So, for those of you who don’t know, I’m a journalist. I worked at a major Japanese TV company in London for three years and through these connections I now work as a freelance for mainly Japanese TV crews who come to Europe in need of a coordinator/ researcher/ translator/ interpretor/ tour guide/ general helper. I travel all over Europe with these crews and we film all kinds of stories. Recently I have done lots of sports-related events, but this time was extra special – I was asked to coordinate a trip to Croatia under the headline: ‘devastating environmental changes’. Last year, Croatia and the surrounding countries were hit by terrible floods. People lost their lives, animals drowned, crops and livelihoods were ruined and the affects are still being felt today. Most of the affected area was in the countryside part of Croatia, however our programme was being sponsored in part by JAL airlines, so we had to think about those passengers watching the documentary on a flight and how we can push them to travel to Croatia. I was also challenged to find a famous TV weather star to take on our journey and film for a couple of days.
After a few weeks of full-time reading up on Croatia, the weather, history, making connections, contacting tourist boards and countless TV stars, the dates were set and we were good to go! Over this week I shall tell you about the four places we visited: Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split and the Plitvice Lakes – so if you ever find yourself in Croatia, now you know what you need to do!
We started in the capital Zagreb. I’m not really sure why I’m even including this city. From the moment I arrived to the moment I left, I disliked the place. I found the city and it’s people unfriendly. The one redeeming factor was the food, so I shall be nice and tell you what to do if you find yourself in the Croatian capital.
The airport – it’s actually tiny. And completely devoid of staff and visitors. All the flights I took were empty and if you needed help it’s actually impossible to find someone to ask. I won’t go into how rude the staff were or the racist comments they uttered at my Japanese TV crew. Let’s just say, the park outside the airport is LOVELY, so if you are all checked-in and have some time, I can only recommend you spend it in the green space just outside the main entrance.
There are lots of things to do and see in Zagreb, but everything is just disappointing in comparison to the rest of the country. Zagreb is split into Upper and Lower Town. The top is full of history and government and the lower part is modern and full of high-street shops. To get between the two, the Funicular Railway was built. This tiny blue train (2 carriages) takes you up and down the hill. It’s actually the shortest funicular in the world and apparently also the safest, although it has enjoyed many years of being ‘out-of-service’ in its lifetime. It drops you off at the Lotrscak, a defence tower with good views over the city – and if you are here at exactly noon you can hear the ‘boom’ of the cannon. The Funicular railway is pretty cool, but the long winding staircases are so much more beautiful.
Once you are at the top, there are lovely views BUT it’s not a very picturesque city, so although you can see far away, I didn’t find it overly memorable. The Upper Town is pretty – much like most other European towns with it’s huge stone brick buildings and cobbled streets. St Mark’s Square has the Parliament buildings and the famous St Mark’s Church with it’s coat of arms on the roof. We had a great meal on the patio of Konoba Didov San, very quaint and relaxed atmosphere. From here you can wander to the Dolac Market and see Croatians haggle for cheap things. According to the guidebook, the vendors dress up in clothing from their region, but we didn’t see any of that. I liked the big red umbrellas and the city is covered in flower stalls, their scents perfuming the air. There is even a Flower Square.
We popped to the top of the Eye Viewpoint for a 360 view of the city. It’s a cool bar high up, but that’s actually it. The staff were rude and unhelpful, you have to pay for the pleasure even though the drinks are pricey and the views are actually better from the Upper Town. Apparently at night it’s super fun and all the cool people hang out here, but I wasn’t impressed.
There were two things I really liked in this city, however both of these are far enough outside of the capital that you would need a car. The first is Mirogoj, Croatia’s national cemetery. It’s gorgeous and so peaceful. The graves are well-taken-care-of, flowers bloom all over and there is a pleasant calmness that washes over you as you walk in. You can wander around the grounds and feel the history.
Another place that I enjoyed was Jarun – huge lakes where young people were kayaking, jogging, surfing, cycling, swimming, walking and generally keeping fit in beautiful surroundings. I would choose to live here if I had to, as it made me want to be more healthy and it’s very beautiful.
We stayed at the Zagreb Hotel Palace – posh breakfasts and sort of nice staff. The location is unbeatable though, five minutes walk to the town and the main station and tram stations are right outside. We ate some divine fish here. Kottni had the best selection – we arrived hungry and ordered whatever fish was recommended. The food took ages, but it kept on coming, one fish dish after the other and it was all fresh and local, albeit a tad pricey. We were the only customers and the waiter was obviously bored and constantly made jokes and chatted to us. The owner sat at the piano and played perfect melodies – he was so good, I didn’t even realise it was a live performance!
But I need to tell you about my absolute favourite place to in Zagreb: Vinodol. OMG the staff are amazing, the place is absolutely rammed full (it’s actually enormous and just goes on and on) and we were lucky to get the last available table for the evening. It feels like a Michelin Star kind of place – waiting staff in crisp white shirts and I’d never been somewhere they actually air out the wine by swirling it around lots in a special glass vessel before. It was the best wine I’d ever had (they recommended the most expensive one on the list – doh). It’s from Croatia and called Boskinac. All the food looked exquisite and it was delicately prepared – each bite was full of flavour. We all wanted to go here again!
That’s all about Zagreb. I liked the parks dotted all over and the fish, but I don’t plan on ever visiting again and I wouldn’t push for any of you guys to visit. The rest of Croatia is much much much more exciting – read on for more of that tomorrow
The documentary is currently being shown on JAL flights and also on the Tokyo MXTV station on Aug 9 at 19:00-19:40!