On our vacation in the Balkans we covered 3 countries: Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia i Herzegovina. Bosnia was a completely unconventional choice but turned out to be an interesting choice nonetheless. 2 months of planning has gone in to the vacation as a lot of info is scattered all around and needed a lot of emails, calls and WhatsApp chats regarding availability and even then Weather was a significant unknown variable
We were in Slovenia for 3 days and had the best start to the Balkan vacations
Day 0: Amsterdam to Zagreb to Ljubljana
We reached Zagreb from Amsterdam by Croatia Airlines which provided ample luggage in carry on. On board, I was served beer and olives while Swapna got Coke and Cheese. Though the flight was delayed due to Fog in Schiphol, we managed to be in time for our bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia. The bus journey was by Flixbus which we have come to trust the most even though it might be a little expensive than the rest but the punctuality and quality of ride is worth it. We passed by the Croatian and Slovenian border control which takes a good 30 minutes as there are 2 border control checks. The checks and 90 minutes later, we reached Ljubljana. We checked into the Airbnb house shortly thereafter. Eva, who was the host suggested Piazza which was super close and super awesome (Eva’s words, not ours). Turns out Piazza is as good as recommended and with a very interesting decor.
It is constructed of four houses facing each other with the back portion having been broken off. I ordered Polenta, a Slovenian dish and Swapna ordered Pasta both of which turned out to be great. We hit the bed early as we had a long day ahead planned
Day 1: Ljubljana to Bohinj to Vogel to Bled to Vintgar to Ljubljana
We started from Ljubljana by bus to Bohinjsko Jezero (Bohinj Lake). The public transport is not as good as the Western European countries but there is plenty of information out there on TripAdvisor. The only problem seems to sifting through the pile of data to get information. So to be clear, when you take a bus from Ljubljana to Bohinj, Bohinjsko Jezero is where the Lake begins and is the start of hiking trails, Vogel is where the Ski Resort funicular is at and Bohinj Ukanc is where the trail to Savica Waterfall is at. We got on the bus to Bohinjsko Jezero and had a wonderful 2 hour ride which passed by a very peaceful yet beautiful countryside with not wide roads but which flowed along the landscape instead of cutting through it.
At Bohinjsko Jezero, we grabbed a coffee and hot chocolate and armed with maps from the Tourist Information office, we took a light hiking trail which was easy to locate. The trail follows the road to Ukanc but gives ample opportunity for admiring nature and irrespective of the season always beautiful. The woods are not dense and you can gaze at the mountains on one side and the lake on the pther which makes for a breathtaking scenery.
The light trail to Vogel from Jezero takes about an hour at slow pace. The funicular to the top of the Ski resort is breath taking as it rises 1300 m in less than 10 minutes which accords a great view. there was some snow at the top but we didn’t ski as originally planned as we had started an hour late causing some scheduling problem. We enjoyed playing in the snow and took in the views. Vogel has some great ski slopes and is not very commercial despite being on the border with Austria. unsurprisingly, it is a well kept secret which is being more well known each year due to growing popularity of Slovenia itself as a tourist destination.
From Vogel, we took the bus back to Lake Bled which is about 30 minutes away but the driver dropped us off at the wrong bus station meaning we lost an hour on our original plan. This leads back to the problem with public transport which runs efficiently and on time but there is not much scope for factoring in delays. An hour of walking along lake Bled which was still having the christmas markets in full swing with local dishes and wares in full display. It seemed like the entire city was out and about. Lake Bled is known for the Bled castle and island in the middle of the lake making it impregnable by conventional means and is quite popular with the tourists. Lake Bohinj offers more options for hiking and has a fraction of tourists of Lake Bled.We had a great lunch at a pizzeria, Gostilna Pri Planincu, which offered a lot of vegetarian and non vegetarian options.
Post Lunch, We made our way to Vintgar Gorge by following the trail past Podhom. There is also another Gorge en route Vintgar called Spodnje Gorge, both featuring views of the fast flowing stream, Radovna. The entire trail is nearly 4 kms from Lake Bled Bus station and is doable in an hour. Remember the lost hour, that meant by the time we reached the Gorge, sun was setting in full speed and being winter, it was getting darker. We reached the Gorge at 4 and after spending 30 mins or so admiring the gorge, we made our way back to catch the 5:30 PM bus back to Ljubljana.
We reached Ljubljana and headed to rest our heads on the bed as we had an early rising for Divaca the next day. We saw some of the new year fireworks from our apartment but had no strength left to get out and enjoy. Total distance covered: 19.9 Kms. Swapna had a murderous look on her face but I was not going to go easy so soon in the vacation
Day 2: Ljubljana to Divaca to Ljubljana to City Tour
We had confirmed the availability of the Skocjan Caves tour by writing directly to the Skocjan caves office and after much deliberations and scheduling, we decided to do it on 1-Jan when almost everything else was shut.
