Zagreb, a Tale of Two Cities

Our first trip here was in 2001 in the summer. My husband had just completed a Fulbright Scholarship in Poland and we can for vacation before going home. We visited Dubrovnik and it was magical. The Serbo-Croatian war had just ended. We saw very little of the damage in Dubrovnik but the capital city of Zagreb was hit pretty hard. We found the people we met to be optimistic, friendly and fun loving.

On the way back we spent several awful hours in the Zagreb airport. It was old, dirty and not air conditioned. There was one cafe. There was no where to walk to and we had a long layover in 100+ heat. Armed military police were everywhere.

Arriving here last weekend we saw marked changes to the airport. That same cafe is still there (!) but it’s clean and air conditioned, serves food and has an outdoor seating area. There are a few shops now, and the Duty Free section is huge and just as overwhelming as the biggest airports in Europe.

We found a taxi; after some back and forth between two drivers because the one that was supposed to take us really wanted to take the two pretty young girls who were next in line.  We ended up being dropped at the same location as those girls: a funky youth hostel close to our B&B. I guess it’s the place most people stay in this part of town if they are foreign. A few blocks walk later we were in our place” for the next 8 days. Very modern inside, socialist architecture outside. A lovely garden behind with three resident cats. Perfect!

Day two we took a walk up to the Uni where my husband would be teaching. We are in a nice residential area with some free standing homes and a lot more socialist style apartment blocks. Roses are everywhere. The wisteria is done and only a few Peonies are out but the roses are spectacular.

You can see in some of these photos, lingering mortar shell damage to the outside of the buildings from the war.

The people we have met so far in this neighborhood have been nice enough; some greet us with suspicion, others friendly and helpful. What is missing though (only my opinion from limited contact) is the sense of new beginnings and optimism I felt 16 years ago. My husband says his students are very disheartened about their future here and many young people are leaving for better jobs and quality of life elsewhere in the EU.

A few days later I made into the center at last. Here I found the sameness I have come to expect in large cities everywhere. Shopping malls, trendy cafes and bars, high end shopping, etc. All within yards of gothic, baroque and modern or prewar architecture. There are two levels to the old town; upper and lower towns divided by a decades old farmers and flower market. The Dolac Market is divided into parts; upper town has the vegetables and fruit, lower town has the flower stalls and the central plaza has an open area for different craft stalls and special events.  My first visit there was an art market for learning challenged young people.  I picked out a few lovely drawings from these young folks pictured here.  They were pretty excited that I am from Florida.  “Hot! Hot!” they said.

On my way into the Upper Town museums I wandered into Zagrebs “Art Park”.  Known for it’s murals and other graffiti art.  They were evidently preparing for a new installation.  The next day I went back and these were all been painted over to prepare for new work.  Talk about the nick of time!


My last two stops of the day were museums.  The Museum of Broken Relationships and the Naive Museum.  Both fascinating in their simplicity and approach to their topic.

The Naive Museum art was starkly beautiful, disturbing and calming all in one.  A wonderful exhibit.

The next day took me to the Croatian National Arts and Crafts Museum.  So many interesting exhibits.  My two favorites were the 60’s exhibit and the Art Deco room.

All in all I’m glad we went to Zagreb again.  I met some interesting people, saw a lot of really fascinating art exhibits and took a ton of photos.  Look for more of them to be coming up in the online shop!


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