Purgerska Nostalgija, Travel | 4 comments
By: ALEX CREVAR
THE Croatian capital is in the midst of an identity crisis. Geographically, Croatia is indisputably part of the Balkan Peninsula, but call a chic Zagrebian Balkan and prepare to get an earful.
Markov square at Easter
While Zagreb’s vibe is indeed more Vienna than, say, Belgrade, it can also be deliciously rough-and-tumble. Zagreb is haggling with thick-fingered, green-market farmers and wee-hour clubbing with boisterous Slavs — both just beneath the mammoth spires of the city’s cathedral. It’s a leggy, high-heeled blonde visiting a bloody-aproned fishmonger. And it’s the construction of a new Museum of Contemporary Art — due to open by year’s end — and the avant-garde validation that the city hopes it will bring.
Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac’s tomb in the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
1) THE HISTORY LESSON
Get a taste of Zagreb’s 11th-century roots on the cobbled streets of the area known collectively as Upper Town, where the city began as two townships: Kaptol, with its largely clerical population, and Gradec, where artisans and merchants settled. United in 1850 after centuries of feuding, the districts still have distinct personalities fueled by their origins. Kaptol still holds the city’s visual calling card: the neo-Gothic Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Kaptol 31; 385-1-48-14-727), which originally dates from the 13th century, though it has gone through multiple reconstructions in the centuries since. Beneath tandem 344-foot steeples, a marble-heavy interior shelters an 800-year-old treasury and the tomb of the controversial 20th-century Croat Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. In Gradec, a 10-minute walk west of the cathedral, the Zagreb City Museum (Opaticka 20; 385-1-48-51-361; www.mgz.hr) is a visitor’s window into the city’s political, architectural and artistic history. Most fascinating: the room-sized, miniature Lower Town street plan. Admission is 20 kuna, or about $3.85 at 5.23 kuna to the dollar; children 7 and under are free.
2) CLASS DISMISSED
Once a stream that separated Gradec and Kaptol, pedestrian-only Tkalciceva Street is now jammed with cafes, boutiques and ateliers. Caffe Bar Cica (Tkalciceva 18; no phone), where recycled washing machines are repurposed as tables and funky world music thumps, is the venue for spotting fashionable Purgers (as Zagrebians call themselves) and tilting a glass of the local Velebitsko beer (17 kuna for a half-liter). Specialty rakija, Slavic schnapps, are also available in assorted flavors including honey, blueberry and walnut (12 kuna for a shot). Too early to imbibe? The Ivica i Marica restaurant and patisserie (Tkalciceva 70; 385-1-48-28-999; www.ivicaimarica.com), named after Croatia’s version of Hansel and Gretel, serves traditional pastries with a healthy twist — no white sugar or white flour. The apple strudel and dobra vila, a carrot cake flavored with ginger and cinnamon, are delectable (15 kuna each).
3) A BITE AND BEBOP
Vinodol (Teslina 10; 385-1-48-11-427; www.vinodol-zg.hr), like many traditional restaurants here, pays homage to meat. Where this place, a mainstay since Tito-era Yugoslavia, differs is in presentation and technique. In the vaulted-brick dining room and in the ivy-clad courtyard, where a grill chef turns steaks and forearm-length kebabs, the service is impeccable. The lamb (80 kuna) and grilled trout (78 kuna) are sure-fire. Across the street, Bosko Petrovic, a septuagenarian vibraphone master and Croatian jazz patriarch, runs the B.P. Club (Teslina 7; 385-1-48-14-444; www.bpclub.hr). The cozy basement joint hosts four festivals a year, as well as nightly lineups. Acts begin at 9 p.m. (covers range from 30 to 50 kuna); reservations recommended.
