I was told that I should skip Zagreb and just hit the coast of Croatia, but for a few reasons decided against this. Firstly, in December the Croatian coast is not really at it’s best, and while I’m sure it would still be beautiful I’d find it a little depressing to go down such an amazing coastline and it be too cold to swim. Secondly, Croatia is expensive so I wanted to limit my time there. Thirdly, I wanted to see more of Croatia than just Dubrovnik, and I’d heard there was a strange museum in Zagreb and wanted to visit it. Plus I could make it ‘on the way’ from Novi Sad in Serbia to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Despite that Zagreb [and Croatia in general] was crazy expensive compared to the last few I’d visited [Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania] I found it to be a more interesting city than expected. It was the first capital city I’d come across in Europe to not have a free walking tour on offer [boy did that come as a surprise! I was a little taken aback. What do you mean, you don’t have a free walking tour? What is this! That was all going through my head at least – evidence that travelling in Europe, even the eastern part, has spoiled me!] but they have a great little book about the city that has a walking tour in it and information about the sights. It takes a couple of hours to walk both the upper and lower towns, and more if like me you like to stop, look at things, go in places, buy burek at the market and so on.
However, I didn’t do this my first day. My first day, I did a lot of sleeping. I hadn’t got a lot of sleep on the bus from Novi Sad, and it arrived in Zagreb earlier than anticipated. The hostel wouldn’t open until 7am and I got to the main square, in the freezing cold, just after 6am. Nothing was open aside from a little bakery, not even McDonalds [which had been my warm-place-to-wait plan], so I just bought some kind of burek related cheese filled pastry and sat, alone and cold, on a bench in the square until just before seven. When I got there, they checked me in straight away and gave me a bed and my plans of sleeping until 10am kind of changed when I didn’t wake up until almost two! Clearly I had some sleep to catch up on. When I got up it was pouring with rain and so I felt a little less guilty about ‘wasting’ a day in bed.
I did decide that leaving the hostel and doing something was probably a good idea, and given the weather thought I’d visit some museums. So, I headed in the direction of a couple of museums only to find them closed. This meant that it was Monday. It’s sad that I need to be locked out of museums to figure out what day it is. However, the museum I was most interested in was still open, so it wasn’t a total loss.
This was the Museum of Broken Relationships. It’s a very strange museum in that all the items on display have been donated by regular people from around the world, along with a story about the item and the associated broken relationship. The museum has a huge collection and tours worldwide, and only a small selection of objects is on display in Zagreb. What’s on show ranges from old shoes, stuffed toys and poems to a bicycle, a wedding album, a candy g-string and more. Anyone can make a donation to the museum. It was depressing, reassuring, inspiring and entertaining at the same time. The attached stories ranged from hilarious to heartbreaking and it was a museum definitely worth visiting.
My second day was dedicated to walking around the city and seeing the sights. I walked up to the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a massive church around the corner and up the hill from Trg Ban Jelacic – the main square. It looked as though they were preparing to set up a nativity scene out the front for Christmas, but they’d only got the shelters up and nothing else. The typical gothic-style cathedral was pretty, with intricate carvings around the entrance.
What I liked best though were the golden statues of Mary and the Archangels in front of the cathedral.
I wandered through the Dolac Market, a local farmer’s market where each day stalls piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables pop up. Around the open market are many butchers, delicatessens, and stores selling cheeses. There are a few little souvenir stands that appear, but it’s only really a token effort in that regard.
Heading through the Stone Gate, which holds a shrine complete with plaques, pews and candles, I walked up to St. Mark’s Church. The church seemed to be closed so I admired it only from the outside – the building itself wasn’t overly exciting but the roof was another story. It’s colourfully tiled with the Croatian, Dalmation and Slavonian coats of arms, and I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before!
I visited the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, and I have to say that it was one of the most interesting art galleries I’ve been to. I didn’t know much about naive art and had been drawn in by the posters out the front. I found it amazing. The paintings, some on wood and some on glass, reminded me of some of the beautifully illustrated books of my childhood – they had that innocent feel to them. The one exception to that would have to be the zombie Jesus. Now, I am aware that he’s not meant to look like a zombie but the grotesque styling makes me unable to think of that painting as anything other than Zombie Jesus.
I really loved the paintings of Ivan Generalić. Here’s an example from the museum’s website:
After the Naive Art museum I vaguely followed the suggested walking tour route, seeing lots of old buildings, churches, parks and so on. It was a pleasant walk, and I enjoyed just wandering. I didn’t feel like visiting any other museums and even walked past the ethnographic museum without entering! I was also trying to stick to my budget and decided to sacrifice a few museums in favour of a few bottles of cider. I was pleased with that decision.
I finished back at Trg Ban Jelacic, and bought myself some fritules – fat little things like doughnuts, covered in sugar and chocolate sauce – before checking out the small Christmas market that winds through the streets off the square.
That evening, I bought myself a box of hot chips for dinner [they were cheap and I’d already had two lots of burek that day] and settled on a bench in the square to eat them while enjoying the Christmas lights. Suddenly there was a crowd and I could hear singing – it turned out there was a bit of a concert happening, with groups performing Christmas carols and so forth. While I was there it was a big group of children, all dressed up and singing a few different carols. I got to listen to Jingle Bells in Croatian, as well as ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ and ‘Feliz Navidad’ sung by a bunch of ten year olds. It was surprisingly nice, and made me realise that Christmas really was coming up!