drawings in the wet sand.

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One of the best parts of making art like this is I get to be outside all the time. In Osijek, we have beautiful parks and a long river promenade. It's possible to feel the nature, right in the heart of the city.

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I think one of the most beautiful things any human can do is be creative. Anyone can do it. And I think it's important that we use this creativity in harmony with nature. With Slama Osijek, I try to show that it's possible to do that, even on a really big scale, without destroying anything and also, without leaving anything permanent. When I was younger, my ambitions included leaving something permanent. Now, more and more I enjoy the ephemeral nature of this art. Because, in nature, everything changes. Even the mountains used to be on the bottom of the sea.

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It's good to work in harmony with these moving energies of nature. The leaves are now fallen. Slowly they are beginning to rot. By springtime, they will already be new earth, feeding the grass which I will mow, as will the melted snow from any sculptures I make. As the weather warms, the grasses that are cut become the straw I use in summer.

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As well as working alone, as an author, I also hold a lot of Slama Osijek workshops. I do them with children and young people of all ages, even as young as those in kindergarten. They learn about both art and nature. High school students and even university students of the Academy Of Arts here in Osijek also come. I hold such Slama Osijek workshops all around the region, not only in the city itself. Many workshops include people who have no formal training or experience in art. Sometimes, the experience with such participants can be incredibly rewarding – to watch them discover their creativity. They often come up with great ideas, although sometimes they are not sure if it's possible. I'm there to facilitate those ideas, to assist them in making their ideas come to life. Anyone can do it. All you need initially is the will.

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All uncredited photos © Nikola Faller / Slama Osijek

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Continental Croatia Trains: Inland Opens Up With Green Travel

October 3, 2020 - With charter airlines in a state of flux and Croatia Railways beginning a renewal of their fleet in Slavonia, are continental Croatia trains the eco-friendly and best way to unlock the inland's amazing potential?

Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. Even before 2020 arrived, lifestyles and trends were headed in new directions. Eco-tourism and agro-tourism were two of the fastest-growing areas within the travel sector, this behaviour change a response to concerns about the environment. And nowhere in the country stands better poised to take advantage of this interest than continental Croatia.

ivo-biocinaCNTB.jpgImpossibly pretty Zagorje - the region lies just north of Zagreb and is accessible by continental Croatia trains © Ivo Biocina / Croatia National Tourist Board

From the impossibly pretty hills of Zagorje, the peaceful rivers of Karlovac county and the hidden vineyards that surround the capital Zagreb to the vast Pannonian flatlands that stretch to Slavonia, Baranya, Vukovar-Srijem and beyond, the varied topography of continental Croatia is wild, exciting and - by many - wholly undiscovered.

This is land where agriculture and nature thrive side by side, where the stresses of modern-day existence ebb away as you readjust to a way of life that would look mostly familiar to the people who lived here centuries ago. These are places where you can truly be at one with yourself and with your surroundings. In continental Croatia, you often find yourself in an environment that is both timeless and traditional, yet wholly contemporary in regards to its ecological aspirations. And you're never far away from an exciting city environment that you can dip into on a whim – not just Zagreb, but Osijek, Slavonski Brod, Karlovac, Sisak and Varaždin too.

kalendar04.jpgTo those who really know and love Croatia, Osijek is simply unmissable. It is both the capital of and the doorway to Slavonia and Baranya and should be more accessible by continental Croatia trains. Sadly, international transportation links to the city by air are also quite poor. Improvements in accessibility to Slavonia and Baranya by rail and road are imminent © Romulić & Stojčić

Unlocking the incredible potential of continental Croatia relies on getting the message out there and facilitating travel to these regions

In recent TCN features we have detailed that motorways within Croatia are among the best in Europe - once you're inside Croatia, travelling by car (or bus) between the regions couldn't be easier. We have also seen evidence of the huge interest in travelling here by rail and using continental Croatia trains.

Of all the modern methods of long-distance travel, rail is by far the most eco-friendly. What better way to begin an environmentally friendly holiday than by arriving on continental Croatia trains? When the country wisely decided to prioritise its internal motorway system, a modern and fast inter-regional rail network was put on the back burner. Nowhere suffers greater from this decision than continental Croatia.

Croatian Official Document uploaded to Wikipedia by Epepe.gifThe Croatian rail network © Croatian Official Document uploaded to Wikipedia by Epepe

The only high-speed line that currently exists in Croatia links Rijeka to Budapest, via Zagreb and Koprivnica. Planned improvements hope to cut journey times between Zagreb and its nearest coastal city to an hour. Same as it ever was - Rijeka was the first Croatian city to be connected internationally by rail. That line also ran into the heart of Austro-Hungary and facilitated upper-class travel to places like Opatija. But does it best benefit the country to invest in more links to the coast or in continental Croatia trains? Well, the inland is not being ignored. Upgrades are being made to continental Croatia trains.

