Partisan Hospital Feat

Running Back in Time – The Forgotten Partisan Hospital

A few months ago, we featured a blogpost written by David Lavery of VeloCroatia about road cycling in Croatia – in the Petrova Gora region (south of Zagreb, near the border with Bosnia and Hercegovina) in particular. David got in touch again to share another fascinating account of his experiences of cycling in that area. This time round, he searches for the abandoned (and long forgotten) Partisan hospital that is hidden in the woods…

This really is a fascinating read, and especially of interest to anyone who likes their sights ‘off the beaten track’ and who is interested in the history of Croatia.

Running Back in Time – The Forgotten Partisan Hospital

Vojnic is a sleepy little place in Croatia where not much happens. Although all is quiet today this small farming village has seen more than its fair share of history. We were over visiting family on the farm near Vojnic for Christmas and I wanted to explore the woods on the slopes of Petrova Gora to find what remained of the Partisan hospital that operated, hidden, during World War Two.

In an effort to stave off the excess food of Christmas I took my running stuff and an unhealthy obsession for finally finding the hospital hidden somewhere in the woods.

I first found out about the rumours of the hospital when I was researching my cycle to the top of Petrova Gora to see the abandoned spomenik monument. The recent history of Croatia is nothing if not complicated and during World War Two, with Croatia aligned with the Axis a resistance movement formed. These partisans fought in the forests around Petrova Gora against the fascism sweeping the country.

In order to hide and treat the wounded, a hospital facility was built in the woods in a steep ravine called Pišin gaj in the spring of 1942 by partisan doctor Savo Zlatic and Jakov Kanjcevic Brada. As the war waged the facility grew to over thirty facilities and treated five thousand wounded and sick soldiers and civilians from the surrounding Kordun region.

Despite all of this it was never found by Axis forces. Given this I was not confident of finding it myself.

The bodies of over one thousand partisan fighters are interned in graves in the forest of Petrova Gora having succumb to their injuries during the fighting.

After the war, the facility was abandoned and largely forgotten as Yugoslavia emerged from the ashes of the war.

In 1961 the complex was refurbished and converted into a museum, eventually being awarded the “Order of National Hero” by Tito, the strongman of Yugoslavia. By all accounts this was a popular museum to visit and there was even a youth hostel built nearby at the edge of the ravine.

It was an altogether different war that finally put an end to the hospital complex. As Croatia fought a bloody independence war, the complex was extensively damaged during Operation Storm in 1995 and then fell into disrepair. The new state of neglect reflected a wider trend in the newly formed Croatia to collectively forget about anything to do with the partisans. Welcome to the world of politicking and the complexities of national identity.

It was my turn to find the hospital.

Attempt Number One – Lost in the woods. The wrong woods.

Just as during the war, my first attempt to find the hospital ended in abject failure. I parked the car at Lovački dom Muljava and started running along the gravel path into the woods more in hope than expectation. After a few weeks off running due to an injury, my legs were screaming immediately and not happy to be pointing up hill. On they went and were only stopped when the path abruptly ended at the river after around 3km. With nowhere to go I decided, mostly on a whim, to follow what looked like a path into the woods. Every path I took lead to nowhere and I was soon forced to admit defeat. These were just paths forged by the logging trucks and not paths to any hospital in the woods. I might be thirty-four years old but it turns out that I still get excited about the prospect of exploring in the woods so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

David Lavery, VeloCroatia
My first attempt ended by simply getting lost in the woods. It was a vital reminder that Google Maps is not always available.

I got some exercise and fresh air and a renewed ambition to find the hospital. I would not be defeated.

Back at the farm I did more research and was quietly confident of finding the hospital on my next attempt.

Attempt Number Two – Finally found. Another reason I am better than the Nazis.

I parked the car at the side of the road and took a different approach into the woods. After three kilometers of running I found what used to be a youth hostel in the glory days of Yugoslavia. It is now completely lifeless but at least I knew that I was in the right area for the hospital.

Opposite to the hostel was a faint path leading up to the ridge in the forest and for lack of a better alternative I headed up in that direction, the forest silent but deafening in my isolation.

Petrova Gora Youth Hostel
The abandoned youth hostel. When you see this, look in the opposite direction for the path into the woods that leads eventually to the Partisan hospital.

I could glimpse the faint outline of buildings up ahead almost completely camouflaged in the dense forest. As I got closer its full form emerged and I had finally, after many fruitless attempts, found what remained of the partisan hospital.

Steps to the Partisan Hospital complex
The path leading into the woods that will take you to the hospital complex.

