The image I had of Croatia was sun-soaked islands and red tiled roofs jutting out into the Adriatic sea. While some of it lived up to that expectation, for me the best existed in northern Croatia. Zagreb was alive. Within our first day we saw street performers, markets, festivals, and countless rows of large umbrellas with tables filled with cafe patrons meeting up with friends or enjoying the nice weather. Within two weeks, the temperature dropped from 95 to mid 60s. As we dusted off our jeans and long sleeve clothes from the bottoms of our backpacks, autumn sauntered into our trip.
As we stepped off the bus into the city center of Zagreb, I was slightly confused. Baroque style, highly ornamented roofs and facades greeted me. For a moment, I was transported back to Vienna or Salzburg, as it looked quite similar. Croatia had a diverse range of influences throughout its history, and various regions and cities showed it more than others. Much of the coast showcased Italian influence, while northern Croatia displayed Austro-Hungarian influence, all while it encapsulated its own culture.
Hannah and I traversed the Tunel Gric toward Old Town. The tunnel was burrowed beneath the hill of the city and is currently used for pedestrian traffic. Historically, it was used in 1943 for a bomb shelter. More recently, it hosted one of Zagreb’s first raves in the 1990’s. The dark underground tunnel funneled us out into the heart of the Dolic Market. Red topped tents fanned out across the square. The floral smell of Croatian Lavender greeted my nose while my eyes feasted on the diverse color of vibrant red and yellow bell peppers, deep purple eggplants, and amber colored honey. Locals lined up outside the fishmonger where a local vendor explained the prices were both cheap and high quality. The twin spires of Zagreb cathedral protectively loomed in the background.
All our exploring called for a delicious meal. We ate at the same Indian restaurant, Bombay Grill, more times than we should admit. Early in the trip, Hannah and I tried to make a pact to not eat at repeat restaurants and expose ourselves to as many flavors and experiences as possible. This was hopeful thinking. After striking out a number of times on a limited budget, we decided that if a particular place had great taste and value, it was fine to repeat the experience. We sampled honey chili fried cauliflower and mushrooms as well as several different types of curry.
One afternoon Hannah and I went to a local theater and grabbed tickets for Downton Abbey. Having just visited the actual estate used in the film about a month before, we were excited to watch it. The best part was the $5 tickets. The movie was wonderful, and in English with Croatian subtitles. We even splurged a bit and grabbed popcorn and candy, which was also cheap. The remainder of the evening was spent reminiscing over the wonderful parts of the 6 season series and speculating on future movie plots.
Even though Zagreb felt safe and modern, there was one experience that stuck with me. We hiked to the bus station to buy our tickets ahead of time. As we left the station for home, a gaggle of approximately 7 young girls ran past laughing and yelling. We thought nothing of it until roughly 100 yards later when an Asian woman was frantically yelling, “Those girls stole my money, they stole all my money!” She was gesturing desperately in our direction where the girls had just run. Hannah and I just kept walking and talked about how the kids seemed innocent and just being kids, but it hit close enough to home that we protected our pockets even more vigilantly.