Travel in Croatia: Kunas Can’t Buy Happiness, but They Can Buy Kava

Greetings from Croatia’s capital city, Zagreb! 💜

IMG_9690Coffee, or ‘kava’, is not just a drink here, but a means for conversing. In Zagreb, you’ll find everyone at cafes, drinking kava, and socializing with friends and family. ☕

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Kavana Corso

Now, before I talk about Zagreb’s cafe culture, I’ll give you a brief background on the history of this Balkan capital city.

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viewpoint from Strossmarte

Zagreb actually began as two feuding, medieval hilltop towns, Gradec and Kaptol, in a neighborhood that is now called Gornji Grad, or Upper Town. Some of the area is still fortified to separate the former hostile neighbors, including Kula Lotrscak, a watch tower in Gradec. 👀

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Kula Lotrscak

You’ll notice many of the medieval buildings here have these spiked toppers, like an angel on a Christmas tree. Supposedly, those were used to stop witches from flying above your home and casting spells. 🧙‍♀️

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Gornji Grad is also where you’ll find many marvels of 14th Gothic architecture, like St. Mark’s Church. This icon has a colorfully tiled roof decorated with the medieval coat of arms. 🇭🇷

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Later in history, during the 19th century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled this region and constructed many beautiful buildings, which still grace the city streets today. Here’s even a monument dedicated to former leader Ban Josip Jelačić, who ruled during that time. 😍

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the statue was briefly removed during the communist period

Most of this Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture can be found on the Lenuci Horseshoe, a U-shaped complex of beautiful squares and parks.

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the Lenuci Horseshoe in Zagreb courtesy of Google

While I visited, the city was even hosting the Zagreb Classic in this horseshoe. Each night they had free, open-aired concerts played by world-renowned orchestras against the backdrop of the Art Pavilion in King Tomislav Square.DSC_3210DSC_3207DSC_3266Anyway, after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the conclusion of WWI, this area became Yugoslavia. This fusion of Slavic nations, which all embodied very different cultural and religious practices really struggled to get along, as well as, share a common national identity.

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Yugoslavia map courtesy of Google

Then, after WWII, led by dictator Tito, Yugoslavia became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Tito was an incredibly powerful and controversial figure, much like a current ‘T’ leader we have today. Good thing these two men are ruling centuries apart. This T ‘n’ T pair would have been dynamite. 😂

make-yugoslavia-great-again-authentic-unreleased-photo-of-tito-1158088 (2)Anyway, one such example of his radical decision-making can be seen through the changes to the Meštrović Pavilion. 

DSC_3161Prior to the Tito, the building was a mosque. 🕌

dzamija3After he took power though, he had the minarets demolished, and converted it to a museum honoring the revolution. ⭐

dzamija1953Anyway, in 1991, after the death of Tito and the decline of the Socialist party, Croatia finally declared independence. Now, although some Balkan countries, like Macedonia and Slovenia, left this union without many challenges, Croatia had a different fate. They fought with Serbia for four years to become fully independent, which included causalities of at least 20,000 people, crimes against humanity, like rape and enslavement, and a massive air raid on the capital in 1995.😢

DSC_3173I read that it’s still a fresh wound for many Croatians today, and not something to brought up in conversation. DSC_3211After taking a free walking tour in Zagreb, I also heard that a lot of online resources are biased, and the exact events during those years in still unclear. One evidence through architecture that I found was this Grič Tunnel, which was used as a shelter to protect people from air raids. 💣

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Anyway, 25 years after those atrocities, the city now appears to be a thriving and full of life.😀

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Upon first glance, just by looking at the crumbling facades of many of the buildings, it appears that Croatia its not as economically prosperous as neighboring Slovenia.

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Despite not being as polished, the city still maintains a sense of character and charm.

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DSC_3166DSC_3184And despite their desire to become more economically prosperous, Croatians seem to realize that money does not buy happiness. Life can be enjoyed even on a simple budget, and the focus should be on gaining an abundance of relationships and experiences, not wealth. As an example, here is the Sea of Books festival in Zrinjevac Park. They offer free book rentals in a cozy, cosmic-themed outdoor library with wine-filled coconuts and intergalactic ice creams.🍦🌌

DSC_3192DSC_3194DSC_3200IMG_9675It doesn’t take more than a few folding chairs and a unique art installation to make for an incredibly ambient social space.

DSC_3202Now in relation to currency, Croatia, unlike many other European countries, doesn’t use the Euro, but the Kuna.

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1 Euro = 7.4 Kuna (July of 2019)

And if there’s anything worth spending a few Kunas on, it’s kava. ☕

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Kava is coffee in Croatian

According to Travel Honestly, “The world could be falling apart but as long as there is coffee, a Croat will survive.” Coffee seems to be more than just about drinking something delightful though.

