Hrvatska 01 : Zagreb, Croatia’s capital in the northwest

“​Zagreb, Croatia’s northwestern capital, is distinguished by its 18th- and 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture.” That is how Wikipedia starts describing the city of about 800000, capital of a country that the EU considers one of the poorest and backward in the union. This isn’t large by any standards, but packs a lot of character. Croatia is one of the parts that former Yugoslavia got broken into. 

Landing in from Heathrow, the new Zagreb airport was quite a change. Small, with one KLM 737 just arrived before us, and three luggage belts but modern.

Immigration takes a while, and so does luggage. But, as a tourist, who cares. Not as if I had some place to get to in a hurry. As one steps out, has a different feel compared to a western European city. Felt somewhat like Bratislava really. The trees look different, but green. The houses look different, but nice. Somewhat picturesque, but not overwhelmingly so. 

Took about 20 minutes to town. The taxi drivers at the airport will fleece you. Uber is available, but has long wait time. What showed 3 minutes turned to 24 as soon as I booked it.

Staying at a mid range place in Donji Grad, the lower city, which is one of the 17 districts of Zagreb. Two days of lack of sleep is about to take a toll, but certainly not before stepping out to buy some food.

If you happen to buy at the local super market, it is pretty cheap. I bought a baguette, some cheese, some prosciutto and a beer in glass bottle (bottle returnable). A quick efficient sandwich, more like four.

All of 50 kuna. But, there is plenty food available,  plenty coffee and plenty beer ( Ožujsko, made by Molson Coors, is the most popular Lager around). All across town.

The Best Western that I am in is in a less touristy area, and this closer to where locals live. Has a different, quieter feel, but is close to the railway station and about 10 minutes from the center of town. It is reasonably priced, provides a turn down service with a chocolate on the pillow and a pretty decent breakfast.

I walked out, looking for a local Sim card. Don’t go by what web sites seem to proclaim about tourist Sim cards with great deals. Those are difficult to find. Get a local whatever Sim to ensure you have telephony, internet would be available in your hotel. 

This area of Donji Grad has a different feel, with neighbors talking to each other, petunias on windows, some dereliction, coffee bars with friends smoking over coffee or a beer, some super markets.

 

 Many of the walls are covered with rather artistic graffiti. Check my facebook post on the same subject and some other interesting images.

 You get the drift. 

As I ambled around, I visited the railway station for a short while. In front of the station is a large park at the end of which is the Opera house. 


There is this ancient hotel, the Esplanade next door which was used by the passengers of the Orient Express which used to stop at Zagreb. The railway station has a quaint feel to it, some buildings from the early 20th century and some rectangular non description ones from the communist era.

There is a small railway museum here too.

Later in the night, I stepped out to get to the main square, with the famous equestrian statue. Found a busker, playing out a very familiar tune.

You will recognize it too. Very often, I find the quality of buskers in western towns often betray the cultural standards of a city. Classical music, if you find, is a good sign.

Ban Jelačić Square is officially known as Trg bana Jelačića, is colloquially called Jelačić plac. This is where the young of Zagreb seem to  hang out, and most tours start from. This is a good place to see Zagreb’s famous blue trams including the old heritage  ones.

Incidentally, the day before, 11th April, marked the anniversary of Croatia’s declaration of independence by a puppet regime, in 1941. These are a handful of people, a bit of an embarrassment to the populace who celebrated the event. The group gathered at Jelačić square.

Fontainhas, Goa

Touching nostalgia in ‘Bairro das Fontainhas’

All this started while planning for a class reunion in Goa. The thought was to extend the trip on the back of this reunion, and indulge my amateur hobby of being behind the lens. Goa is overrun with tourists and photographers and there isn’t really anything new to shoot. But, just a little bit of research revealed this old Portuguese quarter of Fontainhas in Panjim. It is visited enough, but not enough. It is somewhat touristy, but quiet. If you see what I mean.

