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Posts tagged ‘zagreb’

surprising croatia!

I finally have time to write something for the blog and it is sadly poignant to be writing about Croatia the day they lost to France in the World Cup Final.  But how amazing their World Cup journey has been and France needed some luck to surpass them.  It’s a great metaphor to how you will feel as a tourist in Croatia.  It’s a tiny place but filled with all sorts of wonders from incredible Mediterranean sailing to fascinating world history to delicious cuisine – and it has only recently been part of the tourist map (and the World Cup) so what it has accomplished in such a short time is extraordinary.

So… back to the tourist trail.  If you are lazy – or short of time – there are some attractions that are mostly on level ground although they span a wider geographic area than I had anticipated.  Getting exercise in Zagreb is easy 🙂  Your route will depend on your starting point.  We’ll start at Ban Jelačić Square and branch out from there.

pretty park

A beautiful place to start is Nikola šubić Zrinski Square.  It was a meadow until the late 19th century when it was turned into an elegant public square.  A meteorological post and a bandstand were donated to the city by wealthy citizens and joined by a fountain known as “The Mushroom” shortly after the opening of the Zagreb waterworks in 1878.  There are also some museums in this part of town but I didn’t check them all out.

many treasures

My pick was the Arts and Crafts Museum, which I would recommend.  The highlight was a good collection of art deco pieces.  It’s a good insight into the development of arts and crafts in the Balkans.  The museum is next to another, more famous, statue of St. George.  It’s on Marshal Tito Square where you will also find The Croatian National Theatre, the Well of Life and Zagreb University.

The most spectacular public space is King Tomislav Square.  There is a monument dedicated to Croatia’s first king – the warrior who united Croatian lands for the first time.  There is lots of green space for lounging.  Opposite the square is the Main Railway Station.  The railway arrived in Zagreb in 1862, connecting it to Vienna and Budapest.  Visitors exiting the railway station were treated to a spectacular view of Zagreb.

art pavilion

The square also houses the Art Pavilion.  The Art Pavilion was built for the 1896 Budapest Millennial Exhibition using the latest technology and then dismantled and reassembled in Zagreb following the exhibition.  There are several art deco buildings next to the square that reward a slow walk and a sharp eye.  The other beautiful building is the Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925, to

historic hotel

accommodate guests on the Orient Express in high style.  These days you can stay, dine or drink at the hotel and pretend you are in an Agatha Christie novel 😉

If you are ambitious and interested in historical architecture and landmarks, there are some other things you can check out a few streets away.  The Kalina House has Art-Nouveau inspired ceramic tile details, including stylized bats. Nearby is Zagreb’s first skyscraper at the corner of Masarykova and Gundulićeva.  The nine story building set records in 1933 Zagreb.  This is Nikola Tesla territory and you will find a statue of him reminiscent of Rodin’s The Thinker.  It’s also worth looking for the Oktogon off shopping street Ilica.  It is an elegant reminder of the trajectory of commerce over the centuries – a spectacular arcade full of extravagant materials rather than a Fedex cardboard box on your doorstep…

A final quirky thing to search for is The Grounded Sun.  It’s an unusual bronze sphere celebrating the sun.  It inspired Davor Preis to create the Zagreb Solar System – metal spheres representing the planets are placed in positions all over the city.  The sizes of the planets and the distances separating them are all in exact proportion to Kožarić’s original sun.  A quirky way to explore intriguing Zagreb…

over to the dark side ;)

It’s certainly worth checking out religious Zagreb but you will spend most of your time – and have the most fun – in the secular part, which is now pretty much the entire town.  Look for The Bloody Bridge.  It is an alley connecting Radićeva with Tkalčićeva.  It is definitely a highlight of a visit to Zagreb.  In the past, there was a creek separating church-controlled Kaptol from the secular settlement of Gradec.  Everything on the east side of the creek belonged to Kaptol and everything on the west side to Gradec.  The bridge over the creek was the site of many battles between the opposing sides.

adorable 🙂

The bridge was torn down in 1899 and the creek was paved over creating the lively commercial Tkalčićeva street.  No doubt the entrepreneurial ventures have changed over the decades but it is still full of small boutiques, cafes, restaurants and bars worthy of repeat visits.

Close to Tkalčićeva is the Dolac Market.  It is an open air food market and will remind you that you

strawberries to remember…

are in the Mediterranean.  Even if you don’t have any facilities to cook anything, you can buy luscious fruit that has the full flavour of the sunshine it has received.  If you’d like a souvenir you can take home, consider olive oil.

