Pit Stop: Zagreb
It rained in Zagreb, and thus with umbrella in fist, and soon damp in shoes, I walked the streets. In frivolous irony, fountains pumped jets of water in three feet columns. The tram trundled by carrying everyday folk. Zagreb is evidently a pleasant city, but the weather made everything feel very common, like a Tuesday.
Holidaying on unattractive days should not be dismissed, however. There is a reality in unpretty days, and a feeling of being special because you bothered. Like playing sport in the rain, or trekking to a hill’s summit in the rain, or basically doing anything when the weather is awful, the required hardiness makes activity feel worthwhile. Moreover, only being in Croatia for a single day meant going out was common sense; failing to see a city because it rains is no way to be.
Rain also affords space. At the sculpture Zagreb Welcomes You, an outdoor metal model of the city, nobody else stopped. The In Your Pocket guide describes this artwork so:
The model was sculpted by Professor Damir Mataušić, and has already ‘replaced’ the clock on Trg ban Jelačić as the default meeting place for many of the locals.
To stand by myself, taking pictures in this dreich fuzz, was therefore a privelege. For its part, Trg ban Jelačić (Ban Jelačić Square) was also not busy, albeit not deserted, for shoppers trod through.
Religion is the cause of many of Europe’s finest buildings. In Zagreb, the twin-towered cathedral stands heighest over the whole country, yet it is a compromised beauty. The cathedral dates from the 11th century, but the towers from only the 19th, with one covered since 1990. Fires, bombs and earthquakes have struck repeatedly, and in April 2020 a spire had to be removed because of a quake. The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saints Stephen and Ladislav (aka Zagreb Cathedral) is holy unlucky.
St Mark’s Church is easier to love. The tiles of its roof pop out in their bold, colourful design, portraying the coats of arms of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia (one shield) and Zagreb (the other). Despite containing blue, the checkered background elicits thoughts of the Croatian flag, and as a consequence the more excellent Croatian football shirts. Although it too is new – an 1880 addition to a 13th century building – it is gaudily loveable, like Primula cheese and the Powerpuff Girls.
Love is a tenuous segue to The Museum of Broken Relationships. Even newer, as it dates from 2010, this is a museum, finally and thankfully, to which people can relate. It contains drab everyday objects, but beside each of which is a tale of why it represents a failed romance. I made her this, and she broke my heart. We went here the last time we were happy. This is art that celebrates wallowing, a most comforting sin.
It is difficult to get a grand feel of a place when there for less than 24 hours, but being in Zagreb when it was pouring does make it all a unique moment. This is wallowing too, turning travel into an image of heroic endeavour. The truth is that it is just walking around. All else, from the church to the weather, is controlled elsewhere, at least until it is time to recount what happened in Zagreb. I saw the city, a life among the people. But for them it was Tuesday.