Zagreb, Croatia

We had only planned to spend one night in Zagreb before our flight left.  We really had wanted to spend more time on the coast, but our plans changed with the weather and due to our limited time.

On Sunday morning, the clouds lifted and we enjoyed a last walk along Lake Bled.  

  

You can really see how far we had to walk up to that castle.  

Since it had dried up, the luge was up and running again.  Too bad we didn’t have enough time to try it.  We had a blast in Austria on the luge. 

We boarded a train from Lesce-Bled to Zagreb.  The journey was about 3.5 hours.  We met a woman travelling from Lesce-Bled to Ljubljana.  She was a local, and very friendly.  Then, she showed me pictures of her dogs.  We became instant friends!  She has a Malamute that is in agility and a black poodle that just likes to have fun.  She apologized for her “bad English.”  She probably speaks 7 languages and communicated just fine with us.  We are the ones who should apologize.

The train cabins hold 6 people.  As we progressed down the line, our cabin filled up to 5.  We chatted with a young British couple who was travelling for 2 months using a Euro-rail pass, and a Croat man.  The poor British girl had bed bug bites all up and down her arms and legs.  I wonder if she know what caused those bites.  They were staying in hostels.  Bed bugs bite in a line.  If you see a line of bites, uh-oh!  Inspect your bed BEFORE you put your stuff on in.  I hope she didn’t have any travellers in her bag because it was touching my bag.

Travelling by train is far more civilized than by plane.  You buy your ticket and hop on.  There are no line-ups and security hoops to jump through.  After you are seated and the train is moving, a conductor comes by to validate your ticket.  Done.  At the Croatian border, we had to get our passports stamped again.  Since we had just been here a few days ago, they examined our stamps more closely.  Since Croatia has such a long coastline, border patrol still needs to stamp passports.  Lots of people try to sneak in.  Of course, this whole procedure was done from the comfort of our seats.  Civilized.

We arrived in Zagreb at 5:10 pm.  Just in time for dinner!  When we arrived, our first thought was that it was “gritty.”  The buildings are covered with graffiti like Athens, but once you get past that, this city was made for relaxing!  They have mastered the art of cafes and people-watching.

Our first B & B was in the heart of the city, yet it was quiet because it faced a courtyard.  Our host gave us a map and tips for restaurants, bakeries, sights, etc.  We both really wanted cevapcici, so she recommended her favourite restaurant for that dish.  We ended up going there twice!  Where will we find that in Canada?

 This was right across from the train station.  I guess it was a sign!  
  
  

People-watching at its finest 

On our second day, we followed a suggested walking route from the Rick Steves guidebook.  It was so enjoyable!

This was the start of the route — Jelacic Square, where everyone gathers to meet.   
They claim this is the world’s shortest funicular.  It only took 53 seconds to reach the top.  The cost was 4 kn, but the men didn’t take our money.  They said “at the top,” but they didn’t take it at the top either, so it literally was a free ride.

  

At the top of the funicular, you enter the old town of Gradec.  This is the original watchtower.  In the top right window, you can see a small canon.  It goes off every day at noon.  It’s loud!    

St. Mark’s.  We didn’t go in, but the roof tiles are spectacular. 

Across the square from St. Mark’s we found an old disused building that was crumbling.  We couldn’t find any information on it.  The inside and outside had supports to prevent it from falling down.  I think it’s beyond repair.  The supports are probably to prevent it from busting through the neighbouring buildings.  Of course, I had to inspect a little more, so we went around the back for more pictures.  We think it was originally a bank.

   
Look at how plants are growing inside and outside the windows:

         

Very cool find!

Then, we crossed through the stone gate.  It’s the only original gate from medieval times.  Inside is a chapel of sorts.  

  
The gate connects the medieval city of Gradec to the medieval city of Kaptol. Here is the gate from the Kaptol side.  You can also see the original stone wall.  Not far from there, we found this little row of houses.

  
There was a long row of them, and they were pretty cute.  What most people don’t realize when they see them is that these were houses of ill-repute long long ago.  Yes, this was the red-light district!  Now it backs the most popular street in Zagreb, Tkalciceva!

Tkalciceva street has such an abundance of cafes and restaurants, as well as smart shops.  We were still on the hunt for traditional Croatia dishes, so we went to La Struk for strukli, a traditional ravioli dish. 

    

We sat in their back garden.  In Canada, the building would have been condemned, but it was charming.    

Mmmm!  Gratinized strukli: 

 All of the back balconies in the old red light district face the cathedral.  
Original medieval walls around the cathedral:

  

An earthquake in 1880 caused this clock to stop  

The spires have taken a beating, so they are being replace.  Here you can see old and new side-by-side.  

In front of the cathedral is a fountain.  This spaniel was frolicking in it, chasing pigeons!  What a blast she was having. 

I found some interesting Art Nouveau buildings here too. The sun wasn’t in my favour when I photographed this beauty.  The balcony floors were a translucent blue.  The walls were lovely tiles with different motifs on each storey.

  
    

This one wasn’t tiled, but the motifs are attractive.   

 Now this is a farmers market!  The prices were incredibly affordable!  
1 kg (2.2 lbs) = 4 kn ($0.79 CAD) for red peppers

  

2 kg (4.4 lbs) = 10 kn ($2 CAD) for peaches 

We bought 2 nectarines from this vendor, and I think we paid 1 kn (20 cents).  They were so sweet and fresh!

