Zagreb, Croatia, August 2021

We decided to book a trip to Croatia to escape California fire season. Unfortunately we booked it 3 days too late, as 3 days before we were scheduled to fly out a 2000 acre fire broke out about 5 miles from our house, and we almost had to evacuate. Also, the Dixie fire, the largest fire in California history, is about 90 miles north of our place, and will likely be smoking out most of northern California for the next couple months.

Our first week in Croatia was spent in a nice AirBNB ten minute walk east of the city center ($55/night). (Map). As Croatia has only 4 million people (about the same as the state of Oklahoma), they do not expect anyone to speak their language, and its easy to get around with English (or German).

My biggest surprise about Zagreb was that there was a big earthquake here in 2020, and many historic buildings and museums are still closed and under construction. We had no clue! The earthquake happened 3 days after the world went into COVID lockdown, and only 1 person died, so maybe its not surprising that that it did not get much news coverage in the US. But unfortunately several of the top sites like the main cathedral, art gallery, and opera house are all still closed for repairs.

Zagreb must be one of the cleanest capital cities in the world. Absolutely no trash or homeless anywhere to be seen (at least in the city center). Quite a bit of graffiti, but thats all. Fantastic, cheap, clean public transit that goes everywhere, and very little noise or traffic (at least in August, when apparently much of the city heads for the coast). The city is also very green, with tons of well maintained flower beds everywhere, including a nice city maintained rose garden right in front of our apartment building,

Zagreb has an amazing cafe culture, and it seems like there is a cafe on almost every block. They are mostly open from 7am till 11pm, and serve mainly coffee in the morning, and mainly beer from 11am till 11pm, tho all types of beverages/spirits are available. Local beers typically cost $2.50-$3 dollars for a .5 liter bottle. My favorite local beer is Karlovačko, a Czech style Pilsner. Most cafes do not sell any food at all (not even pastries!), as apparently that requires a special license that most cafes do not have.

It was quite hot while we were here, with a high of 90-96F everyday. Our AirBNB had AC, but none of the museums, cafes, or restaurants did. But the restaurants and cafes all have 90% of their tables outside in the summer anyway (true before COVID too), so AC would not matter. There were very few tourists here, though it was not clear to me if that was due to COVID, or due to people avoid Zagreb in August due to the heat.

Due to the heat and jet lag, we had a slow, relaxed first week. I typically did a bit of exploring in the morning, hung around the apartment and read/napped in the afternoon, and then went out in the evening for a hot, sweaty dinner.

My favorite museums included the Museum of Broken Relationships, The Croatian Museum of Naive Art, and the Modern Gallery. Our favorite Restaurant was Restoran Uspinjaca at the foot of the world’s shortest funicular (only 66 meters long). The best bar we found was called Alcatraz, an actual dive bar on the inside (but inside of bars are still closed).

Speaking of COVID, luckily there is no Delta variant spike here (yet), so the spike of COVID stress at home is not here. But they are also still more locked down than in most of the US. Indoor bars / nightclubs are still closed, and no indoor gatherings of more than 50 people are allowed. Masks are still required indoors and on public transit, and I’d say about 80% of the locals seem to be following the rules in Zagreb. But, every local we talked to claimed the government was lying to them and that they did not need the mitigation measures.

Our favorite AirBNB experience was a food tour with Luka. We were able to try the local specialty, Strukli, which is a phyllo-like pastry stuffed with creamy cheese and sweet or savory fillings. We also did a day trip to a couple castles and wine tasting with ‘Ned’ which was so-so, but Ned introduced us to a wide variety of 70’s-80s Croatia Rock on the drive back.

Typical Zagreb street scenes are below. You can see the streets were pretty empty.

City center
Large photo in the City History Museum.

Full Set of photos are here. Next taking a bus to Pula.

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