Like a rainbow emerging from the storm, Zagreb is the beautifully archaic capital city of a country that’s starting to make a name for itself after a violent struggle for political independence. The city is steeped in history, with its medieval architecture, open-air markets, and surrounding neighbourhoods full of houses with Croatia’s trademark orange rooftops. Best of all, it’s a city where it’s cheaper to buy a pint of beer than a bottle of coke, which means Zagreb definitely deserves a place on the European tourist’s map.
Our first step was taking the funicular up to Gornji Grad (that’s “Upper town” to you and me) where we found St Mark’s Church, a 13th century building with Zagreb’s coat of arms proudly emblazoned on the brightly coloured roof tiles. Round the corner is the Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum holds an incredibly cathartic collection of personal items donated by ex-lovers from around the world, alongside witty, inspiring, or sometimes devastating accounts of the relationship and its breakdown. It’s definitely worth a visit for such a unique commentary on the fragility of human relationships, and yes, there are a couple of sex toys in there.
After a sombre time in the museum, it was time for us to eat our feelings and grab something to eat. In an attempt to do the right thing, I ordered a “Greek salad” with feta cheese and cucumber. Almost as a punishment, the salad turned out to be a pile of raw onion, with feta cheese and cucumber on top. Have Croatians not discovered lettuce yet?
Another culinary disaster occurred in the kitchen of our hostel. In attempt to optimize the taste of cheap Croatian cider, I added a generous amount of “Vinski” – a deep purple coloured liquid with a photo of grapes on the label -, which I assumed was cordial. It was only when I took a mouthful of the student-friendly cocktail that I realised “Vinski” means “vinegar”. Who needs to watch An Idiot Abroad when you can BE an idiot abroad?
Unlike most other European cities, Zagreb is a city that sleeps at night. We unknowingly headed to a bar that was top of the Guardian’s list of “alternative hangouts” in Zagreb, as we were afraid we might not be let back into Leeds if we didn’t Instagram photos of ourselves in at least one edgy bar whilst on holiday. It was completely empty, which illustrates the fact that Croatia has a very distinct café culture; locals prefer spending their evenings drinking in cafés and restaurants rather than getting drunk in bars and nightclubs.
All in all, Zagreb is the place to be if you’re the sort of person who likes exploring intricate networks of winding streets, stumbling upon unusual museums, and wandering through open-air food markets. However, it’s small enough to see everything in two days, so book yourself a coach ticket when you’re ready to leave and head for the coast, which is where you’ll find the most beautiful cities and islands Croatia has to offer. It’s definitely worth a visit for the cultural aspects; just don’t drink any condiments while you’re there…