IMG_8990.jpgThis impressive beast actually services the country's coast. But would more investment in the continental Croatia trains network better service more people and help unlock the inland to tourists? Around 70% of the country's inhabitants live in continental Croatia © HŽPP

The rail link between Zagreb and Slavonski Brod is so historic that it was once part of the four routes of the Orient Express. It has been maintained to a standard where you can make a relatively quick journey from the capital to Vinkovci via Slavonski Brod. The same cannot be said for rail travel to Osijek, the access point to Baranya and much more. So slow is the connection between Osijek and Zagreb that it has been possible over recent times to reach the Slavonian capital quicker by taking the train to Vinkovci, then the bus to Osijek, rather than travelling direct by rail.

Slavonija_Osijek0191.jpgOsijek train station. A renovation to the building is planned for the near future © Romulić & Stojčić

However, in February this year, Croatian Railways introduced four direct daily lines between Slavonski Brod and Osijek. And there will be a new tilting train line that will run between Zagreb to Osijek on Friday afternoon and from Osijek to Zagreb on Sunday afternoon, facilitating student travel. On October 15, the first low-floor train will run between Osijek and Vinkovci as an additional part of the renewal of their continental Croatia trains fleet in Slavonia. The welcome return of Croatia's second-oldest international rail line - linking Osijek to Pécs in Hungary, via Beli Manastir and Baranya - was introduced in late 2018.

23e1f08a601e02be10403fbc28ced968_XL.jpgA motorway stretch between Metković and Dubrovnik, integrating the Pelješac bridge and the Croatian segment of the European corridor are the final big remaining projects in a three-decade-long undertaking to give Croatia one of the best motorway networks in Europe. Should Croatia's rail network be next? © Hrvatske Autoceste

Access to Slavonia and Baranya will also be massively facilitated upon completion of the European corridor, which will connect North Europe to the Adriatic. Starting in Budapest, it necessitates the building of a bridge near Beli Manastir. Thereafter the motorway will pass by Osijek, connect to the Zagreb-Slavonia motorway near Lipovac, then pass through Bosnia and its capital Sarajevo and on to Ploče.

The removal of budget airline flights to the airport in Osijek remains a hindrance to attracting many international visitors to Slavonia and Baranya. However, with charter airlines facing the greatest uncertainty of all modes of transport at the current time, though their return is a must, it is perhaps now an ambition that should remain more long term. For the immediate future, improvements to rail travel look to be a brilliant way of opening up not only Slavonia, Baranya and Vukovar-Srijem, but also an eco-friendly access point capable of serving the whole of untapped continental Croatia.

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Thursday, 24 September 2020

How to Invite People to Rakija and 19 More Must-Visit Things in Osijek

September 24, 2020 - The biggest town in the heart of Slavonia, we present 20 must-visit things in Osijek.

A city where storks live on city buildings, red wounds on facades reminiscent of days of courage, and street art testifies to the city’s past and present rhythm. As Punkufer reports, whether you are a fan of wineries and vineyards, old castles and forts, or you want to enjoy the romantic combination of the Drava and the Danube in the middle of golden and green plains, Osijek is the place for you.

1. The famous Osijek Fortress

The fortified part of the town from the 18th century, you'll find St. Trinity's statue. There is also the General Command Building, which you've seen elsewhere even if you have not been to Osijek - on the 200 kn banknote, which also has the floor plan of the old fortress.

At the time of its construction, it was one of the largest and most modern military fortifications in Central Europe. To this day, only a small part of the old walls has been preserved. It is believed that the body of General von Beckers, who led the construction of the wall, is in the walls of the Fortress. But there are more intriguing legends and beliefs…

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

2. City of legends

The legend of the missing treasure: when Napoleon was ravaging Europe, the treasury of the Habsburg Empire was transferred on ships among the safe walls of the Osijek Fortress. After the danger passed, the treasury was returned, but one chest disappeared forever in Osijek, and it was never known where the money was.

Legend of noon lunch: when the Turkish army left the city in 1687, churches marked the period of freedom with bells at 11 am, and Osijek housewives eventually concluded that this was the ideal time to make dumplings that would be ready at noon. Hence the name "dumpling clock", but also dumplings on your table at noon.

The legend of Romeo and Juliet in Osijek: cops in ancient times caught a young man in the wee hours of the night and accused him of crime nearby. To save the reputation of his sweetheart with whom he spent the night, he confessed to a crime he did not commit. When she found out, she ran to the rescue to admit what had happened; however - the young man had already been hanged. The remainder of this event today is the Chapel of the Stone Cross, or as the people once call it - the Chapel of Unhappy Loves.

