We returned home late Sunday night (4.30 am so technically it was Monday). Exhausted, exhilarated, emotionally drained, but back home. It turned out well. We enjoyed Zagreb; it’s a city which embraces western culture with an enthusiasm sadly lacking at home, perhaps it’s all those years of being denied creative freedom. Today Zagreb is decidedly more avant-garde than Paris.
Our primary reason for visiting the capital of Croatia was to be among the spectators at the European Figure Skating Championships. Ever since our son and his partner began to compete for TeamGB as a pair’s team we have tried to attend some of their competitions as and when our budget allows. And happily Zagreb is well within our budget. A daily pass to watch all events cost £10 while in contrast a ticket for just one discipline at the next major competition (in London, Canada) is £120 – making the total to watch the whole event around £1,000. And that’s each!
I booked our hotel online, tempted by the fact it was once a palace. I wasn’t disappointed, The Palace was converted into a hotel in 1891 and soon became the first class option for passengers of the Orient Express who stayed overnight en route from Venice to Istanbul. The hotel’s plush interior has all the necessary atmosphere for an Agatha Christie murder with its faded sophistication and art deco style. Passing through the foyer with its inlaid wood panelling and polished brass casings I felt I‘d wandered back into the 1920’s. Everything I expected of Vienna or Berlin but not Zagreb.
The next day we discovered Zagreb city centre is lined with palaces, their opulent and grand facades still have an air of post-war chic; past their prime but still possessed of glamour. Many are now museums, in fact the city boasts more galleries and museums than any other capital – and they are busy creating more as we speak. Last Friday night happened to be special – we were invited to ‘a night at the museum’. This annual event leaves museums open from 6pm until 1am, while entry is free! By the time the figure skating finished it was already 10pm so we only managed to take in three museums but the city certainly put on its party dress – the domed glass roof of the Victorian exhibition centre was changing colours like a disco ball.
The night proved enigmatic. With temperatures below freezing we raced from venue to venue to keep warm through crowded streets which had been empty during daylight hours. In a bizarre cross mix of genres old clashed with new, billows of steam rose from hot-chestnut stalls (reminding me of the London of my childhood), while the heavy beat music of ‘We Will Rock You’ belted out from a live stage in the Upper Town and groups of teenagers gathered with their iPhones taking photographs of naïve Croatian (their description not mine) art installations while we met mink-coated octogenarians sipping mulled wine in front of one of Rembrandt’s kinder self portraits – he seemed to be looking smugly back at us. The fact Rembrandt happens to sit next to Holbein’s stunning portrait of Sir Thomas More was alarming, but apt, Zagreb stimulated many of my cultural preconceptions.
The most poignant museum took you on a journey of Broken Relationships – of memories and insights. It’s a small collection of personal items placed alongside personal statements explaining the relevance. e.g. the axe used to destroy everything his partner left behind when she left him for another man, the toy clanger a child took to bed every night until he died, age 3. If you are interested the museum has a website: www.new.brokenships.com