The visit was in last April, and quite out of the tourist season. Booking a hotel is easy if you do it early enough. In-season rates are obscene, but quite reasonable in April. Because I wanted to shoot in Fontainhas, I chose La Maison Fontainhas, right inside the quarter. It all started very unpleasantly (read review based on this experience), but the hotel itself is nice and some of the staff are nice. Temper your expectations down a bit, compared to the Tripadvisor reviews you read, and you will be alright. Don’t go by the response (from the hotel) to adverse feedback. But, this post isn’t about the hotel.

The once Latin quarter, is borderd by the Ourem creek on one side and the Altinho hill on the other. It has a relaxed old world feel, bordering on 19th century Mediterranean Europe muddled with (perhaps) a Konkani way of life. The Fountain of Phoenix, from which Fontainhas takes its name, can still be seen near the Maruti Temple in the Mala area. The settlement came to being somewhere early 18th Century, and was caused by a Goan expat (read its history). Most of the houses here are more than a hundred years old; some of them have been converted to galleries, cafes, and boutique hotels.

The place has somewhat been frozen in time in the way it appears, but tries to meld into the 21st century. The houses are still painted brightly (mostly) and add a splash of colour whichever way you look. But, you step out of this enclave, and you have the usual hustle bustle of the rest of Panaji.

DSC_0013

Imagine my surprise when I peeped in through the broken pane of a decrepit old house and and old lady peered back at me. Surprised, I could just mumble “Good Morning, Ma’am” and step back.

By the time I started walking about to shoot at at seven in morning, the sun was already up and it was warm and humid. The neighbourhood had just started waking up. The pav-wallah, had just started their early morning round going to designated houses, selling pav from their blue plastic sheet covered baskets on the back of their bicycles. The pav-wallah seemed like a morning alarm for the neighbourhood. He goes (as is the tradition in Goa) from house to house and rings is bicycle bell. Momentarily the door of the house is opened, by the residents, morning pleasantries exchanged and some pav handed over.

People just about had started opening the windows of their homes. But, few had yet stepped out. Some had started cleaning up the front sitouts, and washing them.

Fontainhas is a  beguiling neighbourhood with colonial quirks, throwing up pleasant surprises in every corner. As I walked around, I chanced up Anita Tea house and ventured in. Place has maybe eight tables, and able to seat may be 20 people at the most. It might have been, say eight in the morning and the tea house was busy serving tea, pav and bhaji. The bhaji looked and tasted something like usal. I sat around stuffing my face and drinking tea. Person sitting next to me got interested in my camera equipment and we got chatting. He was one of the local newspaper delivery people, who had stopped by for tea after his morning rounds.

The winding streets are an invitation to walk around and explore. I dipped into alleyways which looped back into themselves and chanced upon little shrines with candles or little LED lights. The names of the streets, most of them, are still in Portuguese. The arterial street is called Rua de 31 Janeira signifies the Portugese day of independence from Spain, in 1640. Then there is this 18th June road named after day, the civil disobedience movement (for freedom from Portuguese rule) was started by Ram Manohar Lohia and Dr Menezes

Little door painted at the bottom of a wall

Little door painted at the bottom of a wall. May be 3″ X 5″ in all.

Fontainhas, being relatively cleaner than rest of Panjim is evident, is a community with an interesting mix of Konkani speaking Hindus, and Portuguese and English speaking Christians. The Maruti (Hanuman) temple flanks the enclave. Right in the middle is the St. Sebastian Chapel (built in 1818), and right next to it is a “Sai Niwas”. The fringes of the quarter seem to blend into other cultures and what is the rest of Panjim.

Reviews and travelogues paint a picture more steeped in yore than Fontainhas is. Mario Miranda’s amazing sketches show scenes of time that isn’t anymore; Dalrymple’s description of streets full of VW Beetles, violinists heard from every other window, senior citizens in linen etc. don’t hold anymore. Faux historian Dalrymple visited Fontainhas in the early nineties, and that is not what the place feels like anymore. But, that doesn’t make it any less interesting. It is a delightful mix of the old world, and Kinetic Hondas, zooming motorcycles, people walking briskly to work, some backpackers frequenting the one cafe and restaurants and sleepy dogs. Yet the place is laid back, and lets you wind down.

