Catriona is back in Croatia and this time in its capital Zagreb tasting all it has to offer from its delicious food, the culture and its spirit.
Croatia boasts a sublime stretch of Adriatic coast and is regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful countries. Despite the tragedy of war, with remaining reminders, most of its charms are intact and tourist areas have been restored.
The 1991-1995 Balkan conflict, triggered by the fall of communism across Eastern Europe, resulted in Yugoslavia's numerous republics and provinces wanting to go their separate ways after more than 40 years of communist rule.
Zagreb is the political, economic and cultural capital of Croatia. It throbs with an energy blended with old-world graciousness. Its sober and industrious mood is lightened by beautiful 19th-century buildings in the commercial centre and the intimate streets of the old quarter.
The city's beauty creeps up on you. It's a good idea to take leisurely strolls in the Old Quarter, join the throngs at pavement cafes, take a tram ride and join the locals in one of their favourite pastimes, people watching. There are some nightclubs, but most socialising takes place in small kafiæi, or café/bars. The main area is Tkalciceva and most gathering places open at around midnight.
Two main areas make up the city Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and the lower-lying Donji Grad. They meet at Trg Bana Jelaèiæa, the main square.
Gornji Grad is home to the Cathedral and Croatian Parliament. Its winding, cobblestone streets, church spires and red-tiled rooftops are reminiscent of old Prague. Most buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries and are excellent examples of neo-classical and baroque architecture. It can be reached by a quaint funicular. At the end of the short ride, you are rewarded by wonderful city views.
Lotrscak Tower is one of the 16 guardposts which once defended the city. It was erected in the mid-13th century as part of the southern city walls, which were almost two metres thick. At noon each day, Stjepan Mozar fires a cannon from the tower and locals set their watches and clocks by the huge bang. Mr Mozar has not missed a day of firing the cannon since 1975!
By contrast, Donji Grad is home to the commercial district, museums, the National Theatre and university, laid out on a strict grid system during the 19th century. It is made up of grandiose Hapsburgian buildings between a series of green squares linked by tree-lined boulevards.
Trg Tomislava, opposite the train station, is a shady, green square forming the backbone of the lower town. Its main attraction is the 1898 art pavilion, with gilded stucco and mock-marble interior.
In the centre of Trg Bana Jelaèiæa is a statue of Josip Jelaèiæ, the 19th-century hero responsible for defeating the Hungarians in an 1848 uprising, holding a very pointy sword. Yugoslav leader Tito had the statue removed in 1947. Until 1991 it was secreted in a cellar. Its return heralded independence and the sword now points towards Belgrade as a sign of defiance.
The Dolac market, which connects the lower and upper sections of the city, is said to be Europe's oldest outdoor market. It holds a colourful display of fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices, baked goods, produce, clothing, lace and jewellery. Farmers arrive from the surrounding countryside each morning to sell their produce. Groups of local women sell delicious cheese.
Croatians are very proud of inventing the necktie. During the early 17th century, soldiers began wearing narrow scarves, with high ranking officers wearing fine silk neckties and lower ranking soldiers wearing plainer, coarser material. They visited the court of King Louis XIII in the early 17th century and the chic French were so impressed by the neckwear, the fashion took off in a big way. King Charles II took the fashion to England and it spread, symbolising a man of elegance and culture.
Croata Tie Boutique neckties are made only from top-quality silk in various weaves. They are handmade, created by Croatian designers and have the history of the cultural symbol printed on the package.
A highlight of Zagreb is Mirogoj Cemetery, one of the most beautiful in existence. It was designed by Austrian architect Herman Bolle in 1876 and features a neo-Renaissance arcade and monumental entrance crowned with a copper cupola. Different religions, languages and cultures express themselves there amongst flickering candles, ornate and expensive stonework, flowers and artwork. Lime-green cupolas top the wall surrounding its beautiful tree-lined park. It is the resting place for many famous artists and public figures.
Mount Medvednica, with its highest peak Sljeme (1300 metres), occupies a special place in the lives of the Zagreb population and visitors. A popular bushwalking and picnic area, the mountain offers wonderful views of Zagreb, the Sava and Kupa valleys and, in clear weather, the snow-capped peaks of the Slovenian Alps.
The old Medvedgrad is a 13th-century medieval burg which has recently been restored. It is the Shrine of the Homeland, a memorial with eternal flame, where locals revere Croatia's fallen soldiers.
Good accommodation in Zagreb is notoriously hard to find. There are few good hotels and those tend to be expensive.
Hotel Central is a very popular mid-range choice for travellers, as it is in the city centre, close to transport and well priced. It is located opposite the main train station in the Lower Town, close to parks and galleries. It was built in 1952, extended in 1959 and renovated in 1996 and 2001.
The hotel's recent refurbishment has significantly improved its functionality and comfort, now offering 79 comfortable rooms with ensuite and air conditioning.