We couldn’t get a round trip awards ticket to/from Prague so we added Zagreb to our itinerary for our return flight and I am definitely glad we did. Since this city normally gets overlooked as people zips their way to the coast, this bustling city is still not overrun by tourists and still functions for itself. Though you can tell that the city had prepared itself for tourism, businesses still thrive and cater mainly for its residents. I think this is what I like about it.
This city puts a whole new meaning to “hanging out in a cafe”. Since the city enjoys a longer season of pleasant weather, it’s outdoor-cafe culture is a notch higher than your usual European city. They are crazy about their outdoor cafes. There are tables and chairs spilling out onto the streets and you can’t even tell where the food being served came from. The tables don’t necessarily front a restaurant, it could be in front of a bookstore and your wonder ‘where the heck is their kitchen’. Everyone seems to drink coffee or beer all day long. You can order a beer or a cappuccino and sit in a table all afternoon with that one drink. In fact, it’s not easy to find a restaurant with a lot of indoor seating. When you’re in Zagreb, you’ll master the art of people watching. We liked that. After 5 days of non stop walking in Prague, sitting in a cafe for hours sounded good.
Zagreb also has an old town, as a matter of fact, they have an upper town, and a lower town. Their main square, the Trg Josip Jelacica, is a bustling focal point of the city, with a stage that seem to always have one performance or another, and many covered stalls of various things being sold. It is also where most trams seem to converge which makes the plaza even busier.
Off of the plaza is a smaller square which is home to their central market, selling produce, meats, cheese and fish and with the cathedral’s gothic towers looming over the umbrella-covered tables .
Further along upper town is St Marks church, which is quite unique with its colorful tiled roof depicting Croatian, Dalmatian and Slavonian coat of arms and the Zagreb emblem.
The city center boasts several big parks with mature, overgrown trees. There’s always people in the parks, friends lounging in the grass, families with kids playing in the fountains, folks walking their dogs, couples sitting on the benches, or groups of students gathering over something.
When in a different country, we always like to take their public transportation. I pride myself in planning ahead and knowing which line/tram/metro to use and where to get off. I usually memorize the stop so I don’t have to keep holding a map and sort of pretend I know where I’m going. The problem with this part of the world is, its not easy to memorize names. While in the tram, in my mind I keep repeating ‘Gupceva zvijezda.. Gupceva zvijezda.. gup … gzi .. gve … what was that again??’ I gave up. Good thing T-Mobile has a pretty good reception everywhere we went (and did I mention free unlimited data?).
I think Zagreb is pretty easy to feel at ease in. By our second day, we’ve gone to a funky basement jazz bar (Bacchus jazz bar), found a favorite restaurant (Kurcola), we’ve taken the train, the tram, walked a lot, seen an Alberto Giacometti exhibit, and had spent time just sitting around. I liked this city. So if your flight stops in Zagreb on your way to Dubrovnik, spend a day or two. You might just like it.
Oh did I mention – they have a pretty cool cemetery, the Mirogoj Cemetery. There are arcades covered with ivy, cupolas, tree-lined avenues, statues over graves and perfectly trimmed and manicured greenery. It’s one of the largest and one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe!