Friday, November 8, 2013

Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)

Spending five days wandering Zagreb this summer, I was amazed by how much has changed. First, there are way more non-European tourists than I ever remember. Asians, Australians, Americans - everywhere we went, we saw different faces and heard new languages. It's encouraging because I think Zagreb has been an under-rated Croatian destination for so long. (By the way, that's your cue to get there fast.)

Second, I was happily surprised to see how far its dining scene has come. Croatia isn't exactly known for its diverse restaurant options (though the local food is delicious, so, I get it), but I feel like we got a good variety on this trip. (Full Zagreb restaurants post to come!) Plus, Croatia's wine explosion and a strong craft beer industry make for some delicious drinking.

There's a lot of things that, I'm happy to say, haven't changed. Zagreb still holds on to its history. You see it everywhere - in its architecture, museums, public art. It's charming and it's intriguing.

The best place for a dose of old world Croatia is Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad in Croatian).

Style Jaunt - A Fashionable Travel Blog: Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Photo by Stjepan Alaupovic
There are a number of ways to get to Gornji Grad from Zagreb's main square, but the most fun mode of transport is this guy - ZET Uspinjača. The funicular was built in 1890 and originally powered by steam. Now you can take it the 200-something feet to Gornji Grad for the equivalent of 70 American cents.

By the way - the Basement, which you see just in front of the funicular, is an adorable wine bar with all Croatian wine. And can we talk conversion rates for a second? This past summer was probably the last before Croatia switches to the Euro. I priced out my glass of wine at Basement (one that in New York City would easily go for $15 a glass) at just $3.50! INSANE. And that white umbrella you see poking out on the right side of the photo is a casual gastropub with really good local fare - I had stuffed peppers in a tomato sauce that I still daydream about.

The funicular drops you near the base of Kula Lotrščak - the white tower you see sticking out in that photo - which was built in the 13th century to guard the southern gate of Gradec, one of the two original settlements that made up old Zagreb. Gradec, the more secular of the two, had a mostly unhealthy rivalry with the church-controlled Kaptol. The Middle Ages. You know.

At noon, Lotrščak's canon and nearby church bells still sound off to signal the time of day.

Style Jaunt - A Fashionable Travel Blog: Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Photo by Stjepan Alaupovic

Style Jaunt - A Fashionable Travel Blog: Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Photo by Stjepan Alaupovic
Strossmarte is a cool new addition to the district. It's a flower-adorned pedestrian walkway where local artists and craftsmen sell some interesting, one-of-a-kind goods. The outdoor cafe plays romantic Croatian and Italian music throughout the day and it's a good place to stop for a rest or to check out the view. But my favorite view is on the eastern side of the walkway that faces Kaptol and Zagreb's Cathedral.

On our way to Sveti Marko (St. Mark's Church), we ran into this costumed gal. At first I thought it was just a touristy attraction, but there's an interesting story to this girl and her garb. She's dressed in traditional folk clothing that Croatian women in the area wore from the 19th century all the way up to the 1960s.

Really, what she's meant to signify is a type of woman called "Kumica," the nickname given to women from nearby villages who sold their farm-grown goods at Dolac Market. A fun side note: girls of the time wore their hair in braids if they were unmarried or tied in a knot and covered with a kerchief to signal to the fellas that they were off the market.

"Kumica" stands on the corner of Katarinin Trg (Katarina's Square - yeah, I've got my own square!) and is actually a great Zagreb resource. Don't let the basket of trinkets fool you. On another day, I stood and chatted Croatian history with a different Kumica for at least 20 minutes.

Style Jaunt - A Fashionable Travel Blog: Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Photo by Stjepan Alaupovic
Every time I stand in front of Sveti Marko, I cry. It's grand. It's beautiful. It's a Croatian landmark that automatically whisks me away to another time. It's an overwhelming experience that I'm drawn to time and again, and there's no way I could ever really put into words what kind of effect this church can have on your state of mind. Inside, it's been restored by a famous sculptor named Ivan Meštrović and the roof is adorned with two coats of arms - the one on the left representing Croatia's different regions and the other for Zagreb.

It was here that we saw Gornji Grad's lamp lighter come through and by hand spark the small flames inside of the town's old gas lamps - something our tour guide, a Zagreb local born and raised, said she's only seen twice in her life. Seeing Sveti Marko's tiled roof ablaze with the light of the sunset and the lamps was something I'll never forget.

Style Jaunt - A Fashionable Travel Blog: Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Photo by Stjepan Alaupovic

Style Jaunt - A Fashionable Travel Blog: Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Photo by Stjepan Alaupovic
I had another centering experience at Kamenita Vrata (Stone Gate). Built in the 17th century, it's one of Zagreb's most storied spots and the only original town gate to have survived a massive fire in 1731. Because of this, and a painting of the Virgin Mary that also survived the fire, it's become a place of religious reflection and prayer. Even if you're not religious, give it a shot. It's just an inspiring place.

Though I have to be honest. The mood was killed when a loud group of tourists came strolling through and snapping photos. People come here to light candles and pray for their loved ones. I wish visitors would be more respectful of this when they come to admire the memorial. If you ever visit Zagreb, please keep that in mind.

Style Jaunt - A Fashionable Travel Blog: Destinations: Zagreb's Upper Town (Gornji Grad)
Photo by Stjepan Alaupovic
The Zagreb Cathedral in Kaptol is a main attraction for anyone who appreciates history and architecture. It's said that Croatians were the first of the Slavic people to accept Christianity and the above memorial is a tribute to Glagolitic script. With its origins dating back to the 9th century, it's the first Slavic alphabet introduced by two missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who are now referred to as the "Slavic Apostles." Interestingly enough, the Croatian church here in Manhattan is dedicated to these two missionaries.

But in the meantime, hop on over to the Style Jaunt Facebook page for more photos of Zagreb's Gornji Grad.

What is one of your most inspiring travel moments?

No comments:

Post a Comment