Lidija By 

Rent a friend in Zagreb


Snježana Tomažini lived for six years in Great Britain and she often took her friends on private tours of different areas of town, telling them local stories. Having realized that she was doing great and that she loved the “job”, after coming back to Croatia, she decided to further her education (she finished the study of tourism, a course for a tour guide) and then start the “Rent a local friend”  project, a personalized tour of the city for grown-ups as well as for kids…

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How did you get the idea you to start your own business?

After spending six years in London, I returned back to Croatia motivated to continue my education in tourism. I finished my studies in tourism, I took a course for tour director/leader and a course for a tour guide. I have travelled to many countries and I know what travelers want to take home from their travels. So I try to deliver them exactly that when they come to Zagreb. I love personal approach, I like warmth, I try to get closer to them, to show them city from the perspective of locals and I do have my tricks. My wish is for them to take home the best memory possible and that is a memory of our beautiful city.

I’m Purgerica of fifth generation in Zagreb (Purger is a nickname that is used primarily for residents of Zagreb whose ancestors lived here for several generations, who were born here and lived here, however for me Purger is each person who wishes good for our town). Since I’m a guide I think this is only an advantage for me, although not essential. So, I was born in Zagreb, christened in St. Mark’s Church, grew up in the Upper Town, my nursery was a Magdalenić-Draskovic Jelacic palace in Demetrova, primary school Kaptol, high school for tourism which is the oldest gymnasium in The Upper town.

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I am in tourism my whole life either privately or professionally. Even as a small child I had the opportunity and fortune to travel, so I am trying to raise my daughter that way whenever possible. We often walk through the city and she loves to listen stories about witches and who were they, hidden tunnels and how people use to live in middle Ages. But most of all she was so impressed and could not believe it that we still have cloak of King Ladislav from 1094. So I have arranged a visit to the Treasury of our Cathedral for her to see the cloak. She was always challenging me with the new questions and many times I had to search for answers myself.

But all this officially started when I was looking after my friends children one weekend when she was travelled to Sweden. I have one child, she has two and the combination of the three is a nightmare. So I decided to take them for a walk in the city. I remember it was winter and it was very cold. My friend from childhood with her kids joined us. She is from Tkalča and I am from Radićeva Street. We showed them all the secrets of our childhood. They didn’t have any objection and they walked more or less six hours. They absorbed all the stories and legends. We lit candles in the Cathedral and in the Stone Gate, we talked to the ladies “Kumica” on Dolac market, we tasted some homemade cheese, visited fishmonger and so much more. And when we went to take a bite to warm up my friend’s kid told me: “Žana I never knew Zagreb was such a beautiful city.” That was the official call for me to start doing what I was meant to do. That was the best reference I could ever get.

”I like to show the tourists our street Tkalča because this is the only authentic street in Zagreb, everything else is a copy of Vienna or Budapes!”

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What kind of tourists are coming to Zagreb?

There are all kinds and from all over the world. Backpackers are on a tight budget and they can do all themselves. Individuals again do it “solo” or they like hedonism and this is where I come in. I love small private groups because I can completely customize to their wishes and needs … if they want to drink a coffee, we have café, if they want to eat, we eat, if they want to drink they drink, I don’t. I just want to show them the beauty of our city through the eyes of locals and this is what they love and appreciate. That’s why I’m calling myself “Rent a local friend”. It is an all-inclusive offer.

Sometimes I have curious little children who are always making me happy. Sometimes I have groups from Asia with whom everything is on a dot, but what’s interesting I always thought they were distant, kind of cold, but I was so wrong. Often I get a smile and even gifts. Classic tour usually takes two to three hours. My shortest tour was one hour and my longest one lasted nine hours. I also like to take them to cemetery Mirogoj which is the most beautiful cemetery in Europe. Basically all my guests are very grateful and I am looking forward to new ones.

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What do they like to buy?

