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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Wilkins

Touching down in Zagreb: the fortieth birthday trip begins

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

This trip has been in the works for a long time, but it's still hard to believe I'm actually here. And harder to believe that I won't be back home for another month.

The starting point for my Croatian adventure is the capital city of Zagreb. Determined to win at the jet lag game, I hit the ground running the afternoon I arrived, despite minimal sleep on my flights. Thankfully, Zagreb is easy to explore on foot, which kept me moving.

The first thing I noticed about Zagreb, besides how blue and shiny the trams are, is that there are outdoor cafes everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I've been to plenty of European cities and experienced a lot of cafe culture, but I've never seen a city with this much outdoor seating at its cafes and restaurants. More surprisingly, they're absolutely never empty. Maybe it's because the weather is finally warm and people are excited for summer, but it's as if the entire population of the city is outside.

I decided to start by checking off some of the main sights. The quaint churches and buildings of Zagreb's historic Upper Town didn't disappoint.

St. Mark's Church

Upper Town, Zagreb

Time somehow flew, and I managed to time my climb up Lotršćak Tower to coincide with sunset. Despite a mild resurgence of my usually dormant fear of heights, the 360° views were worth it.

Safely back on solid ground, I slowly made my way back to my apartment in Lower Town via bustling Tkalčićeva Street.

I thought I'd seen a lot of outdoor cafes earlier in the day, but that was nothing compared to this. Remember how I said it seems like everyone's outside? That's even more true on a Saturday night, to the point where finding a table at a restaurant was nearly impossible (unless I wanted pizza or burgers, which is a hard no when I just landed from the States).

Eventually a combination of tiredness and my love of street food won out, and I headed home with some tasty savory treats -- the local variation on the meat-and-cheese-in-bread goods that seem to exist in every culture, which I ordered largely by pointing and whose ingredients I didn't exactly know. But they were delicious.

I managed to stay up fairly late and woke up at a reasonable hour, so I was convinced I'd beaten the jet lag. I was wrong. After an early morning visit to the fantastic Dolac Market, where I bought more cherries than one person should rationally eat, I went straight back home and collapsed for a nap. Not my best move.

I kept it brief and headed back out. I wandered through the stalls of the weekend antique market, not actually wanting to buy anything that I'd have to schlep around in my suitcase for the next month.

Because it was Sunday, nearly all the shops in Zagreb were closed. This seemed like the perfect time to enjoy one of the million outdoor cafes. I chose a really cute one and was thrilled to find iced coffee on the menu. That's typically something that takes me ages to hunt down abroad.

Since this is a working trip and not just a vacation, I figured the day everything is closed was the perfect time to crank out the work that came in right before I left. So I spent the next few hours writing two articles while I enjoyed local MTV in the background (side note: traveling is the only time I ever watch MTV any more, because foreign countries actually still show videos).

I thought for sure I'd be exhausted by the time I was done, but it appears that I was totally wrong about winning the jet lag game. It's now 2am and I'm wide awake. Which is unfortunate because in 4 hours I'm off on one of the side trips that I'm most looking forward to. At least I'll have a million cherries to eat along the way.

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