4) KITSCHY KAVA
“Spica” is the Saturday-morning ritual when trendy Purgers pack cafe patios near the central Jelacic Square. The result: a fashion smackdown with Yorkie-inhabited handbags, Croatian paparazzi, plenty of sideways glances, and, oh yeah, kava (coffee). Foreigners — that is, anyone wearing money belts and sneakers — have little chance in the impromptu competition. Best just to grab a wicker chair at Bulldog (Bogoviceva 6; 385-1-40-02-070; www.bulldog-zagreb.com), order a large macchiato (13 kuna), and enjoy the free show. After you get your fill, head to the Millennium sweet shop across the street (Bogoviceva 7; 385-1-48-10-850; www.slasticarnica-millennium.hr) for a decadent cone of schwarzwald — a mixture of cream, Cognac, chocolate and cherries (7 kuna) — and prove your figure is of no concern.
5) AT, AND FROM, THE MARKET
At Dolac, Zagreb’s main fresh market (Sunday to Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; to 3 p.m. on Saturdays), an army of red umbrellas shades stalls brimming with lavender, nuts, honey, flowers and cheeses, as well as plenty of local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. “What you call organic,” one vendor said, “we call food.” After you build up an appetite, head to lunch at Restaurant Kerempuh (Kaptol 3; 385-1-48-19-000; www.kerempuh.hr), which overlooks Dolac’s northwest corner. There’s a clutch of outdoor tables next to a chalkboard advertising daily specials, or you can watch the hubbub through big bay windows. Order a bottle of excellent grasevina, a domestic white wine (130 kuna), and Croatian fare concocted from market goodies, like the grilled sea bass served with Swiss chard and potatoes (75 kuna).
6) HORSESHOE HUSTLE
Lower Town, which offers a more everyday vibe than its Upper Town sibling, has a 19th-century Hapsburgesque layout dominated by a “Green Horseshoe” of urban parks. Surrounding those oases, where kaleidoscopic tulips frame spring-to-autumn concerts, is a hodgepodge of grand architecture and cultural venues. The city’s main art venue is Mimara Museum (Rooseveltov Trg 5; 385-1-48-28-100), a neo-Renaissance palace open Tuesday through Sunday (admission is 40 kuna). Its 3,000-plus-piece collection runs the gamut from Persian tapestries to works by Renoir, Rubens and Degas.
7) DALMATIAN FLAVOR
Zagreb is filled with immigrants from around Croatia, so the country’s diverse gastronomy is well represented. Didov san — “Grandfather’s dream” — (Mletacka 11; 385-1-48-51-154; www.konoba-didovsan.com) is a konoba, or Dalmatian-style tavern, serving specialties from the Neretva River delta. Though Grandpa has passed on, he’d be proud of his kinfolk, who dish up frog and eel stew (180 kuna) and sautéed lamb with veggies (150 kuna, order in advance) on red-checked tablecloths under rough-sawn ceiling beams and black-and-whites of donkeys toting grapes. Of interest to the particularly ravenous is the didova tava (80 kuna), a huge stew.
8) MUSICAL MASS
Purgeraj (Park Ribnjak 1; 385-1-48-29-253; www.purgeraj.hr) is the best option for live music in the tangle of clubs beneath the cathedral’s bell towers. Secluded deep in leafy Ribnjak Park, the spot offers a spectrum of genres (funk, disco, punk, ska, blues, jazz and rockabilly) to an international and eclectic crowd. For fortification, try the set of a dozen liquor shots (90 kuna) offered in test tubes on the tiki-style terrace. Then step into the dance hall, decorated with rock-and-roll album covers, and groove until the wee hours. (Weekend covers are around 15 kuna.)
The outdoor antique market on British Square (Britanski Trg) proves there’s value yet in Yugoslavia-era trinkets. Bring a couple of hundred kuna and haggle for portraits of Tito, filigree cigarette boxes, medals, coins and other old-school items. Treasures in hand, look for a sign that reads “Simply Luxury Coffee” and cross to Eli’s Caffe (Ilica 63; 385-91-52-79-990; www.eliscaffe.com). The owner (and three-time Croatian barista champion) Nik Orosi roasts his own beans and serves, saucers down, the town’s tastiest java (a signature cappuccino is 12 kuna).
