Croatia is where blue merges into green and history meets the modern. This is a place where time does not tick away but pulses slowly and peacefully, in Central European cities and along the warm littoral of the Mediterranean
Italy, Germany, Austria and the Balkans; you can find them closely intertwined in Croatia. It takes a two-hour journey from İstanbul to get to the country’s capital, Zagreb. It is a typical Central European city. Its architecture is reminiscent of Vienna: Monumental buildings, small squares, statues, parks, fountains and centuries-old heritage are all thriving at the very center of the city in a harmonious manner. The rapport between historical textures and modern buildings is proof of the continuity of the bridge between the past and the present. Zagreb is like a combination of small cities with Central Europe’s big cities. The architecture of this city, inhabited by some 800,000 people, is complemented by an assortment of trees and flowerpots aligned on window sills.
Slated to become a member of the European Union, Croatia has a population of 4 million and does not require visas for Turkish citizens. Every day you can find flights from İstanbul to Zagreb with Turkish Airlines (THY) in the morning and from Zagreb to İstanbul with Croatia Airlines in the evening. Every year, Croatia hosts a number of tourists three times higher than its population.
Zagreb, the capital of the nation’s political, economic and cultural life, is our first destination. The orderly life of Central European cities may sound intimidating to a person who has just escaped the hustle and bustle of İstanbul. Life is not on the go here. People coming from different parts of Croatia and Europe intermingle in Zagreb, in the heart of Europe. The city is concentrated in two villages: Gradec -- old city or upper city -- and Kaptol. In this historic city, 12 cannon shots can be heard at noon every day. The story behind this tradition is about the Hungarian King Béla, who sought refuge in Zagreb when the Mongols devastated Hungary. In return, in 1242, Béla bestowed a Golden Bull on Gradec, proclaiming it a royal free city. In memory of this incident, cannons are fired daily from the Lotrščak Tower.
One of the prominent sites of the city is the Kamenita vrata (Stone gate). The image of the Virgin Mary on this gate is considered sacred as it is said to be the only thing that wasn’t burned in a 17th century fire. Ban Jelačić Square is considered the heart of the city as residents tend to come together here. Palaces and churches in the baroque style are lined up along both banks of the Sava River. Two of them are particularly important: the neo-gothic Zagreb Cathedral and Saint Mark’s Church. The city is decorated with flowers, and in certain spots the streets are still illuminated using gas lamps. The outdoor street market, which is open until 3 p.m. every day, has a historic texture as well. Tkalčićeva Street is where people can have a rest after being lost in the streets of the historic city.
Leaving Zagreb and taking the highway that crosses the Dinaric Alps, we reach Pula, the capital of Istria county on the Adriatic coast, where you can immediately sense the predominant Mediterranean culture and climate; Pula is no different from Italian cities. Every city or village has its Italian name in addition to the Croatian one. Thus, the Italian name of Brtonigla, which we reach traveling a road meandering through olive trees, is Verteneglio. The fact that this tiny village has a four-star boutique hotel is proof that cultural tourism is becoming popular across the globe. This place is frequented by culture tourists seeking different tastes. It is only a few hundred kilometers away from major European centers.
The oldest historic building in the city is Pula Arena. This Roman arena is the world’s third largest and can accommodate 23,000 spectators. It was built by the Romans over a period of 40 years in the first century. The Venetians attempted to dismantle the arena and rebuild it in Venice, but they could carry only the stands. The arena’s stands were later rebuilt by Benito Mussolini. Many world famous singers, such as Norah Jones, Luciano Pavarotti and Eros Ramazotti, have given concerts in the arena. In this city with many Italian characteristics you can find one-day sea bus tours to Venice. Be sure to check visa requirements for citizens of your country of nationality.
When you step into Grožnjan (Italian: Grisignana), which is also known as the Town of Arts, you at once smell the captivating odor of cypress trees, and then see the cemetery. The music from the movie “The Godfather” comes from afar. Numerous films were shot in this village, where some people live in 400-year-old houses. Stone buildings, small cafes and handmade works are waiting for guests. Italian, German and French tourists tend to frequent Pula, while Turks prefer Dubrovnik, from which you can clearly see the Dalmatian coast and which is depicted as a small paradise. Croatia is the home not only of the necktie -- as its name implies -- the zeppelin and the fountain pen, but also of Marco Polo, Nikola Tesla and Josip Broz Tito.
People in many countries are showing increased interest in Turkish TV series. One of these countries is Croatia. These TV series include “Binbir Gece” (A Thousand and One Nights), “Asi” (Rebel) and “Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne?” (What is Fatmagül’s Offense?). Some Croats even name their newborns after characters from these series. Turkey’s Ambassador to Croatia Burak Özüergin says that thanks to these TV shows, Croats have started to know more about Turks. He indicates that the number of Croats who want to learn Turkish has increased tenfold and that some Croatian papers are publishing Turkish cuisine supplements. He calls on Turkish businessmen to be quick in investing in Croatia as the country will be a member of the EU next year. The number of Turkish citizens visiting Croatia increased from 2,700 in 2010 to 8,200 last year.
Hidayet Çoklar, the Turkey representative of Croatia Airlines, notes that in Turkey there is a heightened interest in Croatia. “Last year we launched daily flights. There were three flights per week in the past, but now you can find flights every day. We will launch direct flights to Dubrovnik. We plan to redouble the number of passengers coming from Turkey. Moreover, we will launch flights to Turkey’s tourism destinations. Our Turkey route has an occupancy rate of 75 percent. We’ll find here what couldn’t be found in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions,” he says.