Why is it that we always find other places more interesting than the ones we live in? I've been living in Zagreb for 25 years, I do love this city, I do find it beautiful, and yet I've never written about it here, in this space that I created. I wanted to though, it just never was the perfect moment. And so it happened that I'm writing about Zagreb for another online space, thinking why wouldn't I want to share all my favorite places and hidden corners here with my readers?
I've managed to catch one sunny day last month (and it was a very, very gloomy month), and I ended up with a nice collection of sunny photos that, (even though January is a proper winter month in Croatia), are letting in the possibilty that spring is just around the corner. And for me, that is one of the very best moments of the year.
Most of the travelers to Zagreb probably read everything there is to know about museums, monuments, restaurants and hostels. I am not going to provide here a full itinerary of things to see and do, I just wanted to share my special places, the ones I think a slow traveler might appreciate.
Let's start with the Dolac Market, my main go-to place in the city center. Most of the time I'm heading to the center just because I wan't to buy my groceries there, everything else seems like an unworthy replacement. Ever since its opening in the thirties, it is regularly frequented by the locals, and understandably so. You can find everything there- fruits and vegetables galore, spices, free range eggs, cheese and pasta, Adriatic fish and Dalmatian olive oil, flowers and candles, and even a nice wicker basket- should you find it necessary. Many people like to drink their morning coffee there, grab a burek or cevapcici for lunch, and some of those venues even take care of the night owls, providing greasy dishes with a glass of water in the wee hours.
On a beautiful day, you might want to take a stroll in the green Zrinjevac park, just a couple of minutes walk from the main square. I love it in the winter, when it shines in all those festive lights, I love it in the spring because of the flowers and the bright greenery, and I especially love it in the summer when the giant crowns of the platanus trees offer a much needed shade and refreshment.
First time visitors to Zagreb might want to bring something home, a gift perhaps, and when they're done shopping traditional Croatian souvenirs (I recommend a box of Bajadera pralines!), there are some interesting shops I like to frequent. Harissa spice store opened a couple of years ago, and made life a bit easier to all the Zagreb foodies. It wasn't as simple to find exotic spices and teas before, and it wasn't as simple to buy a nice present that everyone would like, as it is now. The shop smells heavenly and it is really hard not to buy anything there, even if you just came to 'look around'.
The shop I discovered lately, called Sto Citas? (What are you reading?) is a quirky little place that sells second-hand books and my new favorite brand of natural cosmetic. You can find something to read either in Croatian or English (usually it is not that easy to find used books in English in Zagreb), or buy the nicest smelling soap or cream in all of Zagreb. A company from Dalmatia called Sapunoteka produces them out of local olive oil and pure essential oils, the products are not tested on animals, and the preservatives that they use are allowed in the organic cosmetic industry. Sounds good, right?
If you want to treat yourself with something both esentially Croatian and chic, then head to one of the Borovo shoe stores. Their funky sneakers called Startas made a name for themselves even outside Croatia in the last few years, and quite deservably so. Startas sneakers were first produced in the seventies, and I remember my dad wearing them as a sport shoe in the eighties. As I recall it, they were mostly plain white or blue back then. A couple of years ago, young designers took over the fabric prints- nowadays you can choose between original monochrome or the colorful printed Startas. They are hand made out of natural rubber and cotton, very comfy to wear, and they're produced by one of the rare industries that survived the ninenties in Croatia. I love to support them.
My favorite (not so secret anymore) retreat in the center is the Dezman passage. Couple of years ago it was just another almost forgotten space in the center, and now it became the hippest place around. I don't remember who opened first, but it went something like this: one of the most creative florists and artists from Zagreb opened his beautiful gallery/flower shop there (his flower installations are exhibited in giant shopwindows for the passers-by to enjoy). Then (or before) a nice bar and niche perfume shop opened in front of it; antique bookstore and a very old school photo studio were already there. The street started to awaken, a couple of trendy (but cozy!) bars and designer stores appeared, the old Kino Tuskanac started to have regular program, and a burger place opened just in front of the cinema.
I love to drink my cup of tea (or sparkling wine if its summer) in Velvet Cafe. It is co-owned and designed by the same florist from the beggining of our story, so you can imagine that it is one of the most beautiful bars in Zagreb. Chic drawings on the walls, seasonal flowers and plants, star shaped lights, little biscuits that come with tea and a nice sellection of magazines create a beautiful atmosphere. On top of that, the bar is a free reading zone (you can log in to their network and read an online book, how cool is that?), and the cakes that they serve are delicious.
If you are a movie fan, like I am, you might want to spend an evening in Kino Europa. This beautiful cinema hall was built in the thirties and is today a protected monument. It plays mostly non-Hollywood movies, and is a perfect place to watch not so easily accesible European movies. It hosts main program of Zagreb Film Festival (that keeps gaining more and more popularity each year), but one of the coolest programs that take place there is the collaboration with Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra, where musicians play live music to silent films. The cinema bar is a cozy place with antique colorful chairs and the best popcorn you can find in Zagreb. Oh, and all the movies are played in original language, as we Croatians, quite coveniently, don't syncronize anything.
If you decide to visit Zagreb, try doing it on a slow pace. It is small enough that it doesn't require frantic running between museums and sights, but instead enables you to experience it like a local. Have a long lunch or coffee break, sit in the park, watch a movie, go to a concert. Those kind of things take you closer to a city, and those are the things you'll remember most.
Have you ever been to Zagreb? I'm curious to find out what you liked the most!