A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: get2will

Headed for Home

Day 16

View adriatic on get2will's travel map.

I hate air travel. Flying from Frankfurt to Houston I was unable to sleep with the seat reclined because the 4 year old behind me wants to pound on the touch screen on the back of my seat. The only way to stop her is by putting my seat in the upright position so she can’t reach it. Then after we arrived in Houston, I thought we would be able to cut our 8 hour layover short by getting on an earlier flight based on conversations I’ve had with United customer service. The earlier flight to Portland was full, which was I was told was unusual, due to the rerouting of San Francisco flyers as a result of the plane crash there a couple of days ago. No problem, put us on standby and see what happens. When rechecking our bags in Houston the agent suggested we place our bag on the earlier flight regardless of what happens, that way if we get on standby it will meet us in Portland. Then . . . surprise! Nope, can’t do that because I used miles for our tickets. Surprise (not really), I was given bad information by the United customer service line again. Instead we spent our time watching people in Houston running around and reacting to gate changes, more changes than I had ever seen before at an airport. I’d see the same people running back and forth between gates every hour. One person almost missed their plane because they made the gate change announcement at the last minute while they were in the bathroom. Another person noticed a gate change at the last minute on the board and asked customer service why they didn’t make an announcement over the intercom. The customer service agents reply, “because you’re the first person who asked. . . we did put it on the board though”. The waiting was excruciating, so to pass the time I adjusted Jen’s walking cane and tapped her once on the forehead with it, and then I told her she looks hot and placed the icepack for her foot on the top of her head. Jen’s reaction “I think we’ve been spending too much time together”. My reaction – 30 seconds of laughter.

Epilogue: Land in Portland, and our bags are already sitting next to the carrousel before it starts. Looks like the bags can fly standby with miles, just not the owner of the bags. I get home and it turns out I didn’t leave the charging cords for the camera and the tablet at home, they must have been removed from our bag by some luggage handlers or security people. A couple days later Jen calls United to report this. After an hour and a half on the phone with United, they tell her she needs to report it to the last airline in the chain of overseas flights, Croatia Airlines. United customer service strikes again!

OK, enough venting. 95% of our trip was great, and we were lucky to be able to do it.

Overall tips for Adriatic travel
1) Traveling through Croatia from the south coast to the north coast is better than how most guide books describe croatian itineraries (from north to south) because when you are traveling between island destinations (Korcula and Hvar) the ferry leaves in the morning, giving you a complete day to visit the destination. Also if you are traveling in the shoulder season of April, May, or June you hit the southern places first when they are at a cooler, more reasonable temperature, and it give the northern destinations time to warm up.
2) Enlisting the help of guides here is more important than in other destinations. Elsewhere in Europe guides are expensive, and although helpful, you can scare up information on art or city history from literary resources or an audioguide and tour a town yourself. At other destinations you could maybe splurge for a guide at special sites, like the Vatican Museum in Italy. However, guides in the former Yugoslavia are relatively inexpensive. Also, although most people speak English well, town sites and museums are less likely to have English translations at their attractions, especially in small towns. Finally, and most importantly, much of the ‘history’ (RE: Balkan war) here is recent and has actually been lived through by the locals. Speaking with someone who has this experience is obviously much more rewarding than having a guide explain the Renaissance to you 500 years after it happened.

Posted by get2will 03:25 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Lake Bled

Day 15

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Our plan today was to hike around Lake Bled and go out to Bled Island.


When we arrived in Lake Bled yesterday night we grabbed some loaner bikes from Mayer Penzion and rode them around the lake, and then we got some dinner and a drink, and finally we topped it off with a famous Lake Bled custard dessert from a lakeshore restaurant.

Our room at Mayer Penzion

Great views of the island and church from the bike path.

Great views of Bled Castle on a cliff overhanging the lake.

When we got our drinks Jen was stuck with the most disgusting mojito ever. It was like sugared fake yellow grapefruit juice with mint leaves floating in it. I ordered an English beer I was unfamiliar with. English beers are usually hit or miss for me. This one was called 'Old Tom' and was one of the best strong ales I've ever had. I'll have to seek this out when we get home. Discarding her drink, Jen and I drank the beer I ordered and then headed off for dessert.

