After finding myself in a sticky situation in Ljubljana, I discover there’s much more to Croatia than I’ve been led to believe
In this piece, you will find me in Zagreb, capital city of Croatia, having escaped the pub boor of Ljubljana and enjoying a lovely time. At least, you will soon, because at the moment I’m still on the train.
I’d set off very late the previous night/sometime silly in the morning, so I rolled into Zagreb at around 9am, and, upon leaving the station, I was instantly confronted with a large open area leading to a park holding some kind of Apparently Important Structure (it turned out to be an art gallery). Most other central European railway stations: 0. Zagreb: 1. Although I didn’t know it yet, this was to be a theme of the city. It really is surprisingly green.
Even at the height of summer, it wasn’t unbearably busy
It’s about a 15-minute walk from the station to the city centre and, once I was there and had checked into my hostel, I set out to walk around. Now, Zagreb turned out to be a very agreeable city indeed for walking. Even at the height of summer, it wasn’t unbearably busy (I suppose most people go to the beaches).
The centre is relatively compact, but with enough mysterious side-streets and alleys to veer down that I was constantly turning corners before being popped back out at somewhere that I recognised but was patently not where I thought I was going to be. It was mildly thrilling.
Before we continue – I live in the Czech Republic, and therefore literally everyone I know spent their childhood holidays on a Croatian beach. To Czechs, Croatia is boring. This is where part of my excitement arose from – my expectations had been significantly lowered. The Czechs can drive to Croatia, the language is similar enough not to cause too many issues, the weather is great, they have a coastline, and the food is good. Not that that mattered to Czechs, traditionally. Along with the tent, they packed enough food for a fortnight so that they wouldn’t have to deal with foreign concepts like fish.
The cathedral: a huge, Gothic revival pile on Kaptol ul., which also happens to be Croatia’s tallest building
The first sight of real import is the cathedral: a huge, Gothic revival pile on Kaptol ul., which also happens to be Croatia’s tallest building. I also noted that the first bishop of Zagreb was an ethnic Czech, which made my chest swell slightly with pride for my adopted countrymen.
From here I made my way west, past Krvavi most (the Bloody Bridge), so called because, before the creek that separated the two halves of the city was covered, this street was the scene of many conflicts between residents of the two halves of the city.
Eventually, after passing through Kamenita vrata – the Stone Gate, the ancient entrance to the city – I found myself at St. Mark’s Church. It’s not huge, but the main thing that strikes you is the colourfully tiled roof. It depicts, on the left, the triune of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia and, on the right, the Zagreb city crest.
Although, what I found most entertaining, were the two lads standing either side of the door in 18th-century clothing. Every couple of minutes they’d leave their posts and march up and down the square in that massively high-legged way that ceremonial soldiers tend to do.
We all stood in an uncomfortable silence while I said: “Oh! Right,” or something equally profound and incisive
After watching them for a bit, I decided to find out what was going on. I trotted over and asked them what they were doing. They looked at me for a bit, looked at each other, then one of them shrugged and said: “We guard, you know, this place…” We all stood in an uncomfortable silence while I said: “Oh! Right,” or something equally profound and incisive before I shuffled off and they resumed their marching.
After a spot of lunch, I stumbled upon the Museum of Broken Relationships. You may have heard of this, but I had no idea what it was. It’s a museum to which people have donated one object that symbolises the end of a relationship they’ve had, which is then displayed along with the story behind it.
The objects come from all over the world and range from an axe which a guy had used to destroy his cheating girlfriend’s furniture, to a tube of sexual lubricant which, after the relationship had ended, the contributor’s mother had continued to buy and use as a glass polish (“It’s better than any of the actual polishes I’ve ever used!”). The exhibits change every couple of months or so, and there are plans to open other branches in other cities. Highly recommended.
So down I sat with a glass of Ožujsko…
I ambled thoughtfully out of the museum and on to Strossmartre, a narrow pathway on a hill over the city with small stalls selling handcrafted little knicknacks and, importantly, beer. So down I sat with a glass of Ožujsko (which is pretty ubiquitous) and looked at my map. Hmm. Small city. So I sat with a book, in the sunshine, for a couple of beers more and thought how life throws these experiences at you. A couple of days before I had been in my local wondering whether I was going to spend my holiday choosing between sitting on my arse in the pub or sitting on my arse playing X-Box. Now, unexpectedly, here I was; alone and at large in a pleasant, laid-back city with nothing but time on my hands, a map, and the possibility of more beers to come.
So, I stood up, and found my way to ul. Ivana Tkalčića (which is the main street for nightlife) and, as it was coming to early evening, the bars and restaurants were just starting to fill up. I went back to the hostel and discovered that the previously empty dorm I was occupying had five more people in it. Right then, bags unpacked, party heads on … off we go!