Following my long, but busy five nights in Split, I was on my way to the last city in Croatia, i.e. the capital, Zagreb. Admittedly, I didn’t have many expectations of it, as I hadn’t known much about what to do there, but in the end, it turned out to be a surprisingly-good time.
I caught the national bus over, and five hours later made it to Zagreb. Unlike the other cities I’d visited, I would be spending my three nights doing Couchsurfing and a hostel– considering that I couldn’t find Couchsurfing hosts in the other Croatian cities (thereby staying in hostels), I was fortunate to have found a host in Zagreb who would allow me to stay the first two nights, despite his busy schedule.
Upon exiting the main bus station, I met up with my host, who gave me a ride to his flat during his lunch break. What I didn’t know was that he didn’t live in Zagreb city center, but rather Zagreb county. That said, it was quite the drive over, and it would take an hour to get into the city center by bus, then tram. All the same, it was virtually free accommodation– even further, my host’s flat was really nice and spacious!
Considering that it was too far to get into the city center and the fact that I was tired from traveling that day, I ended up staying in upon getting in that afternoon. My host went back to work, and I just hung around in the flat until he got home at night, and we hung out. After some wine and getting to know each other, we watched a series’ episode online and went to bed.
The next day was my first full day in Zagreb. My host left for work in the morning, and I soon left afterwards to get into the center. The bus (then tram) ride took about an hour, but I eventually made it to Trg bana Josipa Jelačića, the main square in the heart of the city. Whereas Dubrovnik and Split were coastal cities and “Italian-like” in architecture and culture, Zagreb is quite different in that its architecture and atmosphere resembles more of the “Austro-Hungarian” style. Very different, but all the same, quite interesting to explore and discover.
By the time I arrived in the center, it was around noontime. That said, I went to get lunch; I particularly wanted to try the local food, so I went to a small restaurant that served štrukli, a sort of doughy cream dish that reminds me of lasagna. I opted for the truffled štrukli, which was absolutely rich and savory. It was also extremely heavy, and it kept me full for the rest of the day.
After a fulfilling lunch, I stopped by the Zagreb Cathedral, the tallest structure in the country. Soon after, I took a bus north of the city to Mirogoj Cemetery, which is reputed to be one of the most-beautiful cemeteries in Europe. Sounds morbid, but I admit that it was quite lovely, from the towering chapel at the entrance to the sweeping crematorium. Not to forget acres and acres of silent greenery among the tombstones…I spent at least an hour wandering the large cemetery, which was a pleasant break from the hustle-and-bustle of the center.
I took the bus back to the center, and spent the time wandering between Upper and Lower Town– again, plenty of colorful, Austro-Hungarian architecture to admire! I passed through Tunel Grič, a tunnel which had been used as a bomb shelter during WWII before becoming an underground rave scene in the 1990’s– today, it’s a tourist destination just to wander underneath between Upper and Lower Towns. I also checked out the lovely, brightly-tiled roof of St. Mark’s Church, along with the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is a small, quirky museum dedicated to displaying memorabilia of failed love. Some of the exhibits were funny, some sad, but overall a novel museum experience.
It was nearing 18:00 when I finished my museum visit and, despite still being light outside, I was feeling tired and decided to head back to my host’s flat. Took the tram, then bus, back and I hung out in his flat until he came home. We had more drinks and conversation that night before turning in.
After my second night, I left my host’s flat the next morning– he was kind enough to drive me close to the center, where I took the tram in before dropping my belongings off at the hostel where I’d be staying in for my final night. I headed to Zagreb 360°, a tower near Trg bana Josipa Jelačića where you can get views of the city from above. While not that high up, it nevertheless offered a decent panoramic view of the square below, along with the nearby hills and sprawling city from afar.
I got lunch afterwards at a Mexican joint– interesting choice, you might think, but a hostel-goer I’d talked with in Split had recommended me this place, and it turned to be surprisingly good! The vegetarian quesadillas and chipotle dip were divine, to the point I returned for dinner!
Following lunch, I wandered Upper Town again, checking out to rooftop views from the summit before visiting the Museum of Naïve Art. It was even smaller than the Museum of Broken Relationships, and I visited it within 40 minutes– all the same, I enjoyed a few of the artworks, including Emerik Feješ’ interpretations of popular European monuments (e.g. Milan Cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris, etc.)
I finished my museum visit, and I decided to hang out with a fellow Couchsurfing traveler, as we’d gotten in touch via the app’s “Hangout” feature. He was a man from China visiting Zagreb with his Swedish girlfriend, and we had a pleasant time getting drinks and eventually Mexican food at the same joint. Turned out we were also staying at the same hostel (same room, even!), which was a huge coincidence.
That evening, I was meeting up with another Couchsurfer for drinks. He was Bosnian-Croatian, and we hit it off with long conversations on just about everything, but Balkans history to literature to even feminism. It was a pleasant time as well, and after parting ways around 23:00, I spent the last of my time back at Zagreb 360° (my ticket offered unlimited visits) for night-time views of the city. I headed back to the hostel where I turned in for the night– I would be leaving Croatia tomorrow, so I didn’t want to stay out too late.
Overall, Zagreb turned out to be a surprisingly-fun time! It was both fun and chill, as I met some incredible people in town and had a *slower pace* visit compared with the previous Croatian cities I’d been. Zagreb is worth at least a night in to see a bit more of this Balkan country.
More adventures coming up– stay tuned!
— The Finicky Cynic
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