When I reached the grounds of the hospital I was suddenly struck by how alone I was. In the distance I could hear the rattle and hum of loggers but around me was nothing but silence broken only by the flutter of birds and twigs snapping under my feet.

The Partisan Hospital complex
The remains of the Partisan hospital complex. Hard to believe that 5000 soldiers and civilians were treated here during the war.

Further into the forest the unmarked crosses stood proud among the trees. The graves of one thousand brave partisans apparently all but forgotten and now part of the forest.

Petrova Gora unmarked graves by the Partisan Hospital complex
The unmarked graves to the 1000 bodies buried on the slopes of Petrova Gora.

Despite the isolation, when I closed my eyes I could see the life that once stood and fought here. This small corner of Croatia, unremarkable in so many ways, has been at the crossroads of many turbulent events; first during world war two and then during the Croatian war of independence in the 1990’s.

After exploring what remains of the hospital, I made my way back down the hill and ran back to the car back the way I came. Back in the summer I tried to find the hospital on my bike, my road bike struggling on what used to be a road but was now more of a stream. I realised today that if I had just cycled another two hundred yards around the next corner I would have found it.

Despite the many failed attempts to find the hospital and getting lost in the process, the effort in the end was absolutely worth it. Without hyperbole, it is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. The fact that it is now abandoned, forgotten and has no appetite to be seen means that if you do visit you will be alone with only your thoughts.

Grave of Jakov Kanjcevic Brada
A grave marking to Jakov Kanjcevic Brada, the founder of the original hospital.

There cannot be many sights in the world, sights of such historical significance, that give the feeling that you alone have stumbled upon them.

David Lavery, VeloCroatia
Proud to have finally found the hospital. This is the kind of run experience that you can never get from the gym!

Getting There

From Vojnic, drive east on Ul. Andrije Hebranga 32 which then turns into Gornji Vojnic where you can follow signs for Lovački dom Muljava (a good place for a coffee and a crepe if it is open when you visit).

As you continue you will see a sign pointing to a road on the right for the hospital (it is quite faint and in Croatian obviously so it is easy to miss). The road has seen better days and since I wanted to run, I left my car near this junction just off the main road. If you have a 4×4 type car then I would imagine the road is passable but certainly when I went it was rutted and had half turned into a river.

The run from here to the stairs to the youth hostel which marks the entrance to the hospital is only 2.2km up a gentle slope.

When you reach the youth hostel on your left, look to the right for the faint trail/ stairs that lead into the woods and to the hospital.

The exact coordinates for the hospital complex are; 45°17’44.1″N 15°45’18.2″E

Vojnic – An Unsuspecting Crossroads in Croatia

It only takes a minute to drive through the village of Vojnic and most people will pass through without realising that it stands at the crossroads of some pivotal events in recent history.

Apart from the partisan hospital, the area also saw heavy action during the Croatian war of independence. Rockets were fired from here by the Serbian aggressors towards Zagreb, a war crime that killed seven civilians.

As the war encroached into Bosnia, refugees spilled into the area. Just at the bottom of the farm is a field that once held thousands of refugees in squalid conditions. Even today when it rains heavily, nappies used in this very field get washed onto the farm.

And even now Vojnic, because of its proximity to the Bosnian border, is a popular passing place form immigrants fleeing war in the middle east and trying to get to Europe. I have seen a few young men stopped by the side of the road by the police, destined to be thrown back across the border to try again in the future.

The common thread running through all of this is war; then and even now.

Thank you, David, for sharing your experiences of searching for this amazing place. You can read the original post on David’s website here: Running Back in Time – The Forgotten Partisan Hospital.

Road cycling in Croatia

Road Cycling in Croatia

We were recently contacted by David Lavery who runs VeloCroatia.com – a website dedicated to road cycling in Croatia. His website details the best road cycling routes, featuring a number of very detailed routes in several areas of the country. However, if any of the routes don’t quite fit the bill, he can create a custom road cycling route for you!

Below, David shares with us his experiences of cycling in the Petrova Gora region (in inland Croatia, about 100km south of Zagreb), cycling up to the peak and taking a look at the fascinating, abandoned monument (David explains more about what it is) there.

Cycling in Petrova Gora

Croatia is a country that is just waiting to be explored by road cyclists. I am lucky to have family in Croatia and when I am not drinking gemišt or eating great food then I am exploring the country on my bike.

During a recent holiday, my legs were feeling good and I wanted to test them on a climb; my search was simple; what was the highest peak in the area. The answer was Petrova Gora and as luck would have it, one side of it was paved and it was only around nine miles away from the farm I was living in near the village of Vojnic.