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

3. Soldiers, inns, and prostitutes

At the end of the summer, the Tourist Board of the City of Osijek organized free tourist tours of the Fortress called "Fortress: soldiers, inns and prostitutes" (only for adults!). The perfect opportunity to meet the naughty side of Osijek.

The tours are led by a friendly tourist guide Stanislav Subotic, who welcomed his guests disguised as a resident of the Lower Town, whom the woman reported to the police that he had not returned from the prostitute for six weeks. The Museum of Slavonia and young historians from the Faculty of Philosophy in Osijek also helped him prepare the tour. At the moment, they no longer have free tours, but those interested in a thematic tour can contact the Osijek Tourist Board and Mr. Subotić, who will surely enhance their experience of the city.

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

4. Osijek is one of the greenest cities in Croatia, and sphinxes guard the entrance to a park

Large parks and gardens, especially those around the fortress's ramparts, were built on the principle of ‘pleasant and useful’ to keep the city away from cannons from the city walls. During your visit to Osijek, you can enjoy the greenery of the park of King Tomislav, the gardens of Croatian kings, or the young Park of the newlyweds, where young married couples once planted the trees of their love.

One of the more unusual parks is Sakuntala Park. It was named after a girl from Indian mythology who was sung by Indian poets and Goethe. The park is adorned with sphinxes at the entrance, and when you see them, you’ll remember why we warned you: Their eyes are up!

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

5. "Kompa" (Friend), tireless scaffolding on the Drava

For a hundred years, Kompa has been tirelessly transporting passengers from one bank of the Drava to another, often when they intend to visit the Osijek ZOO on the other side. This is why many people remember their childhood when they sailed on a trip with their parents.

This ecological boat uses only the Drava River's currents for driving, but don't worry, so as not to end up in a panoramic tour of Slavonia and Srijem on the Danube, your comp holds a steel rope. Of course, you always have the option to eLEGAntly* cross the Drava River over the Pedestrian Bridge (Bridge of Youth).

*Lega is a name for a friend, a colleague, in the spirit of the Osijek dialect.

6. Copacabana Beach or locally - Kopika

To refresh in the summer months, locals and guests alike prefer to look for in public baths and swimming pools. The largest and most visited Drava beach is called Copacabana. With a thorough and systematic reconstruction, there is a recreation center that will soon shine in a new edition.

It is ideal for walking along the Drava Promenade along the Drava, where there is enough space for walking, cycling, or enjoying the view on a bench or with a cup of coffee in one of the "river" cafes.

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

7. Slavonian cuisine to protect against winter

Fresh cheese with kajmak, Kulen, fried bacon, meatballs, fish stew, river specialties of carp and catfish, shepherd's pie, Sataraš, cabbage flakes, plum dumplings, jam, chocolate from Osijek factory Kandit… Need we say more? With all that, you can refresh yourself with a homemade invention: a black Radler. After all, they say that Osijek is still the birthplace of the first Croatian beer. And for wine lovers, there is the best from the famous wine cellars of Slavonia and Baranja: Pinot, Chardonnay, Merlot, Grasevina…

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

8. Mother of cats

Here is a temple for all crazy cat people: the famous baroness and humanitarian Pauline Hermann statue would not attract so much attention if cats did not keep her company. Namely, the baroness was a great lover of animals, especially cats, so the people of Osijek immortalized her with a statue and a nickname: Cat Mother.

9. The egg from which Osijek hatched

On Ban Jelačić Square, there is a statue of a cracked egg, which symbolizes Osijek's birthplace. It is a memorial to the ancient Roman city named Mursa, located here from the 1st to the 5th century AD.

10. Mill - mill on the Drava

There used to be many mills on the Drava, and having a mill on the Drava meant serious work. Although the mills ceased to operate during the Second World War, in honor of the old days and the respectable occupation of millers, the project "Miller's Way" was launched, which included a replica of the mill intended public education.

11. The main square, a group of citizens and a mysterious elephant

 On the main, Ante Starčević Square, a "group of citizens" embodies all the inhabitants of Osijek in their diversity. But there is also a touch of exoticism in the form of an elephant statue on the building's front. There are several versions of why the elephant is in the square. One story says that it was set up by an Osijek merchant who probably wanted to attract customers from the far eastern regions or learned from those parts that an elephant brings good luck. Another says that while the circus was passing through the city, an old elephant at the head of the procession fell to the ground and died. Two brothers of a butcher from a nearby butcher shop "took care" of the body, and from that moment on, the purchase of meat in that butcher shop was called "I'm going to the elephant". 

