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Heidi Sævareid: My short, hot summer in Zagreb

Photo by Heidi Furre

When can I return?

This was the question on my mind when I left the residency in Zagreb. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to leave earlier than planned and was not able to see or do half of the things I wanted to. But I think I would have left with the same question no matter how long I stayed. One reason is that I fell for Zagreb immediately, another reason is that it was mostly too hot for me to go out much during the day. So in order to take full advantage of what the city has to offer, I will have to return in a cooler season.

Luckily for me, my first tour of the city was taken in the relative cool of the evening, led by Anja Majnaric, translator of my upcoming Svalbard novel. We ended our walk in a cute wine bar where I could easily imagine becoming a regular, and chatted about books, translation, Svalbard, gardening – and ballet. Being a keen ballet lover like Anja, I hope to visit Zagreb again in the theatre season! I’m also hoping to explore the literary scene further.

In addition to being beautiful and charming, Zagreb struck me as a very walkable and bikeable place – a key feature of my favourite cities to visit. I currently live in a very car-centric city (Bristol, UK), so I love coming to a place where cars don’t seem to reign supreme. Public transport seems excellent too, and on my first morning in Zagreb, I hopped on a tram and went to Jarun Lake to swim. This is something I always try to do on travels: finding a place to swim in the morning. Upon entering the water, though, I decided that one swim was enough. The water was simply too warm to be refreshing!

Another thing I always do when traveling, is scouting out the best places for specialty coffee. I had a whole list of coffee places I wanted to visit – Zagreb is clearly a good coffee destination! – but was made lazy by the fact that I found the perfect place just across the street from the residency. Every day I brought my laptop to Cogito Coffee and sat and wrote in their shady courtyard. Not a bad “travel office”! But I made sure to visit early in the day or move inside, as the heat quickly became oppressive.

Photo by Heidi Sævareid

I do seem to be complaining a lot about the heat. Of course, as a Northerner I’m not as used to hot summers as Croatians must be. However, pretty much everyone I spoke to talked about how the summers are getting hotter and drier each year, pointing to the climate emergency. It seems to be on people’s mind a lot more than what I’m used to in Norway. Embarrassingly, there are on average more climate science deniers in Norway than in southern Europe – probably because we’re not at the sharp end of the climate crisis. Of course, we’re far from insulated from it. In Svalbard, for instance, the average temperature has increased by 4 degrees in the last 50 years, and melting permafrost is destabilising homes. A staggering contrast to what it was like in the 1950s, the setting for my novel. Thick sea ice would cut Svalbard off from the mainland for 6 months each year. This is unlikely to ever happen again. And two years ago, an unprecedented temperature of 21 degrees was recorded in Longyearbyen.

Climate change has been one of my main concerns for a long time, and writing my Svalbard book made me more keenly aware of the global problems we face. Spending time in Zagreb, sheltering inside for most of the day and seeing how the temperatures steadily rose toward 40, sharpened my considerable climate anxiety. It also made me determined to keep exploring issues related to climate change in my writing.

Oh – and as I decided on my way to the airport while listening to the taxi driver’s concerns for his childrens’ future: Next time I visit Zagreb, I’ll be traveling by train!

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