It’s like those buses – you wait for ages and then two come along … For decades, I’ve travelled the world but I never went to former Yugoslavia or its newly-independent components. However, last month, I spent a long weekend in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina [my review here]. Then, last week, I spent several days in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. I was there for a seminar entitled “Consumer Issues In The Electronic Communications Market” and I gave presentations on telecommunications and the Internet. Since I’ve never been to Zagreb before, I flew out a little early and stayed on a little later, so that I could see a bit of the city.
Croatia is very different from Bosnia. It was never part of the Ottoman Empire and does not have the ethnic and religious mix of Bosnia. The vast majority of its 4.4 million citizens are Croat and Catholic. It has a long Dalamatian coastline which helps define its character and results in a good deal of tourism, whereas Bosnia only has a very tiny coastline and still experiences relatively little tourism.
Both Croatian and Bosnian – which are very similar – are Slavonic languages and I speak a little Czech, so I was able to use a few Croatian words and (with the aid of a delightful woman called Andja) even opened my first conference presentation with two sentences of Croatian. A strange fact: even though Croatia is such a small country, there are several distinct Croatian dialects.
Zagreb itself is like a small Prague or Budapest. The architecture of the inner city is heavily influenced by its former membership of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while the outer parts of the city display plenty of evidence of the stark, utilitarian style of its decades as a Communist state. Like Prague and Budapest, there is an old town with historic buildings, a hill with an imposing cathedral, and cobbled streets and lots of cafes. The city is particularly blessed by some splendid parks.
At one point, I was reminded of Krakow. There a trumpeter in the cathedral tower announces the arrival of noon, whereas in Zagreb a cannon is fired from a tower in the Upper Town (the old bit). Although it rained every day that I was there, I did a lot of walking: I took a guided tour of the Upper Town with a very able guide called Neven and did my own walking tour of the Lower Town. I even managed to spend time in three museums: the Zagreb Museum, the Arts & Crafts Museum and the Mimara Museum.