10) NATURE FOR NURTURE
Before heading out, get a little perspective at the Medvednica Nature Park (385-1-45-86-317; www.pp-medvednica.hr; take the No. 14 tram or the 8 to the 15): 56,000 acres of mountain trails towering above Zagreb, filled with deer and foxes, chestnuts and oaks. Sweat out last night’s debauchery with a medium-effort hike that leads you to Puntijarka hut (385-1-45-80-384), which houses a restaurant perched at the 3,200-foot mark. Reward yourself with rib-sticking bean-and-sausage stew (25 kuna) and a half-liter of domestic Karlovacko beer (12 kuna).
Continental Airlines offers flights from Newark to Zagreb, with one stopover. A recent Web search found early fall fares starting at $887. A 25-minute airport taxi to the center runs about 200 kuna (about $38 at 5.23 kuna to the dollar). Convenient and inexpensive, trams (8 kuna for a ticket good for 90 minutes) are the way to travel in town.
Opened in 1925 to accommodate Orient Express passengers, the Regent Esplanade (Mihanoviceva 1; 385-1-45-66-021; www.regenthotels.com), located next to Zagreb’s Art Nouveau train station, still sets the standard. The grand swirl of marble and crystal has hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Louis Armstrong and includes a splurge-worthy restaurant and chi-chi cocktail bar. Rates start at 140 euros (or $203, at 1.45 euros to the dollar) for a double.
The 258-room Hotel Dubrovnik (Gajeva 1; 385-1-48-63-555; www.hotel-dubrovnik.hr), which dates back to 1929, is a straightforward affair with sleek wooden furniture and fine service, but its location is the key: one of its two buildings overlooks the Saturday morning social scene, the other faces Jelacic Square. Doubles start at 165 euros.
While Zagreb’s vibe is indeed more Vienna than, say, Belgrade, it can also be deliciously rough-and-tumble. The pedestrian-only Tkalciceva Street is jammed with cafes, boutiques and ateliers.
A midday rainbow appears over rooftops adjacent to the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The neo-Gothic cathedral originally dates from the 13th century, though it has gone through multiple reconstructions in the centuries since.
Beneath the Cathedral’s tandem 344-foot steeples, a marble-heavy interior shelters an 800-year-old treasury and the tomb of the controversial 20th-century Croat Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac.
The outdoor antiques market on British Square proves there’s value yet in Yugoslavia-era trinkets. Bring a couple of hundred kuna and haggle for portraits of Tito, filigree cigarette boxes, medals, coins and other old-school items.
The sign outside Eli’s Caffe reads “Simply Luxury Coffee.” The owner (and three-time Croatian barista champion) Nik Orosi roasts his own beans and serves, saucers down, the town’s tastiest java.
The Ivica i Marica restaurant and patisserie, named after Croatia’s version of Hansel and Gretel, serves traditional pastries with a healthy twist — no white sugar or white flour.
Didov san — “Grandfather’s dream” — is a konoba, or Dalmatian-style tavern, serving specialties from the Neretva River delta.
The restaurant dishes up frog and eel stew and sautéed lamb with veggies on red-checked tablecloths under rough-sawn ceiling beams and black-and-whites of donkeys toting grapes.
At Dolac, Zagreb’s main outdoor market, an army of red umbrellas shades stalls brimming with lavender, nuts, honey, flowers and cheeses, as well as plenty of local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Children sell berries at the market.
A vendor slices up watermelon at the Dolac market.
Vinodol, like many traditional restaurants in Zagreb, pays homage to meat. A grill chef turns steaks and forearm-length kebabs.
Zagreb‘s Lower Town has a 19th-century Hapsburgesque layout dominated by a “Green Horseshoe” of urban parks.
A Croatian couple spend an afternoon on a terrace overlooking the city.
Serbus i najte kaj zameriti!
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