Take me down to the paradise city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, oh won't you please take me home... Guns 'N Roses - Paradise City
If Axel Rose sings truly, as many hardcore fans do believe, then there is not too much to a paradise city. Green grass and pretty girls. Not a bad list I must say, they are definitely necessary but in my mind not quite sufficient.
Keep the green grass, keep the pretty girls, but give me as well good food, plentiful art, nature in proximity and since we're talking about paradise city, let's keep the prices low.
The paradise city in question, is Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, situated in the North, not on the coast.
The Lonely Planet intro to the city was wishy-washy, in fact as it often seems, a load of horse shit. It posed the so-called eternal question of whether or not Zagreb is even worth visiting. Even though they end up with a positive answer, most readers already have so much doubt in their minds that they are fleeing for the beaches of the Adriatic coastline.
But we'd spent weeks on the beach, and weeks with Roman and Ottoman ruins and it was time for something new. It was time to get back to Modern Art. Cities have a spirit to them that small towns can't capture, especially those with tourists in mind. Due to the draw of Croatia's coast and to guide books like LP, Zagreb maintains a certain authenticity. Few places are crammed with hordes or tourists, and few places go out of their way to sacrifice their originality and coddle the tourists.
Obviously its not Paris, but I got a distinctly Parisian feel from Zagreb. Its the wide boulevards with fantastic buildings, classical architecture, art nouveau, a bit of everything - all of it making a statement. You'd be hard-pressed to compare the number of people sitting in parks vs. sitting in cafes, both are plentiful and seem to occupy nearly completely the lives of the locals.
So you sit in the cafe, on the sidewalk of course, or you sit in the park. Where the grass is perfectly maintained. Its a joy to be on grass so soft you can roll in it as if it were your bed at home. And on both the grass, and in the cafes, is the biggest amount of the prettiest girls I've seen in one place in my life.
But you can't lounge around all day, because that can be done everywhere, so luckily there's a lot of intellectual and cultural activities the city offers. From splendid churches and cathedrals to bountiful museums and galleries, it is safe to say Zagreb is thriving with contemporary art and beautiful historical monuments. St. Mark's Church in the old town is a stunner, with colorful tiles arranged on the roof to represent the coat of arms of Croatia.
A highlight was the Museum of Naive Art. Also roughly known as Art Brut (I've got research to do because it may lead to my thesis!), Naive Art is art by artists who are self-trained and don't belong to traditional stylistic schools. They are often characterized by simplification, strong coloration that can be arbitrary, flatness, the use of oil on glass, and a link to Henri Le Dounier Rousseau, one of my favorite French artists. The museum had a great collection of mostly Croatian Naive paintings, as well as a number from around Europe. Here are two of my favorites:
Beyond that, its a city that is truly alive. Fueled by the sun and by the seemingly absurd amount of coffee consumed, people are everywhere, always. Its a good thing to see in a city. The cheap prices helped, beer was less than two euros a pint and we ate full dinners for less than five euros.
Zagreb is a great space, with wide boulevards nearly everywhere, great museums and parks, and beautiful people. Its truly a paradise city and I couldn't help but feel that it'd be worth learning Croatian to move there in the future. As if to reinforce that idea, we saw a group of bike racers ride by on our last evening. Its a city that truly has everything I guess.
Photos to come later when I find a working computer.