Zagreb: the unplanned version
October 21, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Having sewn-up and then unpicked the plans for a week’s travel around Croatia (see ‘To plan or not to plan?‘), we landed in Zagreb where we began our adventure.
The on-the-day decision not to collect the car was by far one of the best, although had we known, we would definitely not have taken two big wheelie cases; not the easiest things to lug about when essentially backpacking. The case of my determined other half, who would not let it die in peace, deserves particular merit as it had a wonky wheel, which fell off every 100 yards requiring me to be permanently on ‘wheel watch’. Quite the little trooper, its zips went and the outer casing started peeling off, but it survived; just.
First time flyers with Wizz Air, we were greeted in Zagreb with weather depressingly similar to what we left in London; a little chilly and less than sunny. Sitting like keen beans at the front of the bus in to the city, we drove through the usual bill-boarded outskirts and arrived in to the central bus station. Here we effortlessly negotiated times and tickets for the next stage to Plitvice from the surprisingly empty main bus terminal. From the outset it was plain to see how efficient the city’s public transport network was and we took great pleasure in being ferried around on the swanky, silent, smooth new trams just as much as the older, creaking wooden ones.
Our hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton, felt a little far out at first but we soon realised just how compact the much under estimated city of Zagreb is. Tourists flock to the shores of Dubrovnik and surrounding islands, often neglecting the more inland, northern parts of the Croatia, which is a grave shame. I suppose it does, of course, depend on what you’re looking for, but we consciously didn’t make the effort to go down that far – that was never in the original ‘schedule’ – as I’d read enough and been suitably convinced of the beauty and interest hiding further up the coast.
It is a funny little place. It almost seems to be wrestling with itself, trying to decide if it wants to become a super modern city or not. The former seems to be winning, with the arrival of polished malls on the outskirts, festivals, exhibitions and a general openness to tourism and growth. We followed a suggested route on the city map, first taking in the cathedral and its beautiful long thin stained glass windows. The cathedral itself appears to be one of those opulently aged buildings destined to be covered in scaffolding, although you don’t lose much when it comes to appreciating its grace and size.
From here we wandered up Ivana Tkalčića, a lively street teaming with prime people-watching cafes and bars. Full of all sorts of interesting sights, this area mixes old and new Zagreb delightfully, from the buildings to the people; it’s a great place to have a rather unsubtle nosey and watch the locals ogling each other and tourists alike.
Channelling some deeply hidden inner fitness, or highlighting the lack thereof, we headed onwards and upwards through the cobbled streets, to St Marks’ Church, which was wonderfully peacefully at dusk. Its large forecourt plays host as a car park to the surrounding government buildings during the day, however when we were there, it was empty and very still.
Not a street away the quiet ambience was rapidly replaced with blaring horns and the cheerful screeches of a wedding party which we curiously navigated round to make it down to the Lotrščak Tower. The simplicity of this ancient tower made it quite the lovely spot to stop and take in the expansive views. With the small cable car that links the city whirring away beside us, we were again given a really good sense of the size and diversity. From the bustling, market filled streets of lower Zagreb, to the more serene, mythical and historical areas of the upper city, where the parties of priests, tourists and residential homes all cohabit peacefully, it really shone as the sun slipped down.
Whatever Zagreb wants to be, it succeeds as a hub of beautiful buildings, oozing with history and a real eclectic mix of the European with just a little something extra thrown in. We formed a comforting, safe attachment to the city and, when we headed off to Plitvice only 24 hours after arriving, felt in some way that we were leaving our home from home.
We must have had a great day, as after we dragged our weary legs on to the tram home, polished off some wine, munched on some fine cheese and bread, 9.30pm found us and put us straight to sleep.