Tasty dessert

Here at the posh Hotel Park restaurant on the edge of the lake, a Slovene singer was performing mostly American lounge standards in a Slovene accent. A little quirky, but I was enjoying it until he started singing ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra, then I had to giggle.

View of the castle from our balcony at night

The next day we caught a bus to Vintgar Gorge just outside of Lake Bled. Here we experienced some Slovene radio bliss:

Some Enrique Iglesias song in Spanish
Belinda Carlisle –Leave the light on
Some oompa loompa German song
I Wanna Rock – Twisted Sister
Some boogie woogie song
All on the same station.

Again, as appealing as Vintgar Gorge was to me, it was very similar to the landscape in the Columbia River Gorge. Just substitute granite for limestone. What was unique about this place was how clear blue the water was, and how at times the walking path was attached to the side of the cliffs. This made the atmosphere of this hike special.

The returning bus had a stop at Bled Castle, so we decided to wander the castle grounds.

Some of the wine bottles sold at the Bled Castle cellar are opened with a sabre.

I'm glad we took the bus up and walked down.

At the base of the castle we took the Pletna boat, chock full of people, to the island with the church. The single boat oarsman worked HARD to get over to the island. In the middle of our trip out there the wind started blowing and it started raining. That guy got a serious workout. He uses the single oar to move the boat forward and to steer it.

Plenta boat parked at the dock

You were allowed to ring the bell at the church, which I attacked with child-like joy. However, unbeknownst to me until later, I was not following the rules.

We then walked to Tito's villa, which is now a hotel. Here we had a glass of wine. Tito had Slovene and Croatian parents, so he considered Slovenia one of his 'homes' and would use this Lake Bled residence as a retreat. Siting here was the closest I have ever come to feeling like a dictator.

We peeked at the ballroom in the hotel that still retains Tito's socialist propaganda murals that tell the story of his Partisan forces defeating the Nazis in World War II.

This is where Tito would wine and dine big wigs from the Communist and non-aligned worlds.

We're sad to see this trip end, We went back to our room and ate at our hotel's restaurant. After dinner we packed for tomorrows flight. Dovidjenja adriatic!

Posted by get2will 16:30 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Soca River Valley and the Julian Alps

Day 14

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Our plan today was to have a local guide to drive us up the Soca River valley and over the Vrsic mountain pass of the Julian Alps to Lake Bled.

Our first stop on the tour was Breznica, the hometown of Anton Jansa. Jansa was a painter, who later became a pioneer of beekeeping. We visited one of his original hive complexes. He painted his hives. Some paintings showed religious motifs, some scenes of everyday life, some are humorous, and some anthropomorphic animals. He became the beekeeper for Austrian royalty.

Wife dragging husband home

Women cooking trousers

Adam and Eve

Beetle and a man

Saint with a beehive

Bear in a rooster chariot

We were laughing at the speeding signs you encounter as you drive through the Slovene towns. They are basically a billboard that shows your car’s speed, just like in the US. If you are not speeding ‘Hvala’ (thank you) appears on the sign. When you are over it blinks and says something else that is probably not as nice. Our guide said ‘Don’t speed in Slovenia, if you are over the limit by 20km/hour (~12miles/hour) it is a fine of 1000 euros (1200 dollars). We also decided that if a car has a license plate that says "I" (for Italy), consider giving the car plenty of room.

On the way out to the pass we came close to a village called chicken village, which our guide Ervin said supplied almost all of the 71' world champion hockey team. One person from the town currently plays for the LA Kings. Everyone in town is upset because they are loosing their town team.

Martuljek mountain group

We then entered the town of Kranjeka Gora. It is a winter resort town. Apparently former Yugoslavian children look fondly upon this place because most school children would take field trips out here.

Traditional mountain home

We then ascended the Vrsic Pass

Vrsic pass has 50 numbered switchback turns up the mountain, this is one of them.

This mountain road was built under bad conditions by 10,000 Russian POWs during WWI to open overmountain supply lines for Austrian Empire forces. A small Russian orthodox chapel was built on the pass at the site of an avalanche that claimed the lives of many POWs.

Alpine cattle

Valley view from the pass

View of the pass summit

Traditional shingling on an alpine home

After we took in the beautiful mountain views of the Alps, we descended into territory that experienced horrible fighting in World War I. We entered the Soca River valley.