Cafe Chodankar

Or find a place which asks you to F***. Not really, that is a local last name that many people carry.

By the time, I was done with my morning shoot I looped back to Anita Tea house for another cup. It was already shut for the day. Given where this place is, even it shutter is coloured bright orange.

The humidity was energy sapping, and after an early lunch I did as the Goans do. siesta. Felt hungry when I woke up late in the afternoon. Asking the receptionist wasn’t much help. Kinda pretty and dumb, at the same time. So, I walked out to Urban Cafe which I did notice in the morning though it wasn’t open at that time. Is a yuppie /backpacker visited cafe with a relaxed (surprise) feel about it. They had an electricity problem and did not have much to offer in terms of eats. After a coffee, I strolled out to the side of Fontainhas away from the creek to find bakeries. Later in the evening and next day I found a bunch of restaurants and cafes within a kilometer or so. Udupi place, Konkani sea food, pizza (decent one, by the way) and good Goan food.

As I walked about in the evening, went up the hill, went out to the water front and trudged back. Lost my way, grabbed some food instead and found my way back. Place is safe, and there are enough people on the streets till fairly late in the night.

I Ate dinner than night at Viva Panjim. There are boards everywhere in and around Fontainhas and you won’t miss the place though it is in an alleyway. It is a restaurant in an old house, with a little sitout. Beer, chicken liver fry, and a fish curry with rice. Generous servings, amazing taste. Heaven.

Go there to feel the world of yore, experience the cafes, the small boutique hotels,  and the warmth of the people. But, also for things which belong to that land, and non-Portuguese. Locate Anita Tea house there. Enjoy the company of locals, local food, warmth for about next to nothing.

Quick Facts

Places to Stay : Three WelcomHeritage Panjim properties, and Le Maison Fontainhas (at your own risk). There are some other hostels, and guest houses which I wouldn’t really recommend.

Food: Anita Tea Stall, Black Sheep Bistro, Viva Panjim, restaurants at the WelcomHeritage properties, Urban Cafe, Vihar (Udupi restaurant), the Caravela Cafe (good pizza)  and various others in and around Panjim.

You can see some of what I shot here, and then on flickr.

DSC_0098 DSC_0049 DSC_0107 DSC_0059
DSC_0008 DSC_0050 DSC_0109 DSC_0020

Word of mouth! and lack of greed.

Retail in a way is such a strange world of dichotomies. This, of course, is where basic Wahid's biryani in Lucknoweconomic theory meets the road. This is where you are supposed to generate demand, in such a manner that it should not be underwhelming, and it should not be outstripping supply either and reach a optimal point of bliss. Of course, you are to use, direct and indirect marketing to ensure stickiness, and attract new customers. This is where, we are starting to realize that word of mouth works effectively in the modern world too.

In one of the previous posts, I had talked about the world of socialonomics. That is so alive and kicking in India, and always has been. It will continue to work regardless of whether the Twitters, the Facebooks or the Orkuts of the world exist or not. With a population of 1.3Bn, the situation is so different. Take for example Wahid Miyan’s biryani in Lucknow. His sons run the two eateries now and with great elan. The picture on the left shows you one of the places. Has no ambience to talk about, is located in a hard to find bylane and their food stocks run out by 10pm every night. He sells the standard set of kebabs available all over Lucknow, biryani and some specialty food as well.

All the basics of retailing theory fail here. No location! No replenishment till the customers keep arriving! No great shopping atmosphere! But, works purely on quality of merchandise and word of mouth. What also works in this case is the lack of interest (from the owner) to perpetually expand his business. He is very happy (I spent time talking to him) with what he makes and remain in his niche. Its completely a different ballgame out here and this is why retailing in India will always be different. and I hope it remains that way instead of the nameless, faceless retailing of the west which totally lacks character.

