9 gems I picked up from a weekend in Zagreb

9 gems I picked up from a weekend in Zagreb

Our trip to Zagreb happened quite by accident. We were due to return to Bilbao with our friends Mr and Mrs F. Until easyJet played around with the flight schedule making it particularly inconvenient.

That said, they were quick to refund the money and Mrs F spotted that Monarch had started flying from Manchester to Zagreb, at a similar price.

I’ve never been to Croatia but had heard so much about it. But that was principally about the coastal hot spots of Dubrovnik and Split and the beauty of the Plitvice Lakes. So what would Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, but often overlooked as a destination in its own right, have to offer? In preparation I read Travel Honestly, a wonderful blog by Zagreb native Andrea Pisac. It certainly whet my appetite.

Mrs F has blogged about our weekend here, but this is my take on the trip, the place and the people.

Lonely Planet has just named Zagreb as it’s number 1 must see European destination for 2017 and I can see why.

A txiki weekend in Zagreb

#1 Zagreb is a city full of beautiful buildings and public spaces

There are some truly gorgeous buildings and green spaces around Zagreb. The main focus is around the cathedral and in the upper town but there is also plenty to discover in the lower town towards the main railway station and beyond.

A quick tip – get yourself to the top of the funicular in the Upper Town or Zagreb Eye on Josip Jelacic Square soon after you arrive. This will allow you to get a perspective of the city layout and give you the opportunity to plot your way around.

Zagreb Cathedral

The cathedral is visible from many parts of the city providing a decent marker for those with a less than perfect internal compass.

Zagreb Cathedral

Zagreb Cathedral

Outside the cathedral is a beautiful golden statue of the Virgin Mary which glistened majestically in the spring sunshine.

Statue of Mary

In the upper town, the roof of St Mark’s Church is both beautiful and unusual. The coloured mosaic tiles display Croatian coats-of-arms.

St Mark's Church

St Marks

The Stone Gate is one of the original entrances to the city and is now a shrine.

Stone Gate

The Croatian National Theatre just south of Ilica, the city’s main shopping street is a grand venue befitting it’s title.

Croatian National Theatre

Croatian National Theatre

South of the railway station is a striking obelisk commemorating the 1000th anniversary of Zagreb in 1994.

Zagreb monument

#2 The people of Zagreb are so laid back and content with life

I’d heard that the people of Zagreb were a pleasant, friendly yet quiet bunch and this was our experience over the weekend – with the exception of the chap from #8!

On both the Saturday and Sunday, families in traditional Croatian dress converged on Josip Jelacic Square. They would eat, drink, chat, sing and dance, all the time smiling and creating a wonderfully joyful atmosphere.

Traditional dress

And we witnessed the extra special joy of a Croatian wedding as the bride and groom came out of the Church of Saint Francis. Family, friends and it seemed everyone passing by were infected by the love and happiness of the newly wed couple.

Zagreb wedding

Another day and another celebration. This time Mrs L and I were wandering around the grounds of the Croatian National Theatre. Scores of graduates and their families were celebrating their degree success and giving thanks at the nearby Fountain of Life.

Graduation at the theatre

Fountain of Life

And where do many locals spend their time relaxing? Tkalčićeva Street meanders from Josip Jelacic Square to the upper town. It is pedestrianised and seems to be busy at most times of the day and night. With our apartment literally a stone’s throw from the top of the street, it was also a popular place for us. Particularly given the number of bars and restaurants!

Tkalčićeva Street

Even the horses liked a trot down Tkalčićeva Street.

 

#3 Croatian wine can be truly excellent

Mrs F had done some research and discovered the excellent reviews awarded to Bornstein Wine Bar and Shop.

Bornstein

They offered wine tasting in a well-stocked cellar bar at a very reasonable price. We popped in on the Saturday afternoon and made an informal arrangement to return on the Monday lunchtime to sample some Croatian fare.

Cheers

The visit did not disappoint. In fact it was probably the highlight of the entire weekend and will last long in the memory. Not only did we get the chance to sample six very different and elegant wines from regional producers, but we also had one of the finest cheese, prosciutto and pate platters that I have ever tasted.

