After knowing Croatia only for the terrible events of the 1990s, it was time to get to know it for what it is today, in person.
Croatia is a beautiful country located in the Balkans, one of the several ones emerged from the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Actually Croatia existed long before Yugoslavia itself, but only a small part of its history was marked by independence.
An important and long part of its past was under Austrian rule, and that reflects in Zagreb’s downtown appearance, which is characterized by beautiful Middle European atmosphere and architecture. Zagreb old uptown could easily be a neighborhood of Vienna or Prague, and its old streetcars crossing downtown are not so different from the ones you can find in Budapest or Bratislava.
As for me, I had never been to Croatia until a few days ago, therefore the image about that country engraved in my mind was the one we all received from TV news during the 1990s: a country suffering war misery, its tanks facing enemy forces, and people hit with cluster bombs on the streets of Zagreb.
That’s the reason why I was twice as happy about visiting Croatia for the first time. Not only the city covered in snow introduced itself in the best possible way, but I also finally had a chance to get to know the country for its present, not only for its tough past.
Zagreb historical center is rather small, it is easy to visit by walking, and is made up of two different parts: a more recent downtown where the main square is located, and an older uptown which is a bit elevated from the rest of the city and easily reached by stairs or cable railway. The uptown, with its small houses, its narrow alleys and almost no traffic is really delightful.
Zagreb is home to several museums. I suggest to visit the Archaeological Museum as I did, which exhibits a wide variety of ancient artifacts from several different civilizations. For 20 kunas (US$3.50, or €2.60) you will be transported into the every-day life of ancient Romans, Greeks, Etruscans, Egyptians, and even prehistoric civilizations.
A very original one is the museum of broken relationships, on which Amanda of A Dangerous Business wrote a nice report.
As for food, my limited contact with local cuisine suggested Croatians have a fancy for meat products, even thou not so extreme as in other eastern countries, like for instance Romania.
I was very pleased in finding many vegetarian and also vegan restaurants. I was also so unlucky, however, to find all of them in their closing day or under renovation!
I’m always very happy to go visiting Eastern and Middle Europe cities. The reason is that they tell a story of culture, beauty and former power of a “once upon a time” Europe. Add to that an everyday life pace which is much slower than in Western Europe, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The adjective I associate to those towns (other than beautiful) is relaxing.
All of this was unfortunately ruined by the multiple signs of admiration for army generals who were indicted for war crimes that I found all around the city. My hope of building in my mind a non war-related image of Croatia proved not possible. Not this time, at least.
But that’s just me. It doesn’t have to be the same for everybody else, and maybe one day it will not be like that any more even for me.
Plus, not only Zagreb is beautiful. There are other places in Croatia worth visiting, like, to name one, the beautiful coast on the Adriatic sea, Dalmatia.
Therefore the answer to the question:
Are Zagreb and Croatia worth a visit?
is a definitive YES.