The capital of Croatia is a fascinating gateway to know a country that is much more than its beautiful cities on the Dalmatian coast.
We peered into the beautiful terrace of Swanky Monkey Garden, the bar of Swanky Mint Hostel, our home for the next few days in Zagreb. Swanky Mint is an awarded 5 Star Hostel by Hostelgeeks, and the only one in the Croatian capital. In the sky a pale sun shines late fall, while behind we can see the Tuskanac forest. In those trails of high and variegated trees and dark secrets the legend says that this was the place where covens were hold. Covens were witches meetings that exorcised the demon under the eyes and persecutions of the Inquisition. Zagreb has many stories of sorcerers, knights, poets and writers that we will discover in our days in the city. Inside the Swanky Mint Bar there is always joy, good vibes, no matter the time, including coffee, tea, beer and raki, the strong national liquor that Croatians ensure cure all ills.
We drunk fast a good and cold beer and go out to Ilica Street, one of the main avenues, while ahead of us goes one of the many Zagreb blue trams painted with the city ‘s favourite color. The Swanky Mint is a renovated dry cleaning and textile-dye factory dating back to the late 19th century. Combining the industrial machinery that littered the site with new technology, the Swanky Mint Hostel has created a comfortable eco-friendly atmosphere that makes it a very special place to visit. Swanky Mint is an awarded 5 Star Hostel by Hostelgeeks, a specialized hostel brand for the most awesome Hostels in the world.
Swanky Mint Hostel is located just 300 meters from the Ban Jelacic square, the heart of the city, but we are heading to another place…we are going up to the upper part of the city and without any effort…we take the shortest cable car in the world. It was constructed 125 years ago and goes up 60 meters in 64 seconds.
When we arrive to the top we face the Lotrscak Tower that has more than seven centuries with its Gricki Canyon on the top that still maintains the tradition and every day promptly at 12 noon shoot blank confetti as a reminder of when residents resisted the invasion of the Tartars. With us, dozens of children with their teachers trying to sort them, are waiting for the symbolic shot. It is loud and then everybody starts laughing and applauding. After the detonation, according to modern times, it appears in the Tower Facebook the Boom word writed in capital letters.
To our left, sitting and watching the skyline is the statue of the poet Anton Matos, bohemian lover of Zagreb and a few meters from there a fantastic graffiti painted on an upper hill building.
Walking a few meters more we met the icon of Zagreb, Saint Mark´s Church with its colorful tile roof forming the shield of the city and the three regions of Croatia: Central, Dalmatia and Slavonia. It was rebuilt by German architect Hernan Bollé, responsible for many of the architectural beauties of the city. On the sides of the square, giving an aristocratic air to the whole area there are located the Government House and the Parliament.
Nearby, on the way to the Stone Gate, it can be seen from the roofs of some houses metal balls with sharp peaks: they are ancient traps for witches. People believed that if these witches flew on broomsticks in the dark of night, they could be caught and hooked. It was common for people when starting the day to look at the roof to see if some witch had been trapped.
The Stone Gate was the only access to the upper part of the city and has its legend also because it saves the chapel of the Mother of God of the Stone Gate the patron saint of Zagreb, with the painting of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. The story goes that one night of intense cold ruthless, a man who had no place to sleep or eat, was helped in the same place with food and shelter. In the morning the man was gone but had left a beautiful painting as a gift. He was never seen again and no one could ever know if he himself or someone else was the author of the work. The painting quickly became an object of worship and devotion and much more when a fire destroyed the old house completely without flames touching the painting.
Passing the door and down the hill on Radiceva, ancient craftsmen street, we reached the Bloody Bridge (Krvavi most), a small street that divided the two towns that would later form the city of Zagreb. The Gradic side of secular character and the other named Koptol (the Cathedral). It was on that bridge, at that step that had no owner, where all the conflicts of the inhabitants of the area were settled. The economy and the others also. Just in 1850 the towns would be united and the bridge would become a street like any other. While crossing the bloody Bridge, one of the busiest streets appears. It is the Tkalciceva pedestrian street with bars and restaurants where you can eat or drink for a few kunas (that is how the Croatian currency is called) and the name refers to the ancient tradition of trade in animal skins and use them as currency exchange.
On one side as a fierce spectator of the situation is the statue of an elegant woman of stern look and decided step. She is Marija Juric Zagorka, who became the first professional journalist in Croatia in the early twentieth century, at a time when it was very difficult for women to develop in these jobs. Tireless writers and historians fought for equality of women and wrote several novels, one of which is also one of the most famous in Croatia, “The Witch of Gric”. Again witches flying through Zagreb. The novel narrates the persecutions to which many women were subjected in this city in the eighteenth century with the generally false accusation of being witches.
It is dark again, and we are back again at Swanky Mint Hostel. There is free dinner in the common kitchen, traditionally every Monday. Two young girls who work as volunteers in the hostel, a Polish and a German are responsible for preparing the pizzas. The atmosphere is cheerful, relaxed, talks and laughs with beer and guests wanting to meet new friends.
Among portion and portion more people are coming to enjoy the kitchen and relaxing area. An American with Philippine and Mexican roots whose girfriend left him some days ago. Also a spanish andalus guy, an Argentine boy, a croate girl and another american but with asian roots join the group. Each with their own stories. The American is the typical run traveller, he has scheduled to tour Europe in three days between trains, buses and airplanes, because he wants to get to Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. From Zagreb to Dublin in three days. The Argentine, basketball fan, took a flight from Naples to Zagreb only for a day not to miss the city; the spanish guy is studying music in Germany coming from Sarajevo and wants to hike in the mountain Medvednica, on the outskirts of the city; the other philippino american yearns to know his roots and take advantage of our advice as we were in the Philippines last year. The Polish girl between pizza and pizza and beer and beer tells us that she would like to have an Argentine boyfriend. Of course you are invited to our country, we have no doubt you can get one!
Travel / Destination Urban tours that make urban explorations around town or abandoned places, is a new form of tourism.