Tomorrow (Wednesday, September 6), we fly back to Toronto.  We have had an amazing adventure, but we are really looking forward to seeing the girls.  We left them in the best hands possible — my parents’ — which is a good thing because Daisy has had several seizures.   This has been a great responsibility for my parents, and it’s time to take the pressure away from them.  Thanks mom and dad for keeping the girls safe and loved.

   
 

Daisy and Poppy yesterday at my parents’ backyard campground 🙂

   
Little old sweetheart!

 

Postojna Caves, Slovenia

I didn’t want to leave Slovenia without seeing one of their cave systems.  There are many.  We were planning to rent a car and drive from Lake Bled to the caves and on to the coast.  Paul also thought that we could take public transport.  When we asked locals how to do that, they laughed.  They said, “Do you have all day?”  The caves are hard to get to.  We asked our friends if they’d join us, so we hired a driver with an 8-passenger van and headed out to one of the caves.  The traffic on the highway was fierce!  School started on Friday, so the people without kids or those who decided to spend one last family weekend together were heading to the coast.  Fortunately, our driver knew when enough was enough.  He scooted off the main highway and took the back roads to the caves.  We made it just in time for our 1:00 admission.

When we got there, people were divided by language groups for tours.  I really saw the value in English being universal.  I have often felt negatively about my job, teaching English.  Why should everyone learn English?  The language groups were mostly European languages, so the Arabic and Mandarin and other speakers joined with the English speakers because they could understand English.  It simplifies things at tourist destinations, I guess.  That’s a good thing.

 Boarding the little train to take us into the caves: 
The caves were immense!  We drove in on the train for 2 km, then walked in the caves for 1.5 km, and then took the train for another 2 km to the end.  Postojna Caves are one of the biggest cave systems in the world.  We were so small compared to the stalactites and stalagmites.  The formations were of different colours and grew in different ways.  Some even looked like sheets of fabric!  Photos just don’t do it justice.

   
    

These next ones are very reminiscent of our basement ceiling when we first moved in!      

These are like huge ribbons      

These are massive — much larger than trees.  

You can see the railing, which is waist-height to get a sense of scale.  

Were we glad we stayed an extra day in Slovenia?  You bet!

The slogan of Slovenia is:  I FEEL SLOVENIA

At first that looked weird, until I noticed “love” was bolded.  Oh yeah!  I feel the love!

Lake Bled, Slovenia

We arrived later in the day, and we knew the weather was supposed to turn bad the next day, so we walked around the lake as soon as we arrived.  Lake Bled is a glacial lake, but that didn’t stop people from swimming and participating in other water sports.  The Julian Alps surround the lake.

There are two main points of interest: the church on the island in the middle of the lake and the castle on the hill.  You can take a boat to the island, but you have to walk up the hill to get to the castle.  We did both, even though I insisted I wasn’t going to climb anymore hills!

   
     

This is how one restaurant keeps beer cold.     
The island is in the foreground, but if you look closely, you’ll see Bled Castle in the distance.

 

 On our 5 km walk around the lake, we came across a “Glampground”.  Basically, it was ghetto camping, but you could rent little A-frame cabins and even tents.  I enjoyed looking at the European campers.
Service station, with a special “bar” for dogs.

  

  

  Cool window shapes

  

  

We worked up an appetite, and found our way to a pizzeria behind the castle.  Yes, we did climb all the way up from the shore-line the next day.

  
The next morning, Paul realized that he had left his bag with his passport, wallet, and camera on the patio of the pizzeria.  He ran there, and believe it or not, it was right where he left it!  

The weather forecast was accurate, and it started to rain the next day, but we still went to the island and climbed to the castle.

 Climbing to the church on the island:  
    

Paul climbed the bell tower.  

Misty view from the castle:     

This was the last day of our tour.  The weather guided us on our next path.  We decided to spend an extra day in Lake Bled.  We had planned to head back to the Croatian coast, but the weather wasn’t with us.  Stay tuned!

  

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia is a very small country, with a total population of around 2 million.  Ljubljana is the capital.  Of the Balkan countries, Slovenia was the most industrious and supported the others during communist times.  Although all the countries we have visited are in the EU, Slovenia is the only one using the Euro.  Food is fairly cheap here, but we talked to an immigrant from England and he said joining the EU raised all of their costs.  A family of 4 could easily live on one income, but now both parents need to work.  

We felt extremely safe here.  The capital is so incredibly clean.  They have achieved zero-waste designation.  A few years ago, they stopped allowing cars into the city centre, so it is strictly for pedestrians and bicyclists.  However, there are many people who live in the city centre, so how do they bring back their groceries or other items without their cars?  There is a free service called “kavalier”, which is like a big golf cart that shuttles people with their shopping to their homes.  How easy is that?  Probably easier than finding street parking for a car.

We had planned to stay an additional day in Ljubljana at the end our out tour, but our plans changed.  I highly recommend this city.  It is a fairytale-book city.

   
  

Lovers’ locks on a bridge:  

   

There are many sculptures around the city.  These two were pretty cute on the lovers’ locks bridge:

             

This is special Slovenian decoration.  They were hoping it would take hold, but I think only 2 buildings in the country were completed.      

Woodway seems to be a Slovenian chain selling locally produced wooden items. This country is very forested.  

Here is a Steampunk lamp for dad.  It was in the restaurant we had lunch:

   
 

You can get fresh unpasteurized milk from kiosks on the street.  It’s cheap and delicious!