Zagreb was meant to be Budapest, but every single couchette, sleeper and seat had been sold out on the Leipzig to Budapest train. “Even the first-class sleepers?” I enquired. “Yes”, was the short answer, and the ticket guy swivelled his screen and showed me a row of zeros. After trying out different options, it seemed the only way forward (i.e. east) was to take the one and only first-class sleeper available to Zagreb. Well, with my very own bed in my very own compartment, I would arrive refreshed and ready to explore wherever I went. And, to be honest, my last stop in Zagreb was pretty brief.
And explored I did. I even surprised myself by how much you can fit in when doing a city in a day. And maybe my Zagreb day became such an interesting day because I was disappointed that my plan for Budapest hadn’t worked out so my expectations were not as high? I don’t know.
Sitting with a hot chocolate at one of the busy restaurants lining the main square, I decided to skip the free walking tour and go straight for the museums I wanted to see – after the previous day’s museums-closed-on-Mondays debacle. The Museum of Contemporary Art lay half an hour away by tram but was well worth the effort. Immediately, it was very much in your face as you walked the steps up to the first exhibition.
[The small print at the bottom of the huge Bosnian Girl poster by Sejla Kamerić says: “Graffiti written by an unknown Dutch soldier on a wall of the army barracks in Potocari, Srebrenica, 1994/95. Royal Netherlands Army troops, as part of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-95, were responsible for protecting the Srebrenica safe area.]
There were a lot of exhibits I liked at the Museum of Contemporary Art. From this stylish Triptych by Andraž Šalmamun.
To this moving exhibit called Women’s House by Sanja Iveković. Each face mask was done by a woman telling her own story of abuse, and each story had been translated into English at the back of each of the pedestals.
Back in town, I went straight for the Modern Gallery. I felt the modern section upstairs was a bit of a mixed bag. There were a number of paintings that were quite raw and primitive, like they represented artists at the very beginning of their career. But then there were also gems like this one: Pierrot in Love and Lady with a Cat by Munir Vejzović.
Enough of art by now? Not for me! Zagreb is brilliant for art, and when I walked into the Museum of Naive Art later in the afternoon, I got another positive surprise. I was kind of expecting child-like drawings, but found something quite different.
Naive art, I found out, is supposed to refer to self-taught artists who have accomplished a certain level of skill. Even if the label implies a simple style, I felt that Ivan Rabuzin’s On the Hills – Primeal Forest above, to take one example, displayed a rather mature and self-confident style, not at all simplistic. Or St Mark’s, Venice by Emerik Feješ below.
And I thoroughly enjoyed paintings like My Neighbour, Cross-Eyed Steve by Martin Mehkek below. Interestingly, the leaflet handed out by the Gallery of Naive Art used the word “school”. It was suggested that naive art is linked to its own school called the Hlibne School. A bit confusing if you ask me.
However, if you’re looking for something unique and different, The Museum of Broken Relationships might be something for you. WYSIWYG: this museum will present you with quite a few stories of broken relationships, along with some physical object that is linked to the relationship or the breakup. Some stories are very short and not very personal, like the one below. Others are quite extensive and painfully honest.
However, don’t miss the pedestrian street below St Mark’s, where people tend to hang out towards the evening. Around nine, there’s music as well I was told. I had a great time at this spot, exchanging travel stories with an interesting Australian couple while listening to Irish music and trying out Croatian beer.
Streets like Tkalčićeva get really busy at night. However, after a fantastic day in Zagreb, I had to head to my next stop: Belgrade. This time, the train didn’t even have couchettes or sleepers, just seats. But I was hoping that the first-class car would not be crowded so I could get some sleep anyway.