Cup of coffee, and the biscotti.

My follow up post on the cafe scene is now more towards the new age, new world coffee shops. As I was doing a bit of research for this post, I bumped  across this video on Guardian’s website which you might like.

Bluetooth, at Barista

Bluetooth, at Barista

The older world cafes are on the wane. Oh yes, that is a bold statement to make especially with the type of fan following places like India Coffee House (with its many branches), and Koshy’s have. But, they definitely are limited in number and prices at Koshy’s is driving many of the old timers away to other places for meals. The astronomical prices at Koshy’s for rather mediocre food is sending old timers to a place called Sheesh Mahal (across the street) for lunch. And in large numbers. Just coffee can’t possibly sustain a place, when even the coffee is not really that great.

So, where else is the bite coming from? Of course the likes of Cafe Coffee Day (to a super large extent) and Baristas of the world. There are some international chains starting to open up as well, including Costa, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Cafe Pescucci, Gloria Jean’s and making inroads is Starbucks.

Many of the younger (gen X, and gen Y) type of people do not really identify with the older atmosphere anymore. ‘Atmosphere’ to them is quite different. A profession photographer friend in his late 20s (I think) keeps moaning about the torn chairs, old fans at Koshy’s. I crib about lack of ventilation and lack of air-conditioning.

Loyalty card at Barista

Get an instant discount at Barista, if you are a member

The New India, and the super consumerist middle class is looking for something else.  And the faceoff is not just that simple either. The (relatively) newer chains like Barista are offering a different, and richer experience.  Their premier “Creme” cafes serve salads, smoothies, sandwiches, mochachhino and a private(ish) space with cushions and sofas instead of the open plan series of tables under slowly whirring fans. The music caters exactly to people who visit here.  A place where younger people can still hang out with people of the opposite sex (in some amount of privacy) without their parents raising their eyebrows.

The success of the new coffee shop chains reflects the change in social taste, disposable income and social customs. Both Cafe Coffee Day and Barista are rapidly spreading into tier 2 cities, and attract young adults with an aspirational target.  Its working!

Of course, a lot of old India still remains.  Why else would you not be able to find yourself a table at India Coffee House in most of the larger cities during lunch time or tea time. Many of these people are not from the affluent strata of the society, and a large number carry a thick wallet but prefer the old world atmosphere.  It is almost an intellectual ‘vindication’ to be seen at Koshy’s where the intellectuals (or the ones who pose) show up,  and rub shoulders with other professionals, politicians, media folk, authors (some absolute rubbish ones) too. You are not the ‘cultured type’ if Coffee Day is your hang out. If you get the drift.

But besides the new atmosphere, and catering to new tastes there is a lot else which goes for the coffee shop chains.  Many of these places have a wifi hotspot, which encourages people to sit around. Some of these places (as in the picture) have a blue tooth point which sends out messages and coupons. And some of these changes have started a loyalty program. Well done, I would say.  Can you possibly imagine any of that at ICH, Koshy’s or any such place? Probably not!

And there in lies the challenge. It is not very difficult to hold on to the old world charm, by putting one foot into the current and future, is it?

Over a cup of coffee!

Late afternoon on a summer Sunday in Bangalore, and sunlight weaves through the blinds across the crowded tables at Koshy’s Parade Cafe. The waiters in their white uniforms scurry around the tables serving Biryani, Kerala Beef Chilly Fry, Mutton cutlets, late breakfasts, and many cups of coffee. The patrons tuck into their food, sip their cups of coffee and moan about the fact that the prices have been revised upwards, by 25%. Coffee is now Rs 22 a cup.

Indian Coffee House, Thiruvananthapuram

Indian Coffee House, Thiruvananthapuram

Koshy’s which comprises of the Parade cafe, the bakery and Chillout (the icecream parlour) is a sixty year old  Bangalore institution. It is still family owned, and run by the multi-talented Prem Koshy. Koshy’s has been the place to be seen in, in Bangalore, regardless of who you are / were – intellectuals (or pseudo), writers and authors, theatre folk, photographers, politicians etc. The large hall lacks ventilation, but not atmosphere.

