October 25, 2022

Zagreb

How I visited the Croatian capital.

In the second half of May 2022, Zagreb hosted an event for 300 students active in the European Parliament Ambassador School program, and I was to give a talk there. Yey!

Talking about art in social movements to students from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovakia. Thanks to the friendly EP folks for the invite and the pic.

The adventure began before I got there. I went from Prague, and surprisingly, there was no direct flight or train at the time. The train links were expensive, and any reasonably priced flights connected through the UK or France, so they took ages. I spent many hours between airports recently, so I decided to take a direct connection by an overnight bus this time.

It wasn't a definition of luxury, but I coped until we got to the Croatian borders. Most of the EU is within the Schengen Area, therefore, country hopping is as convenient as crossing states within the US. Alas, Croatia isn't a part of Schengen yet, so we got stopped for a screening. It wouldn't be much hassle if the border patrol simply entered the bus to check people's passports, but no. The lazy guards had everyone get off the bus, and the scrutiny took close to half an hour.

When I packed for the trip, Prague was scorching already, and since Zagreb is further south, I didn't take any warm clothing. But the Slovenia-Croatia border lies in mountains, and at night, it was some five degrees Celsius (40F) outside. I shook like a jackhammer by the end of this intermezzo. "That's it! I am not taking a bus from Zagreb, even if I'd need to go through New Zealand." Anyway, I arrived.

I had never been to Zagreb before, so I tried to use my spare time to collect city impressions. Here are elements that caught my attention:

The first thing I noticed when I got there was the traffic. Perhaps, that appears odd to start with it, but I see transit management as essential in making cities nice, and Zagreb is a riveting case. A lot of people walk, use public transportation, and cycle.

The city visibly supports cycling (for good reasons), with plenty of recently built bike lanes and parking spaces.

Still, there were tons of cars, and the environment for those who weren't driving was a work in progress. Some car thoroughfares enter the city and walking by or crossing them was a pain. Moreover, in places without designated cycling paths, the heavy traffic pushed bikers onto sidewalks, further deteriorating the walking experience. But I found it interesting to see how locals made this layout into a business opportunity: I encountered more street performers at major intersections than downtown. I can't think of any other city where I observed this proportion, including more car-focused regions.

Apparently, performing next to cars pays more than in the city center.

There was, however, an easy option to make both walking and cycling rather lovely: divert the path through the local Parks.

Besides navigating through, Zagreb's parks are great to stop by. I got into one park shortly after I arrived, and I enjoyed what I saw. It reminded me of my visit to Beijing, where I also recovered in a park after an overnight journey.

The parks were the second thing I noted about Zagreb. They are maintained, relatively abundant, and pleasant to be in.

Some of Zagreb's parks also have facilities for events, firepits for barbecue, and lots of other cool features.

Zagreb's botanical garden; the king of Zagreb's landscaped spaces.

But one of Zagreb's parks brought me a rather odd experience. Next to the entrance, I noticed that they had public restroom accessible for free. It is not given; some cities I visited have them only for a charge, which discourages people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from using them. Then, you can imagine how some streets smell... "Good on Zagreb to know better," I thought, and planned to continue my walk. But suddenly, a guy came and started talking to me: "Hi, I am bi, I like you, and would like to..." He then made a coupling gesture. "Would you, here?" He asked and pointed to the restrooms. ~ "Nope!" I replied and kept on walking. But he followed me. "Hey! Wait!" he shouted. I tried to figure out my response, but then some a of tourists came nearby, and the guy disappeared. Wow. It's not that I always stick with good neighborhoods but being asked for sex so blatantly never happened to me before. Oh, every day's a learning day, I guess.

The pic above serves as a transition from parks to Buildings, another chapter that deserve a mention. There's an eclectic mix of old and new, which is fun to explore.

As I wandered through, I found some fascinating passages. For instance, there's a publicly accessible tunnel from World War II, which includes a concert venue. Other corridors might be less unique, but were still fun to stumble upon:

The city was buzzing, and it was exciting to experience it. Whether it was the city market...

...or ongoing festivals providing a glimpse into the cultural scene.

Between all this, I enjoyed seeing and hearing the Croatian language, I appreciated Slovak embassy's hospitability, and cherished Zagreb's museum of modern art – notably for the exhibition of Gorki Žuvela, but their show dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Animafest, the world's second oldest animation-dedicated festival, was great too. So was chatting with the staff. Moreover, they have a nap-ready couch to recover from the walks.

A few packed days later, I left for Zagreb's modern and easygoing airport...

...From which, I took off to Vienna, to attend Europe's biggest research conference for Earth, planetary, and space science. Happy days!


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Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Collections, Stories

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