Last week, chief researcher Marilyn Terrell tantalized us with her stories of swimming in the Adriatic Sea and wandering down the narrow streets of Zadar. We wanted more, and so did our readers—one e-mail in IT’s inbox (which may have been from Marilyn’s brother) read, “What a wonderful description. I was transported. Give me more!” So, this week, we post more of Marilyn’s insights into Croatia, its thriving capital, Zagreb, and the highlights that have her jonesing for a return. (Be sure to click on the underlined links to see Marilyn’s Flickr pics.)
A 15-year-old country with a 5,000-year history, Croatia’s popping with the exuberance of youth. Skaters are jumping their skateboards blithely over Roman antiquities and Austro-Hungarian opera house steps. Artisans are rebuilding castles and churches, and archaeologists are uncovering Greek and Roman antiquities. Streets and plazas overflow with tables and chairs and convivial coffee drinkers who would disdain the cardboard cup. Streets are for people (and dogs), not cars. Wherever you look, there are kids in the streets, chasing balls, exploring, riding bikes, walking home from school, and playing with their grandparents.
Zagreb, the capital, is home to the country’s largest university (50,000 students), and the entire city feels like a college campus. Art, poetry, theater, farmers markets, public sculpture in whimsical places, soccer, music in the streets—it’s all here—and everything looks freshly painted (sometimes with graffiti). On an ordinary weekday evening, Jelacic Square, the great central plaza in Zagreb, reverberates with sound, but it’s human, not automotive: All you hear are people talking, children chasing each other, plates and glasses clinking, and the occasional clack of an approaching blue tram. Unlike much of Old Europe, where children seem oddly missing, Croatia feels very much alive and happening, with an irresistible, pulsing energy. A Croatian cabdriver in New York told me wistfully that Croatians know how to enjoy life. From what I could tell on a recent trip from Zagreb down to Split, he’s right.
How Marilyn enjoyed life in Croatia:
2. Buying walnuts and apples in Zagreb’s Dolac Market.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
4. Waking up in the World Heritage site of Plitvice Lakes National Park, with its 16 interconnected lakes of otherworldly green, and listening to the distant roar of waterfalls, which a suburban brain (or at least Marilyn’s) might initially mistake for highway traffic.
6. Taking a ferry from tantalizing Split— with its medieval city built within the still-standing walls of Emperor Diocletian’s palace (yet another World Heritage site)—to the dreamy, lavender-scented island of Hvar.