Koshy’s is one among the last set of old world cafes in Bangalore, and perhaps in the entire country where you could sit for hours, let your hair down and pursue intellectual inanities with out the servers hustling you. It has a very strong following (including a facebook fan club), with many of its patrons visiting every day (or every sunday for breakfast) for the last thirty years or even more.

Indian Coffee House, the cooperative run by Indian coffee Board workers, is another such place. It is the largest such chain in the country and is not really going through a great time. Founded in the 1950s, it was a place for cheap food, drink and the meeting place for intellectuals. The local branch in Bangalore was about to get shunted out, but got saved and relocated because of fierce protests from the regulars.

The one is Delhi (in Mohan Singh Palace) somehow survives, but gets stiff competition from the Delhi tourism board run Coffee Home (now about 20 years old) across the street. The one in College Street, Calcutta (I still prefer that name) still serves coffee for Rs 8. Kerala has about 50 branches of the chain, but a large number of them are now losing money. [As an aside – the Thiruvanathapuram one is designed by the famous British Architect – Laurie Baker]

But the rents are increasing, real estate becoming costlier and the lure to shut down or to move to cheaper premises is clear and present. The competition from the Indian chains  – Coffee Day, Barista or others like Gloria Jean’s, Costa Coffee (and Starbucks threatening to enter India) and numerous other single store places is palpable. But places like Koshy’s refuse to change or even nudge a bit.  Their website (they actually have one) has broken pages and links and might be a reflection of the attitude. The website however,   claims “served President Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and visiting dignitaries including Marshal Tito, Nikita Khrushchev and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”. Did that read President Nehru? You read that right!

But the newer chains attract a different type (mostly) of clientele, usually younger who prefer the brighter colors, air-conditioning, newer music and a mocchachino!

The battle is on! Read more in the second part of the post.

Kaati Zone – advent of the Indian quick service restaurant (Part 1)

Of course, you have seen (and probably eaten) at McDonald’s, Baskin Robbins, Donut Baker and so many other non-Indian quick service eateries already. The model works, its proven. There are some Indian players getting into the game as well, and food chains are starting to spread. However, most of these are rather city specific – Naturals ice cream (primarily Mumbai), Bittoo Tikki Wala (in Delhi) and one or two more. The only other company which does have a national presence is Haldiram (and their run off the mill, non-descript chaats).Okay, Shaanthi Sagar and Shiv Sagar excluded.

Kaati Zone (KZ) is sort of the new player in the market. They (if you have not been to one yet) serve kaathi rolls (kebabs, eggs etc wrapped in a paratha), parathas etc. Good assortment, and a positive move away from the standard and boring. Especially works in places other than in north of India, where kebab rolls are found in dives only. Kaati Zone is based (with its franchise model) in Bangalore primarily, and has two outlets in Mumbai.  The founders did find a pretty empty market segment to enter and offer a good product line. Their two serious competitors, I guess, are Tibbs and other frankie makers in Mumbai and the dives that I mentioned above on a large scale. Of course, you have the Nizam’s and the usual kebabchis. But, you don’t get kebab rolls with cheese, or kebab rolls on a diet (or lite) paratha, chicken fingers, deep fried chicken spheres, a few types of parathas, fries all in the same place.

What works beautifully for KZ is also the fact that it does not have to manifest itself always as a sit down place, but would be a take away (or delivery) very easily. Most of their locations are really that type, in office complexes, at airports where people want to really want quick service. But making a friend paratha kebab roll can’t be as quick as pre-made burgers lying under warm lamps, agreed!

The environs are always clean, service is polite, the food is good! What more could you ask for? Actually quite a bit…but I will let you think about it a bit (and go eat a kebab roll ), and read all that in the second part of this post. Meanwhile, why don’t you write in with your comments about Kaati Zone?

To be continued…