Continuing the TCN series meeting the bloggers of Croatia, meet one of the most honest of them all, Andrea Pisac from Zagreb Honestly.
The art of blogging attracts people from all walks of life, offering a variety of styles, opinions and approaches. For some it is a money-making venture, for others a hobby and for others a voice to the world. Croatia is proportionately underrepresented by English-language bloggers, but what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality – and in the case of Andrea Pisac – honesty.
Not by coincidence perhaps is it that her award-winning blog takes its name after one of the shining themes of her writing, and Zagreb Honestly has quickly become essential reading for people interested in Croatia and particularly Andrea’s beloved Zagreb. From 25 reasons why coffee is sacred, and the reasons she decided to return to Croatia, to the ultimate toilet guide to the Croatian capital, Andrea has applied the skills learned in her academic career in London to her returnee life to Zagreb to produce extremely well-written, insightful and – yes – honest posts about Zagreb. TCN caught up with Andrea for a glass of wine and an honest chat in Zagreb on January 19, 2016, to find out more.
1. You are a poster child of what the incoming government is looking for. A successful Croat abroad who has returned home and is making an active and positive contribution. Was it an easy decision to make?
The decision wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. Before I cleared out my London flat, I lived between the UK and Croatia for 2 years. As an anthropologist doing fieldwork in Croatia at the time, I was suddenly given an opportunity to experience local life again. I got to (re)appreciate all those little things that make life in Croatia more enjoyable. I am thinking here closer friendships and community ties, slower pace of life, much much more sunshine and food that bursts with flavour!
2. There are almost as many Croats living abroad as in Croatia. What advice do you have for those thinking of returning as you did?
I get emails all the time from people wanting to relocate to Croatia. Some are 2nd or 3rd generation Croats from around the world, others are location-independent entrepreneurs who are slowly discovering Croatia as a perfect base for digital nomads. They ask for advice and I tell them this: the most important thing that can make or break you settling in Croatia are people. Croatia in general is based on a very close-knit mentality. But this is not only present in the private space. It’s how the country works. If you want to start a business here, build a house, get tyres changed on your car or have a haircut – you need friends who will hook you up with more friends. This is a word-of-mouth culture, so forget googling information. Much that exists as a payable service in the UK, is a friendly favour in Croatia. It cannot be bought, only earned by participating in the daily life of a community.
3. Your Zagreb Honestly blog has already won awards and has been praised for its honesty, great writing and insightfulness. How did it start?
Honestly – accidentally! I started renting out my central Zagreb flat as a tourist apartment and I soon realized I could provide an added value for my guests with information on the blog. I was going through a massive life change: I left London and I left my academic career. I found myself at the crossroads with so many diverse skills but without a clear direction. The only thing that my skills had in common was writing and story-telling.
My anthropology gives me a unique angle when I research things and pick my topics, my creative writing (did you know I’m a published fiction writer?) gives me playfulness and flow when I write, and my acquired British mentality gives me an idea of what a foreigner might like to know about Croatia. I guess I invented a perfect job for myself.
4. You are obviously very passionate about Zagreb. tell us a little about the atmosphere in the city today, and how the Croatian capital has changed in recent years.
As a Croatian destination, Zagreb was overlooked by the tourists heading towards the sun-kissed Adriatic. As a European capital, it was overshadowed by similar Central European gems like Prague. Zagreb has always been a great city to live in, but to get tourist attention it had to work on its identity. Let’s face it, travellers won’t swamp a place that is cozy and liveable for locals. Right now, the city is going through a cultural renaissance. It retains its liveable and walkable character but it’s booming with new art projects, culinary experiences, open-air festivals. I’m afraid we have lost the one Zagreb trait that has been constant for decades: the Zagreb summer slumber. Visit Zagreb in July and you’ll see heaps of stuff going on. Plus, we also get world-famous artists performing in Zagreb for a fraction of a price you’d pay in London. For example, I paid 65 pounds to see Russell Maliphant dance at Sadler’s Wells – his show at the Zagreb Contemporary Dance Festival was less than 10 quid. If Zagreb manages to embrace all the layers of its cultural and historical heritage, it will soon be as vibrant as Berlin!
5. Are you happy with the way Zagreb is portrayed as a tourist destination?
No, not completely. I strongly object against the image of Zagreb as a perfect 48-hour city break. Which is why I write about Zagreb as Europe’s most walkable city. When I promote walking as a perfect tourist activity in Zagreb, I try to encourage people to slow down, give Zagreb at least a week of their time and enjoy the sweetness of aimlessness and leisure. Stuff that is packaged for tourists is doable in 2 days, but where Zagreb charms is its attitude: there is time to be playful and explore things outside of travel guides, time to enjoy coffee with friends and chance acquaintances, space to breathe in a metaphorical sense. On my blog, I promote Zagreb as a perfect slow city.
6. Three secrets tips of things off the main tourist routes in the city not to miss?
a) Always poke your head inside courtyards off the main streets. They hide some of the best cafes, wine bars or artisan shops. They are the quintessential Zagreb.
b) Most tourists explore Zagreb that is boxed in between Ilica Street (to the north) and the Sava River (to the south). Dare to go beyond. Explore some of the amazing leafy trails in Tuškanac forest north from Britanac Square – this is where the first Zagreb ‘cottage neighbourhood’ was laid out. Or hop on the tram to the Sava River and walk on the north river bank to appreciate intriguing and monumental socialist architecture.
c) Use Zagreb’s perfect location to do day trips. In 90 minutes you can get to the picturesque Zagorje hill, wine- growing and tasting region of Plešivica, stunning Plitvice Lakes, or the vibrant city of Rijeka in the Kvarner Bay.
7. Introduce us to your favourite blogs.
Zagreb Pee Map: a journey in style through best Zagreb toilets
(example of my quirky anthropological angle)
Is Zagreb worth visiting? Your travel dilemma finally solved
(example of my passion for Zagreb)
Croat’s sense of coffee: 25 secret and sacred meanings
(example of Zagreb’s laid-out life attitude)
Who else wants a selfie with a dead Croatian writer? Meet Zagreb immortals
(example of self-guided walks I offer on the blog)