Zagreb : the conqueror of hearts
January 1, 1970
by Valerija Vukosavljevic
The title is not just another random phrase, written only to attract readers. For me, it is the bitter-sweet truth, because I am 335 km away from the place where my heart lies.
The recipe for the I-love-Zagreb magic potion is not (as some would expect) a complex recipe, full of dark magic and bat liver. The used formula is actually very simple : WOW THEM WITH ALL.
The wondrous botanical garden and the Magnolia mystery
Every respectable city has a botanical garden, but most of them are being seriously underrated and forgotten. The first draft for the Botanical garden in Zagreb was made in 1889., whereas the planting of the first plants took place in 1892. (I am not an expert in botanical gardens, so the mentioned years seem really impressive to me).
It is truly a wondrous place, just as the title suggests. From the moment you step in, you get carried away to the world of goddess Fauna and you wish you could stay with her forever (but you can’t obviously, even plants need rest from us, pushy mortals). The ancient trees, from different parts of the world, give you a sense of peace and serenity when you walk past them. The joyful bushes make you feel like a child again, wanting to crawl inside of them. The lovely flowers, strategically placed all over the garden, make you appreciate beauty on whole new level. The exotic hothouses show you the true diversity of the world and its everlasting ability to surprise you.
But the true heroes of the garden (and Zagreb in general) are Magnolias. I am probably biased here, but magnolias, for me, are the most beautiful plants in the world. I was lucky to arrive in Zagreb just when they started blossoming and I was in awe. Mysteriously, magnolias decided to take over Zagreb, street by street, corner by corner, in a polite, yet determined way. But nobody seems to mind that, because they are, and always will be, perfection on a tree.
Zagreb is the capital city of Croatia and it’s rich history is best shown in Gornji Grad (lit. Upper town). It is perfect for wandering around aimlessly, whereas getting lost only leads you to new, exciting findings. Impressive churches and dazzling old palaces give your imagination free reign and adorable galleries and museums enlighten you in a special way. The most interesting museum, is the Museum of Broken Relationships. It offers you a chance for closure and freedom : by donating your personal items, that were once a part of your past love. Another recommendation is the pub Tolkien’s House, for a cosy afternoon or a merry evening.
Donji Grad (lit. Lower town) is the urban center of Zagreb, with its iconic Trg bana Jelačića (lit. Jelacic square) and fashionable street Ilica. During the whole year, it is swarming with people, both tourists and locals, but surprisingly it is never crowded. If a more relaxing atmosphere suits you, you can go to Cvjetni trg (lit. Flower square), where you can enjoy watching numerous flower stands, or to Zrinjevac park, which is positioned near the Archaeological museum of Zagreb (also a must see). My two favorite things in this area are the contemporary art installation Zagreb Solar system (depicting the Sun and the 8 planets) and the brewery Medvedgrad, where you can taste the best beer that Croatia offers (try Grička vještica and your whole life will be changed).
The mighty watchman from above
Surprisingly, it is not a deity; it is the mountain Medvednica. I am not mountaineer, I like watching mountains from far away. Due to circumstances I wound up on Sljeme (Medvednica’s highest peak), attending a rave party in the middle of the forest, with the only lights coming from the DJ booth. The energy there was magical and I felt like I was a sorceress, chanting and dancing for an ancient, almost forgotten ritual. Since there was no bus station near us, we decided to walk down the hill to find one. We walked for an hour, tired and grumpy, but when we saw the first morning lights on the treetops we knew it was worth it. Perfect zen was all around us and the birds were even singing their prettiest song. That’s when we found a resting spot where you can see the whole city of Zagreb, including the beautiful old town Medvedgrad (found in the 13th century). I felt like getting a present that I never knew I wanted, but somehow missed my whole life. For those of you that are more adventurous, please go pay you respects to Sljeme – you will not be disappointed.
Nurishment for the soul
Since like forever, I knew that I wanted to come to Zagreb and visit it’s iconic clubs. I have read about them, seen them in movies, craved them – but never had the change to actually be inside of them. So this year, because I know the best people in Zagreb, I finally fulfilled my oldest desires. It is never about the venue, the music or the people that are present – it is always about the energy that radiated from every corner and makes you feel intoxicated, even though you know you are sober. Most of them have really cool names, like my favorite Močvara (meaning SWAMP).
The one thing that is definitely true about Zagreb is that it has a superb music taste, I enjoyed every single note that was processed by my brain. Contributing to that fact is the existence of Inmusic festival, which is one of the biggest open-air festivals in Croatia, taking place on a beautiful lake Jarun.
If you are more into movies, literature, theater, classical music,art or some other thing that makes you warm around the heart – there is certainly something for you in Zagreb and it will knock you off your socks. Zagreb’s iconic theaters, festivals, galleries and museums are the beating heart of the city, making sure it stays alive even in the darkest times.
So do yourself a favor, visit Zagreb and be the best possible version of yourself, in a city that accepts you just the way you are.