After visiting Slovenia, we hopped on a bus that quickly transported us to Zagreb. Zagreb is Croatia’s capital city, and being located inland, it is not on everyone’s radar. Especially in holiday month of August when the temperatures average 30 degrees Celsius and the locals escape down south to the beach. But for a day or two, it is definitely worth a visit.
First thing that strikes most of the visitors is the amount of cafes around the city. It is a cultural thing very typical for the Balkan region. Back in the past, these small Slavic countries were invaded by Turks and as they settled ( in Bosnia mainly ) for about 500 years they passed down some of the traditions. Food and coffee influence was the strongest. Even to this date, sitting and drinking coffee for several hours a day is favourite Croatian hobby.
On the first day in Zagreb we headed to the Ban Jelačić Square, main meeting spot in town. The locals always say, ‘’see you under the clock on the square’’. From there we walked up the stairs to Dolac market. It’s a charming market with red umbrellas and the Kaptol Cathedral in the background. A variety of fresh produce can be found here, as well as Zagreb souvenirs and traditional folklore clothes. From the market we descended onto Tkalča street, a popular destination all day long for the locals and tourists equally. Packed with cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, bookstores, galleries and much more it is one of the best spots in town. We had our second coffee of the day there and watched people passing by. From Tkalča we walked back towards the main square, turned into Radićeva street and passed under Kamenita vrata ( Stone Gate ), the eastern entrance to the Gornji Grad ( Upper Town ). This landmark dates back to the 13th century and today it is a shrine to the Virgin Mary. The passage is quite striking as it’s full of dedications to the loved ones and candles lit by worshippers passing through.
The Upper Town is a centre for politics, history and art – it is home to the Croatian parliament, the colourful-roofed Church of St Mark and several museums. Our favourite pick was the Museum of Broken Relationships ( www.brokenships.com ), quoted by The Guardian as ‘’the museum devoted to the wreckage of lost love’’. The museum holds memorabilia not just of bad relationships, but special affections such as a loss of a loved one. The collection can make you laugh and cry at the same time. Another art gem is the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, representing the artists of Hlebine school with usual motives of the village landscape and the everyday of the peasants, in a dreamy and almost caricature way. Highly recommended!
Just from the outside of these museums, one can get a nice view of Zagreb. Being located on the seismologically sensitive area, the buildings are relatively low. The tallest one is the Zagreb Cathedral standing at 105 metres tall. We walked down the stairs to Ilica, main shopping street and also one connecting west Zagreb to the centre. South from Ilica, another popular coffee rendezvous is located – Cvjetni trg ( Floral square ). Over the years the cafes and bars have boomed here and I often joke saying that one day they’ll all merge into one gigantic bar. On a Saturday morning it gets particularly busy here for ‘’špica’’ ( rush hour ), when everyone is out and about, meeting friends for coffee, shopping or just posing for the paparazzi. To escape the busy area around Cvjetni trg, simply walk to Zrinjevac, a small park in central Zagreb. It was built in 1873 and it’s one of the favourite spots in town for little concerts in the music pavillon, relaxing on the grass on the warm summer days, or just walking along its fountains.
In the evening, a friend invited us for a soccer match on the home turf. We met up at Maksimir stadium, home of Dinamo Zagreb club. Soccer is a big thing in Croatia, like in most European countries. But neither one of us is a big soccer fanatic, Thane prefers rugby and I always says there is no better sport than tennis. We still went for the experience but can’t remember who won.
The following day we decided to spend some time in Maksimir park. It is one of oldest public parks in Europe and covers an area of over 4 square kilometres in east Zagreb. It is also home to the city ZOO and one of my favourite parks in the world, together with Parco Giardino Sigurtà in Italy. We roamed around the park for several hours, discovering its lakes, little church, meadows and finally settling down on a little jetty to have some snacks, read a bit and play Monopoly cards a lot. The weather was just perfect for day out in the nature. Inside the park you can’t see building of the town and can’t hear the traffic just the chirping of the birds and laughter of the kids playing around. If we could choose a spot to have a house in Zagreb, it would definitely be in the woods of this park. We doubt that would be allowed.
We left Zagreb soon after that and headed down south to the Adriatic coast. Croatia is so affordable and convenient to navigate around by bus, so naturally that was our choice of transport for the rest of the Balkan area.
Capital: Zagreb ( 790 000 people )
Currency: Kuna ( 1 EUR = 7,5 KN )
Population of Croatia: 4,225,001 ( 2015 )
Best time to visit: Christmas time to see the markets, late spring/early summer and early autumn