Zagreb has my heart. How did this happen? I was here for three months three years ago, and now, having returned, I do not want to leave. After the glamour and order of Vienna, Zagreb initially felt dingy. There are cracked and broken sidewalks, potholed streets, many closed up shops, graffiti (not the Bansky kind of street art) scrawled on buildings, buildings that seriously need bits of them to be repaired and restored. I hadn’t remembered this aspect of Zagreb. The grey, even shabby side. I had remembered this:
But after a week I was in love. In love with the streets, the café life, the slow pace of the pedestrian sidewalk waltz, the innate civility of the courtesies and greetings strangers show one another.
How to fall in love with a city:
- Rent an apartment. Pretend you live there, and eventually you will begin to refer to the apartment as home and begin to long for one of your own.
- Shop at the markets and the local stores. Okay, we do shop at supermarkets, but we shop in our neighbourhood. We smile at the ladies at the cash desk, and we say thank you a lot.
- Learn the words for the simple politenesses, the please and thank you but also how to say good morning. Learn how to order your coffee as you like it in Croatian.
- Walk it. Our host and new friend Andrea has written a “Walking Manifesto” that beautifully expresses why walking matters. Please read her blog.
- Walk in green spaces. Zagreb is remarkably green. There are grand boulevards that include park spaces, such as Zrinivac; there are the Botanical Gardens and other large parks ; there are green spaces above the city; there is a mountain behind the city that you can hike up (we did part of it on the day we went to Medvedgrad from Sestine). Look at the gorgeous flowerbeds that are everywhere, and admire the trees and bushes that dot the streetscape. Right now fruit trees are in blossom. Heavenly.
- Eat. Seriously. And also eat seriously. Eat the local food. In season and prepared as it comes, with all the sauces and toppings and side dishes that usually attend particular dishes: fish with potatoes and swiss chard; slow cooked veal in a rich sweet/sour sauce with dumplings; chevapi (spiced ground meat fingers) with raw onions and a sauce that is a cross between fresh cheese and sour cream). Eat street food, especially burek (phyllo pastry stuffed with meat, ricotta-type cheese, potatoes and onions, spinach, or fruits). Drink Croatian wines, Croatian beers, and Croatian brandies. You can’t get them in Canada.
- Look up and look to the side. There are many open doors and open gates in this city. There are courtyards and passageways. Follow them. Stick your nose in the spaces that beckon. You will find treasures. Including a local craft beer garden where you can sip your excellent pint on a sunny day.
- Drink coffee at cafes and frequently. One of the things that drives me nuts in Vienna is the price of a coffee. Four euros! Ridiculous! In Croatia coffee is just as good and one third of the price. But coffee drinking is not just about the coffee; it’s a way of life here.
Yesterday I also had the great honour of teaching a class to undergraduate students at the University of Zagreb. I felt at home.