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coffee at Choco Cafe in Zagreb

It’s about the whole ambiance and the social element. For example, at this vintage cafe, Kavana Corso, they have a live pianist in the evenings to draw in a crowd.

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Now, the streets of Zagreb are lined with inviting, charming, and quirky cafes, and with only two days in Zagreb, I was a cafe-hopping machine. One of the highlights was this off-the-beaten-path cafe, A most unusual garden, where the theme is based around Alice in Wonderland. 🐇🎩BeFunky-collage (1)You’ll also notice that Zagreb’s cafes have very zany and eccentric interiors. At Mio Corazon for example, there is a hodge podge Spanish theme, with a dining room full of chatchkis, along with unexpected classical art pieces.

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Mio Corazon

To soak up all that caffeine, I visited La Štruk with this British girl I met on my walking tour. She’s going to be traveling to Serbia to volunteer with refugees for a month. To preface my menu selection, I’ll add that Croatia is home to the world’s largest truffle, and sells oodles of truffle products.IMG-9757
These truffles are not chocolate, but a fungi, much like a mushroom, which grows underground in wild forests only a few months each year.IMG_9745 You can hunt for truffles using dogs or pigs, and this delicacy can come at a high price of up to about 200 USD per ounce! It’s kind of like caviar, in that you NEVER want to cook it, and you add it on to dishes as a refined garnish. At La Štruk, I ordered their strukli with truffles. 62060075_880349072300459_7232783849604895518_nThis savory pastry is stuffed with cottage cheese and topped with a truffle oil, but can also be sweet, with ingredients like apple cinnamon and blueberry.photo1jpgVerdict:
9b4af5f7aa87ba5394e02334eef72836Zany decor also seems to spill out onto the streets of Zagreb during summer.IMG_9656For example, at Strossmarte, you’ll find an outdoor promenade lined with outdoor dining options and eccentric decor, like mannequins, yarn chandeliers, and clean undies hanging out to dry. 😂🧦

DSC_3221DSC_3219To add to the unexpected, located nearby is Art Park, where the local street artists have left their mark.

DSC_3263DSC_3261As for things to do in Zagreb, aside from cafe-hopping, the city has many museums. The most peculiar of them is the Museum of Broken Relationships, which showcases different household items that have either a sad or comical break-up story tied to it. Definitely worth a read! 💔
BeFunky-collageNow, one delightful thing I’ve noticed in Zagreb is its sense of nationalism. I saw the Croatian national symbol, a red and white checkerboard, everywhere I looked. It’s inspiring to see this after the region lost so much of its identity during Socialist rule. 🙌🏻

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Where to Stay: 

While in Zagreb, I stayed at Maju Jaya Hostel. My ‘roommates’ here were some 40-something-year-old Croatian road bikers, and the one reminded me of creepy Hans Klopek from the movie, The Burbs. Sleeping with one eye open…yikes! 😂

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Hans Klopek courtesy of Google

That being said, the bathrooms were SUPER clean, the air conditioning was cranked in the bedroom, and the reception gave me a long list of things to do in the Balkans during my trip. 👍

Getting Around: 

Driving (and especially parking) here seems like total madness, so luckily the city is well-connected with public transport. 😮

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parking is like a game of Tetris 😂

The tram in Zagreb is cheap and reliable.DSC_3172Zagreb also has the shortest funicular in the world and is more of a cheap thrill than necessary transport. The ride is 60 cents and takes 30 seconds.

DSC_3259The city also has strong FREE WiFi all around the city, so navigating is a breeze!

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Cheap Eats:
Aside from a few restaurant meals, I shopped mostly at the grocery store and local market. 🛒

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Croatia is a carnivore’s dream!

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Konzum and Kaufland are the major supermarkets here, and lucky for me, they had lots of veggie options too! 
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I even loved their healthy street food options, like fresh peaches and grilled corn.🌽 IMG_9676
Budget:
On the whole, Zagreb seems to be almost half the price of neighboring Slovenia, which makes me a happy backpacker!WUNN4676Anyway, up next I’m heading to Plitvice Lakes National Park before continuing onto Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, and reportedly, according to Hitchcock, the best place to view the sunset in the world. We’ll see how she looks! Until then! 🌅

8 thoughts on “Travel in Croatia: Kunas Can’t Buy Happiness, but They Can Buy Kava

  1. Zagreb sounds wonderful, it’s a country I want to visit in the near future but Dubrovnik and Split had always been more appealing. I keep hearing good things about Zagreb though and this post has definitely whet the appetite a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

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