Do you ever feel that strange sensation of simply belonging to a city that you’ve never even lived in? A place where, each time you arrive, you feel more yourself, and inexplicably — more at home?
volim grad koji teče
When I think of the city of Rijeka, many different words come to me. Liberty, tranquility, diversity, amusement, and spirituality. There is a sort of balanced nature to this Mediterranean city made up of concrete, stone, and steel. The people here are even-tempered, active, well-rounded, and friendly. Rijeka is one of those coastal cities you can fall in love with even taking into account its somewhat used, industrial appeal.
There’s a saying that has become the synonym for the city of Rijeka, which translates to “river” in English. The saying, that you can see on bumper stickers of cars all around is “Volim grad koji teče”, means “I love the city that flows”.
Its architecture, influenced by Italy just as much as the Austro-Hungarian empire and socialist Yugoslavia, is either what you love or hate. Whatever the emotion may be, Rijeka seldom leaves no impression at all. It’s a city that makes your mind work – what sort of people live here, what do their typical daily routines consist of? What industry is more fruitful – tourism or shipbuilding?
In the midst of mountains, forests, sea and islands, Rijeka acts as the biggest metropolis of the entire Kvarner region, as well as fair portions of its neighboring Lika and Istria. With universities, rich cultural life, closeness to Zagreb, Slovenia, Italy, and being the third-largest city and biggest seaport of Croatia – it offers so much more than what meets the eye.
Trsat is my absolute favorite area of Rijeka. Though it’s known as the most elite quarter of town placed on a hilltop, its urban villas stand no chance next to the 14th-century convent of the Madonna of Trsat.
As if all the goodness is evenly channeled precisely through that point concentrically across the rest of the city, down the hills to the seafront – every time I visit this sacred place, I tend to linger. I walk up through the hills towards the imposing view of the entire city and the riviera that follows it; Matulji, Opatija, Ičići, Lovran – the entire Istrian peninsula on one side, while islands Krk and Cres can be seen on the other.
After coming back down to the main street, one can find virtually all his or her necessities in just a 100-meter radius. Tiny, romantic cafés are situated on what seems to be the smallest of squares, Pizzeria “Gvardijan”, whose waiters will charm you with their authenticity. There’s even an all-organic boutique that resembles a hidden little indoor market, where you will surely start up a conversation on eating raw with the owner.
A couple hundred meters further in, the second most impressing point of this hill is the Trsat Castle dating back from the 13th century, which serves as a historical monument and gallery bar today, as well as an outstanding view. Needless to say that the atmosphere here during breezy summer nights sometimes spells jazz and sips of great wine with your best friend, and sometimes late-night partying with people of all ages.
Walking back down to the city center taking the 538 steps of the Trsat stairway by Petar Kruzić is almost like descending from a cloud — back to reality. Crossing the Rječina River, you enter the old part of town, where its hidden little squares say so much about what great Mediterranean architecture is all about — the closeness of the inhabitants who give life to the city. At the Pavlinski Square, there’s one café next to another, where you can sit for hours upon hours under the branches of old trees springing up from the stone. Whether it be to people-watch, meet with a friend, or eavesdrop on the adorable elderly couple sitting next to you, I find this bar that offers coffee for only 5 kuna to be one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
a walk down korzo and the new marina
For just a quick injection of the city’s feel, one needs only to walk down Korzo. There you’ll stumble upon a number of boutiques and shops that you’d normally find in big malls, enhancing the atmosphere of a town that has always catered to the needs of its men and women.You’ll find people of all ages laughing and talking while walking, kids skipping and running, sitting in a number of almost institutional bars and restaurants that seem to have been left over from last century. If you’re looking for a bite of Croatian heritage, a must-try is Kraš, Croatia’s oldest chocolate company turned choco bar, offering the very best of chocolates, ice cream, cakes…and everything that goes along those delicious lines. A few streets away – enjoy the newly built walkway of the marina, where you’ll blend in with the locals just perfectly, enjoying the waterfront and the sun.
What I admire most about Rijeka is that the nature of its people makes you go with the flow. Maybe I am biased and haven’t met enough of them, but I’d like to believe that the few that I have met are really true to their words, genuine and easy-going, yet progressive and open-minded. That vibe reflects upon the way visitors, too, experience this city and its surrounding.
because everybody loves fun facts:
– in 2016, alongside Galway, Ireland, Rijeka was selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2020
– apart from Croatian, the population also uses its own unique dialect of the Venetian language, called Fiumano
– Rijeka hosts the biggest carnival in Croatia each year before Lent, established in 1982