Advent in Zagreb was voted the Best Christmas Market in Europe for the third year in a row on December 12, 2017. But this time it was different.
Last Saturday was the TCN Christmas party.
Being the disorganised boss that I am, I left the planning of dinner and fun for 17 writers to the last minute. Having asked for suggestions from the team, I settled on a table at Pivnica Medvedgrad on Ilica, which has good beer, lots of space and was close to the heart of Advent in Zagreb. I was pleased to see that there was an online reservation system, so that I would not have to interact with anyone, and off went my email on Wednesday night, 72 hours before the party kicked off.
An email came back straightaway saying that email confirmations only happened in regular office hours, and that if I had wanted to confirm tonight, here was the number to call. Tomorrow will be fine, I decided, and got back to spamming the Internet with another article.
A second email in the morning was a little more sobering. They were fully booked. As was Mali Medo, Zlatno Medo, even (and I was imagining how much my team would be laughing at me if we had ended up there) the Temple of Zuja, Pivana.
Zagreb was full on December 9, and I had three days to find a solution for 17 hungry and thirsty souls who had worked hard for TCN throughout the year, and deserved a good night out as partial thanks. Phone call after phone call elicited the same response. I was an idiot and I was going to look extremely stupid in front of my team, until I was handed a lifeline by Pivnica Budweiser on Heinzelova, who had a table for 17… but only if we were finished by 20:00 as they had 90 guests coming. Dressing it up as an opportunity to have an early dinner and then more time at Advent in Zagreb, I announced the change of plan.
It could not have worked better.
An excellent dinner at an extremely friendly price, with our online team getting acquainted with colleagues who had hitherto existed only online. Add a little alcohol and lifetime friendships were being made, friendships that were to be cemented as we dived into the Advent offering.
I will come back to the experience in a minute, but last night Zagreb was voted the best Christmas market in Europe for the third year in succession. But this year it was different.
I have been following the European Best Destinations project for some time. It is a very clever and extremely effective project to promote lesser known destinations within Europe, with the ability to engage large (and patriotic) audiences to engage in their regular quests for the best in Europe – best Christmas market, best destination, best ski resort, best beach and best many other things. When Zagreb was nominated for the first time two years ago, there was a little incredulity locally that Zagreb’s Advent was in the same league as more established markets in Europe. The media loved it, however, and so did the tourist boards, and they promoted the voting aggressively. Add a little Croatian pride and patriotism, and suddenly Zagreb was the best in Europe. This is to take nothing away from the organisers, who have done a fantastic job developing this event from a few stalls on Ban Jelacic just a few years ago, to what is this year truly an outstanding tourism experience, on so many levels.
Then Zadar was named the Best Destination in Europe the following February, and when Zagreb won the Advent crown for the second year in a row, there was some scepticism in the media about the merits of it all. But two important things happened, and they are equally important. Firstly, the PR Zagreb received was huge, and people did come and visit to check out this supposedly wonderful market. And the second thing that happened was that the organisers did not rest on their laurels but have worked tirelessly to expand the market and bring in more innovative offerings. Local businesses have entered into the spirit, and the result has been a really outstanding product this year, and a city which is FULL (it seemed almost like Split in July in terms of numbers on Saturday), and when Zagreb was voted the number one market for the third time, the general social media reaction has been that it was richly deserved.
Which it is.
And if you are looking for the most fun, head to ‘Stross’, nestled between the main train station and ice skating centre to the south, and romantic Zrinjevac and the main square, Ban Jelacic, to the north. For here is where one can find Fuliranje, where Life is a Circus.
There is a LOT happening at Fuliranje, with something for everyone, as I discovered on my two visits so far. The first time I went, the lovely Fuliranje PR lady, Hana, had offered to show me around. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go, as I had my daughters and their two cousins in tow. Four kids following Boring Daddy around listening to some woman talking about stuff did not potentially sound that interesting.
But the kids had an even better time than I did.
It could have been the excellent pancakes (made with NO eggs or milk, Daddy – amazing and delicious), or it could have been their visit to the first dog restaurant in Croatia. It could have been having their photos taken as angels and devils, or the cool VR booth, or some of the live acts and other goodies on show, but one thing they were for sure – thrilled. And a little upset with Daddy when it was time to go.
Although they did leave in some style, as I sent them off in an UberADVENT pedicab with Mum to discover some of the rest of the joys of Advent in Zagreb elsewhere.
The only mild disappointment they expressed was in the fact that I had promised them a Harry Potter village, but there was none to be seen. Sometimes being a journalist with prior notice of things has its disadvantages…
But I knew Harry Potter, the Ministry of Magic, and even WonderWoman were on their way, for this was Europe’s best Christmas market. And so it proved on Saturday, as I returned to Fuliranje for the opening of the Here Be Dragons Enchanted Village, a quite divine new attraction of six themed housed, packed full of goodies from your favourite shows, as well as a ton of activities for the little ones in the programme. Learn more about all that here.
It was beautifully presented. Not having read any Harry Potter, I won’t pretend to know anything about the various characters, so I will just place these videos here to give you a flavour.
And a tour of the facilities below.
And there were plenty of other fascinating things to learn.
Such as how Croats get their daily protein, above.
I returned with the crew after our early dinner had finished. A welcome rakija shot to get them in the mood, as though they weren’t already, and it was not long before some were dancing away to Take on Me by Aha.
And so the night went on, but that is a different story…
I leave you with some photos from the official Fuliranje Facebook page, taken by Nika Mokos. Check them out, then check out the Facebook page, then check out Fuliranje and Here Be Dragons for yourself.
And a big congratulations to Zagreb, truly worthy winners!