As I researched the climb, my intrigue deepened when I read that atop of the climb was a monument (Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija) that was epic in its size and by the looks of the pictures crumbling under the weight of its history.

A road cyclist in full lycra is still a novelty in this quiet part of rural Croatia so it was hardly surprising that the bustling café’s stopped drinking coffee to judge me as I passed on the way to the mountain. I did wonder why they were so busy on a weekday mid-morning but then anyone with even a passing knowledge of the coffee culture in Croatia should not be surprised.

A few of the villagers tending to their land on the side of the road gave me a wave as I passed and it wasn’t long before I was starting to climb on the lower slopes of Petrova Gora. Passed the restaurant (Lovački dom Muljava) which marks the bottom of the climb proper I could feel the road really start to kick up. I found a nice gear and tried to maintain a good rhythm despite the rapidly increasing temperatures. Not something you are accustomed to when most of your cycling is done in Scotland.

It was one of those climbs where you could not see the top because of the trees and the mind starts to play tricks. At times you are convinced that the top is just around the next corner and at times you are fairly confident that in fact the climb will never end. The only sign of life on the climb was the indistinct chatter of animals in the woods surrounding me. Apart from that it was just me and my pain as I tried to push hard up the climb.

I pushed on, the thought of ice cream and crepes when I got back to the bottom helping to distract from the heavy legs. It was just then, lost in my thoughts, I turned a corner and saw something completely alien out of the corner of my eye. It didn’t fit in with the landscape at all, jutting at oblong angles from the top of the hill. Around another corner and it was gone, obscured once more by the trees, the landscape again making more sense.

As I approached closer and closer to the top, part by part the monument started to reveal itself until finally I was standing at the bottom of it, trying to catch my breath from the climb and trying to make sense of what I was looking at.

Road cycling in Croatia

What it was and what it is now are very different. It used to be a monument to commemorate the uprising by the people of the area against the fascist Ustasa and the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet-state, during World War Two. It was finally completed in 1981 during the heady days of the socialist Yugoslavia but the contemporary history of Croatia is nothing if not turbulent and in its struggle for independence during the 1990s the monument was neglected, wilfully forgotten and pillaged for parts.

A sobering and an unnerving experience as it was a ghost town around the monument. Such was the ambition of the monument, there was even a café built in its shadow that feels like it had been abandoned in a hurry. The atmosphere was so heavy and eerie that I was half-expecting someone to pop up from behind the bar, offer me a drink and then audition for a part in The Shining.

Road cycling in Croatia

The façade of the monument is crumbling to reveal a hollow shell of twisted steel. There must be some houses in the local village ablaze with shiny stainless steel panels. The closer you get to the foot of the monument, up the ramp and once grand passageway you are left in no doubt that it is now unloved.

I cycled around the site for a while absorbing the strange atmosphere. I really cannot do justice to the sense of isolation and yet the feeling that you are not alone.

Back at the farm and looking to fill my stomach I decided to take a walk up the hill to get some plums from the trees and whilst up there I looked over to the north. Just in the distance I could see the monument rising defiantly above the rolling landscape.

Road cycling in Croatia is just waiting to be discovered and at VeloCroatia.com our mission is to inspire readers to explore this amazing and diverse country on two wheels.

Thank you very much to David for sharing with us his experience of cycling in the Petrova Gora region, and for helping promote road cycling in Croatia!

Accommodation on Rab

Days of Croatian Tourism comes to a close – and the award winners are announced!

The three-day Days of Croatian Tourism (Dani hrvatskog turizma) conference, the traditional annual gathering of tourism professionals from both Croatia and abroad, came to close on the evening of Friday 21st October. Held in Sibenik this year, the event was organised by the Ministry of Tourism, the Croatian National Tourist Board, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce and Croatian Radio Television (HRT) and was intended to act as a forum for discussion of this year’s tourism results and to also look ahead to next year’s plans.

The culmination of the event saw a number of awards given out for the best tourist resorts and destinations in Croatia, both on the coast and in the interior, as well as awards given out in specific categories (such as best tourist information centre, souvenir, and site of interest) and to employees in the industry. (Some of these awards – in particular destinations that placed second and third in the Plavi and Zeleni Cvijet categories mentioned below – were in fact announced in a separate ceremony on Thursday night.)