Soca River

Much of the war here involved alpine warfare. These troops were very short of supplies. Commanders underestimated how long soldiers would need to be there. Soldiers literally fell off mountains. Frostbite was common and in some battles and deployments more people froze to death than were killed by the enemy. New fighting tactics emerged in such a tough environment, like field commanders giving direct orders instead of people higher up the chain of command. In fact Hemingway famously wrote about this part of the war in his book “A Farewell to Arms”. After seeing some of the old trenches and visiting the WWI museum, our guide Ervin wisely commented that after all this fighting, although some of the empires broke up, nothing really changed. All the borders to the countries birthed by the war were pretty much the same as they were before the war. Huh, what a waste, I guess some things are timeless. The museums selection of old alpine warfare gear was interesting.

Some of the remaining World War I bunkers.

Kluze fort. The fort guarded the narrowest part of the valley leading into Italy. Italians used it in the 15th century to defend Italy from Ottoman Turks, but in WWI Austrians used it to keep Italians out of their territory.

These rungs leading straight up the mountain and the tunnels on the side of the mountain are next to the fort. These structures allowed soldiers to access a second fort on top the mountain directly above the valley fort. The mountain fort was destroyed.

With all of this war talk, I asked our guide Ervin about his experience with the fighting here when Slovenia was the first republic to declare independence and break away from Yugoslavia. He said that he was young, only 5, but he remembered the air raid sirens and that everyone but him and his brother ran indoors. His parents sent them outside to play. He said his father’s response was, “Really, who’s going to attack Slovenia?”. Well he was right. The Yugoslav army approached the boarder, but within weeks retreated and left everyone alone. This was after about 75 people died from fighting, and although tragic, this was just a pittance of how many people died when Croatia and Bosnia declared their independence.

Hayracks. . . Slovenes are proud of them, and they are uniquely Slovenian. These are simply upright racks used to dry hay. They are everywhere in the countryside. I wish I would have taken a picture of this, but after scrutinizing their concrete freeway noise barriers I noticed they were built to replicate the shape of a hayrack because they had a little fake roof built over the walls. Another example, when we were driving through the Julian Alps we briefly drove through a small section of Italy where no hayracks were to be seen, but literally after you cross the border they are everywhere. I don’t get it, same agricultural hayfields on both sides of the border, same landscape, very similar people, but this was different. I guess it is a Slovene thing. It is also clear that since the 90’s the Slovenes have clearly caught onto capitalism because many hayracks were not being used for hay anymore. Instead they were being used as billboards. . . another picture I should have taken.


As we arrived in the town of Bled. We said goodbye to our guide Ervin.

Posted by get2will 13:03 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)


Day 13


Our plan today was to spend some time in Ljubljiana (lyoob-lee-AH-nah).

We walked down to the east end of the Ljubljana River and worked our way west.

The dragon is a symbol of Ljubljana because Jason (of the Argonauts) supposedly slew his dragon near the town, also St. George who slew a dragon is the saint of the town.

Dragon Bridge

The river

We walked through the outdoor market where there were a few unique refrigerated vending machines. One for artisan dairy products like cheese, and in the other you can get fresh, raw milk. This place is awesome.

Butchers Bridge. The railings are full of padlocks that couples attach to the railings to symbolize their love.

The triple bridge, constructed by famous Slovene architect Joze Plecnik

River cafes next to the triple bridge

Preseren Square

We took an hour tour of the town.

Town hall

Cathedral behind the town square fountain


Congress Square with Ljubljana Castle in the background

Monastery of the Holy Cross by Joze Plecnik

Joze Plecnik's National Library

On our walk, the Slovene guide told us that their language combines all the most complex traits of European languages. It is a famously difficult language to learn. In fact some Slovene children have trouble learning English because it is too simple. There are male, female, and neutral nouns. Nouns are not singular or plural like in English, but are singular, dual, small group (<5), or large group (>5). Verb conjugations are also very complex. Although a small country, Slovenes from the opposite ends of the country sometimes cannot understand each other. Yikes, sounds complicated!

Another interesting tidbit is that Slovenia is one of the only countries outside of France to have monuments to Napoleon. Before the breakup of Yugoslavia, the only period of time that Slovenes could officially express many aspects of their culture and write in their language is a five year period in the 1800's when Napoleon took the area away from the Austrians.

