On Winged Wheels to Opatija’s Riviera

On Winged Wheels to Opatija’s Riviera – 145th anniversary of the building of the Vienna – Opatija – Rijeka and the Budapest – Rijeka railway and 110th anniversary of Opatija’s tramway is an extensive and fascinating exhibition by the Croatian Museum of Tourism being held in Opatija’s famous Villa Angiolina until 31st October 2019.

The arrival of the railway and the electric tramway meant the rapid development of tourism in Opatija and the whole region. The exhibition details every step of the construction, implementation and running of the whole system even including human stories of the workers, drivers and the local people involved.

This is another excellent project which I am glad to have been involved as the English translator, working on the exhibition texts and promotional materials.

You can find more info here.
Plus a report by HRT TV here.

Lipa pamti – memorial centre

lipa-pamti-logoLipa is a small village on the Croatian side of the Slovenian-Croatian border in the municipality of Matulji. On Sunday 30th April 1944 it was the scene of a horrific retaliatory attack by the occupying Nazi German forces trying to quell the Partisan resistance in which 269 men, women, children and old people were killed, the village ransacked and their houses torched.

lipa german fotosOne eyewitness’s account:

“Here is where a terrible massacre took place when they burned people alive. About 260 people were slaughtered. On the following days, 1st, 2nd, 3rd May they collected the corpses from the village and transported them down to a little house into which they were stuffed and also burnt.”


After World War II the village was partially rebuilt whilst some buildings were left as ruins. In the 1960s a memorial building was established and in April 2015 it was reopened after a complete refurbishment and redesign by designers Gamulin & Sevšek as the Memorijalni centar Lipa pamti  (the Lipa Remembers Memorial Centre).

memorial centre lipaInside is a modern museum space which tells the story of Lipa and the surrounding area, the events of 1944 as well as a growing ethnographic collection.

pic courtesy of Novi list

pic courtesy of Novi list

I provided the English translations of some of the exhibition’s captions and documentation on behalf of the municipality of Matulji and the museum organisers PPMHP.

lip pamti interior museumYou can find more info on the memorial centre’s website here.

DE-helmets-lipaPhotos by Damir Gamulin, PPMHP, Novi list, German State Archives.

Rijeka Carnival – Riječki karneval

Did you know that the city of Rijeka on the northern coast of Croatia hosts one of the largest international carnivals in the world? 2020 sees Rijeka as a European Capital of Culture – the first Croatian city to hold this exclusive title – more info about this very special year of cultural events, exhibitions, shows, concerts, operas and much more here: https://rijeka2020.eu/en/

The extra special 2020 Rijeka Carnival Procession takes place on Sunday 23rd February in the centre of the city – come and join the fun!

Every February the world goes carnival crazy with the lead up to Lent: Rio, Venice and also in Croatia, where the spirit of Mardi Gras is alive and kicking. The Kvarner Riviera attracts over 150,000 revellers from all over Europe. The 2011 event was the largest in its history with again over 100 floats and troupes of ‘zvoncari’ bell ringers coming from all over south east Europe filling the city with music, noise and festivities: the Rijecki karneval! I had spent a couple of days on the beautiful island of Cres, off the Kvarner coast and was joining in with the preparations for the big carnival. People were busy building amazing floats, extravagant costumes and masks whilst others were rehearsing music and dance routines, which would fill the streets of Rijeka in the final procession on Sunday.

In villages all over the region the local young men were preparing themselves to ‘drive-out winter.’ Early one morning I travelled up to the idyllic hillside village of Matulji just outside Rijeka. Here I was met by the colourfully dressed mayor and his small ‘oompah’ band. I guess they were very pleased to see me as they pressed a glass of the local brew, a heady mix of grappa and mountain herbs, locally known as ‘rakija,’ into my hand. While this warmed my cockles he told me about the tradition of the ‘zvoncari’ which means ‘bell ringers.’

The zvončari bell ringers certainly scare the devil out of most people!

In ancient times, the evil spirits of winter were banished by these fearsome characters dressed in sheepskins, brandishing wooden clubs and bones whilst yelling and gyrating the cow bells hanging from their waists, but this hadn’t really prepared me for the spectacle I was to experience later on that day.After a hearty, wholesome lunch of bread, cheese, ham and local wine I wandered into the crowds of people starting to line the streets. What was going on? Little did I realise, that Matulji was the village where the zvoncari were meeting before the big Sunday procession in Rijeka and already the square was filling with bright costumes and brass bands. Men from all over the area and indeed some coming from as far away as Poland and Slovakia as well as neighbouring Slovenia were arriving and getting into character. What a sight!

Each ‘tribe’ had a different outfit, some full sheepskin garbs with long red tongues and huge horns, some with outrageous head dresses and some even with real animal skulls over their faces. Real demonic versions of England’s own Morris Men! Once gathered together, each tribe began their exorcism of the ‘devil’ – winter. What a tremendous cacophony!

Bells clanging, shouting and yelling, whips cracking and drumming all followed through the village by brass bands and a costumed children’s parade. Leading up to the final Sunday grand parade in Rijeka, these troupes carry out their traditional ritual through all the towns and settlements of the Kvarner region, sometimes without rest, whilst the local people provide them with food and copious amounts of beer and wine.

Many zvoncari begin their path as toddlers and these littl’uns sometimes tag along in their tiny versions of their fathers’ full costumes, very cute. In 2010, to prove how significant they are, these pagan bell ringers gained international UNESCO status so as to be protected as a part of the region’s cultural-heritage.

This was a perfect introduction to the full carnival spirit of Rijeka. The city is steeped in history. A place where mid-European culture and the Mediterranean climate meet. All around you can spy the various influences of the Venetians, Italians, Austrians and Hungarians from the architecture to the customs, a real crossroads of culture.

Throughout the carnival period other festivities take place. From classical music concerts to masked balls and everyone is involved. Tens of thousands of people converge on the city every year. Over 120 floats and groups portraying everything from the Romans to political parodies to modern-day environmental issues all vibrantly decorated, partying and parading through the city.

Party goers of all ages take part

One of my fellow spectators told me that it takes nearly six hours for all the floats to pass by, but I was enjoying the atmosphere so much that time didn’t matter! I even spotted the mayor – he was having a whale of a time dressed as a huge beer barrel leading his merry brass band! He gave me the biggest grin, probably because he had drunk the contents before climbing into it!

Everyone joins in the fun

Although the roots of carnival go back centuries this event is always evolving for the last few years it has featured the Pariz-Bakar masked car rally. No this isn’t a spelling mistake! In Rijeka there is a region known as Pariz and nearby is the town of Bakar (once a leading Croatian town) and one of the country’s best known racers Tihomir Filipovic, recognising the connection after completing the famous Paris-Dakar Rally, started the trend and now up to 200 brightly painted vehicles make the tour between the two points into Rijeka for the end of party banquet.

It is hard to believe that the Rijeka International Carnival is probably one of the largest in Europe and yet few people in the UK have heard of it. You could easily travel to the Venice Carnevale di Venezia and then come to Rijeka and do it all over again!

Come and join in the fun of Carnival, the year-long Rijeka 2020 – European Capital of Culture programme and “be what you want to be!”

More info: http://www.ri-karneval.com.hr/en/rijeka carnival rijecki karneval article

My original article published in the Civil Service Motoring Association’s ‘Motoring & Leisure’ magazine in January 2001.