Much as we adore Bosnia, we do find that every now and then we need to have a bit of time out. Sometimes it is just nice to go somewhere where you can pay with plastic rather than always having to have cash. Sometimes we like going somewhere which has explicitly child orientated activities or even a cinema. Sometimes we like to go for a walk in parks that aren't covered in broken bottles, rubbish and graffiti. Every now and then we like to get in the car and drive faster than 50mph on a road that has more than one lane each way. So this weekend, we made a break for it, making a dash for the delights of the city of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
We weren't really sure what to expect. I've been to Zagreb before but only to spend an hour or so whilst waiting for a bus out. It's nice. Really nice. Looks and feels a bit like Paris, beautiful European buildings, squares with parks and tree lined avenues. Roads of cafes and some really nice looking shops and bookstores. There's a well developed tram system (hello activities for small boys for the day) and plenty of statues of men on horses with swords (yup, more activities for small boys).
The highlight of my weekend was a trip to Costa Coffee. I'm obviously easily pleased, but there was coffee that I could take away. Look Bosnians, and learn. Coffee, to take away. See? You put it in a cup and take it out of the shop. You could do it if you wanted to. You could also make coffee with hot milk which would be really good too, but I'd settle for a take away coffee venue to start with.
Then there was also the cinema. So good that we went twice. First with the boys to see Ice Age 3 (think it was pretty good but it was in Croatian so I didn't follow it all). It was their first visit to the cinema and it was a good cinema, a proper cinema. With huge seats and popcorn and places to put your drink and everything. They couldn't believe their eyes. The sound was even turned down a bit so it wasn't quite so overwhelming for small people, which is a trick that some English cinemas would do well to learn. In fact the cinema was such a hit that we went back, later in the evening for another film followed by some Thai food. Suffice to say that it was gooooooood. Bosnia doesn't really do Chinese, Thai or Indian food, so this was a taste explosion of the massive scale. The boys were placated with their first ever trip to a McDonald's. They thought the food was ok, but the toys that came with a Happy Meal were too exciting for anything. They are keen to go back to McDonald's as soon as possible. Fortunately for me, Bosnia is the only European country that doesn't have one, so we will not have to suffer the whinges for a McDonald's every time they spot one.
We also found the Zagreb Puppet Theatre, with shows especially for children. We couldn't resist a trip to see the 3 Little Pigs, which was in Croatian but that didn't really matter. The boys loved it; laughing hysterically as the pigs whacked the big bad wolf with sticks, booing and hissing at the wolf whenever he appeared and really enjoying the spectacle. It was rather wonderful, a great first theatre experience for the boys too.
Back home now and time to reflect. We loved Zagreb, found it to be an engaging city, with plenty going on and we'll be keen to squeeze in another visit before we leave the Balkans. But it did highlight how far Bosnia has to go to before it will feel like a country that is about to join Europe. The Croats are almost a part of the EU, the Bosnians haven't even started talks. The Croats feel closely linked in to Europe, the Bosnians don't quite. Bosnia is unmistakeably European, but it really feels like it has some way to go before it feels like the rest of Europe.
PS - if anyone fancies a trip to Zagreb (which I would highly recommend it and I know BA fly direct for about £60 which isn't bad!) can I recommend the AB Centrum apartments right in the centre of town, who are not only child but also pet friendly and pretty good value to boot.