A new city nestled in an old town
Zagreb is a truly contrasting city. The suburbs seem old and run down, however as soon as you step into the city centre the buildings are immaculate. The area around the square in the city centre is amazing. Ancient buildings that have been maintained and updated are still heavily utilised today. To me, Zagreb is a new city nestled in an old town.
After over 130 days in southeast Asia, our trip to Croatia was highly anticipated and we were both beyond excited. While we had an amazing time exploring Asia, the culture and climate change was welcomed. We landed in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia after a long 24hour transit from Hanoi. Flying Qatar Airways we had an 8hour layover in Doha. Proving the importance of reading the small print, Qatar Airways will put you up in a hotel for any layover greater than 8hours (but you have to go in the right lines and ask at the right desk). We were beyond excited to check into the hotel that lies within the international terminal at Doha airport, which is brand new and easily the nicest hotel we have stayed at to date. Having a shower and a few hours sleep made the remaining travel much easier.
As we flew into Zagreb, it was clear the landscape is a complete contrast to Vietnam. Being winter, the countryside looks harsh and bare, completely lacking any green vegetation. The houses and apartment blocks in the hinterland added to the dreary appearance, all in various shades of grey. I was surprised to see the town was quite run down with quite a lot of graffiti everywhere. That is, until you reach the city centre, which is absolutely immaculate. We spent three days in Zagreb, exploring the city and trying to recover from our jetlag.
We had our first experience staying in an Air BnB unit and it was incredible. Not only was it significantly cheaper than staying in a dorm at a hostel, the studio apartment we had for our time in Zagreb was freshly renovated, completely brand new inside, immaculately clean and only a five minute walk to the centre square. The arrival process couldn’t have been easier; we were given a set of codes that granted us access to both the apartment block and a small safe, which held the keys. A simple process which made our arrival smooth and easy.
After only one western meal in our entire time in Southeast Asia, we welcomed the complete change that comes with European food. On our arrival, we found a local bistro that served us a beautiful winter lunch. Essentially a roast, we had an enormous serving of roast chicken and potatoes. One plate to share would have been enough for us; however, we powered through and finished what must have been close to a whole chicken each and at least four or five potatoes. It was absolutely delicious and such a lovely change.
After the initial ‘welcome to Croatia’ meal, we utilised the small kitchen at the apartment and cooked. While I stuck to simple pasta dishes, we both really enjoyed being able to eat at our temporary home. I also had the exciting experience of finding gluten free foods. While not the biggest selection, it was amazing to have gluten free cereal and toast for breakfast.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
While Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, a lot of tourists skip the city in favour for the coastline. Consequently, we found the city quite quiet, especially as it is winter. There are several Museums scattered throughout the city, but for me the true attraction was the city itself. We had a great time exploring the both the upper and lower towns, completing several walking tours of the areas.
Our tendency to complete walking tours has continued. After a visit to the tourist information centre, we left armed with the maps for several different walking tours. Well known for the beautiful architecture, we spent several hours wandering the city with a map and camera, embracing the inner tourist. We both marvelled at the old buildings, which were all incredible.
Dolac Farmers’ Market
The Dolac farmers’ market is located almost on top of the Ban Jelacic Square and has an incredible spread of fresh food. Stalls selling fruits and vegetables are upstairs, while meats and bread are undercover below. Most exciting, everything has fixed a price that makes for an amazing change from Asia. I loved the opportunity to shop for fresh produce before returning ‘home’ to cook.
Museum of Broken Relationships
I think quirky is the best way to describe this museum. In a city that has a museum on every corner (or so it seems), it was the Museum of Broken Relationships that caught my attention. What started as a travelling collection now has a permanent home in Zagreb. The purpose of the museum is almost explained in its name; it houses a collection of items that held significance to a relationship that ultimately dissolved. It was Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić who developed the concept, born as a therapeutic way of moving on from failed relationships. The type of relationships varied and while most were romantic, there were several more chilling pieces, including a mother’s suicide note to her children. Each of the pieces on display had a small explanation to inform visitors of the significance of each item. I found the display heartbreaking, which is fitting, as it is essential a place full of items that personify a broken heart.
After a bit of research, it became obvious a hike up Medvednica Mountain was a great way to spend a morning. We planned to complete a hike popular with locals, to Puntijarka mountain house that is just below the Sljeme peak. We took off, excited to explore the outskirts of Zagreb and the countryside a bit further. I was also excited for lunch at the top. After a couple of trams, we embarked on what we thought would be a fair hike. Armed only with a pack of gummy bears and a bottle of water, it became clear quite early we weren’t quite prepared for the day, however, it was only when it started snowing that this became evident. After frolicking in the snow for a while we admitted defeat and returned to town, thankful the tram had heated seats. I think we will have to save the hiking for a warmer day.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
We have really noticed an obvious difference in both the people and culture in Zagreb. I’m not sure if it would have been as obvious if we had travelled straight from Australia, but from Vietnam the contrast is clear. We have moved from being giants to midgets. The men especially are extremely tall and built. The women are also tall, and most wear high heels, perhaps to keep up with the men. I have also been shocked at the amount of make-up the women wear, which accentuates their high cheekbones and angular eyebrows.
It is also clear that Croatian people love bread. Not only are there bakeries everywhere, every second person appears to be snacking on bread. What further confuses me is no one is overweight yet I haven’t seen a gym since we arrived. With such an avid gym culture in Australia, I would have expected something similar in most European countries. If not, I would love to know how the women maintain their incredible figures.
WHAT WE LEARNT
We really learnt to appreciate Air BnB during our stay in Zagreb. While I will keep a look out for hostels, I think we will do our best to stay in Air BnB apartments throughout Europe. It has been great to be able to cook, which has also really helped with our budget.
With mainly free activities in Zagreb we are managing really well with our budget. Surprisingly, beer and wine here is cheaper than Vietnam. We are finding the Australian Dollar is stretching quite nicely since we have been here.
After a bit of research we have decided to catch a bus to Zadar, skipping the Plitvice Lakes that are on the way. Instead, we will look into hiring a car in Zadar and explore the lakes as a day trip before continuing on to Split. From Split, we will spend a few days island hopping before landing in Dubrovnik, which will be our last stop in Croatia.
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