Travel – Zagreb, Croatia
Last month, we visited the beautiful countries of Croatia and Montenegro followed by stops in Santorini and Athens. So, over the coming weeks, I will be updating the blog with our latest travels. To kick it off, here is the first installment.
It is clear from the onset that Zagreb just doesn’t have the celebrity status of Dubrovnik or even Split. Missing out on the coastal views of the Adriatic Sea, there may not seem to be much to write home about. And yet, digging deeper, that is not the case at all. There are in fact enough sights here to make it worth a visit. So, without wanting to overlook it (and our flight connections gave us the opportunity), we spent almost a day here and took in as much as we could. As the capital of Croatia and also its largest city, we didn’t quite know what to expect. So, after dropping our bags off at the Hotel, we got a walking map and literally hit the road. (Sometimes, that’s the best way to battle jet lag.)
In less than ten minutes, we came to Zrinjevac. This beautiful park is set in the middle of the city. Used to be a meadow where cattle markets take place, it is now one of the most popular parks in Zagreb. With couples and families enjoying the summer sun, our winter blues immediately melted away and we thought what a great way to start our trip.
From here it was then only a short walk to Ban Jelacic Square. This is the heart of downtown shopping with plenty of cafes, restaurants, shops and seemingly everyone in Zagreb on a Friday afternoon. Right in the middle of the square is also the statue of Ban Jelacic himself on a horse with his sword pointing straight ahead. He used to point North but now points South. (As you can see, it would be just weird to have him pointing at the buildings!).
Walking North then past Ban Jelacic, we had hoped to browse Dolac Market, Zagreb’s colourful open air market. Known also as the “belly of Zagreb”, it’s also a good place to find local foodstuffs. But it was already late by the time we got there and only empty stalls greeted us. Not to be deterred, we made a right turn and headed towards the soaring twin spires of Zagreb’s Cathedral. With origins in the 11th century, its one of the few cathedral’s we know that has defensive walls. These defences were built in 1521 when the threat of the Ottoman Turks were at its height. Today, these walls are one of the best preserved examples of Renaissance defences in Europe.
Then we got a bit lost in our walk (which is completely normal for us) but fortune smiled upon us and we found ourselves in Tkalciceva! This is a pedestrian only street that are lined with cafes and shops on either side. We certainly wished we could have stopped here and enjoyed a drink but with time quickly slipping away from us, an ice cream stop was all we could afford. We then tackled the many steps leading to Upper Town. There’s more than one way to get to the thousand-year old Gornji grad (Upper Town). I don’t know why we ended up with the steps but if you do not want to run out of puff, my suggestion would be the uspinjaca.
This is the shortest funicular railway in the world connecting the Lower Town with the Upper Town. Built in 1888, it predates all public transport systems in Zagreb and even, can you believe this, the horse-drawn tram (by 12 months!!) It is only 66 metres long and the ride takes a mere 55 seconds. So, definitely a recommended alternative to steps.
After, the challenging hike, we eventually came to the colourfully tiled roof of St Marks church in Upper Town. Since we came from the unconventional end, Peter happily snapped away at the wrong end of the church before we finally walked around and “discovered” the more famous side. Featuring the coat of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, it is one of the most iconic sights in Zagreb. Also here in St Marks Square is the Presidential Palace and Sabor, the Croatian Parliament. (It was here in 1991 that Croatia voted to sever political ties with Yugoslavia).
Not far from here is the Stone Gate, the only surviving town gate from the 13th century. And in the midst, you will find a painting of Virgin Mary which in the great fire of 1731, miraculously survived unharmed. As such, it has become a pilgrimage for many and under the arch, is a little chapel dedicated to her.
Our last stop in Upper Town was Lotrscak Tower. You can climb this tower for the views but it was pretty good enough where we stood (which just happens to be the top of the funicular railway). A cannon, called Gric cannon, fires on cue everyday here at noon. So you can just about set your watch to it. Apparently this tradition has been going on since 1877! Even then, it can’t beat Cape Town’s noon gun on signal hill which started its tradition 71 years earlier in 1806.