What enters your mind when you think of Croatia? For many of you, it will be Game of Thrones. For others, it will be crystal clear waters and pebble beaches. Still others will conjure images of Roman ruins and excellent wine. When I think about Croatia, my mind returns to my last visit here nine years ago. I was young, adventurous, and broke. But I made some lifelong friends, ate more pizza than anyone should, and always longed to return.
One blessing in disguise after changing our itinerary was the opportunity to spend some time in this lovely country. I read an article which proclaimed that Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, was the latest up-and-coming European hot spot. How could we resist?
As it turns out, Zagreb is already happening and quite well-known. We’ve seen more backpackers here in 10 days than we did in Romania, Greece, and Spain combined! And yet, the city has remained fresh and welcoming. It has not yet been overrun. You can still stroll down side streets and not see a soul. You’ll still hear a lot of Croatian as you wander from museum to church to grand square. And you’ll still feel like you’re discovering a hidden gem when you stumble upon a small, charming wine and beer shop one afternoon.
The trick seems to be an affinity for wandering and an acceptance of the unexpected. The Museum of Broken Relationships is full for the next hour? We’ll come back at a quieter time (more on that later). Don’t know what to do after brunch at Otto and Frank? Close your eyes and drop your finger on a map of Zagreb’s dozens of museums. Discover that half the restaurants in the city are closed for the first two weeks of August? Walk a bit more and find something that’s open. If you go with the flow, Zagreb will be your oyster.
And there are so many things to see simply by walking by or through them. The main, open-air Dolac market is a sight to behold – you’ve never seen so many red striped umbrellas in your life outside of a beach! The beautiful, garden-like parks that dot the city are perfect for sitting, strolling, or catching a bit of spontaneous live music. Warm and colorful, the architecture wraps around you like a sunny hug on a summer day. The old and the new blend seamlessly, and a large, graffiti-covered abandoned building sits comfortably across a square from an elegant, spotless church.
You never know what you’ll discover. Perhaps it’ll be a railing laden with locks overlooking the old town and the Cathedral of the Assumption. Maybe you’ll come across a hidden bistro down a tiny alley and nestled behind tall buildings. On the way to a museum, you’ll see a pair of noble black Fresian horses outside a colorfully decorated church. One night you’ll enjoy cheap but delicious pizza and wine at a restaurant underneath a hostel. And you’ll befriend your server who proceeds to give you excellent recommendations as to where to buy that wine for half the price. A little bit of magic goes a long way, and there’s lots to uncover here.