Zagreb, the nation’s capital city and its center of culture has one quality that in my opinion stands above the rest. The 900,000 or so residents of Zagreb have a central passion: for coffee and the cafe culture. When I first read about this, I thought that I had finally read a description of paradise, as those of you who have frequented cafes with me know I take my cafe time seriously.
While beer [pivo] is also very important, there are as many coffee cups as beer mugs in each of the hundreds of sidewalk cafes. One street in particular, Tkalčićeva, is a windy street that used to be a creek and was paved over to follow the original course of the creek. This street boasts no less than twenty cafes, with tables across the street from each other so that patrons can look at each other while sipping their favorite beverage. It also has a strange effect of making you feel like you are walking the runway when you are walking on the street. I made sure I kept my head up and remembered to smize.
The buildings that line the street vary in origin from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, and there are various bronze statues of what look to be peasants. A few stately trees provide shade and a connection with nature, something that is often lacking in other urban environments. Little gray birds fly in and out of the cafes, and bicycling locals wizz by, in a city that apparently does not have any moratorium on riding a bike in a pedestrian zone. Small flowers fall from the blooming trees like pods being ejected from the mothership.
Once you have found a suitable location to partake of some liquid bliss, a cappuccino will cost you around 11.00 KN [approximately US$2.25] or if you prefer a Stella Artois around 16.00 KN [approximately UD$3.25]. Not bad considering the weakness of the U.S. dollar at the moment.
If are sensitive to smoke, be forewarned: cigarettes are ubiquitous among the cafe crowd, adding another layer to the experience that makes it feel like something from the Europe of a few decades ago. I am fortunate in that the four Spaniards who just sat down next to me in a tornado of smoke were looking to eat, and this particular cafe does not serve food. In fact, the majority of cafes do not, so do not expect to find a croissandwich on the menu.
As the church bells ring in the 11am hour, I look around and wonder: does it get much better than this?