Croatia as a country and Zagreb as a destination is not very much heard of and when I got a chance to visit that place, I was excited. Luckily, there is a very good connection from our city direct to Zagreb by Qatar Airways with a transit halt at Doha. I searched Google to learn about the city I was about to visit and just by seeing the pictures on the Internet and reading about the attractions; I was hooked on to the same.
The flight time to Doha has increased because of the ‘no-fly’ zone over UAE due to their country’s boycott by the prominent Middle East countries led by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the U.A.E. After a short transit in Doha, we boarded the flight to Zagreb which was about 7 hours long. We landed into Zagreb in the morning and were greeted by the early winter chill as winter was just about setting in. Their airport is a smart modern building manned by courteous personnel. The Immigration formalities were a breeze and before we knew it, we were boarding the Mercedes taxi to our hotel.
On our arrival at the hotel which was a bed and breakfast facility comprising of eight rooms, we were amazed to learn that it was being managed by one lady in each shift and they would handle the check in/check out at the Reception; prepare breakfast; prepare the rooms and would be around if any assistance was required. They were friendly and hospitable. We were very lucky as we chose to stay in the older part of town as that is where all the monuments, landmarks and attractions are located.
The view was really awesome as the old buildings set against the clear sky and the changing colours of trees in autumn created a painting like canvas. The buildings were colorful and immaculately maintained, the streets were un-littered and lined with cafes which were a pleasant sight for our eyes after walking around quite a bit.
We started with the Cathedral near our hotel which is one of the defining landmarks of Zagreb and once we went inside through the grand doorways, we were besotted with the sight of gothic architecture, the peace and tranquility and the exceptional stained glass and murals dotting the interiors of the cathedral. Thereafter, we wandered down to the ‘Dolac market’ which is a place near the town square wherein fresh fruits, vegetables and local produce is sold everyday from 6.30 am to 3.30 pm. It was a colorful place wherein the sellers hawked their wares under colorful umbrellas. It gives on a feel of the city and fresh figs were abundantly available in addition to the usual fruits and vegetables. Coming to visit Zagreb from Nagpur which is famous for its Oranges, I was pleasantly surprised to see local oranges being sold there and needless to say I did taste them and they were quite sweet. There were stalls also selling locally made cheese of different varieties. All our familiar vegetables and fruits were available which was very pleasing to see.
The town square is lorded over by the statue of a king on a horse and the same is a bustling place with lot of shoppers, commuters and people just hanging out and taking in the sights of the city. The square also has tram stations and the tram lines crisscross all across the city. No other vehicles are allowed on the square and therefore it is full of pedestrians. At one corner of the square, the Tourism Information office is located wherein we were guided very well and all our queries were appropriately attended to. The square is lined with medieval buildings which now are home to plush departmental stores, banks, offices and other commercial establishments. Standing out in the midst of such buildings is a new glass and concrete tower which boasts of spectacular views of the city from the top which houses a restaurant and an observation deck.
The unique blend of medieval towers, 19th century palaces, open-air markets, museums and ancient cathedrals, make Zagreb the perfect city to explore.
The ‘Upper Town’ or Gornji Grad as it is known in Croatian is a quaint side of town which has many historic buildings including their Parliament building and the official residence of their Prime Minister, a church (St. Marks’s Church with its colorful tiled roof which is one of Zagreb’s most recognizable landmarks), Lonarck Tower and view points for great views of the city. This part of town gives one a feel of warmth and beauty because of its quaintness and also as traffic is allowed only up to a particular point and thereafter it is on foot. The two parts of town vis. Upper and Lower are connected by a ‘Funicular Railway’ which comprises of two cabins and the journey takes about 3-4 minutes one way but is well worth it even if for its novel nature.Otherwise, one can also walk down the stairs to reach the Lower Town which wind their way alongside the Funicular. The cannon located on the Lonarck tower still booms every day at noon and it adds to the novelty of the place. The view from the top of the tower is also quite spectacular. Adding to the novelty is a museum called ‘Museum of Broken Relationships’ the name itself is peculiar. It houses bits and pieces of memorabilia which point to broken relationships and it is quite fascinating to see the various items on display such as broken pieces of cutlery or a broken vase which tell tales of the relationship of people. Amusingly, one can donate pieces from one’s life along with the story and it is most likely that it would become another piece on display for the visitors to be curious about.
The Hop-on Hop-off bus tour is also a good way to have a glimpse of the city which takes one across the city and shows the various points of historic and tourist interest. The tickets for the same are reasonably priced. The cafes are all over the city which offer a range of cuisine but mainly offer pizza, pasta, different types of bread, cheese, meat, wine and coffee. Greek, Lebanese, Asian and English cuisines were also on offer. The ubiquitous MacDonald’s, KFC and Subway were also present. To my surprise, even in such a far flung place, I could find two Indian restaurants serving authentic Indian food and it was a welcome respite from the daily dose of pizzas and burgers.
Located at just a 30-minute drive from Zagreb is a small town of Sljeme which in winters turns into a ski resort. We tried our luck as we could see some snow up in the hills from Zagreb and were thrilled to find the town fully snow clad once we reached there and the temperature was -2 degrees Celcius. Although there was nothing much one could do there but the sight of snow itself was quite satisfying.
We had planned a day trip to Plitvice Lakes & Natural Park and Rastokevilage on its way. We had no idea what was in store for us as we embarked on the 2-hour drive with Rastoke village as the first stop. Rastoke is a historic community at the confluence of the Slunjčica and Korana Rivers. We walked through the village to see traditional watermills and old fashioned, riverside houses built from limestone and wood. It was a remarkable sight and looked to be picture perfect. Thereafter we proceeded on to Plitvice lakes and Natural park which we understood is a UNESCO Heritage Site. Once we were approaching the Park, we could see snow around us and as we entered the Park, we found it fully covered in snow. It was once in a lifetime experience for us as we hiked in the park spread over 11 kms in snow bound trails. The views of the 16 lakes interlinked with each other through waterfalls were simply breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The pictures seem as if that they are paintings and are a tribute to the stunning landscape and scenery. The park is very well maintained with good signages and tracks. In summers, one can enjoy a boat ride inside the park and also walk all the way down till the waterfalls. It was a day really well spent and we returned to Zagreb as if we were returning from a dreamland.
The second day trip was to Tracoskan Castle and to Varazdin town. The pleasant drive to the castle is about 2 hrs long. The castle was built in the 16th century atop a hill and was converted into a museum in 1954. It is protected as a cultural site and an artificial lake and park has been added to arouse more interest for the tourists. Thereafter, we travelled to Varazdinwhich is a city on the Drava River, in northern Croatia. It’s known for its baroque and rococo architecture, including the 17th-century Sermage Palace, displaying Croatian and international old masters and modern paintings. That collection is part of the Varaždin City Museum holdings, which also exhibits historical artifacts in the old town fortress. Lisak Tower is the only surviving part of the old city walls. Varaždin is the city of baroque, young people, music, flowers and bicycles and it is also known as “Little Vienna” with rich natural legacy interwoven in parks.
We returned to Zagreb late in the evening and had dinner for the last time in one of the many cafes and prepared to board our flight back home full of memories of a fascinating time spent in the Croatian capital, Zagreb. The flight from Zagreb to Nagpur with a transit halt at Doha was very convenient.
To sum it up, Zagreb is an eclectic mix of the old and new cultures but the charm and beauty of the era gone by is retained beautifully in this absorbing city.