June 22, Day 4: As we depart Zagreb, I thought I’d share a few impressions of the city and people, art, architecture, food, and coffee culture.
Local, Clean, and Green
Zagreb is smaller European capital. Tourists are a steady stream, but not a flood. Consequently, there were more local shops and fewer spendy “luxury goods” stores. The city is “green and clean,” with several friendly parks and almost no trash. Workers in yellow vests and 3-wheeled bikes moved everywhere, picking up even small litter.
Locals dominate the town rather than tourists. Jean and I noticed that few readily make eye contact, and waving at a stranger is rare. When locals do engage, though, they are consistently warm and gracious with their knowledge and a smile. Almost all speak some English, and signs are dual-posted, so it is easy to get by.
Public and Street Art
We did find some interesting art in the streets. Bronze sculptures Nikola Tesla, an unknown rotund man (that’s him on the left), and, as in all European city squares, a man-on-a-horse-with-a-sword (St. George in this case. He must be the patron of every other city in Europe!). My favorite: the statue of Petrica Kerempuh, a sarcastic bard who lived by his wits. It stands, appropriately, in the courtyard of an Irish Pub (yes, Irish pubs exist even here).
The Art Park sports graffiti paintings all around and families out on Sunday with kids in tow, enjoying a beer in the park with friends. Some of the alley graffiti was even more amusing.
We were fortunate to enjoy a music fair one evening. There was a great blues band (but poor pics by the photographer). This young lady and her band rocked!
Mirogoj Cemetery is quite a gem (see feature image at top). The architecture at the entrance is impressive, though much damaged by the March 2020 earthquake. Some tombstones are quite artistic. It is a long hike up the hill to the cemetery, but worth the bit of peace you find there.
In Old Town, the public buildings have their own flair.
The food scene was eclectic. You could eat well and cheaply at the Dolac farmer’s market (bing cherries $1/pound) and from the many bakeries (three sweet rolls, $2). In addition, restaurants proudly serve local specialties like struckli (I liked it with sugar!). We ate at the excellent TheAtrium, and recommend! It is more expensive than most Zagreb restaurants, but reasonable and filling by US standards.
The cafes lining most cobblestone streets fill with locals who linger in lively groups for hours over a single coffee or Jamnica. The coffee culture is vital in the city, coming from three traditions (Ottoman, Italian, Viennese). There is no rush to “turn tables”; locals will savor a single coffee, beer, or spring water for hours, people watching, visiting with friends. To locals, the cafe is their living room.
Coffee culture doesn’t have to be about coffee – it’s about savoring anything, no matter the price, without rush. For example, on our last evening, we sat at a café with a nice bottle of wine. A solo businessman nearby had a three-course dinner. And a table away, two teens on a date spent $2 for sparkling water and added their own powdered Cedevita (Kool-Aide). All of us sat for about two hours, without rush by the waitstaff. Tipping is rare here; at most, it is rounding up a bit on the bill. The service was uniformly excellent. I like the coffee culture!
Zagreb: a “normal” European town, with genuine local culture, little spoiled by tourism. And no assassins to be seen! A great way to start our Croatia journey.