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

12. City of Art Nouveau

At the beginning of the 20th century, Osijek was the stage of European architecture trends, and the Art Nouveau left the most beautiful trace. If you walk along European Avenue, you will have the opportunity to see magnificent examples of urban villas from that time. Still, there are other buildings such as the Main Post Office, Urania Cinema, and the so-called Knopp houses built in the style of "Gingerbread Art Nouveau". 

Pride in heritage is also expressed through various projects and festivals. Culture lovers strive to revive and nurture the artistic direction that has made up the city through tourist tours, lectures, concerts, exhibitions, and workshops.

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Osijek | Photo by Romulic and Stojcic

13. Watch the film in the cinema in the city of Oscar winner Branko Lustig

The well-known Croatian producer and actor who won an Oscar for his films, Schindler's List and Gladiator, is a native of Osijek. Because of his Jewish blood, as a child, he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. He later attributed his survival to the camp to an officer from the Osijek area, just like him, and knew about his father. In the name of domestic cinema, visit Osijek's Urania Cinema. The cinema building was erected in - you guessed it - Art Nouveau style. Even if you don't get to Osijek, you can bring a little Osijek spirit into your stay with the famous Osijek Oscar winner's film classics.

14. Cannonball - an attraction that no one planned

On Županijska Street, in addition to the HNK building and the County Palace, a skilled eye will notice a small attraction stuck in the wall: a black ball believed to have been accidentally fired from the Fortress in the 19th century. Since this happened in peacetime, it is believed that the cannonball fired was an unfortunate consequence of the military cannon game after a merry evening in the city.

15. Čaruga, a Slavonian bandit or Robin Hood?

At the beginning of the 20th century, the robber Čaruga gladly came to Osijek. Numerous legends depict his hard life and plundering exploits. By teaming up with other bandits, he became part of the so-called "Kola gorskih tića". Together, they plundered wealthier citizens. He was sentenced to death by hanging and said goodbye theatrically to life with the words "Goodbye people, Čaruga is traveling!". For some, Robin Hood, for some an ordinary robber, but indeed an interesting figure whose life decades later intrigued historians and artists. He was buried in the Osijek cemetery of St. Ana, and several books have been written about his character, and several films have been made.

16. Revive your childhood with Jagoda Truhelka

Most grew up with Osijek writer Jagoda Truhelka and her collection of short stories, "Zlatni Danci". She talks about his family and the people of Osijek's everyday life, so this could be one of the most beautiful guides before visiting Osijek. Part of her family's legacy is kept in the Museum of Slavonia in Osijek.

17. With a small, red Fico car against tanks - a monument to the courage of the little ones

When the tanks took to the city streets in 1991, Osijek defender Branko Breškić decided to stop them by parking his Fićo in the middle of the intersection. The tank crushed him mercilessly, but the scene remained eternal: like David and Goliath, the little red Fico remained a symbol of courage and resistance to a stronger enemy. Today, this scene is immortalized in an art installation in which Fićo won in the end. Its location is at the intersection of Trpimirova and Vukovarska.

18. Urban monument: Unconquered city

After the occupation of nearby Vukovar during the Homeland War, the message of the late defender Predrag Sušac appeared in Osijek: Osijek - an unconquered city! Today, this legendary inscription is protected as a cultural asset, and you can see it at the intersection of Trpimirova and Divaltova streets.

19. Stadium Gradski vrt and Kohort of the city on the Drava

"There is an echo from the east, the champion's name is Osijek" - so sing the fans of NK Osijek, Kohorta. They took their name from the name for the infantry part of the Roman army's legion, which is not without reason because members of the Roman cohorts were once stationed in this city. Home games are held at the City Garden Stadium, from which many probably already know the inscription Grad na Dravi (the City on Drava River). There are also city swimming pools near the stadium, although we are sure that they won't be needed as long as Osijek has Copacabana. At least until winter.

20. Museum of Slavonia

The Museum of Slavonia is one of the oldest museums and the largest general museum in Croatia. Through many collections from the fields of archeology, ethnography, art, history, etc., thousands of objects have been preserved. The native collection of Essekians focused on the history of Osijek and its cultural and social development, stands out. Through Osijek's stories, we can often come across the term Esseker and the Esseker dialect when we talk about language. It is an old Osijek-German dialect that is now extinct. But the term Esseker in a speech today is also a symbolic term for Osijek's people, especially those who are strongly attached to the city.

Come to Osijek and say 'Kum, af a deci rakouci''. Apparently, it should bring you a rakija. Fingers crossed!

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