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!


Rovinj, Croatia

Croatia, and later you’ll see Slovenia, are major destinations for RVers.  We passed so many on the highways heading to the coast.  These RVers come from all over Europe.  While we were in Slovenia, we saw a Bigfoot slide-in camper on a RAM 3500 — no doubt, they were Canadians.  We couldn’t see the license plate.

On the way to Rovinj, we stopped in at a small town on the Adriatic called Senj for a break.  That was our first glimpse of the sea.


Between Senj and the coast, there were many seaside RV parks:


The next time we come to Croatia (and we will come again), we will travel in an RV.

We stayed on Katarina island in Rovinj.  We took a water taxi over to the island.  It ran once per hour, so it was easy to come and go to the mainland.  Our resort was lovely!  Every room had a sea view and a balcony.  Our room also overlooked the bird pool — yes, it was a pool for the seagulls!  There were also pools for humans, but we chose to swim in the Adriatic instead.


Looking down from a balcony toward the seagull pool. 

The town of Rovinj on the mainland was like Venice, without the crowds and odours.  We loved it!  The cobblestones were very smooth and polished from years of use, so walking was tricky downhill.

 Rovinj (mainland, old town)  

My favourite picture:       

WWII “pill box” bunker:


Flat areas cut into the rock and flagstone added for sunbathing:    


It’s amazing that a civil war broke out in this country in my lifetime.  There is such a air of peace and tranquility, yet some old animosities still flare up.  As we drove through small towns between Plitvice and the coast, many buildings were pock-marked from bullets.  Some buildings were so badly damaged that they’ve been left to rot.  Also, the homeowners refused to return to them out of fear.  

Back in 1919, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia joined to form Yugoslavia, but this early union didn’t work because Serbia was the majority.  In the 1930s the Serbian king was killed by a Croat.

After WWII, Tito gave them peace and prosperity.  He is still greatly regarded in this part of the world.  The Yugoslavians had a greater standard of living compared to their neighbours.  They could also travel abroad.  Tito gave them a new identity, so that the old divisions weren’t ruling them.  He got rid of religion and nationalism, so they stopped fighting.  They became Yugoslavs, and not Croatians, Serbians, or Slovenes.  He also gave autonomy to certain groups within the country, so there was a good balance of power.  

When Tito died in 1980, it all started to fall apart.  In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia announced independence.  However, Serbia wouldn’t let them go.  Slovenia left easily without much bloodshed.  It wasn’t so easy in Croatia because 1/8 of the population was Serbian, so the army helped the Serbs fight the Croats.  What an ugly war.

Today, Croatia is one of the poorer nations in Europe.  Of all the ones we visited, it is poorest.  The people are very friendly despite their history.


Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Visiting Plitvice NP was a bucket list item for me.  It was established in 1949 and later became a UNESCO world heritage site.  We took a trolley to the top of park and then walked down very unnerving boardwalks.  The high up section was delightful, but as we got lower, the crowds became thicker. 

                                  As we got close to the largest waterfall, the crowds were like being at the Sistine Chapel — a place I hope never to visit again.  You see most people take a bus to the lower entrance and just walk a short distance to the biggest waterfall.  Then they clog the area while doing bizarre poses or selfies.  I’m starting to prefer selfies to these fake poses!  Today, people think they are supermodels or they are trying to get the perfect (ie fake) Instagram photo.  Are you really sleeping on a rock by a waterfall?  Does anyone believe this?  OK, rant over.  

   Because of the crowds, the government is considering reducing the number of people entering the park.  That would be a great idea.

This is a must-see sight.  Brave the crowds and go.  You can also photobomb the girl pretending to be asleep on a rock!  We did.


Although this is a very old city, most of the buildings are only from the late 1800s — completed around 1896, because that was the city’s big 1000-year celebration (The first king was King Steven who started his reign in 896 AD).  The city is well laid-out and easy to navigate.  The subway system is excellent.  The first line was made for the 1896 celebration, and it still operates with the original cars.  Why mess with something that works? Since then, new lines have been added.

One of the stations on the original line:

Budapest is divide by the Danube.  We stayed on the Pest side.  It is where most people live, and it’s also where all the action is.  The Buda side is hilly, where the big castle is, and where richer people live.  I could be wrong about them being richer, but these people seemed to live in row houses rather than apartments, and there was car parking.  Most of my picture are of the Pest side. 

 Recreational complex:  
Smaller castle on the Pest side:


Check out the way gelato is served at this stand:


Of course, like all European cities, Budapest is dog-friendly.  Amazingly, you don’t see any poop anywhere.  They use paper bags to pick it up, and there are bags and trash cans everywhere to make it easy.  I’m not sure how clean your hands would be after using the little paper bags. 

In our hotel, we found this sign to hang for the cleaners.  So, instead of the usual: DO NOT DISTURB, or PLEASE MAKE UP ROOM, you also get a sign like this:


People set up areas so that we never forget the horrors of WWII:  


Many of these 1896 buildings are original and need some attention.  Here is a picture of two identical buildings.  The one on the right has been refurbished, but the one on the left is in disrepair.  Sometimes foreigners buy these buildings and then just let them sit, so they are getting worse.  At least repair the windows!  The architecture is ornate.


Main market (too crowded for me):

Opera house:

 Evening Danube cruise


National Parliament:   

Buda Castle:

Funicular to the castle complex:   

View of Pest from Buda castle:  

This is a fountain in the castle complex.  It is a scene about hunting, but I was so in love with the faithful dogs in each vignette in the fountain:    

This dog was my favourite. Look at how faithful she looks!  Many people rubbed her paw.   

I loved seeing Viszlas and Komondors on the streets of Budapest!  As I said earlier, they love their dogs here.

 This church is located on the Buda side.  The tile roof is unique to this area.  Look at the Raven at the top.  

View of the parliament from the Buda side:   

As I said, Buda is the hilly side.  Do you see the statue at the top of this hill?  Well, we climbed all the way up to it!  Exhausting in 90+ degree heat!


Waterfall at the base of the big hill: 

I really enjoyed my stay in Budapest.  The coffee houses and restaurants were top-notch.  The streets were easy to navigate, the Danube was beautiful, and the people are pretty laid-back. It’s no wonder that the Danube was full of river cruise ships.