The Capital to The Coast – Zagreb and Zadar
After leaving Pula, where we had spent the last few weeks, we headed to the capital, Zagreb.While in Zagreb we learned about the history of the city, hunted down the solar system, and drank our weight in cappuccinos.
Zagreb is the capital of Croatia and is located in the northwest region of the country. It is famous for its Austro-Hungarian architecture and is the center of everything from economy to sports in Croatia.
Arrival in the Capital
When we got to Zagreb, it was already dark and we headed to our first “real” hostel experience. The bus station was huge and we had a 20 minute walk to our accommodation. We stayed in a dorm room for the first time. In our room, there were 6 cubby-like beds and almost all of them had a guy in them (besides ours).
After we got dinner, we went back to the hostel and went to the common room to hang out. We met two of our roommates from the dorm. One was from the Netherlands and the other was from the UK. We sat talking with them for a few hours about places we had been, how different our countries are, and other little things.
A Tour of the City
In the morning, we got up and had breakfast at the hostel (since it was included, but not very exciting). Then, we walked around the area for a bit before our free walking tour. Our tour guide’s name was Vid and he was very funny! We learned about the historical sites, some history of Croatia, myths about the witches, and more.
Sam’s favorite part was St Mark’s Church because the rooftop is unique. On the roof, there is the coat of arms of Zagreb and Croatia. The coat of arms for Zagreb has a white castle…even though the city never had a castle.
Witches in Croatia
Ty’s favorite part was learning about the witch spikes on top of two buildings. Between 1600-1800 Zagreb had many witch trials. They used to suspect people of being a witch if they were female, had dark hair, or had moles. But not if they were over 50kg because then they couldn’t fly on a broom.
Brothel turned Government Building
One interesting part of our tour: The most famous brothel in Zagreb was called Zlatna kuna and is now a State Audit Office. And the name of the brothel is now an award given by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. Women in this brothel would use garden gnome-like statues in the window to signal whether they were available or not for their recurring customers.
After the tour, we went to get lunch at a place recommended by our tour guide. La Struk is a place that sells strukli, a traditional Croatian dish made with cheese, dough, and whatever toppings/addons. They were tasty!
Hunting Down the Solar System
After lunch, we searched for the solar system! Around Zagreb, there is an art installation that is a replica of the solar system. It is even to scale. Starting with the sun we went and searched for the rest of the planets (all marked on Google). Well, after 6 we decided to stop because the last two were pretty far away (a few miles).
Can’t Miss This in Zagreb
We also visited the Museum of Broken Relationships (romantic huh?). This is a very interesting museum filled with items sent in by people with a small story or description of what it represented. Some were weird, cute, creepy, and some were very sad.
Two exhibits that stood out to us included a sprig of mint someone kept when their partner took all the house plants (including the mint they got from the grocery store). Another that was absolutely disgusting…20 year old SCABS. Someone kept their partner’s scabs and then sent them in. We keep a lot of stuff like movie tickets, but scabs?? EW.
Art + Architecture
The next day we got up and got breakfast at an adorable cafe called Melt.
We walked around the Golden Horseshoe of Zagreb. The Gold Horseshoe is a horseshoe shaped section of the city filled with parks, museums, and government buildings. The buildings were very pretty but the walk itself was a lot shorter than we had planned (maybe because it was so cold so we walked quicker).
We were cold so we decided to go cafe hopping. We visited a few cute cafes, drinking cappuccinos and snacking.
We visited the Art Park of Zagreb and took pictures of the many murals. The park itself was pretty and holds events in warmer weather. There were a few murals we couldn’t find even though we did a few laps but here are some of our favorites:
Farewell to the Capital
In the morning, we went to Melt for breakfast again because it was so good! We mailed out some postcards (this time, not a month late) and walked around a bit. We had a bus around 12 so we grabbed a wrap from Vegan KO, grabbed our things, and caught the ZET to the bus station.
Zagreb Transportation: The ZET is the public transportation tram that can take you all over the city. It is pretty cheap too. 4 kuna for any 30 minute ride (about 60 cents USD)
Overall, Zagreb was a great stop for a few days. The food options were delicious! Besides the cloudy skies, the city was very pretty. One thing we wish we could have seen while visiting is the Christmas Market. Zagreb has an award-winning Christmas Market but it isn’t open until the end of the month. Maybe one day!
