Zagreb, Croatia

Though we’re only five days into our Croatian road trip, I think it’s safe to say that this country is an absolute gem. In terms of square mileage, Croatia is about the same size as New Jersey — but with only half the population. Views of the Adriatic Sea from the coast are very similar to those I associate with Greece: rocky, white-washed beaches give way to vast stretches of cerulean blue water. In terms of cuisine, the Mediterranean “diet” — fish, lamb, cheese, olive oil, wine — is dominant in Croatia. It’s pretty much the greatest.

Suffice it to say that Jeff and I are VERY happy here! We began our tour in Zagreb, both the capital and the largest city in Croatia. Continuing with my United States comparison, and assuming Wikipedia isn’t leading me astray, Zagreb has about half the population of Pittsburgh. So it’s pretty small and very walk-able, not to mention a logical first stop.

Unfortunately, Zagreb got hit with some pretty dreary weather during our visit. Our first half day was nice, but it rained nonstop for the following 36 hours.

Zagreb main square and cathedral aerial view
Zagreb’s city center (I lifted this photo from the internet — our weather wasn’t so beautiful!)

Not to be deterred by a little rain, Jeff and I set off on a self-guided walking tour. Starting in Zagreb’s central Ban Jelačić Square, we went north through the Dolac Market, taking in the aromas of fresh produce and dried lavender before making our way up several staircases to Zagreb’s upper town. There’s actually a funicular system connecting the lower & upper towns — at 216 ft., it’s one of the shortest funiculars in the world — but we skipped it because we’re cheap not lazy.

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Saint Mark’s Church in Zagreb’s upper town

While in the upper town, we explored the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which, near as we can tell, is kind of the “main event” in Zagreb. This is Jeff’s first time in Europe, so I’m trying to be a good sport about visiting EVERY CATHEDRAL EVER (which Jeff would do, if he had his druthers). It was pretty typical as cathedrals go, if you ask me.

Next, we found the tiny Museum of Broken Relationships (I say “found” because we walked past it twice before locating it). Both the internet and my guidebook consider this museum an absolute must in Zagreb, so we gave it a go even though it sounded kind of depressing. Basically, it’s a collection of objects that people donated to the museum coupled with stories or anecdotes about what role the object played in a failed relationship (or what it represented, etc.). I actually found the museum very interesting — each of the objects on display was imbued with deeply personal meaning by their (anonymous) former owners.

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Photos of the exhibits were a no-no, but I did get a snap of this clever sign at the Museum of Broken Relationships

After being immersed in all of those broken relationships, we felt like we needed a drink! So we ducked into Zagreb’s oldest pub — Pod Starim Krovovima — for a quick libation. Much to our surprise, smoking inside restaurants and bars is still very much the norm in Croatia, and this pub was very smoky. We were told to be on the lookout for famous artists, writers, and the like at this particular pub, but there were definitely none to be seen (unless said famous people are masquerading as gaudily dressed Eastern European tourists!).

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A boy and his pint in Zagreb’s upper town

We continued back down to the lower town to partake of Zagreb’s famous “coffee culture.” Several streets near Zagreb’s main square are closed to vehicles, so cafes have open seating in the street which great for people-watching. Later on, Jeff picked out a vegetarian restaurant for dinner (because he is a prince) called Zrno Bio Bistro, and it was very good.

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A rainy day in Zagreb…

We woke up the next day to the sound of rain, and that rain continued for the remainder of our 48-hour stay in Zagreb. We had planned to participate in an organized walking tour of the city, but thought better of it and went off to Archaeological Museum of Zagreb instead.

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Archaeological Museum of Zagreb

I won’t bore you with the details of the various collections on display, but the museum had an old elevator — the oldest in Zagreb! — which Jeff particularly enjoyed:

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Nerd alert

With a few more hours to kill, we decided to hit up the Tortureum, which is exactly what it sounds like: a museum featuring replicas of human torture devices used throughout history. I know what you’re thinking…why the hell would you go there? And I have no real answers for you (except that we’re secret sadists? Just kidding). It was creepy and gross and I had a hard time falling asleep that night. Ew.

It was still raining in Zagreb the following day when we went to pick up our rental car and zip out of town. All in all, I enjoyed Zagreb but would recommend spending no more than two days there (as we did). We’ve heard that Zagreb is stunning at Christmas, so if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll make it back during the winter holidays somewhere down the line…until then, onto the coast!

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