Mostly they buy traditional gingerbread Paprenjak, I also recommend them Licitar heart (traditional souvenir), Bajadere (chocolate), some good olive oil, arancini, limuncini etc. Asians love little Cro designer shop in Radićeva. Also do not even ask for the price of a tie once I tell them the story who, when and why.

What do you like to show them and what do they like the best?

I love to take my guests between the stands on Dolac market. Most guides pass by and continue their way, but I want them to see the colours of fruits and vegetables. They can smell, buy or even taste some of the food. Also markets are usually the best place where you can feel and see local life. Then I like to take them in what used to be red-light district and talk to them about women of light morals. I like to show them our street Tkalča because to my humble opinion this is the only authentic street in Zagreb, everything else is a copy of Vienna or Budapest. Whenever possible we use funicular and I love recently discovered passage which has not yet been officially named, but we locals call it “the passage of Maria Braut” ….I love my Upper town, its petroleum lamps… I just wish they have more time as I would show them all . To my opinion I think they are overwhelmed with colourful rooftop of St. Mark’s church.

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What do you like best in Zagreb?

Uffff it’s hard to say … if you asked me that nineteen years ago when I came back from England I would say nothing. But in the meantime, especially in the last ten years I fell in love with my city again. Zagreb has never been so much fun, so attractive. Throughout the year, in every corner of the city something is happening and even to me it’s difficult to fallow all the happenings. But what I like best is a new tradition brought by visitors and that is lingering in our parks, particularly Zrinjevac and Tomislavac. I do not have a favourite coffee place in Zagreb. All our open squares in the city who have just a little bit of natural sun are my favourite. However I must say that waiters do not know how to make a good coffee, so the sun just has to compensate.

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Recommendation of restaurants for Western tourists, or those of Eastern eg. Koreans?

On a top of my head:

In my case Asian groups always have pre booked lunch in Vinodol or Takenoko 2 in Radnička Street.

Quick bites: quite often guests ask me to recommend them something authentic from the area and often I remain speechless ….so quite often ćevapi, kebabs, pizza and cheese pastry (burek) become local food. Of the top of my heads here are some:

  • Kitchen & Grill Plac on first terrace when you climb to Market dolac (great ćevapi, mincemeat bbq).
  • La Štruk in Skalinska street offering štrukle – authentic meal from this area – dumplings with cottage cheese, but I recommend only baked ones sweet or savoured ones.
  • Basement in Tomićeva and since we are in Tomićeva then I would definitely recommend brunch in Vallis Aurea, not so attractive place, but they have great and affordable food.
  • Ćušpajsz, Ribice i Tri točkice in Preradovićeva (Fish and Three spots).
  • Streed food MundoAka in Petrinjskoj.
  • I like pizza VIP on Flower Market – Cvjetnjak, but at the moment I love new pizza place in Varšavska street called Basta gourmet bar. They are making original pizza from Napoli based on 16th century old recipe ‘lunch break’ in Hemingway in Masarikova street now called Hemingway Bar & Bistrot, so all people who always enjoyed overlooking Croatian National Theatre with their coffee now can eat as well.
  • Bistroteka Bar in the morning offers breakfast and in the evening is cool night scene.
  • Design hostel Chill out opened new place called Njummy offering Croatian food prepared in a modern way.
  • The Brick booze & bites in Radićeva 36, offers: Dalmatian prosciutto, homemade Istrian sausages, cheeses from all Croatia, cheese in olive with herbs, salty sardines and anchovies. Seafood salads and they have great cakes.
  • In Teslina street there is Good Food who supports Croatian production so the food is local, also they have verity of vegetarian meals.
  • Fini bite in Radićeva 8, in Croatian “fini” means yummy“ they offer quick bites.

Sweet little joy: Pancake Sadomazo bar in Tkalčićeva 32, Amélie in Old Vlaška Street, Mak Na Konac, my favourite Vincek in Ilica street.

In Tkalča 45 there is a new Rachia bar with more than hundred verity of rachia and in Opatovina 35 first specialised Craft beer bar with many kinds of beer but also food that you eat with beer. However the majority of Croatians eat at home, it is our tradition, more our financial situation.