After freezing a bit in Zagreb, we headed south to the coastal city of Zadar. We thought we escaped the not-so-wonderful weather but it rained most of our time here. We made the most of it and even took a day trip to a nearby island!
Zadar is a city along the coast of Croatia in Dalmatia. It is known for its Roman and Venetian ruins, as well as, the MANY churches and beautiful beaches.
Magic on the Coast
We got to Zadar just as the sun was setting. After we checked in and ate dinner, we explored Zadar for a bit. We walked to the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun, our favorite parts of the city.
The Sea Organ is an architectural object that allows the sea and wind to create music. Beneath the marble steps are tubes that play different notes when hit by the water. It is so beautiful how the wind and sea create the music. It’s not something you’d listen to on the radio that’s for sure, but there’s something so special about listening to nature in this way.
By day the Greeting to the Sun, or Sun Salutation, is a large circular solar cell. The circle spans 22 meters in diameter. After the sun sets, the circle lights up in different colors and patterns. It’s a beautiful show!
History of Zadar
At the beginning of our first full day, we took a tour. We learned A LOT of history. So much so that it was kind of boring and we have been super interested in history up to this point.
Even though the tour wasn’t the most exciting, we did learn a lot. Zadar was a valuable asset to the Venetian Empire, so much so that they fought to control it multiple times. The old town itself has influences from the Roman, Venetian, and Austrian-Hungarian Empires (like most of the places we’ve been to).
The two historic forts in Zadar were turned into parks under the Austrian-Hungarian Rule. These parks are really pretty and we thought it was kind of beautiful that they were turned into a peaceful park to enjoy after being a place of military defense.
Protests in People’s Square
One interesting building in the People’s Square of Zadar is City Hall. During construction there were two holes added into the surrounding gate, one can be seen in the picture. These holes once held cannons to “keep the peace” as the People’s Square was the place that protests were held. That’s one way of doing it I guess…
Churches all over
There are A LOT of churches in Zadar, and interestingly there’s even one in a BAR. Like you can meet up with friends and grab a drink where the Franciscan Church used to hold their services. But there are also beautiful churches (not in bars) like St. Mary’s Church and the Church of St. Donatus.
In addition to churches, there is also a Roman Forum. These Roman ruins are right in the center of the old town and close to the coastline. The forum, built between 1 BC and 3 AD, was an important center for life in the area.
Side Note: Not too far from the forum is a Pillar of Shame, used for “troublemakers” in medieval times.
Sunset over the Adriatic
According to Alfred Hitchcock, Zadar has the most beautiful sunsets in the world. We are a little biased after living on the West Coast (USA) for so long but the sunset we did see (without rain) was very pretty.
Day Trip to Ugljan Island
On our last full day in Zadar, we took the ferry to Ugljan Island. The weather was beautiful! Finally!! We got off in Preko planning to rent bikes and ride around the island. When we got there, we realized it was a lot bigger than we thought but we figured biking at least some of the island would be a great day.
Well, since we are visiting during off season, ALL the bike rentals were closed except one at a private residence. The only way to contact them was to call and we had just recently run out of our sim card usage and haven’t boughten another…So bikes were out.
Hike to St. Michael’s Fortress
Instead, we hiked to St. Michael’s fortress on foot. This fortress is accessible by car as well so if you are visiting the island and have access to the car, you won’t have to walk the whole way. The hike was on an asphalt road most of the way but took us through beautiful olive groves and we had some incredible views.
When we got to the fortress it was closed and we weren’t sure if we were allowed in. There were a few people inside so Ty asked if we were allowed to enter. Turns out, they were doing some archaeological work. They are hoping to find pieces of a church that once stood in the fortress but was bombed during WWII. They were kind enough to tell us about it and let us take a quick look around!
Wrapping it Up
For the small size of Zadar’s old town, it does hold a lot of history and A LOT of churches. Visiting during off season as we did is not the best time for this city. If we get a chance to go back it will definitely be during a warmer season!
We learned a lot and experienced some neat things in both Zagreb and Zadar. Not going to lie though, they weren’t our favorites. This really could be because of the weather we got during the majority of our visit but the feeling is hard to explain.
In some places we’ve been to, we feel in constant awe or even at home. Even though Zagreb and Zadar were both lovely places, we just didn’t have these feelings the majority of the time. BUT, our next couple of destinations made up for it. Can’t wait to share it with you next week,
Until next time,
Sam and Ty