zagreb, croatia

We visited Zagreb for two days at the end of our Christmas and New Year's trip around central Europe.  Our trip began in Munich, continued on to Salzburg, Ljubljana, and then to Zagreb, and from there we spent another few days in Munich before heading back to Madrid.  Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, and it was our first time in both the city and the country, so although we didn't get lots of time in either, we were excited!  

We arrived around noon on New Year's Eve, and after checking in to our Airbnb and buying some provisions for the evening and the next morning (we weren't sure how many things would be open on New Year's Day), we got started exploring the city. 

One of our first stops was in Kaptol Square, at Zagreb Cathedral, the tallest building in Croatia. While a cathedral has been in Kaptol Square since the 11th-century, the church as it is seen today was finished in 1906.  Afterward, we enjoyed walking through the streets of the Upper Town, including the colorful and popular Tkalčićeva Street.  The Upper Town area of Zagreb includes Kaptol Square, Zagreb Cathedral, restaurants, cafes, the Zagreb City Museum, the Museum of Broken Relationships (which we visited later on!), and St. Mark's Church.  St. Mark's, while intimate and cozy on the inside, but by no means large, is the most popular church in Zagreb.  Its colorfully tiled roof shows off the Croatian, Dalmatian, and Slavic coats of arms, as well as Zagreb's city emblem, and reminded us a little of our visit to Vienna and St. Stephen's Cathedral. 

D - Not to mention that it's also a bit reminiscent of the Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain.  It's always nice to see something a bit different in these old European churches that can really bleed together in retrospect.  

Our final stop in the Upper Town was at Klovicevim Dvorima, a Christmas market housed behind an art gallery with stalls, photo ops, and great views of the city.  Speaking of Christmas markets, Zagreb has been named the city with the best Christmas markets in Europe for the third year in a row, a fact I found while planning our trip, and something that helped influence our decision to go there.  I had high hopes for what we'd find in terms of food and festive spirit but felt kind of let down - the markets were certainly extensive, no doubt, but the food offerings didn't seem irresistible, so since most stalls didn't accept credit cards, we didn't actually try anything (Croatia was the only place we traveled on our trip that doesn't use the euro, and we were able to get by without having to exchange money, so that was a bonus).  

D - While Shannon may not have been too enticed by the food at the markets, I certainly was!  I think I can safely say that the markets in Croatia had more sausages than anywhere else we've ever been!  Even than Berlin and Munich!  I really had to put on my maturity pants (not to be confused with maternity pants - which I sometimes wish I had when I do get to eat) to avoid letting my hungry eyes and stomach spoil our time (which they almost did anyway).   

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In the Lower Town, we took a look around Ban Jelačić Square, Zagreb's central square that was mostly taken over by one of the city's Christmas markets during our visit.  We also walked through Marić Passage, which I believe is nothing more than a shortcut between buildings for the majority of the year, but at Christmastime is lit up with countless tiny LED lights and becomes a fun place to walk through (if you're already in the area).

We weren't sure what exactly we'd find at Heritage, a Croatian street food restaurant and shop, as it's both the #1 rated restaurant in Zagreb on Trip Advisor and known for being really reasonably priced and centrally located.  With all that said, I figured it would be packed, or even that they would be closed given that it was New Year's Eve, but when we arrived we were the only people there, so we happily selected several different dishes from the menu - especially when we realized just how well the Croatian kuna converted to euros!  When our food was brought to us, our server told us about its origins within Croatia, showing us on the map hanging on the wall where all the ingredients were grown, making the experience really unique and meaningful.  This was not only one of the cheapest meals we had but also one of the most educational and interesting - not to mention tasty!  I guess all those people who've left reviews were onto something! ;)

D - Because we skipped lunch that day (not a totally uncommon occurrence for us while traveling) and I had been denied the privilege of eating at food stall after food stall after food stall because of our lack of local currency, I was in a pretty foul mood by the time we arrived at Heritage.  I just wanted to stuff a cornucopia of food in my mouth, and one look at their menu told me that this was a restaurant that specialized in small quantities, sort of like Croatian tapas.  I tried to put on a brave face and put my tribulations in perspective (because, I mean, c'mon), and when the food came out it was glorious.  Seriously, because of the quality of the food, along with everything Shannon already mentioned, it was one of the best meals I've ever had.  

We finished our evening with a walk to Park Zrinjevac, where we walked through more markets (lots more markets!  No one can say Zagreb doesn't have loads of Christmas markets!), including some really impressive food stalls when we got close to the ice skating rink.  We were tempted by a few of the food offerings there, but since we'd just eaten quite well...we decided to hold out.  The ice skating rink was also seriously impressive.  It's not just a rink, but also a track with multiple different places to skate, areas on the outside to watch and get a drink, plus fun music and moving lights.  I'm never really tempted to ice skate when we come upon a rink, but have no problem standing and watching for a minute or thirty.

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We debated whether or not we'd stay up until midnight as we weren't sure what exactly we were going to get up to the next day and what time we'd have to be up, but Danny had a bit of work to finish up and we'd bought a few snacks at the grocery store before it closed earlier in the day, so we enjoyed some cheese, dates, and clementines in bed as we tried to catch some fireworks and New Year's celebrations around the world before going to sleep just after midnight.  

D - It wasn't really a glamorous New Year's Eve (one of these days I need to go to a fancy shindig so I can wear a tux and act like James Bond), but it was nice regardless.  Considering we had heard fireworks going off all throughout our day in Zagreb, even before it got dark, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that people were shooting them off till at least two in the morning, and let me tell you - it was loud.  It sounded like we were in the middle of a war zone (or at least what I can intuit a war zone might sound like based on the movies) and I've decided that anybody who shoots fireworks off on New Year's past 12:10 AM is stupid.  The end.  Note to self: next time you go to a major European city for New Year's Eve, bring ear muffs, an ambient noise machine, and soundproofing insulation for your bedroom.  

We spent New Year's Day on a day trip to the town of Varazdin, and then the next day, before taking an eight-hour bus ride to Munich, we visited the Museum of Broken Relationships.  Now, I know this sounds like a peculiar place to visit on the day before your fifth wedding anniversary...but we really enjoyed it!  The museum has collected personal items from former lovers and a brief synopsis to go along with each one.  Toasters, key rings, irons, plush toys, really, you name it, random objects that were meaningful to people at one point have been sent into the museum from around the world and are now displayed for all to see.  Check it out if you've got 45-60 minutes to spare while in the Upper Town for something a little out of the ordinary.

In short, our day (half-day, really) in Zagreb was good.  We were able to see everything on our list, try out the number one restaurant in town (we've certainly never done something like that before!) and celebrate New Year's in a new country (the 26th for both of us)!  Zagreb was easy to navigate, had some really pretty parts, and some extensive Christmas markets.  I think we've seen what we want to in Zagreb, but one thing's for sure - we've got lots more we'd like to see in Croatia!