Ready to take in the weird side of Eastern Europe? Check these out.
After three months in Zagreb and three months in Bucharest, we’re now exploring Düsseldorf, Germany… and of course there’s plenty more coming about Germany…
But for now, it’s time to have a look at Eastern Europe. Both Zagreb and Bucharest are capital cities of their respective countries (Croatia and Romania, respectively), and both suffered under the hands of non-democratic leaders until the late 80’s or early 90’s. Both have joined the nations of the world and are open for business / tourism… and now both have a step-by-step, three-day itinerary to take you across each city.
OK, but which city should I visit?
Both! Read about a couple of my favorite places, one from each city. These are excerpts from each book, by the way…
My favorite from Zagreb: The Museum of Broken Relationships
Ćirilometodska ul. 2
(GPS: 45.815019, 15.973481)
The first of its type in the world (and only one of two in the world as of publication), the Museum of Broken Relationships offers guests a chance to read stories of relationships and take in the exhibits that accompany them. Established in 2010, stories are bi-lingual (though I do wish the text were larger) and told by people from around the world, The exhibits themselves are gifts from one ex to another, but can also be something that brought back memories. The relationships cover the gamut as well: lovers, family, dating, and so on. If you’ve been in a relationship at some point in your life, you’ll identify with at least one story in the mix.
It’s no longer the only one of its type (a second permanent exhibition has opened in Los Angeles), but this one remains the original.
From the Art Park, go through the Grič Tunnel to end up on a pedestrian walkway (Strossmayerovo šetalište). Turn right, pass the overlook, walk about 125 meters, then turn left. Walk about 35 meters, then look straight ahead for the building. Zig-zag to continue straight, and look right for the entrance.
If the tunnel is closed for whatever reason, exit the art park, then head left up the hill. Take the stairs or the funicular to the top, then look straight and walk away from the stairs. Walk 30 meters to the open plaza, then the Museum of Broken Relationships will be almost in front of you.
My favorite from Bucharest: Romanian Kitsch Museum
Strada Covaci 6
(GPS: 44.430867, 26.101312)
OK, so we’re just about done with serious destinations today. Romania has a surprisingly long history of ‘kitsch’, which we’ll define as garish, tacky, or of poor taste for the sake of argument. Some symbols of a faux-luxurious living are on display, and the museum is neatly organized into mainstay categories of Romanian life. The church, Communism, and other facets of life are on display, but in an off-the-record kind of way. The ‘wooden language’ politicians use is on display, and some videos break up the displays. You’ll still see (and hear) a fair bit of kitsch around Bucharest, but hopefully this museum will help you make sense of it… or at least give you something to laugh at without worrying about offending anyone. Be sure to check out the mural on the upper-level ceiling for a laugh.
From St. George ‘New’ Church, double back through that underground passage to cross under the road. When you emerge, continue straight to walk away from the main road. This cobblestoned pedestrian-only area is the Old Town — walk about 50 meters and turn left just past Bar Harley (or before Metal Jack). Walk another 50 meters to the T, then turn right and take the next possible left. Walk another 80 meters to another T, then turn right. Walk another 40 meters and look left for the museum.
So which city did you like better, Chris?
I liked them both. I really did. Neither country uses the euro, and neither country is part of the Schengen Zone, meaning they both make great places to visit before or after you’ve taken in Western Europe. I have a point-by-point comparison post in the works, but for now, I’ll simply say this:
- Go to Zagreb if you want to share lots of pictures on Instagram of pretty buildings or you sitting in cafes.
- Go to Bucharest if you prefer a bit of roughness around the edges or prefer beers and shots to coffee.
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Also published on Medium.