Irena Sophia grew up in the Croatian capital Zagreb, but like so many Croatians emigrated abroad…
Irena, who is an artist by trade, spent 12 years living in the United States. She then decided to make the move back to Zagreb to live. We chat to her about the move back, what she misses about New York, what she would change about Zagreb and more.
Hi Irena, so how long have you been back in Zagreb?
So far 6 years in Zagreb, after 12 years in NY.
What bought you back to Zagreb?
My family lives here, I grew up in Zagreb. It felt natural to come back.
What was the most difficult thing about making the shift back?
Getting used to Croatian bureaucracy again.
How do you make your living now in Zagreb?
I am an artist, illustrator, and owner of the micro brand ‘Irena Sophia’ working online.
3 Favourite things about Zagreb?
This year Advent is beautiful! Zagreb is a small, beautiful old central European city with a great slow lifestyle. Also I love the fact that Zagreb is just few hours away from many major European cities.
5 Things you would like to change about Zagreb?
1. Fix all of the building fronts, it is really, really embarrassing to see all of these beautiful buildings in the center ruined and decrepit from neglect. You do not see something like this in Vienna or Berlin or Prague. The mayor of Zagreb should make it his priority to fix this. We had our millionth tourist in Zagreb last year, what kind of picture of our capital are we presenting with derelict a center. Shame!
2. Move the government from Gornji grad to somewhere else, Gornji grad should be the cultural heart of Zagreb with lots of little galleries, unique craft shops, and small restaurants instead of being hijacked by politicians.
3. I would love to see proper bike lanes and fewer cars in the center. Zagreb takes space away from pedestrians for bicycles instead taking it away from cars.
4. Make “museum mile” from Zrinjevac to Glavni kolodvor, move all police and courts somewhere else. Open up the most beautiful part of our town to culture. I love what has been done for Advent with the ice-skating park.
5. Make “Little Central Park” out of Republike Austrijske Square Park by inviting world renown landscape artists to plant a magnificent park, include a Butterfly Conservatory in it. We really need one. It is magical to see. We would instantly have a unique and major attraction for all citizens and visitors.
I can go on and on, 5 things are just to little to change.
Favourite ‘Croatian’ food?
Samoborska Kremsnita, čvarci.
Coffee with milk, Lovrec Yellow Muskat vine.
Favourite place to eat?
I love to cook so my favorite place in food terms are Dolac and Tresnjevacki plac. These 2 are big open markets open all year round with great choices of very good quality local ingredients from all parts of Croatia. Also Mali plac na Tavanu food market for special delicacies.
Swanky’s summer terrace
Favourite place to chill out/relax?
Countryside around Zagreb. I spent this summer around Zagreb and made some fantastic trips, from swimming in Kupa around a beautiful old Habsburg electric plant Munjara in Ozalj, to the mysterious medieval castle of Veliki Tabor. I adore the Zumberak hills for their unspoiled wild nature, and the best birding spot is the ornithological reserve Crna Mlaka fishery near Jastrebarsko.
Did you manage to keep the language up despite being away for so long?
I am beginning to illustrate a book about Kajkavskii and kajkavian language. I love Kajkavian language, it is different from your standard Croatian but it is the original language of northern Croatia and Zagreb with an incredibly rich history.
Is there anything that makes you ‘homesick’ for New York now?
Although I was born in Zagreb, my hometown was New York, so MOMA, the Museum of Natural History and ramen, that’s what I miss the most.
Do you see yourself staying in Croatia?
We’ll see 🙂
Any tips for anyone looking at making a move?
If you can find work online internationally, Zagreb is a great place to live with cheap rent and nice people.