Food platter

Our host, Josip, was knowledgeable, charming and seemed to really enjoy taking us on our vino tour of his country. Hailing from the coastal area of Zadar, his family moved to the Zagreb area during the Balkan conflict. It is heartbreaking to think of everything the people of this region had to endure less than 30 years ago.

Bornstein Wine Bar

On a lighter note, the cheese and chutney combination was delightful and went beautifully with the Dalmatian Posip.

Cheese and chutney

Given a small lottery win and an estate car for transport, I would happily have spent thousands of Kuna, emptying the cellar of its wares. Alas no lottery win and hand-luggage only meant that I left empty handed save for a thirst to return.

Bornstein Wine Bar and Shop

 

#4 If it exists, Zagreb will have a museum dedicated to it

Not only that but during our visit the European Museum Awards 2017 were taking place in Zagreb. The sign below gives you a flavour of the sheer number and breadth of collections you can visit.

Despite being renowned for undertaking detailed research on every place I visit, I managed to get Mrs L to the Mushroom Museum some twenty minutes after it had closed for the day. This was the one attraction that particularly tickled our fancy and I’m sure that I’ll be reminded of my schoolboy error once or twice in the future.

Museum Signs

I’m not sure if the sign above was deliberately designed with the direction to the Museum of Torture severed from the rest.

Museum of Torture

The other museum which appears at the top of most people’s itineraries is the intriguingly named Museum of Broken Relationships. Mrs L thought that it might be a little melancholic for our upbeat trip and so we gave it a miss. We did wonder though what a Brangelina wing might contain!

Museum of Broken Relationships

 

#5 Religion plays an important part in Croatian life

I can honestly say that with the exception of Rome, I’ve never seen so many people from religious orders as we encountered in Zagreb.

And our apartment featured a number of religious artworks including an internal stained glass window.

Local clergy

The sight of thirty or so nuns with suitcases outside the cathedral prompted us to question where they might be going. A coach holiday to the coast perhaps?

Nuns

 

#6 When Croatians get together, they like a good sing-song

In less than an hour after leaving our hotel, we stumbled across our first musical ensemble. Locals dressed in traditional outfits drew quite a crowd as they belted out their traditional tunes.

Later that afternoon the wedding at the Church of St Francis provided the backdrop for another group of performers.

That evening we spent a couple of enjoyable hours at Booze & Blues, entertained by a local outfit going by the name of Groovebox. It was more soul and Motown than blues or rock and not exactly my cup of tea. But technically they were very good. And you can’t beat live music.

Groovebox

Booze and Blues

The following day, back in the main square, and once again a group of locals were in the mood to entertain. It all seemed fairly impromptu and showed once more how the simple things in life can provide the most pleasure.

 

#7 Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I always try to find old derelict buildings wherever I travel and wonder what tales they have to tell. Zagreb offered plenty in that regard. Directly opposite our hotel was the ramshackle building below. I suggested to Mr F who is a builder by trade that it might be an interesting ‘project’. He suggested that I would be doing it on my own!

Derelict building

Just south of the main railway station there were a number of residential and commercial buildings that were in the same category. Given their prominent location I suspect it will only be a matter of time before a developer razes them to the ground to be replaced by another anonymous office and apartment block.

Derelict building

Derelict building

 

#8 No trip is ever 100% perfect – when things go awry, just giggle…and write about the memory

According to a number of experts, the Zagreb sausage is a superfood. Mr F joined the locals in the main square queuing for a free sausage, accompanied by a blob of mustard and a honk of crusty bread. You can see from the look on Mr F’s face that it wasn’t the most pleasurable experience of his life. And he is someone who has tried cod and squid ink flavoured ice cream in Bilbao! The taste of the sausage was similar to a smoky chorizo and not too bad. Unfortunately I would describe the texture as that of an elephant trunk wrapped in birth control. I think you get the picture!

Croatian sausage

Lunch on Day 2 of our Croatian odyssey was also a bit of an experience.

Take 1: We met up at the well-reviewed Plac to sample their renowned burgers. Unfortunately, being adjacent to the fruit and vegetable market, customers were outnumbered by pigeons. We all agreed that flying vermin weren’t conducive to a relaxing meal alfresco and so we left to find another option.