We started off from Ljubljana at 5:50am by train and noticed several young folks still on platforms reeling with hangover or having turned their inside out from the party the night before. The train itself was completely modern and was probably the best i have been on in terms of ride comfort. The journey itself was 2 hours long and we got out at Divaca where we were the only 2 people in the entire station. We had time to spend before making our way to the Caves. Turns out smoking is allowed anywhere and even in the Waiting room, where we had a traveler who was smoking away to glory. The path to Divaca is not well signposted as with Vintgar from Lake Bled and hence relying on Here WeGo maps to show us the way, we started towards the caves. After nearly a kilometer of walking, we felt like we were not on the right path and as we did not know better nor did we see anyone who could help, we made our way back to Divaca where we had a coffee and breakfast at the 9am, at the only cafe which opened on time in the sleepy town.. There we got some more confusing information regarding the availability of bus to caves form the station and after waiting until 10:15am we realized that neither the bus was coming nor we were going to make our way to the caves.However, there is ample info in and around the station to make your way to the caves. There are a lot of maps, pocket sized and printed, to show you the way. Right outside the station is a large map of the trail with also the bus information. The walking trail is the best and is only 4 kms long but be armed with maps before you set out.
Resigning ourselves to fate, we took the train back to Ljubljana. We had almost started off to Koper which is Slovenia’s most beautiful port town but decided against owing to further possibility of disappointment
We reached Ljubljana at 1PM and decided to do a city tour. We have visited so many European cities that we did not want to do any more city tours. At least not on this vacation but to our surprise, Ljubljana was not our regular city either. Before, we made our way to the castle, we got a great lunch of falafels and Tajine at a place called Falafel.
In the middle of the city is Ljubljana Castle towering on a hill on an island. The island is connected by various bridges such as the Dragon bridge featuring , you guessed it, Dragons, Triple bridge because there are 3 of them and so on. The castle can be accessed by a funicular or by foot. By Foot, the way to the top is fascinating as it passes by winding alleys featuring antique shops, souvenirs from Yugoslavia and local delicacies including Frog Legs. We made it to the castle where we spent nearly and hour taking in the views. On our way down, we take the back alley route and from the other side of the Island. back at ground level, we saw the both side of the river, Ljubljanica from which the city gets its name), dotted with cafes and restaurants serving international and local fares. The place was teeming with people.We had a good coffee and cake before retiring for the day
Day 3: Lubljana to Postojna caves to Predjama castle to Ljubljana to Zagreb
We started a new day with the Trip to the renowned Postojna Caves and Predjama castle by Slovenia Explorer . The trip started from Ljubljana around 830am and was guided by Darjan, who was also the driver. Joining on the trip were an American couple and a Brazilian family. The first stop was at Postojna caves which is nearly an hour and few minutes away from Postojna caves. Postojna caves can also be reached via Train and Bus. but getting to Predjama castle from Postojna caves is where the challenge lies. However, considering our experience form the previous day, we were glad we had booked the tour.
Postojna caves is a huge limestone cave and is about 7kms in length and at a depth of 100m. Postojna caves has arrangement for tours in multiple languages and is an amazing experience in itself. The entire tour last about 90 minutes or so.
We all assembled at the mouth of the caves with the other tourists and were lead inside to take our places on what can only be described as train of benches to take us on the 2KM 10 minute ride deep into the caves. The 2km ride is just like that of a amusement park but completely real. Often times the opening is just wide enough to not bonk you in the head which is a possibility. Once inside the heart of the caves, i was completely awed by the scale of the caves and the beauty within. Stalactites and Stalagmites which I had previously only read when in school loomed in front of me and were awe inspiring. Formations over millennia have lead to the shape they are in now. The caves tour have been in operation for nearly a century too and have been visited by millions of tourists. We also saw the inhabitants of the caves, Salamanders who are completely blind and prey by sensing the magnetic field of the prey nearby.
Once outside the cave, me and Sean headed to the nearby river to just take a look and found it frozen solid, enough to support weight of people ice skating. Sean was ht efirst to stand on it and gathering courage looking at him, i ventured on to the ice
The next stop was Predjama castle; Predjama meaning “in front of cave”. The Castle is a marvel to behold and maybe on of the most beautiful places i have ever been to. The castle is home to the lore of Knight Erazem who was a Robin hood sort of figure minus the giving money to the poor part. Erazem was able to stave off a sustained siege on the castle only to be betrayed by one of the servants which reminded me of Tipu Sultan and his betrayal.The Castle is intact for the most part and is a pleasure to visit. The castle opens out into a beautiful landscape which I would not mind waking up to for the rest of my life.
After Predjama Castle, we made our way back to Ljubljana where we collected our luggage and made our way to the bus stop for the next leg of the vacation into the beautiful country of Croatia. Till next post.