You can also wander up the hill via Radićeva.  You will pass a statue of St George after he has slayed the dragon and then you will come to the Stone Gate whereby you can enter the Upper Town.  It was built in the Middle Ages and there is a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary who is the patron saint of Zagreb.  Kamenita ulica (“Stone Street”) is the site of the oldest pharmacy in Zagreb, founded in 1355 and still in business.

While your journey in this part of Zagreb is almost exclusively about history, do check out The Museum of Broken Relationships.  It is small but they have done a fantastic job with the curation.  There are all sorts of poignant stories told via objects and correspondence.  There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Opatička is a pleasant stroll past markers of Zagreb’s history.  From there you can head to St Mark’s Square, site of the picturesque St.

amazing roof

Mark’s Church.  St Mark’s Square was the main square of the settlement of Gradec and the heart of the secular Upper Town.  St. Mark’s Church was built in the 13th century. Over the centuries additional details were added in different styles, including the distinctive roof tiles showcasing the coat of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia (added in the late 19th century).

There is also a beautiful baroque church on St. Catherine’s SquareSt. Catherine’s Church was built by the Jesuits in the first half of the 17th century.  Be sure to check out the view over Zagreb from behind the church.

If you want a break from climbing hills you can wander the Strossmayer Promenade.  It is a tree-lined path with beautiful vistas of the city below.  Also look out for Lotrščak Tower.  It is the only

worth the climb

preserved mediaeval tower from the 13th century fortifications.  It is famous for its cannon, which is fired every day at noon.

From there you can head down to Ban Jelačić Square.  This is the main square of modern Zagreb and you will likely pass through it several times.  It has been the city’s commercial centre since 1641.  If you are ambitious you can walk.  It’s downhill now!  You can also take the 66 metre long funicular that connects the Upper Town and Lower Town, the shortest passenger cable railway in the world.  Of course, if you walk, you can indulge in a treat in one of the myriad cafes around the square without guilt 😉

 

a lot to explore…

I ended up in Zagreb somewhat by accident.  My original plan was to fly to Amsterdam on a great seat sale but the algorithms worked differently if you flew Europe to Canada or Canada to Europe, which made the flight several hundred dollars higher than advertised.  I’ve been to Amsterdam a lot so I just picked a location that gave me a better deal so I ended up in Zagreb!

I had considered spending time in Zagreb on my way to Dubrovnik but I didn’t have time so it was a virgin travel experience for me.  As usual, I was really busy before I got on the plane and I knew enough about Croatia to just arrive and figure it out sitting in sidewalk cafes.  The charm of arriving somewhere having done almost no research is that the trip will be filled with surprise and – if you get lucky – you will be totally charmed by the discoveries.

Zagreb absolutely fits this profile perfectly.  Croatia as a destination is amazing and still fairly under the radar.  That is changing fast though so don’t wait to plan your trip.  Dubrovnik is already swarming with tourists but you’ll still get a friendly welcome and great prices in Zagreb.  There is enough to see and do to fill several days, especially if you are a history buff.

ancient ‘hood

The tourist board publishes a Zagreb Step by Step guide, which may be available at your hotel.  It’s an excellent resource with details on the key attractions grouped by neighborhood as well as aerial photos and maps noting where everything is located.  As a tourist, you are likely to be focused on the ancient part of the city.  The west has done a lot more marketing but the east is full of complicated history and historic monuments that will make you feel like you are on discovery rather than a packaged holiday with way too many others ticking off the famous sites.

The old town is a bit hilly and covers enough territory that you will want to allow yourself a few days to cover all of it.  You can move randomly or at whim or you can follow the course of history.

I hadn’t appreciated how old Zagreb was.  To see its beginnings you will have to climb a hill.  It’s possible settlements were established as early as the 8th or 9th century.  What is known is that a religious settlement was established around 1094 on Kaptol hill.  The first bishop of Zagreb was a Czech named Duh (which actually means “spirit) appointed by King Ladislav.

famous twin towers

zagreb origin story

A cathedral was commissioned and is a must see destination.  The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary has two soaring twin towers and is a defining symbol of Zagreb.  The cathedral was added to and repaired over the centuries so it includes all sorts of different architectural styles as whatever style was popular at the time was incorporated into the expansion or restoration.  Renaissance walls were added between 1512 and 1521 to protect the city from Ottoman Empire raids.

There are other sights to check out once you have walked up the hill.  It’s a peaceful place and allows you a chance to wander in a unique atmosphere as this part of the city was a religious compound cut off from the more secular Zagreb that evolved around it as the centuries transpired.  It will inspire you to further explorations of the charming nature of this city still under the radar of mass tourism.

 

 

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