Take 2: In the same area but up some steps was a fairly pleasant restaurant full of locals in traditional dress. Locals usually means good value, fodder and service. Fifteen minutes later and a good few attempts to engage with the waiting staff (including going inside to the bar area) without success and we were on our way again.

Take 3: At the bottom of the steps was another simple trattoria with an outside seating area. One of the staff members beckoned us over. As we sat down at the four seats around a relatively small table, a second staff member bellowed at us ‘”NO GROUPO, NO GROUPO!”

In a state of shock we decided that it might be better to address our hunger elsewhere although I think that Mr F was contemplating challenging their assertion that if two is company and three is a crowd, four must be a problematic group!

We took the opportunity for a quick photo outside the establishment to register our displeasure. If you look closely, you can see the rude bloke in the doorway. Over the three days of our visit we passed the restaurant a number of times. Only once did I see even three people around a table. So it clearly wasn’t just us that they took exception to!

Boo

Take 4: Having had a drink in the sun at the large Pivnica Mali Medo the previous day, we thought that we could count on it for a reasonable lunch.

At least the service was quick, the locally brewed beer was good and the wine was more than palatable.

The food however was a bit of a disappointment. Mr F described his burger as a 2 out of 10 at most, My pizza was topped with ham and bacon – unfortunately most mouthfuls of bacon necessitated the systematic removal of bone. Not good. Did we complain? No, as usual, we politely said that the food was fine. Typical Brits!

If I have one tip for the waiter, it’s this. If you would like a tip, just provide decent service. Don’t point out in a very assertive manner that the bill doesn’t include a tip. As a result, this was the only place over our weekend where we didn’t leave something extra.

But did these couple of minor mishaps affect our view of Zagreb? Not a chance. Nowhere is perfect!

#9 Murder is a serious offence

As I mentioned towards the start of this yarn, the Zagreb Eye is an excellent way of getting a 360° view of the city. It’s actually the observation deck of a particularly uninspiring tower block rather than other ‘eyes’ around the world you may have encountered.

At around £4 for entry though it is very good value for money. The lift to the 16th floor doesn’t take long enough for you to read all the rules that are plastered on the wall. So I took a photo to make sure I didn’t end up in the Zagreb clink.

It’s just as well I studied the sign. We’d never realised that ‘murder is a serious crime’.

Murder sign

The view from the top was very good. Ok, it didn’t have the height of other observation decks that I have been fortunate enough to scale. But it does the job for Zagreb and it was fascinating to watch the people and transport go about their business.

View of Zagreb

My conclusion

Zagreb was everything I expected plus a lot more. It is certainly one of the most relaxed cities that I have visited in a long time. There is plenty to do on a long weekend. If you are a culture vulture, you might not get to see the outside of the dozens of museums. Prefer your food and drink? There are decent options across the board and it is about half the price of the UK.

Trying a cevapi

If you enjoy coffee and people watching Tkalčićeva Street is the place for you. It would be quite easy to spend the whole day here sat watching the world go by.

The wine tasting at Bornstein was truly memorable…and enlightening. Thanks Mrs F for finding that one.

I’m sure that I’ll return one day to explore some more.  Until then Doviđenja Zagreb, hvala za lijep vikend.

View from the upper town

 

Some additional photos

Mrs L with a lady from Dolac market

Market statue

Street art off Tkalčićeva Street

Street art

Coffee and cake at Amelie, near the cathedral

Coffee and cake

It’s not that easy to get lost in Zagreb

Signs

Looking like I know what I’m doing

Wine tasting

Comparing brews

Croatian beer

The most colourful coffee in Croatia – Sjedi 5

Colourful coffee

Breakfast Zagreb style – the food comes 20 minutes after the coffee!

Zagreb breakfast

The funicular to the upper town

Zagreb funicular

Time to leave Zagreb

Neon sign

The stunning new airport terminal

Zagreb airport

Doviđenja Zagreb

Zagreb million reasons

 

Please share this Txiki Tale!

2 Replies to “9 gems I picked up from a weekend in Zagreb”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *