Zagreb is a city with a vibrant, youthful energy playing out against a backdrop of grand structures crumbling under the effects of a long and colorful history. The Hotel Dubrovnik is ideally located across from the central square, Trg Bana Jelačića, and next to cobbled pedestrian streets packed with colorful outdoor café seating, restaurants and shops. It is a Saturday evening, and this is obviously a popular place to spend a warm summer night. People sit at tables sharing energetic conversation over strong coffee and cigarettes. Strolling families lick gelato from cones, trying to catch every delicious drop, before it melts in the heat. Groups of giggling girls wander around clutching shopping bags. Young urbanites stride along importantly with cell phones pressed to their ears. Elderly couples, linked arm in arm, promenade leisurely. Everyone is here; both young and old, groups and singles, couples, friends and families. Especially the families. Lots of young parents; pushing babies in strollers or slowly walking, holding the tiny hands of toddlers lurching along with new found steps. I am so pleased to see the vibrancy of new life in this wonderful old city.
It is fun to be surrounded by the lilting sounds of a language I cannot understand. There is a strange sense of liberation that comes with being reduced to the isolation of an on-looker. And yet also, a heightened sense of awareness, as all other senses must engage more fully in the effort to understand. Eavesdropping is one of my guilty pleasures. Here, I do so with abandon. I strain to hear words I might recognize, inferring meaning from tone, expressions and gestures. I try not to stare.
We sit at one of the outdoor restaurants and order food using a combination of butchered Croatian and menu-pointing. We enjoy our first simple meal, watching the residents of Zagreb parade by, and delight in the pleasure of finally just being here.
The next day we tour the Gornji Grad (Upper Town), with its medieval monuments and churches, and Donji Grad (Lower Town) and its broad park-lined thoroughfares and grand baroque buildings. Sunday morning provides a peaceful time to enjoy the expansive vistas over the city from the height of the old Bell Tower. It also means the faithful are attending mass in the huge, ornate Cathedral before heading to the produce market to pick up staples for lunch. By afternoon the cafés are filling with people ready to enjoy a day of rest and relaxation. Hot and tired from our walking tour of the city, we are more than happy to join them for a kava and čaj.