Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Zagreb, Croatia


Our Croatian adventures ended in the capitol city of Zagreb which also happens to be one of my favorite Ticket to Ride cities.

We arrived in the evening during rush hour trying to return our rental car (shoot me) but with less than 24 hours we didn't have much time to waste. Dinner at Mundoaka (fantastic recommendation from our Airbnb hosts) and then we rested our weary heads before a morning of sightseeing. 

We hit Zagreb starting in Jelačić Square, pictured above. 

We strolled through the shops near the square, took the funicular to St. Mark's Square (pictured above) and through some delightful side streets.



As the rain picked up again, we dodged into a one of the weirdest ways to lose a few hours, The Museum of Broken Relationships. This popular exhibit shows artifacts from failed relationships, mostly romantic. Many of funny, many heartbreaking, some just plain weird. It was interesting and well worth the visit.

We strolled through the stone gate, the market (with the red umbrellas at each stand!), to the cathedral and back to Mundoaka for lunch (it was the good). And from the window, I saw this...



I clearly need this umbrella because srsly.

Practicalities:


  • Transportation: Like any big city, you don't need a car and the main sights are easy to see by foot. Driving in the city is rough, and the train station nearby connects to all major cities.
  • Food: Mundoaka was amazing! We highly recommend. Plus, anything you can eat at the market.
  • Walking Guide: Rick Steves for life. We could have seen  more if we had more time, but I felt like we saw really everything we wanted to.
  • Accommodations: We stayed here which was an easy walk to the main part of the city and super affordable. If you don't have an Airbnb account, use this link to get $35 off your first stay.



*it rained almost constantly, so my pictures in Zagreb are few.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Plitvice Lakes National Park




A highlight of visiting northern Croatia is the beautiful Plitvice National Parks. Plitvice (Pleet-veet-seh) is a series of 16 lakes with interlaced with waterfalls and terraces.

For us, the best way to describe our day was wet. Stunning, beautiful but extremely wet. It rained (often pouring) all day. Armed with ponchos and rainboots, we made it through the day.

It felt like all of Croatia was under a cloud, even the disposition of the people we met seemed a little cloudy and damp (read: not particularly friendly, but we were told that was a hallmark of the region).

The park is divided into two sections: upper and lower. We started at the lower lakes entrance which gives you that stunning overlook over the terraces and boardwalk below.

For the most part, the lakes and terraces are connected by a wooden boardwalk that often sat into the water. After a day of heavy rain, there were times I thought we might sink! But alas, no one went swimming that day.

Poncho pals.


In short, Plitvice is a fairly large detour from anything around, however, it is stunning and well worth the trip. I even found a lucky leaf that landed on my umbrella and transferred from my jacket to my boot and I rediscovered it when we arrive in Zagreb. So Plitvice is lucky. :)

Practicalities:


  • About 3.5 hours drive from Rovinj and 2 hours from Zagreb, it is really in the middle of nowhere. We stayed at Villa Plitvicka Sedra to be close to the entrance and it fit in best with our budget.
  • Arrive early! Once tour buses descend upon the park it gets CROWDED.
     
  • Transportation: For the greatest ease, a car is the best way to explore the region if you want flexibility. However, judging by the many tour buses, you can also find a tour there. Do what floats your boat (lake humor, hardy har har).
  • Food: there is not a ton of great food options. The night before we went to the park, we ate at a so-so restaurant near our house (think a lot of meat and potatoes) and we stopped by a grocery store to pick up lunch supplies.
  • Time: give yourself at least a few hours. We spent the night before nearby and then drove to Zagreb after. It was doable but we didn't doddle.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rovinj, Croatia


Old Town view from the Harbor
Rovinj. The Venice of Croatia. With twisting alleyways, we roamed among the cobblestones, rented bikes and ate ice cream in a truly relaxing day and a half.

It is a fishing port on the western side of the Istrian peninsula. On a clear day they say you can see Venice across the Adriatic Sea.


The center of town is a series of side streets and alleys only big enough for pedestrians, which is fun, Unless you have a lot of luggage.

We crossed the border into Croatia without trouble minus the whole 'having my passport at the bottom of my suitcase' incident.

This was more fun than it should have been. ;) We rolled in during the late afternoon to the most charming pension with shutters that opened and closed just like so.

Rovinj doesn't have a tourist route or agenda. It's meant for exploring, slowing down and just enjoying. It's a travel pace I often struggle to make time for but I always enjoy. It was nice not to have to see something.

If you like pictures of bikes, side streets and quaint doors, continue on.
Seaside dinner with fantastic view.

If you must see something, we recommend:

  • Old Town view from the harbor
  • Farmer's market (produce, truffle oil, souvenirs, etc)
  • Views from the bell tower in Church of St. Euphemia (best views in town)
  • Riding bikes around the edge of the harbor as far as we could go
  • Eating as much gelato as possible


Practicalities:

  • Transportation: Once you're in Rovinj, everything is accessible on foot or by bike. However, you will definitely want a car to get there. Parking is nearby the harbor and is fairly cheap for the time you are there.
  • Lodging: Most places to stay are not accessible by car. So you will need to carry your luggage if you stay in old town. So consider packing light. :)
  • Money: While Croatia is a member of the EU, it uses the Croatian Kuna. Do not exchange money near the border. You will always get a worse exchange rate. We're found the best rates as ATMs in the city.
  • Relax and enjoy!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Day 5: Predjama Castle and Postojna Caves, Slovenia


Our next overnight was in Croatia, so "on the way" we stopped by the 700-year-old Predjama Castle which stunningly is built into the mountain. Like it was chiseled into it. Slovenia's castles, while understated, were really beautiful and unique.


On the field outside of the castle is a jousting area, which I spent daydreaming about Ulrich von Liechtenstein, as you do.


But the real excitement for the day was Postojna Caves. Before we went to Slovenia, someone suggested to skip this sight and I'm so glad that we didn't listen. We had so much fun.

The entrance/exit to the cave is via that gaping hole so the excitement starts from the get go.

You enter the heart of the cave via a little open air train, Gringotts style. The train takes you about a mile in where your tour begins. This was much more fun that I think it was intended to be but we are easily entertained.

If you like caves, and think riding through one on a little train sounds like fun, then Postojna Caves is for you. I often hear that people think that Americans are overly excited about things. And well, this might very well be true as evidenced by how much we geeked out.

Our tour (offered in many different languages) was pretty interesting. It lasted about an hour and we learned all about rocks and stuff. :) My favorite room which I was unable to get a picture of had a lit chandelier hanging from the ceiling. For, you know, ambiance I'm sure.

The rest of our day was spent driving to our next destination: Rovinj, Croatia.


Practicalities:

  • Transportation: we saw a couple of tour buses, but this area is best accessed via car. It will give you the most flexibility. Postojna is about 45 minutes away from Ljubljana. The Castle and the Caves are about 20 minutes away from each other. 
  • Predjama: parking is free but it is pretty limited. We did not enter the castle (short on time) but you can pay to enter. 
  • Postojna: The cave entrance is surrounded by a massive complex of food, shops and a huge parking lot. You have to pay for parking and it takes some time to walk from the parking lot so keep that in mind. When we visited there were specific tour times so you have to plan accordingly to arrive for the tour in your language. 
  • Dress appropriately: it can be chilly in the cave, so bring a light jacket/sweater and wear long pants.

Traveled May 2015.