Winter was still in full swing when I planned this long weekend in Zagreb. As I booked my return bus tickets from and to Brno, I couldn’t help thinking things like: ‘Imagine how warm it will be in Zagreb at the end of April’, ‘We might also be able to go on a day trip somewhere!’, and the like.
What’s more, going to Zagreb meant going to Croatia for the first time, and there’s always something uniquely exciting about visiting a country for the first time.
A few months and a weekend in Zagreb later, these are the first remarks that spring to mind when I sit down to write about the Croatian capital.
1. One is a thought in general (forgive me for digressing). It’s about how the very first glimpse of a city you visit for the first time depends, at least partially, on the means of transport you take to reach it.
If you travel by plane, you embrace the whole of it in one go. I love the bird’s eye view from the plane, scanning the clouds from above and behind, and thinking you can guess the country from the outline of the coast below. It feels like the plane is flying over a 3D map, and you appreciate how blue the Earth really is.
I remember when the first two islands of the Faroese archipelago suddenly appeared behind the plane window, their rugged coastline almost glistening in the late afternoon sunlight. Or when, on my latest trip to Norway, the plane started its descent toward Molde, all coated in snow as if freshly hit by a sugar storm. Priceless views.
If you travel by train or by bus it’s a wholly different story. Train and bus stations are often located in the city, either super close to the centre (e.g. Ljubljana, Oslo and Helsinki) or a bit further away, toward the outskirts (e.g. Odessa, Vienna Erdberg and, well, Zagreb itself).
When travelling by land (especially by bus), you approach the city at level ground. You enter its territory slowly but gradually, you become part of it, and you see the urban landscape change as the bus follows its route till its final stop. How unique is that?
2. I don’t remember seeing anything especially mindblowing in Zagreb. Overall, nothing took my breath away, nothing I found truly spectacular. There is nothing so unique that it cannot be found elsewhere in the world. (I haven’t travelled the whole world – yet – but I feel I can quite confidently make such statement here.)
Exactly that is probably what I liked most about Zagreb: its overall ‘low-profile’ urban landscape (with due exceptions, that is). I liked the way the historical mingles with the contemporary (often not in the most seamless way), in terms of both institutional buildings (e.g. the National Opera Theatre and the Music Academy nearby) and ordinary, inconspicuous blocks of flats.
Also, the Croatian capital reminded me a bit of both Brno and Graz: Brno for some of its architecture and, of course, Jarun Lake (Zagreb’s very own Přehrada!), Graz for the resemblance of Ilica Street (one of Zagreb’s central streets) to Herrengasse (Graz’s high street).
What I’m saying about Zagreb here (which I will likely mention in the next post as well) does not mean I’m now biased about Croatia, or I don’t want to go back. In fact, the opposite is true! (See entry no. 3).
3. Visiting Zagreb has left me with a great desire to go back to Croatia, rent a car, and drive south, all the way to Dubrovnik. On the way back from Rijeka, the bus drove past a few green valleys that opened up in the scenery like out of the blue, and disclosed so many shades of green I could hardly believe I was seeing all of them at the same time.
4. Entry no. 2 also got me thinking about travelling in general. It made me realise the beauty of doing it not so much to visit places that please the eye as to go see what’s out there. If you see it and explore it, then you get to know it, and you learn about it. That is what makes the difference, that’s what travelling is about.
5. As for the weather in Zagreb, well, it was nothing like I had dreamt of and imagined. The first afternoon was indeed quite sunny, and especially warm. Overnight temperatures dropped, and it was rather cloudy, windy and chilly the whole time. The one exception was the blue sky over Jarun Lake, what a pretty view!
Enough with the rambling. High time we really talked about Zagreb here!