7 zany things in Zagreb

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1 Z-z-z at a hip hostel

Housed in an old dye/dry-cleaning factory, Swanky Mint is an arty place that’s made a virtue out of up-cycling the original industrial fittings. Staff in the café, terrace and bars were super-helpful and friendly (going out of their way to get gluten-free bread, for instance). Locals seem to love it, plus you can walk from here to all the main sights. http://www.swanky-hostel.com/mint/ 

2 Shop for kitsch…

… at the funky flea market in Britanski Trg on Sunday mornings. The stalls include art and designer stuff but you can stock up on war medals too. The square, with its red traditional umbrellas, is perfect for drinking coffee and people-watching.

3 Cool in the pool

Getting to the Olympic-sized Mladost pool near the Sava river involves a likeable tram ride through the Lower Town and suburbs. It’s a tad shabby and, well, real. A complete bonus in my view is the goofy  ‘swimmers’ statue outside (do note the bum cracks)!

Take tram line 5 or 17, get off at Jarun and head to Sportski Park. http://swim.isport.com/swimming-pools/hr/city-of-zagreb/zagreb/sportski-park-mladost-39953

4 Go underground

A hidden maze of tunnels has just been opened up again as a kind of walking ‘Underground’, linking streets around the centre. Built in 1943 as an air raid shelter, it feels cool, dark and mysterious after the heat outside. Also (good to know) the Gric Tunnel houses some new, lush loos!

5 Chill where time stands still

When the Big Earthquake struck Zagreb at 7.03am on November 9, 1880, the Cathedral clock in the old town stopped. It shows the exact same time today, as the city chose not to restart it. So, it may not be a time machine but there are benches to meditate on in the shade… Meanwhile, in the nearby streets, gas lamps are lit at dusk as they have been for 150 years. So popular is this tradition, new ones are being installed.

6 Stumble upon street art

From wacky to off-beat, there’s art for free everywhere. There’s the edgy Art Park with its graffiti and psychedelic artworks. But just wandering the Upper town, you may come across a newly vegetarian St George beside the dragon he just killed, or perhaps a random bloke who’s turned his car into an installation.

7 Seek out heartbreak

The Museum of Broken Relationships is a quirky collection of objects, each with a true story attached. Every one explores a break-up between child-parent, siblings, friends or lovers. (So what is the lovers’ story behind that axe??) It’s funny, touching and unexpectedly mesmerising. So much so, I failed to take any photos. https://brokenships.com/visit


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Albania: to Kruja, and a little brush with history


IMG_2477Kruja sits on a hilltop, not far from Tirana. We went there on impulse, booking a room as we set off. We were thrilled when the ordinary-sounding ‘Bar Restaurant Merlika’ turned out to be right inside the scruffy, rambling walls of Kruja citadel. In the afternoon heat we climbed the steep cobbled streets, through the likeable handicraft bazaar and past the museum designed by Hoxha’s daughter and her husband. (Enver Hoxha was the communist leader of Albania from 1944-85, who ruled with an iron fist.)

Beside the castle tower on the skyline, is the Ottoman home of Artur Merlika and his young family. Their restaurant, on the shady terrace, has the most amazing views over the plains to the ‘Accursed’ mountains in the north, and across to the coast. Our simple but comfortable room looked out over this terrace. Inside the main house we lingered in the beautiful traditional rooms created for entertaining – with their separate spaces for men and woman. Everything in them was handmade, from the woven carpets to the skillfully made heavy-lace curtains depicting the Albanian two-headed eagle and an image of Skanderbeg on his horse.

Artur Merlika was a charming host. As the day visitors departed back to Tirana in their coaches, he organised sunset drinks for us with that stunning view. Later he came and chatted about life under the variousIMG_2486 regimes that have ruled and misruled Albania. We heard that the house was built by his great-grandfather and, like many other homes, it was taken away from the family by the communists. It was only returned to them years later.  Artur was particularly proud of his grandfather, an intellectual who, he discreetly said, had ‘served’ Albania. Later, after we left, we googled his grandfather’s  name and found that Mustafa Merlika-Kruja had been Albania’s Prime Minister just before Hoxha, from 1941-43.

Comfortable rooms at Bar Restaurant Merlika, Rruga Kala Kruje are available through http://www.booking.com or by phoning direct +355692131 162