note to my zagreb landlady

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Hello Sara

I am reluctantly checking out of your apartment this morning to catch the 10 o’clock bus to Ljubljana. I have enjoyed my three nights stay very much.

Your place is truly an astonishing airbnb property. Everything about it from the white and baby blue furnishings to the soft scent of the face flannels and towels exudes a rare sense of class, passion and thoughtfulness.

The house is nicely located above Hocus Pocus cafe – a local rendezvous where quiet streets intersect next to a small park lined with beautiful bald trees. In the evenings the deflected glow from the cafe downstairs afford the bedroom a feeling of snuggly solitude tempered with a safe dose of drowsy distractions.

Reading your whatsapp text now I realised that there is so much of Zagreb that I missed, for there is far more to Zagreb than I imagined.

Travel Guides unwittingly paint a wrong picture of Zagreb as just another mid-level Mitteleuropa  metropolis munificently bequeathed with Austro-Hungarian architecture –  a smaller, poorer and duller copy of Vienna that thanks to history is fortuitously situated within the southeastern limits of western Christendom !

Truth is Zagreb as the capital of the recently famous country of Croatia is a well-deserved destination in its own right. Maybe not in the same global league as London, Rome or Paris but definitely worth a 12-hour flight to get there and a stay of four or five nights to soak in the sights and sounds.

Admittedly, I was rather taken with Zagreb. I found the local food agreeable to my Southeast Asian palate, the buildings attractive with more authentic atmosphere compared to Vienna or Prague and the people especially those in the tourist trade kinder and more honest than Budapest.

And Zagreb has the best cafès in Europe in my opinion. They are also the most ideal places to retreat to on a cold February morning. The coffee is always strong, cheap and good. It is served to you while you are comfortably seated, a dark solid wooden table away from a regular patron contemplating on her steaming cup and lighted cigarette to a background of smooth jazz.

Thank you once again for being such a kind host to me.

One day I will return to see the rest of Zagreb and Croatia and if I am lucky to find your apartment available I hope I can stay there again.

Boon Leng

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Street vistas converge on the Neo-Gothic twin spires of the Zagreb Cathedral. A church on the site was first built in 1217. After destruction by wars, a  Mongol invasion and in 1880 by an earthquake the building was redesigned and restored to its present form.
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A dignified and attractive roadside florist in army fatigue and furs. Zagreb is located in the belly of Europe and has a keen continental climate. Winters are cold averaging around zero degree celsius in January and early February.
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‘‘It is full of those vast toast-coloured buildings, barracks and law courts and municipal offices, which are an invariable sign of past occupancy by the Austro-Hungarian empire: and that always means enthusiastic ingestion combined with lack of exercise in pleasant surroundings’’ -Rebecca West in ‘Black Lamb and Grey Falcon’ on Zagreb during her visit there in 1937.

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Birdman of Ban Jelačić Square. Trg bana Josipa Jelačića  (or colloquially  Jelačić plac) is named after Croatia’s national hero, Count Josip Jelačić who tried to win independence for Croatia from Austrian rule by supporting the Austrian Empire against Hungary during the Revolution of 1848.
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Red hair and scarf on Radićeva Street

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Woman walking past a side entrance of the Croatian National Bank (Hrvatska Narodna Banka), the central bank of the Republic of Croatia. The palace-like building, designed by Victor Kovačić, once housed the Zagreb Stock Exchange. To this day many still refer to it as ‘Burza’.

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A bride-to-be walking down from St Mark’s Church in Gornji Grad or Upper Town, the city’s medieval core
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Late evening view of the statue of St George and the Dragon he slew near the Old Town Gate

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Croatia, popular with European vacationers for the last 100 years, has of late been discovered by Asian tourists. For reasons that I am yet to find out Koreans seem to have a thing for Croatia because in 2017 nearly half of million of them made a trip there, more than citizens of any other non-Western country.

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Although Croatia is a EU country it is not part of the Schengen zone and has not adopted the Euro. The country still uses its own currency the Kuna which means “marten” – a furry animal related to the weasel a reference to the use of its pelt as a mean of exchange during medieval times.

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Despite being classified as a medium income country with a per capita income  below that of Malaysia, Croatia is by any meaningful yardstick an advanced country with high levels of literacy, human development and civic mindedness.

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Croatia (Hrvatska) is a young nation state with very proud ancient roots. It had to endure a thousand years of foreign rule, invasions and wars before finally in 1992 being recognised as a distinct entity.

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All words and pictures Copyright (c) Kerk Boon Leng March 2019