Croatia’s capital is often overlooked on the tourist route; most people limit their travels to the Croatian coastline and islands. As far as beautiful cities in this part of the world go, it’s overshadowed by neighbouring Slovenia’s capital – Ljubljana.
Nonetheless, we decided to give Zagreb a visit and we are pleasantly surprised by what we discovered. Yes, you do need to limit your exploration to the historic parts of town.
Ignore the ugly socialist architecture surrounding the city and you will find an inner sanctuary with charming buildings designed with Austro-Hungarian influence. Trams run through the centre, down wide promenading streets with ornate buildings, surrounded by lush public gardens. This is a city that has lived through grand times and deserves a better reputation.
We lucked-out, finding Rose & Margaret Apartments in the center of town. We stayed in a stylish studio for three nights at a reasonable price.
My first objective during our visit was a haircut. I,who has religiously been for a cut & colour every 6 weeks, has subjected my hair to sun, salt and cheap shampoo for the last 4 months.
I am also trying to convince myself that my hair is going ‘blond’ from all the sun and salt, rather than ‘reality grey’. What were previous blonde highlights are now more like streaks of silver. At this rate, I could be totally grey by the time I get home! Sorry Suzanne (my hairdresser in Melbourne), you’re going to have a big job on your hands when I return.
I’ve given up on trying to keep the grey at bay, but a trim to rid me of split ends and tidy it up would be ideal. Picking a salon is based on one that looks reasonable and can speak some english.
Having someone wash your hair and massage your scalp, is one of life’s little pleasures. After a conditioning treatment, cut and blow dry, for AUS$40, my hair feels in a much healthier state. That’s no doubt the cheapest haircut I’ve had in a long time. Still trying to convince myself it’s blonde!
Sporting my new ‘do’, we head off to explore the city. Don steers us towards a brewery for a local beer tasting and then we go in search of a boutique wine bar that I had read about. Sherry’s Coffee & wine Lab, served an excellent selection of wines, accompanied by a fabulous tasting plate of prosciutto carved fresh off the bone, with olives and cheese. We also sampled their excellent coffee, something this part of the world lacks a lot of.
The public squares, of which there are plenty, are lined with cafés and bars. People watching is an offical pastime in Zagreb. Even though it’s summer and we are told many leave the city, it’s still a buzz with people filling the numerous street places to drink, eat and watch.
One of the things that struck us about Zagreb is the number of book and CD shops. We are seeing a massive decline in both, with major retailers around the world closing their doors, yet there is a bookstore on every block and CD stores to match. The other dominating retailers are shoes, there are shoe shops everywhere.
Saturday: the centre of town turns into a lively market. It’s a sensory overload; a colourful array of fruit and vegetables accompanied by the delicate smells of freshly cut flowers greet us.
Walk down stairs and you are met with the pungent smell of maturing cheeses and fresh meats. There is also a seafood market with a vast array of water dwelling creatures, some I didn’t even recognise.
The experience conjures up a menu of delicious dishes, inspiring my imagination to cook a gastronomical feast with all the fresh ingredients available. Alas, the inspiration did not turn into a meal!
We throw ourselves into Zagreb nightlife on Saturday night. Joining the throngs of people sitting, sipping and seducing (I needed another word that started with s), along the café/bar lined promenades. We prop ourselves on a bar stool and people watch for a while.
Zagreb/Croatia is a bit of a paradox; this is a country with an unemployment rate of around 18%, the average income is equivalent to A$12k per year, yet there are plenty of people of all ages, out and about spending money.
Retail does not seem to be suffering. Prices are reasonable with the CPI (cappuccino price index for those who have forgotten) between AUS$2-$3, the WCC (wine consumption cost) at AUS$3-4 a glass.
All in all, Zagreb was well worth a visit.