Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

The Art pavilion in Park Strossmayera

I knew that the few days I spent in Zagreb in June was not enough for me to get a real sense of the city so I came back to finish my exploration of the Croatian Capitol. Zagreb has a unique feel to it…both medieval and modern but with a heavy emphasis on the glory days at the end of the Austro Hungarian Empire. Even though the city dates back to the time of the Roman Empire it has a clouded history. The name “Zagreb” was first mentioned in records in 1094 but there is no known origin of the name…it’s a Croatian mystery.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

Mirogoi Cemetery

The city reminds me of an Alan Furst novel…all of which are set between the two world wars and mostly in Eastern European capitals. They are populated with characters in great overcoats and classic fedora’s either hanging about elegant coffee houses and cafes or hopping on or off trams while trying to avoid detection. The trams are still here and many of the elegant buildings have survived but I fear the handsome fedora hats have long vanished. However, the people are still sitting in Cafes…more so it seems than any other place in Europe. Every block has one or two cafe’s where people gather either inside or out for coffee and conversation and I love spending part of every day doing nothing but sipping coffee and reading.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

Mirogoi Cemetery

This visit I wanted to spend time in Mirogoj Cemetery which is considered one of the great cemeteries in Europe along with the likes of Highgate in London and Pere-Lachaise in Paris. Filled with the rich and famous of Croatia the graves are both elegant and opulent and often accented by wonderful example of 19th and 20th century sculpture. The leaves were starting to turn on the day I visited which added an extra element of beauty to the visit. Founded in 1876 it has the unique distinction of interning the dead of all faiths..Muslim, Jew or Christian.  The cemetery can be reached by bus from the stop in front of the Cathedral and is well worth a couple of hours of your time if, like me, you enjoy wondering around cemeteries that double as parks and sculpture galleries.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

Knoba Didoc San Restaurant on a Medieval street in Upper Town

The city is divided into three distinct areas…Upper Town which is Medieval, Lower Town which is a product of construction during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Novi Zagreb or the new town. The Upper Town is is a delightful mix of Medieval homes on small winding streets, churches, small quirky museums and pleasant squares which can be reached by taking a funicular up from Lower Town. It brings you out very close to the the beautiful Baroque Jesuit church of St. Catherine which is worth a stop as it is a jewel of 17th century architecture. Near by to St, Catherine is the quirkiest of little museums…The Museum of Broken Relationships. A series of small white rooms filled with the memento’s of ended affairs which people from all over the world have donated.  My favorite was a axe that the lost lover described as the instrument he used to chop all the furniture up into kindling after his girlfriend left him for another man saying she would return for her furniture.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

From Upper Town looking over the roofs of Lower Town

Also nearby is the studio museum of Ivan Mestrovic (Atelier Mestrovic) a very famous Croatian sculpture who fled the communist and eventually settled in the US. He sculpted the monumental pieces…The Bowman and The Spearman…in Chicago’s Lincoln Park which you may have seen. After he became a citizen of the United States he gave his home, studio and 59 pieces of sculpture to the people of Croatia. It is a lovely small museum and well worth the time and interest. There is the added benefit of being able to eat at Konoba Didov San which is a small charming taverna in the same block. They serve up traditional Dalmatian food that I found to be delicious. However, it is a meat and potatoes kind of place so vegetarians beware.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

Sensual sculpture in the Atelier Mestrovic

Most of my time was spent in Lower Town which is home to most of the museums and better restaurants.  All the principle tourist sites are so close you can walk to almost every place you would wish to visit . Located in the center of town is Park Josip Jura Strossmayera, a wonderful city park one block wide and three blocks long, which is filled with fountains, a charming old bandstand and sculpture set amongst the flowerbeds. Alongside the park on the boulevard is located the Archaeology Museum, Moderna Galerija, Strossmayer Old Masters Gallery and the Art Pavilion which is an exhibit space for traveling art exhibits. I happened to see a small but interesting show of drawings and sculpture by Alberto Giacometti on display there during my visit.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

National Archives

From this point, a few blocks in any direction will take you to something of interest…one of my favorite buildings in Zagreb or perhaps the world is locate a few blocks away. The Croatian State Archive designed by Rudolf Lubinsky and completed in 1913 is a masterpiece of Croatian art nouveau design. It was a total design project by the architect…building, interior, furniture and equipment…and it is a marvel of aesthetic integration. If you are are interested in architecture the tour of the building is a must do.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

Rear view of the beautiful art nouveau National Archives building

One of the aspects of Eastern Europe in general and Zagreb in particular is the amount of graffiti on display everywhere…buildings, walls, garages, abandoned cars…everything gets a splash of paint. Some is very creative and inventive but much is just vandalism. Some of the cities in Eastern Europe are offering Graffiti Tours to show off the most creative examples. When you travel in this region check with the tourist office to see if one is available. 

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

The ever present graffeti of Eastern Europe

The ten days I spent in Zagreb were so enjoyable I would not hesitate to return…especially if I had the time to combine it with a trip up the beautiful northern coast of Croatia towards Italy.  If Croatia is not already on your bucket list, add it as soon as possible.

Unfinished business…returning to Zagreb!

A nice square for people watching in Lower Town

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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