After lunch, we looked through some shops and bought a few souvenirs for the kids. We came across this interesting beehive art. Apparently Slovenes were the first beekeepers, so there is a bunch of art associated with beekeeping. Some scenes are religious, some just slice of life, and some are humorous (with a dash of misogyny). They believed that these art panels attached to the front of the hives helped the bees find their way home to the correct hive.

When two people fight, lawyers make the money (or get the milk)

Men putting their old wives through a machine and getting newer wives in return.

Women making soup with trousers and men drinking while beekeeping.

We caught dinner at a restaurant at Ljubljana Castle

Funicular to the castle

Castle courtyard

This dinner here at Gostilna na Gradu was as good as the one in Hvar

Pork bits with soft cheese covered in honey

Venison stew with polenta and sausage with potatoes

Ljubljana style (stuffed) veal schnitzel with potatoes

Yum, Slovenia, where the Slavic, Germanic, and Italian worlds collide.

On all my European travel so far, I think that Ljubljana reminds me most of my hometown, Portland, OR.
Famous bridges, many bookstores, lots of bikes.
Check, check, check.
Downtown hemmed in by a river and hills, farmers markets with local foods, proximity to good beer.
Check, check, check.
Lots of young people, often with facial hair.
Laid back people that are also creative and industrious.
Hour from the beach and the mountains.
They share a similar population size with Portland and even some architectural style due to a 1890s earthquake in Ljubljana.

The town was magical at night.

River cafes

Triple bridge and Preseren Square


Posted by get2will 19:43 Archived in Slovenia Comments (0)

Istrian Hill Towns, Piran, Caves, and Castles

Day 12

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Our plan today was to visit a series of Istrian (EE-stree-ah) hilltowns, highlighed by Motovun (moh-toh-VOON) and Groznjan (grohzh-NYAHN). After these towns we planned to pass into the Slovenia to the coastal town of Piran (pee-RAHN) before visiting a cave and castle near Postojna (poh-STOY-nah). We then drive to Ljubljana to stay the night.





First we had one last tasty breakfast at Casa Garzotto.

Lets start with a random thought. Setting out on the freeway on our way to Istrian hill towns I realized that I’ve never seen a Balkan driver use a turn signal while changing lanes on a freeway.

The first Istrian Hill Town we visited was Motovun. It was very small, but also inviting and adorable. Hiking up from the parking area to the town we encountered an older man making and selling woodcuts. From the wood he carved out amazing images of the hilltown, along with some other images. We watched him work for awhile and were very impressed. Finally we asked him how long I took him to carve the wood reliefs. After broken English and scribbling on some paper, he relayed that it took 8-12 hours to make each one. He was asking only 250 kuna (~45$) for each woodcut. We don’t purchase many souvenirs, but when we do we like to purchase locally made items. Especially in rural areas where unemployment is probably sky high. So after we walked around the ramparts of the town and did some wine and truffle tastings, we swung by and bought it on the way out.


Woodcut artist

We stopped by the truffle capital of the world, a small town called Livade and grabbed some truffle oil.

Drove through another hill town called Oprtalj

We then walked through an old, nearly abandoned hill town called Zavrsje.
This dog met us not far from our car and lead us on a walk of the only road through town, like it was familiar with tourists. We called him our pissing tour guide. As he would sprint ahead of us, he would pee on things to seemingly mark a path for us. When we would stop, he would wait patiently for us. It was hilarious.

The last hill town we visited was Groznjan. This town was full of artists and their galleries. The wonderful and windy streets were easy to get lost in, especially since every landmark was a gallery. Here we grabbed lunch.

