Since I began to take a more serious interest in travel the word Croatia has always conjured up images of sun, sandy beaches and clear blue seas overlooked by stunning towns (beforehand the nation was synonymous with Luka Modric and one of the most beautiful football kits I’ve ever seen). With this in mind it came as no surprise to me that I found myself splashing around while in the country interrailing. Sadly it was pouring with rain and I’d just been splashed by a car speeding through a puddle.
This little mishap occurred on my first day in Zagreb, the capital city. Having dressed in Ljubljana that morning where it was dry and threatening to be another beautiful day, naturally I didn’t dress with water sports in mind. The grey skies loomed on arrival at the railway station but muggins here had no cash with him. My advance planning for the trip made sure the hotel I booked was within walking distance from the station but didn’t allow for the fact that it isn’t always sunny. Even in Philadelphia.
For a fleeting second I contemplated employing a tactic I had seen used by a man who loitered outside Norwich railway station when I lived there. Every time I went to the station he would be asking for £1.40 for the train home to Dereham. When I paid a visit to the city a few years later the poor boy still hadn’t managed to piece together enough change as he was still there asking for money, although inflation had put the price up. My main issue here would be that I can’t speak Croatian and I imagine a train from Zagreb to Dereham would cost a pretty penny. There was only one thing for it, so I put my best foot forward and began trudging towards my accommodation.
The thought of train travel through Europe evokes romantic thoughts, something out of a James Bond novel (or film if that’s your poison) but it was more James Pond as I stepped into the foyer of the hotel fighting the compulsion to shake myself dry like a shaggy dog that had been for a dip. Naturally to compound the onsetting misery which could have also been hypothermia, my room wasn’t ready. “Do you expect me to walk around soaking wet all day?” I asked the receptionist. “No, mister Bond, I expect you to dry,” she replied throwing me the fluffy white towel that had been sitting on her lap. This exchange may not have happened but give me some poetic licence as I was soaking wet.
Soggy but undeterred I headed for the most appropriate location I could think of on a rainy day, The Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum houses a variety of items symbolising heartbreak from the simple to the strange, all of which come with a story from the person who donated them. Whether or not it was due to the atmosphere outside the collection made for sombre viewing, albeit with a moment of levity or two also thrown in for good measure. The exhibit that stuck with me was the door of a 22-year-old man who had died on which his friends had written tributes and memories. To think of the heartbreak and grief that had gone into those messages was truly sad despite the fact that I had no knowledge of the man who had passed away. The door being exhibited in the museum is a touching nod to the fact that friendship is incredibly important.
Sustenance was sought at an establishment called Submarine Burger. I had to keep the day’s theme on trend and therefore also shoehorn that little nugget into this post. I’m not intending to log every meal I eat on my travels. The food was good though and I retreated to the hotel in anticipation of a trip to Plitvice National Park early the following morning.
“The bus is fully booked.” Yet again I was soaked and a spanner had been thrown into my plans. This time I was sweating profusely and it was only nine in the morning. The day ahead was going to be a hot one, ideal for being outside. In a national park. “There is a seat tomorrow at eight.” The day trip to Plitvice had been deferred by 24 hours it seemed. It was time to go and explore Zagreb in depth.
It is possible to navigate the city on foot however it is best to do so at a leisurely pace. I’ve never been one for walking tours, perhaps that is down to me being anti-social but I like to have the element of surprise wandering freely with the safety net of my phone’s GPS to rescue me if I ramble too far off grid. Less efficient without a doubt but it fires up my inner Bear Grylls. My first port of call was St Mark’s Church (as seen at the top of this post). The church is probably the poster image of Zagreb to many people, the roof featuring the checked red and white pattern which is a well known feature of the national team’s football jerseys. I had passed by the previous day but bathed in sunlight the place really came to life and I could spend a little longer admiring the architecture. That admiration stretched to my next port of call and incidentally, another religious building, Zagreb Cathedral. I don’t profess to be a deeply religious person but they sure know how to build a place of worship.
My next stop is a place many people worship. McDonald’s. Yes, two burgers in two days I know. In my defence I was drawn in by the menu outside advertising the “BBQ Ben.” I’m having some of that for obvious reasons, to send a picture on the group chat to the boys and post on Instagram. So naturally the BBQ Ben doesn’t have its own flashy box, raining on my parade again. It was a good burger though. Remember what I said about not documenting every meal I ate?
Almost directly opposite McDonald’s was what appeared to be a sports shop adorned in the colours of the national football team. Naturally I had to go take a look. It turned out to be a museum documenting the team’s history. Even better, it was free. Childhood memories of the exotic sounding country with the cool kit from my childhood tournaments of Euro 96 and the 1998 World Cup came flooding back, as did a tinge of sadness seeing the displays from the 2018 World Cup in which England lost in the semi-final to Croatia who eventually finished runners-up. My inner geek won the day however when standing face to face with memorabilia worn by former Tottenham players Vedran Corluka and Luka Modric at the World Cup.
The rest of the afternoon was spent lazily wandering around Dolac Market buying souvenirs to take home (everyone loves a fridge magnet) before settling down at an outside table of a bar to quench my thirst with a few Oluzjko beers and watch life unfold around me in the market for a couple of hours. From this point it was time to grab some dinner, which I won’t tell you about as promised before another early night, safe in the knowledge at least that this time I would indeed be travelling to Plitvice the following day.
Zagreb is a lovely city, one that can be seen quite comprehensively given a couple of days to explore at leisure. It offers a nice slice of Croatian culture despite perhaps not being as popular a spot for tourists as coastal resorts such as Dubrovnik and the islands. It is also well located to make a trip to the stunning Plitvice National Park, but that is a story for another post. My next post in fact. No spoilers here!