I was recently introduced to Blue Ink Stains, a great blog penned by Zagreb-based Neha Puntambekar. I immediately loved her writing style as well as the fact she’s currently living in my hometown. So I invited Neha to share her impressions and photos of Zagreb in a guest post. Without further ado:
The sun is screaming down on Zagreb, and fashionistas are greeting it with gladiator sandals and belted whites. The city is undergoing a drastic transformation – from an all-black routine to bright pops of colour, inspiring flowers to burst onto the scene. The air is ripe with strawberries and orchids, and so are the street stalls. The heart of Zagreb smells like summer.
I moved here with my husband early in 2007 for a three-month stint. Two years on and we’re still here. Coming from Mumbai, the shift to Zagreb came with its fair share of adjustment. If Mumbai is a Broadway Special, Zagreb is a soulful art film. Suddenly I found myself in a pocket-sized city and much to my surprise I quite enjoyed it.
Zagreb isn’t the shiniest of gems in the Croatian basket, far from it in fact. And yet it manages to hold you on sheer charm. Between the pastel shades, the Baroque architecture and the high-fashion brands, the city balances the old and new with great ease. And nowhere is the city’s dual personality more visible than at the main square, Trg Bana Jelačića. Here under the imposing statue of Josip Jelačić, history mingles with tomorrow over cups of coffee and cigarettes. Vienna-style cafes look out to whizzing trams, squares full of pigeons and street performers. I’ve made it a habit to find my way here. It’s amazing how easy things become over coffee and a good view; the ideas simply scribble themselves out.
On a terrace above the main square, a natural medley plays out in the thriving open-air market, Dolac. This is the liveliest part of the city, and my most favoured. Wooden stalls loaded with neat piles of fresh produce, bronzed peasants hawking greens and fruits and locals hunting for a good healthy bargain all add an old-world twist to the modern bustle of the city. I brush up on my dobar dans (good days) and my hvalas (thank yous) before every trip. I run through my Croatian numbers as well, preparing to haggle. In the end though, I just pay what they ask for; they smile at me and I smile back.
Zagreb packs in a lot of history. Be it the towering cathedrals, museums and galleries, or small arched doorways, they all have a story to tell. I know, because I’ve been writing them down. As the tiny cobblestone streets of the old town twist and turn, they throw up landmarks like a magician pulls out tricks. From the multi-coloured roof of the St. Mark’s Church to the miraculous Miriam Shrine at the Stone Gate, to the medieval Lotrščak Tower, there is much to see and learn.
There is history on one side and a glassful of cheer on the other. Zagreb comes with a laid-back attitude and a quintessential joie de vivre. It is the one thing that makes the city stand wide apart from its competition. Its critics complain that Zagreb doesn’t offer as many options, but while the world goes crazy, huffing and puffing over recessions and such like, Zagreb simply steps out for a drink. As I am about to right now. Živjeli (Cheers)!