Accommodation on Rab

Rab Town

The biggest winner on the night, awarded the “Tourist Flower – Quality for Croatia” prize presented by Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, was the town of Rab. Other coastal destinations that were winners of the “Plavi Cvijet” (“Blue Flower”) awards were Opatija (in the category of over 10,000 inhabitants); Krk (3,000 – 10,000 inhabitants), Nin, which is near Zadar (1,000 – 3,000 inhabitants); and Mlini, near Dubrovnik (less than 1,000).

Interior destinations received the “Zeleni Cvijet” (“Green Flower”) award, and these went to Velika Gorica, just south of Zagreb; Djakovo, near Osijek; Nasice, also near Osijek; and Groznjan, in the Istrian interior. (These four towns are winners of the same categories according to number of residents as mentioned above.)

For the first time this year, three awards were given out to recognise cultural achievements in tourism in Croatia. The town of Zadar was winner of the Destination of Culture category; the Nikola Tesla Memorial Centre in Smiljan was winner of the best cultural institution; and the Rab Fair on the island of Rab, a medieval summer fair, was winner of best cultural event.

Sources: HRT, Croatian National Tourist Board; HRT; Zadarski List

Croatia featured…in a new ski film?!

Croatia isn’t exactly the first country you’d think of for a ski holiday – and it’s probably even further down the list of countries that extreme skiers would go to if filming an adrenaline-packed movie! (Alaska it ain’t.) It came as some surprise, therefore, to read that the country was in fact used as a location for a new ski movie called Light The Wick by respected extreme sport production company Teton Gravity Research. (I must admit that I don’t know too much about ski or extreme sport films, but these guys are apparently “big” in the business.) Nevertheless, my interest was peaked – exactly where did they go in Croatia, and what kind of “extreme skiing” were they able to do in the country?

Dragging along a few of my ski-mad friends – who would happily attend anything that’s at all related to skiing in any small way – I attended the European premiere of Light The Wick last night. In amongst some truly spectacular scenes in North America, was the brief segment filmed in Croatia – at Blejolasica, in fact. (The Bjelolasica Olympic Centre is in the Gorski Kotar region of Croatia  – about three-quarters of the way from Zagreb to Rijeka – and the centre itself is near the town of Ogulin.)

Promoted as an off-the-beaten track destination for the purposes of the film, two of the skiers arrived to experience – what they said – was the heaviest snowfall Croatia had seen for 50 years. Actual skiing footage was largely limited to some off-piste skiing through some rather pretty forests, though the crew did then go down to Dubrovnik to take in some of the coastline and local festivities. And yes, they even took a dip in the sea – which assuming this took place in winter (as it must have, if other parts of the country were suffering from heavy snow) is still quite a brave thing to do!

Here’s the trailer for the film, which shows pretty well what extreme skiing is all about:

More about the film at http://www.tetongravity.com/films/light-the-wick

Varazdin

The best cities and attractions in North Croatia

As part of a series of guides to different areas, attractions and activities in Croatia, last week Croatian newspaper Jutarnji focused on the area of north Croatia. An area mostly overlooked by visitors and travellers to the country, this lovely part of Croatia still has a number of interesting places to visit. If you’re looking for something a little different (and can drag yourself away from the coast!), why not give this area of Croatia a go?

Varazdin
St Nicolas Church in Varazdin

The most beautiful towns in the region – as selected by Jutarnji – are Varazdin, Varazdinske Toplice, Ludbreg, Bjelovar, Daruvar, Cazma, Sisak, Petrinja, Kutina and Novska. (Links go to Jutarnji articles on those towns and cities. [Edit: links removed as no longer work.])

Stand-out city from the list is the wonderful Varazdin. Once upon a time the capital of Croatia (and therefore one of its oldest cities), Varazdin has many wonderful sights, including a 16th century castle and an Old Town dating from that century as well, a cathedral and the Baroque Ursuline Church (one of a number of Baroque churches and palaces in the city). Nearby is Varazdinske Toplice, a spa town (the oldest thermal spa in Croatia), which now has health and rehabilitation facilities, but was once a Roman settlement named Aquae Iassae. Part of the Roman settlement has been excavated and can be visited.

Meanwhile,  attractions that are recommended in the region include the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park and Cigoc, a stork village where around 200 storks nest on the houses and locale of a village of around 120 inhabitants – so there are more storks than people! There’s also the Museum of Evolution in Krapina (the remains of Neanderthals were discovered in the local area) and the town of Ozlja, with various Roman and medieval finds, and sights such as its castle and town museum.

Activities in the area include everything from the more standard kayaking, cycling and hunting, though Jutarnji also mentions that quad-biking, paragliding and “speleology” (the study of caves) is possible!