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: Komani ferry trip – into the wild



The ferry journey from Komani to Fierza in northern Albania was billed in the guide books as ‘world class’ and ‘spectacular’ – and so it was. For a start, the ride from Shkodra had a touch of the James Bond about it. The town minibus collected us from our lodgings with a knock on our door in the early hours. After a long slow wind uphill, we were waved on by some kalashnikov-wielding guards outside a hydro-electric plant. The minibus sped into a low dark tunnel under a mountain, just wide enough for one vehicle. Happily, nothing came the other way.

We emerged onto a chaotic little quay, crammed with minibuses, people and goods. We bought our tickets and found some floor space on the top deck of the tiny car ferry. The locals stayed indoors below, but we and the other foreigners on board all wanted to see the views. Most of us were going on to hike in the Albanian Alps. For an ordinary ferry ride, there was a glorious sense of ‘into the wild’ about this trip.

Lake Komani is a vast flooded gorge that feels like a fjord. As the boat set off through the dark-turquoise waters, the tree-scattered hillsides gave way to soaring limestone cliffs. The sky was a happy postcard blue, but the mountains that towered around us kept their sense of aloofness. There were no roads. On gentler slopes, we saw the occasional distant dwelling, farmed terraces, a mule. Who could live out here, so far from roads or shops? Yet people do. The boat zig-zagged through the calm waters, stopping off at tiny landing stages where someone would disembark and tramp away with their bags, to some hidden homestead, hidden life…

Minibus leaves Shkodra 6-6.30am, takes 2 hrs, cost 5 euro; Passenger and car ferries depart from Komani to Fierza 9-9.30, takes 3.5 hrs, cost 5 euro; Transfer by bus or taxi to Valbona, takes 1 hr, cost 3-5 euro.