In Zagreb, ghosts abound but the city gives a warm welcome.
Legend has it that it's bad luck for a black cat to cross your path. I've never put much stock in this old fable - especially since black cats are my favourite! But when a ghostly white cat appeared on our path moments after we concluded the Zagreb Ghosts and Dragons tour, I started to ponder the legend once more. What was the significance of a white cat? And why was it looking at me so curiously as it followed us down the path? What misfortune was lurking around the corner for us in Zagreb?
Happily, we were haunted by no further ominous symbols. Friendly cats are commonplace in the Croatian capital and this little Casper seemed much more interested in whether we were a potential source for treats than casting a spell. And in Zagreb, it appears that friendliness and charm go hand in hand with mystery and intrigue, as we spent the evening engrossed in tales of slumbering dragons, witches good and bad, and curious legends.
Before you get too spooked, take heart. Zagreb isn't a naturally scary place. It's a compact, easy to walk city that's filled with lovely cafes and plenty of funky street art. And the music! We passed so many musicians and buskers in the main squares. In truth, unless you went looking for it, you'd never know that the city is teaming with wild, weird, and wonderful legends, many of the mysterious and macabre kind.
The Ghosts and Dragons tour is part of the line up offered by Secret Zagreb. Their founder, and our tour guide, is Iva and her warm, friendly demeanor is a good antidote for any worries or chills you may experience during the tour. I won't steal her limelight and spoil your tour by revealing all the stories, but you can expect a good dose of witches, murderers, forgotten burial grounds, and legends of the supernatural.
In addition to being an exceptional storytelling experience, the tour is also an excellent orientation to the city itself. As visitors who were only in town for one night, we really appreciated the opportunity to see important buildings like the Parliament, to climb a few (moderate) hills to get a great view of the city, and to learn some interesting tidbits about Zagreb life. It may sound morbid, but I got a real kick out of being introduced to a part of the city where ghosts are being made on a regular basis - otherwise known as a notorious intersection where, despite legendary dangers, drivers refuse to slow down and seem hell bent on joining the spirit world!
Iva's hospitality and pride in her city were evident long before we met. Pre-tour, Iva was able to provide me with some fantastic Zagreb recommendations in an email exchange, including some great ideas for writer-friendly cafes. She is a wonderful ambassador for the city and is incredibly helpful and welcoming. This is one tour where, when the organizers say to contact them if you have any questions, they really mean it and they aren't shy about sharing Zagreb's secrets (and not just the scary ones...)
While Zagreb might have a mysterious side to it late at night, we had no fear of monsters hiding under our bed. We were fortunate to stay at Zagreb's most famous and luxurious hotel, the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel. This is where everyone who's anyone - including Queen Elizabeth and Pierce Brosnan - stay when they're in town. Well, if it's good enough for royalty and James Bond, it's good enough for me! Plus - it's just a few steps from the railway station, making it the perfect spot for a quick layover.
With a hotel room so beautiful and spacious, it was impossible to pull ourselves away and we indulged in a rare but favourite travel treat - room service! Ryan kept with the classic club sandwich (which was beautifully presented, with salad and fries and wee little dishes of condiments on the side) while I had a delectable herb roasted chicken with a delightfully crispy skin on top of shiitake mushroom risotto.
While a part of me wishes I had explored further afield to indulge in traditional Croatian cuisine, our choice was delicious and the perfect prelude to an afternoon nap - eagerly anticipated after our long train ride in from Budapest. When we awoke, creme brule with fresh currants was the perfect pre-tour treat.
The deliciousness and relaxation continued into the next morning. We had a wonderful breakfast on the terrace (complete with some charming feathered friends - I think every country in the world has a version of these tiny, plump, brown birds who shamelessly hop around cafes). The hotel's breakfast buffet was elaborate but we opted for two options from the menu - eggs Benedict for Ryan and French toast with maple syrup for me. It was a lovely, tastes-like-home change from the usual sausage and eggs and pastries of continental Europe.
Our time in Zagreb was all too brief but we were there long enough to really start to love Croatia and we're eager to plan a return trip soon. Iva's friendliness and passion for storytelling, combined with so much relaxation at the hotel made for an unforgettable first impression and we would love to experience more!
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We were media guests of both secret Zagreb and the Esplanade Hotel and we thank them for their support.