Zagreb, Croatia

  • Zagreb, Croatia
  • 25,107 miles flown + a lot of windy roads + terribly straight and gray roads driven
  • 45°49′N 15°59′E
  • Temp: 50 deg
  • 4 books read, 8 massages + 2 hot stone baths in the books
  • Day 28

The trip into Zagreb was a quick 24 hour stopover. Just enough time to ride the world’s shortest funicular, take in yet another thriving winter outdoor cafe scene, eat a ridiculously fresh seafood lunch, light a few prayer candles, and drink far too much Croatian wine.

On recommendation from our hotel we walked through the bustling pedestrian streets, where locals were enjoying a cold beer or hot coffee at heatlamp-warmed outdoor cafes, to a restaurant known for their fresh seafood, Korcula. Zagreb on a beautiful, sunny Saturday was a lively scene of well-dressed locals, buskers, fresh flowers vendors–all the things that make you feel like you’re out for a stroll on a perfect Spring day, only it’s January. Eastern Europeans know how to embrace winter–this, I’m certain, is the theme for this chapter of the trip. Embrace winter. Buy a stylish hat, put on your going out clothes, go sit in a cafe and chat with a friend or sit in silence and just people watch–entertainment far more valuable than anything on your DVR.

Korcula: even though Zagreb is landlocked, they bring fresh fish from the coast in daily. Fresh white anchovies, tuna carpaccio, dalmatian prosciutto, salty sheep’s cheese and fish pate to start set the bar high for lunch. Followed by the most tender octopus atop wine and butter soaked roasted potatoes. All washed down with a crisp Croatian Posip white wine. Hello, Croatia!

After a big start to our time in Zagreb, we worked off lunch with a walking tour of the two old towns that have since combined to make up Zagreb, Gradec and Kaptol.

Notable touristy sightings:

In Jelacic Square, aka the “Times Square” of Zagreb (not sure I’d go that far,) stands an imposing statue of Josep Jelacic, who protected the Croats from Hungarian rulers in the mid-19th century. Fun fact, the statue used to face north towards Hungary, but was removed from the town square during the Yugoslavian period and after Croatia got its independence again in 1991 it was returned to the square with the sword turned to face Serbia.

The colorful tiled church of St. Mark’s (which you can only admire from the outside as the priest is apparently not a fan of tourists.) Also, in this part of town the lights are still gas-lit and every evening a local man walks from lamp to lamp to light each one. We happen to be there right at that very moment. Thank you lazy lunch.

Moving further through this part of town we came up the small prayer grotto tucked underneath a stone archway. As locals were passing through they stopped briefly to light a candle and say a prayer. I found this to be so charming and impromptu. The white plaques on the wall are apparently from people whose prayers were answered.

Moving on to the less charming, but important limestone Cathedral in what was Kaptol. This cathedral was destroyed many times over periods of different rulers, but apparently they still didn’t know enough not to rebuild it in limestone, a material that basically melts away in winter weather, so is under constant renovation. Note the Stepinac tomb was made in Detroit, Michigan by a Croatian artist who fled during Yugoslavian rule.

One last stop on the tour, The Museum of Broken Relationships, a collection of letters and relationship memorabilia from breakups around the world. It felt a bit out of place down the street from a several hundred year old church, but the concept was intriguing so we gave it a run through. Takeaway? People are in screwed up relationships regardless of what corner of the world they live in. The yearning, the drama, the angst, it’s all the same.

After our brief touristing, a local wine bar was calling our name. Still full from lunch we were sold on a Croatian wine tasting which included a sampling of six different Croatian wines and a cheese platter. Bonus selling point: our waiter said if we paid cash the tasting would be 50% off (or so we thought.) Even though we weren’t going to get much Croatian kuna given our brief time there, you can’t pass up a deal like that and our waiter said an ATM was a stone’s throw away. Done and done.

As he started to pour our tasting we realized his sample pours were full glass pours, a generosity we initially thought was a big score, but by glass six realized was perhaps too generous. 6pm became midnight, so we decided to call it a night and ask for the bill. When he came over with a calculator to add up our bill we quickly realized that thick Croatian accent said 15% off, not 50%. Oops. Sheepishly flashing him a wine-induced smile, we told him we could either go back to the ATM or pay with a credit card. He paused, smiled back, tapped at his calculator again and offered up the entire bill at exactly the amount of cash we had left, $30 each. Not bad for six hours of fun and the same number of glasses of very good Croatian wine. All in the name of worldly experiences, right?

Waking up the next morning was a little rough, but we rolled out of bed for a final spin through town and the farmers’ market to pick up some road snacks for our four hour drive to Belgrade. Nothing says hangover cure like fresh fruit (which we didn’t eat and replaced with Croatian paprika chips at the first gas stop.) I really wanted to buy some sauerkraut from that very stern looking lady who seemed to be daring me to buy some…or maybe to walk away.

Let’s come back to Zagreb and make dinner. But first, a long, gloomy drive to Belgrade.

Xo, xt

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