Elegant and Fancy places: Time Restaurant & Bar, in Amruševa street is a great place for night scene, but now they are also offering lunch from 12 until 15 PM.

Dežman bar offers traditional meal from Dalmatian coast called soparnik only on Thursdays.

Pod Zidom with live music, Lari Penati in Petrinjska street, Saft.

For the first time in Zagreb we have pop-up restoran from Split, so for the next four months Zagreb will enjoy food from Paradigme in Vlaška street 55, Velvet, Sherry’s Wines & Bites in Ilica 73…

Urban scene: Špica in Bogovićeva street , Tesla Power House in Varšavskoj, Pepermint, Lauba…

Every day in Zagreb a new bar pop sup it’s hard to track.

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How does your day in Zagreb looks like? Do you have your rituals?

Being a freelancer has its advantages and disadvantages, but somehow I can’t imagine working again within the frame from 9 to 17, but if I would have to, I will. So it’s great when I have work, but when I don’t ufff. When I take tours abroad I am away for six or more days, luckily my mom takes care of my daughter. When I am in Zagreb it is all much easier. When I don’t work, my morning starts with coffee and reading, researching, writing scripts, preparing for a new destination ….education never ends … it’s a life-long education. I speak for hours on a phone with my best friend, it’s kind of therapy and for sure much cheaper than paying for a shrink.

I love going for a sunny coffee whenever possible, if I don’t then I sit in the car park in front of my building soaking up the sun. I often take Nordic walk in Maksimir Park. There I hug trees, so people are looking me strangely, but I am a tree hugger absorbing its energy. Mostly I drive my daughter here and there all day long… school, English, German, volleyball …

Luckily my mom cooks, so at least I don’t have to do that … In the evening it’s time for me and my little one. We watch series Africa, it’s time for cuddling and then bed time.

Best breakfast in town?

Now this is kind of “in” in Zagreb. And of course we have some lovely and hidden treasures that even I have to explore.

Here are some: Kava Tava on several locations British Sq., Street Pod Zidom 4, Tkalčićeva 12 (offering fried eggs, cottage cheese and cream, pancakes), sweet hidden place in Teslina street called Jutro (Morning); offers a variety of fruit smoothies, pancakes and čokolino (typical baby breakfast but loved by adults too), Johann Franck is relatively new place with the best location in town on the Main Sq., it’s a must during the day offers breakfast ( British breakfast, Club sandwiches, Fried eggs, roast beef sandwiches etc.) Night entertainments is amazing and I think it has the best interior. Its restaurant Šnicl („Meat in German“) is very popular so reservation is essential.

Where do you like to take your child when you’re in Zagreb?

We like to walk or bike around the city, go for an ice cream in Vincek. I take her to cinema, museums, galleries, workshops for kids. We visit friends. Sometimes we clime to the mountain Sljeme. We are also very creative so are we always doing something; painting and crafting. And sometimes we just don’t do anything… we call that day “Day of lazy bums”.

Do you have any secret route for your tourists?

There is an expression in Croatia: “Nobody has invented hot water”, same goes for guiding routes in Zagreb, and frankly it’s more or less the same. What makes us, tour guides different from one another is how do approach to our guests and how do we interpret and tell our story. Each of us has different enthusiasm and passion. Basically each tour guide has its own recipe how to win their attention or don’t. I created my “Red Umbrella Tour” and “Walking with Grička”, where I’m not a witch, but I show what the fashion use to look like in the medieval times. Again the route is more or less the same, what’s more important is the content and if you want to find out you just have to “rent me”.

Do you remember some interesting group or tourists?

I remember one very odd mixed group of elderly tourists ….When I was presenting myself I told them that I am not a guide who will bother them with too many numbers and too much facts … as I don’t appreciate that myself when I travel abroad. They looked at me strangely as if … OMG … does she know anything. Finally and after our walk, they were delighted and they all invited me to visit to America, Singapore, Australia ….and more. So I need to start play lotto…

Photo: Ivan Čagalj

Translation: Nevena Erak

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