If you’re anything like me, you imagine historical events taking place. When I was a child, I actually prayed every June 6th for those landing on the beaches of Normandy because I was so sure that the event was occurring simultaneously.
I no longer believe in time-warps or religion, but I still find myself drawn to the historical ambiance of a place. Fortunately for me, there’s Zagreb.
We visited Zagreb back in September, the third city on our Croatian road-trip celebrating our second anniversary. We immediately fell in love with the Croatian capital. After days of being browbeaten and crushed by throngs of overzealous tourists in Dubrovnik, desperate to see if the Game of Thrones shop on a corner had different stuff than the one a corner down, the peace and inexplicable quaintness of Zagreb was a welcome relief.
Though the city can be a little rough around the edges at first glimpse, especially when trying to find parking (nothing flares my temper like parking), those with the patience to explore and unravel Croatia’s largest city will be rewarded with an almost genteel atmosphere emanating from the architecture, the streets, and the people. Zagreb is sometimes referred to as Little Vienna, a moniker that holds especially true if you imagine a Vienna populated by Austro-Hungarian diplomats eager to stave off (or induce) a world war.
Upon arrival and check-in to the luxurious and shockingly affordable Markiz Luxury Apartments, accommodations that had us feeling like Habsburgs, we meandered (Zagreb is a place to meander) over to Bistro Fotic, a quirky cafe that does remarkable things with homemade pasta but, for some reason, offers a “breakfast bar” of toast you make yourself and instant coffee, an especially egregious sin when you consider that nowhere outside of the United States really drinks instant coffee. Plus, Croatia has a vibrant coffee culture!
It’s hard to be mad or even notice the coffee, though, when you’re sandwiched between two equally fantastic rows of buildings that could double as any European city in a turn of the century period film. The ghosts of Lenin, Princip, Ferdinand, and so many other influential figures may have lived and died elsewhere, but their souls haunt Zagreb.
Due to the weather, we can’t provide you a lengthy itinerary of Zagreb experiences, museums, or must-sees. It rained for almost the entirety of our three days in the city. If you learn one thing in your time in Croatia, it’s that Croats are deathly afraid of the cold and rain, so the city grinds to a halt and so do you. We spent our time cozied up in our apartment, watching Netflix and gorging ourselves on Croatian wine, bread, and olive oil, all of which were acquired in a mad dash to the local grocery store in the middle of a downpour the likes of which is typically only seen in romantic movies when characters finally kiss.
This is the real magic of Zagreb. It’s relaxing, a place where the lazy, lovers, linguists, and lepers all experience the same slow-down of time and enjoy the little things, whether they be a Netflix marathon in the middle of a foreign city or a cup of instant coffee at 8:00 a.m.
Nothing more proves this than our parking woes. On our first night in the city, I made a judgment call and parked, only to find out that our apartment (several blocks down) had first-come, first-serve spots in front of it. Given that my internal clock struggles to adjust anywhere in the world, I found myself up at 4:00 a.m and walking to our rental car. There were others out walking! People walking their dogs, people out just enjoying the (very) early morning air, and, amazingly, couples just enjoying each others company in one of Zagreb’s city parks.
If given a month in Croatia, I’d spend three weeks in Zagreb. It’s not that the city is a beacon of tourism (though it is growing as a tourist destination) or that it’s as awe-inspiring as Dubrovnik from the top of the cable-car. Simply put, it’s the place to vacation while you’re on vacation. Throw out your itinerary and your plans and sip Zagreb like a wine you put on your credit card because you can’t afford it. It’s to be savored, unraveled, and cherished.
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