From Zagreb with love

Every place I’ve ever visited holds a place in my heart, but not all of them hit the same. Sometimes a place just has “IT” and you fall completely and utterly in love. Zagreb, Croatia is one of those places for me.

As my first location outside of traditional Western Europe, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. We all formulate ideas about things even before we’ve ever experienced them. I came of age in the late 80s and early 90s, and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was headline news during this time. Rightly or wrongly, images of the atrocities of war shaped my ideas of what this part of the world is. But this is one of the main reasons travel is so necessary, it allows you to meet the people and learn first hand about a place, allowing you to reshape your world view.

Immediately upon arrival in Zagreb, I felt a warm embrace. I knew from that moment that this city and I were kindred. What I found here was not a war torn country full of thugs and shady characters, but a country with a rich and beautiful history, with people so kind and friendly, willing to answer your questions and go out of there way to show you the best of their city and country.

What kind of city is Zagreb? The perfect kind … for my liking anyways. I would describe it as a little big city. At over a million people, it’s definitely not a town, but it’s also not a behemoth like Madrid or London.

Zagreb blends so many contradictions together seamlessly. All the history you could ever ask for, the old world charm, mixed with a modern style and all the entrapments of these new age times we find ourselves in.

And art, oh the art! It’s everywhere. Sculpture, architecture, street art, museums and galleries around every turn. My kind of place.

It is extremely walkable and has an insanely extensive and efficient tram network which makes reaching anywhere in the city a breeze. Potentially my favorite part is all the plazas and parks. You can’t go more than a few blocks without finding a place to sit and soak in the vibe.

Rivaling my love of these parks is the amazingly vibrant third wave coffee scene and cafe culture. In the week I spent here, I tried so many different cafes, all passionate about coffee, my favorite being Cogito Coffee.

I’ve spent many, many hours sitting in parks, plazas and outdoor cafes, content to let time drip away like a Salvador Dali painting, as the world around me hums along to the beat of progress. Having an opportunity to do this daily is, perhaps, the single most enjoyable and appreciated aspect of this new world I live in. Taking the time to slow down, feel alive and “be here now” has been a revelation and I don’t take it for granted.

There were so many moments where I just felt like a citizen of the city. Whether that was becoming a regular at the coffee shop or corner market, taking a run through the city to Maksimir Park, getting a haircut at the barber across the street or sitting with the ultras at a Dinamo Zagreb match, I just felt like I fit.

I couldn’t write an entire post about Zagreb and not mention the absolutely perfect studio apartment I rented. Much like the rest of the city, it endeared itself to me from the moment I stepped inside. Every time I returned to it felt like returning home.

I love a good ranking list and Zagreb easily sits in the top three favorite cities I’ve ever visited.

Zagreb, you have my heart and I know I’ll be back sooner than later. Till we are together again, Hvala.