Be glad there's one place in the world / Where everybody knows your name / And they're always glad you came.
-Cheers theme song, 'Where Everybody Knows Your Name' by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo
There are few cities that I enjoy returning to so much as Zagreb, Croatia. As I've mentioned again and again, something about this modest little city makes me feel welcome and alive. I love the city's abundance of green spaces to sit and people watch, neighborhood farmer's markets, and prices that are surprisingly reasonable for a chic capital city. Of course, what really draws me to Zagreb is the city's relaxed, unpretentious vibe, elegant (yet sometimes grimy) architecture, vintage street trolleys, and endless supply of things to do and see. So, my quick stop in Zagreb in June wasn't my first or last, as I'm already rubbing my hands together in anticipation of my future return.
With Croatian summer out in full force, I felt obligated to rent a bike and join the masses cycling around the city. Situated at the base of the Medvednica mountain, Zagreb is a flat city with little traffic and lots of green spaces, so getting around by bike is quite enjoyable. One great cycling destination is Maksimir Park, the city's oldest park (circa 1787) and a surprisingly large place with a zoo, lakes, and never-ending woods. On the main thoroughfares where the trams run, things get a bit tricky because bikes don't have their own lane and must be vigilant about not getting tires stuck in the tracks or blocking trams. Overall, I enjoyed Zagreb's laid back bike culture, and I felt free to ride where needed when there was no bike lane.
This is a great example of urban spaces that meet the goals of historic preservation and community building, even tourism. Through a nondescript passageway at the bottom of Zagreb's funicular is an entrance to a WWII relic and former bomb shelter: Tunel Grič. This tunnel system is fairly simple, consisting of a main hall and offshoot to the south. During the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s, the abandoned tunnel served as the location for the city's first underground rave party (who knew?). And almost exactly a year ago today, the tunnel reopened (with some very nice restrooms, I might add) as a free tourist attraction and cultural event space. When Mango and I explored the tunnel, there were lots of people walking around and we stumbled upon a lively art show; a museum is planned for the narrow tunnel and walking tours are available.
Croatian National Theatre
Hidden on the Croatian National Theatre's website is information about tours given at least once a month on Saturdays for just $3.75. I was the only person at the 2:00 PM tour, and my guide-slash-actor Christian was a load of fun. He led me through underground passageways and showed me what goes on behind the curtain. We visited dressing rooms, costume closets, and wig workshops, even the VIP lounge with its slanted floors and old porcelain bathroom fixtures. We ended our tour in a little "canteen" for theatre staff and artists behind the stage, where Christian graciously treated me to a beer while he joked around with his fellow actors, making for a true "behind the scenes" experience.
Museum of Illusions
Count this little gem of a place among Zagreb's best pet-friendly attractions, because the Museum of Illusions is a fun place to let your mind wander to unexpected places while enjoying the company of your best friend. Entrance is about $6 and the museum isn't huge, but it makes for a nice, quick visit while downtown.