Leaving town we headed north, passing into Slovenia. As we left Croatia, I thought back to an interesting and controversial subject that came up with a local Croatian, race. We were talking about all the bad blood between cultural groups in the former Yugoslavia, so talk turned to somewhat parallel situations in the US. I mentioned that race relations in the US are complicated. Despite the fact that things have improved a lot, at minimum subtle racism is still a daily reality for minorities in the US, and that although it is widespread, some areas are worse than others. The Croatian responded that this is not a problem in their country, and that people don’t care about interracial relationships. I had to bite my lip. I get the sense, and maybe this is completely unfounded, that many Europeans believe they have no racial relations problems in their country, and that is not surprising given everyone wants to think the best of their culture. The US is full of minorities, so the opportunity for conflicting interactions is high. With 20% of the world’s immigrants entering the US, you could flip your perspective and ask why there is not even more racial issues in the US. It is easy to claim that racism is not a problem in Europe when 99% of the people belong to the same overall ethnic group, and minorities are rarely encountered, giving the impression problems don’t exist. However, I think many Europeans that believe this are fooling themselves and are being a bit disingenuous. I wonder if these Europeans have ever asked any of the immigrants in their country (~0.01% of the population in some places) about their experience before forming their opinion?
For example, before I arrived in Croatia I read a news story about how multiple times Croatia’s soccer clubs were fined, and fans were excluded from some games, for racist chants at black players (for example, making monkey noises). Now to be fair to Croatians this was only ~10-20% of the stadium, and this has happened in other European countries like Italy. In other words the majority of Croatians are not misbehaving like this, and this problem is not unique to Croatia. However, if this happened on the same scale in a major American sports stadium, I imagine those people would get the snot beat out of them by the remainder of the crowd. Maybe this would be possible at a small US sporting event in some isolated areas of the country, but probably not at a major sporting in a major city. Then again, maybe I am being naïve. Are Americans perfect in this regard? No, but at least many will admit that improvement is needed so the problem can be faced and dialogue can happen.

The first coastal town we hit in Slovenia was the coastal town of Piran, part of Slovenia's measly 29 miles of coastline. Piran has a lot of bang for the buck though. The architecture of the town felt more a mix of Germanic and Venetian, since this part of Slovenia used to be part of the Austrian Empire and Venetian Republic. Language and some cultural aspects of the people still seemed more Italian flavored, probably because at the beginning of the century, most of the town's inhabitants were Italian, so this aspect is not much different than the Istrian coast we just came from.

At this point in the day, I unfortunately realized this was going to be the second day that felt a bit rushed. Oh well, you live, you learn. So far only two days rushed and hopefully 14 days more relaxed.

At the end of the day we visited the Postojna Caves, the largest series of limestone caves in the world. It was very impressive but it also felt a little like Disneyland. First of all, to visit you must take a tour. For part of the tour you get on this little moving train. The train moves through caves that sometimes look like the caves found in a Disney ride, except all of the cave formations are incredible because they’re real and not made out of concrete. Secondly, they are trying to wring every last euro out of you. Employees try to up sell you on the tour before you even reach the cave entrance, and the audioguide has five ads slipped into it trying to sell you stuff. The audioguide says no flash pictures because they may disturb the cave wildlife. They insinuate that this sensitivity is part of the reason why the caves are pristine, and hence the cave wildlife has been conserved. However, the entire cave is artificially lit and the biologist in me is wondering “where are all the bats at and why don’t they ever mention them if this cave is so pristine, this is a cave right?” The floor of the final cave is covered with concrete and it contains gift shop where you can buy all those postcards of the pictures you couldn’t take (yes the gift shop is INSIDE THE CAVE). I’m not saying don’t go, the caves are a must see, but when the attraction is nature itself all that ‘unnatural’ stuff and Disneyfied atmosphere really takes away from the enjoyment or sense of wonder. Also they should have a ‘must be shorter than this to ride this ride’ sign. That train is lawsuit city - I’m vertically challenged and I thought that a stalactite was going to smack me in the head a couple of times. This train would be a good way to shut Charles Barkley up.

We also visited the nearby Predjama Castle. The castle is incredible looking in pictures, with the castle nested in a cave structure. I was unexpectedly impressed with it in person. The thing that is difficult to perceive when you view the picture is how huge the castle and cave is. Supposedly this castle was inhabited by some rich robber. He holed up in the castle which protected him from army authorities, and survived by using a secret tunnel to assess supplies in an adjacent town. The army got him by bribing a servant in the castle to indicate when he was using the outhouse on the top floor of the castle. They then shot him with a cannonball while using the toilet.

Overwhelmed with sightseeing, we sped off to Ljubljana, the capital and largest city in Slovenia. On the way we got stuck in traffic. I turns out that Americans are not the only people who create traffic jams by gawking at nothing. Luckily we found a parking spot right across the street from where we were staying in the city. Tonight we grabbed a late dinner and stayed at Stari Tisler.

Stari Tisler

Posted by get2will 19:43 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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