Fat flakes of snow had begun to land on the tip of the aeroplanes wing long before we reached Zagreb airport. Exiting the airport bus at the city centre bus terminal the flakes had begun to settle on windowsills and telegraph wires.
After checking into our shabby but beautiful central hostel, we decided to brave the sleet to find some nourishment. After walking just one or two blocks north we heard the strains of Eastern European folk music and we smelt the warming spices of mulled wine being simmered. Fairy lights had been threaded up the tall plane trees which stood around a 19th century bandstand. Heaters had been placed around clusters of white bar tables in the snow, and crowds of young and middle aged Zagrebians sipped steaming cups of hot wine and punch, chatting merrily, as the wind whipped the snow into a blizzard around the advent market.
We drank the harukolo vino (mulled wine), revelling in the fact that it only cost 10 Kuna. In London on the south bank we had been coerced into spending 6 pounds on a smaller, more tasteless polystyrene cup of sweet tasting ribena-wine.
The market holders had judged the food perfectly for the wintery occasion. Sausages fried until their skins were crispy with lumps of garlic and fat were stuffed into hot dog buns and smothered with mustard, while flatbreads the size of my arm-span were thrown into vats of hot oil and deep fried until they were pulled out, minutes later, shiny and smelling like savoury doughnuts. The air smelt spiced and warm through the snow, even along the main shopping street.
Those who didn’t want the inconvenience of propping up these outdoor bars had taken over the outdoor lounge areas that extended out from every bar and restaurant in the city centre. There were more people outside than inside and there was a buzz on the streets that in England, if the temperature had dropped to a chilling -5 degrees as it was here, everywhere would be deserted and the pub windows would be steamy from being crammed with people trying to escape the cold. Taking al-fresco wining and dining through the winter months is a fabulous idea, especially when the temperature can fall to as low as 20 degrees here. It made everything feel a little more like a holiday.