Summer Travels Part 1: Croatia & Slovenia

This summer we traveled to Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany over an 8 day period. We traveled with family and were blessed with good weather for the most part. Since the trip spanned so many places, I will try to crystallize the experiences and focus on the highlights. Instead of wasting space with paragraphs of text, I will include numerous images and as you will see, each image speaks volumes for itself.

We had a lot of fun on this trip and returned home more tired than we were before we left. We did a lot of wonderful sight-seeing, but definitely were not able to get in as much rest and family time as I’d have liked.

Let’s jump right into it:

First stop: Croatia. We spent 3 nights here. We spent 2 days in the capital Zagreb, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. It’s a medium-sized city where people are very friendly and things are much cheaper than Western Europe. Most of the main tourist attractions were pretty concentrated around the center. It’s easy (and fun) to get lost strolling around the quaint cobbled streets, grabbing a beer in one the many street side cafes, stopping by the main farmers’ market, and hopping in and out of esoteric museums. We tried the museum of torture, which I’d recommend if you’re not faint of hearted, and the museum of broken relationships, which I thought was a complete waste of time and money and would advise you to avoid at all costs. Croatia’s old school communist provenance is also fairly visible in the older buildings and tramcars that dot the city.

Day 2 we visited the Plitvice Lakes National Park. This place’s fame was the entire reason Croatia even made it on to our itinerary. A beautiful almost 300 sq. km. park, it consists of 16 large lakes, at different heights, connected by waterfalls. There are numerous excursions that can be undertaken following the various marked trails. We chose the longest that lasted 6 hours and was probably around 9 kilometers. There are numerous walkways and trails crisscrossing the lakes and also a combination of bus and boat rides that need to be taken to complete the excursion.

To say it was beautiful doesn’t do justice to the marvel of this place. Crystal clear waters through which you can see the bottom, a plethora of waterfalls of all heights, a wide variety of flora, plentiful fish and wonderfully designed walkways all let you immerse yourself into the natural experience without damaging this stunning wonderland. I couldn’t help but want to jump into the water and unwind, but the Honey Bee maintained a tight grip. 😛

A side note: I was highly surprised to learn that most people across Croatia, not just in the capital, are fairly proficient in English. Quite a surprise given the wide gulf in the quality of education and wealth between Croatia and most of its non-English speaking European counterparts.

Second stop: Slovenia. We spent 2 nights in the capital: Ljubljana (liub-lee-yana). We visited the Postojna Caves, a massive cave system carved out by the Pivka River. Following a mini-train ride that takes you deep into the caves, you walk for around an hour in the depths of the earth, alternating between small connecting passageways and massive cavernous halls; the enormity of this cave system is mind-boggling. Seeing the grand calcium stalactites (the ones that grow downwards from the ceiling), stalagmites (the ones that grow upwards from the ground), and the rare instance when they fused to form columns was a truly unforgettable experience. It’s humbling to be witness to these grand structures that have grown over centuries. FYI: The average stalactite grows at the rate of 0.13 mm/year.

Here, we were also fortunate to witness the Olm, popularly known as the Human Fish. These cave dwelling amphibians live in the range of 60-100 years, are capable of surviving 7-10 years without food and are blind owing to their underdeveloped eyes. The Postojna Caves are a must visit for anyone visiting Europe.

Close by, we also paid a quick visit to the Predjama Castle, a large full-on renaissance era castle built flawlessly inside a cave’s mouth, complete with moat, drawbridge, torture
chamber and secret tunnels. Walking around outside and inside, it is hard to tell where the castle ends and the cave begins.

On day 2, we visited the ominous sounding Bled. A small town built around a glacial lake, this picturesque getaway boasts of a small island with a rustic church and a café in the middle of the lake. To get to the island, you can take a ride in one of the charming little boats that ferry passengers back and forth. Or, if you want to do something more interesting you can rent a boat and row the 10-15 minutes to the island. I’m glad to report I safely rowed the entire family all the way to the island, all the while enjoying the uplifting beats of Volare.  A great way to wrap up the first half of our trip.

…to be continued in Part 2