I’m uploading this from Kotor in Montenegro, where the hostel is insisting on playing endless remixes of Gangnam Style. The recent Ghostbusters mash up is perhaps the last straw… Relatively short post this time on why I think travellers should give Zagreb a chance rather than bypassing it or just using it as a place to change trains.
Of the many countries emerging from the ruins of ex Yugoslavia, Croatia has perhaps done the most to get itself back on the tourist trail. Backpackers, professionals, families and retirees alike visit it’s long coastline and Aegean islands with the particular highlights of Split and Dubrovnik. Mention Zagreb to many travellers though and you tend to either draw blank faces or a quick acknowledgement that they will be there for an afternoon, and sometimes even a night, before catching a bus or train to their next destination.
Zagreb seems to be stuck playing bridesmaid to its coastal cities, and this seems really unfair, because Zagreb is actually a surprisingly tourist friendly city, with plenty of touristy activities as well as opportunities to just absorb the local atmosphere. And of course it has a tremendous advantage against its coastal cousins. Its several hundred miles inland and therefore there is a complete absence of cruise ships…
It is also one of the greenest, pleasantest cities I’ve yet visited. I understand that the financial crisis of recent years have hit the Croats hard, and that salaries can often been late and budgets are having to be cut. One thing that doesn’t seem to be getting cut though is the flower arranging budget….
Not content with having huge green public squares outside the main train station (all of which are covered by free wi-fi, apparently recently brought in following an election pledge from the city’s mayor) and not content with having a botanical garden just next door, and a large park and zoo off to the east of the city by Dynamo Zagreb’s stadium, the authorities seem to have taken every opportunity to stick in patches of green here and there, by buildings and traffic islands, and to fill them full of a kaleidoscope of flowers of different colours.
In a previous post I commented that Ljubljana is the most laid back and chilled out city I’ve yet been too. This remains the case, Zagreb has a sense of hustle and bustle that I failed to spot in my short time in Slovenia’s capital, but what Zagreb does have going for it is just the sheer number of places available to chill out and get away from it all. Capital city and countryside seemingly mashed into one. The cities enormous Mirogoj Graveyard (located behind a hospital – unsure if this is co-incidence of efficient communist era city planning) is another example of a quite space given over to the sounds of nature and mourners crunching gravel underfoot. Covering all religions its the final resting place for literally 1,000’s of souls.
But the greenery on its own isn’t going to attract the tourists so lets see if I can’t sell it a bit more. Infrastructure for tourism is apparent throughout the city. Transport is easy with a large tram network if that sort of thing turns you on. There are also a large number of museums and galleries and interesting buildings to wander around and see, with large bilingual signs seemingly every block pointing to their locations.
From looking at these signs it seems apparent that Zagreb has many museums, but if you are only going to visit one (as I did – museum fatigue already starting to set in!) then it has to be Zagreb’s quirky, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking, Museum of Broken Relationships. A collection of mementos from failed and past relationships, ranging from the comic – a large stuffed caterpillar from a couple in a long distance relationship who tore legs off each time they met, a toaster taking in spite by a departing partner “how are you going to toast things now), to the frankly distressing, such as a mothers suicide note. It’s a cool museum that’ll make a much better topic of conversation when you get back than querying why Dubrovnik needs quite that many souvenir shops all seemingly selling the same things….
It’s also much cheaper, with accommodation and food significantly less on than on the coast where prices mean you might as well be back in western europe. There is the slight downside that the local beer is a bit crap but its the same as for coastal Croatia. And did I mention it was cheap?