Why You Should Visit Slovenia

In 2019, I booked a trip with Trafalgar to visit Croatia. It was their “Best of Croatia and Slovenia” tour. I had wanted to go to Croatia for a while but I would always get overwhelmed when trying to plan so I kept pushing it off. This tour seemed like the perfect compromise. It also included Slovenia, a country I did not know anything about. I didn’t do much research about it before I left either, figuring I would learn about it along the way. Turns out, Slovenia is incredibly beautiful with wonderful people. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the two week trip. I highly recommend visiting Slovenia when you have a chance. Here are the reasons I think why you should visit Slovenia.

But First, Some Slovenian Facts

Slovenia is located in Central Europe and is bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and the Adriatic Sea. It covers approximately 7,800 square miles and has a population of two million people. It has a mostly mountainous terrain. Slovenia was the first republic to split from Yugoslavia in 1991. It is now a parliamentary republic. Slovenia is a member nation of the EU, United Nations and NATO. Its capital and largest city is Ljubjana.

On the “famous people” front, the current First Lady of the USA is from Slovenia.

The Reasons Why You Should Visit Slovenia

It is not completely overrun with tourists (yet!).

Yes, of course there are many tourists in Slovenia, many of them part of a tour of Croatia like me. But unlike some other places I have visited in Europe, it did not feel like Slovenia was being overwhelmed by tourists.

I was able to walk around Ljubljana without feeling crowded. I snagged a table at a highly recommended restaurant in Bled without a reservation. Getting decent photos of Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj without a ton of people in the background was a breeze.

The only time it felt like there were a lot of people around was when we visited the island in the middle of Lake Bled. But it’s a small island and it’s popular. So it is to be expected.

I Felt Very Safe as a Female Solo Traveler

While I visited Slovenia as part of an organized tour, I spent much of my time exploring the area on my own and I never felt unsafe.

On our second night in Bled, I skipped the organized dinner and instead walked to Penzion Berc, a local hotel with a restaurant that was highly rated on Yelp and in Rick Steves’ Croatia and Slovenia travel guide. I went alone. I was able to eat at a table outside, where I had a delicious meal of lamb chops with creme brulee (my favorite!) for dessert. The food was very good but the thing I remember most about this meal was that I had a glass of wine with dinner but declined another one because I didn’t want to end up with a $100 dinner bill that night. It turns out, the wine, which was also very good, was only four euros a glass! If I has known that, I would have had another one for sure! Ha!

My goal was to be back to the hotel before dark but it didn’t happen. It also turns out that Bled does not have any street lights in town, probably to cut down on environmental pollution, which I understand. It did make walking back to my hotel a bit of an adventure though. Luckily, I had my cell phone and was able to use the flashlight on it to guide me along. Once I made it back to the hotel, I decided to enjoy the beautiful evening and found a bench along the lake behind the hotel and sat out there for an hour or so before turning in for the night. It was so calming and pleasant. It was perfect for a solo female traveler.

Lamb Chops in Slovenia
Lamb Chops from Penzion Berc in Bled, Slovenia
Creme Brulee – Yum!

Ljubljana is a Great European Capitol

Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital and largest city. It has a population of about 300,000 people. It is known for its university population and green spaces, including Tivoli Park. The Ljublianica River, lined with outdoor cafes, divides the city’s old town from its commercial hub.

We spent a few hours in Ljubljana and I believe it is worth a visit. It is small and therefore, easy to explore by foot. I don’t think you need to spend more than a day in Ljubljana. I spent my time walking along the river and the city center, popping into shops that looked interesting and admiring the architecture as I went. Eventually, I got an ice cream cone and found a spot in the shade to sit and people watch for a while.

One building I kept admiring was the Ljubljana Castle. The castle is perched on top of Castle Hill and it overlooks the city. Archaeologists believe that the area of the present castle has been continuously settled since 1200 BC.

The castle’s role has changed numerous times since its first mention around 1120. Aside from tourism, the castle now is used for weddings and cultural events.

Reasons to visit Slovenia
Ljubljana Castle
One of the buildings surrounding the city center in LjubLjana.
Ljubljana River
A selfie with the Ljubljana River in the background.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled is probably the most well known area in Slovenia and is probably the reason that many people choose to visit Slovenia. Bled was our home base for the two nights we spent in Slovenia. We slayed along Lake Bled in the Hotel Park.  When we stayed there, I would say it was adequate. It was definitely not fancy but the location along the lake was perfect. I did see as I was looking the hotel up to link in this post that it is being renovated so it may be wonderful after it is redone.

The lake surrounds Bled Island, which can be accessed by taking one of the wooden boats shown below. There are no motorized boats allowed on the lake so the boats are rowed by men to and from the island.

The island has several building on it, the main one being the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, which was built in its current form near the end of the 17th century. We spent an hour or so on the island, wandering around, admiring the views and reading up on the history of the church.

In our free time, we were able to walk around the lake. It is about three miles around. While some people on my tour did the walk, I did not. To be honest, jet lag and lack of sleep for several days was starting to catch up to me at that point so I took the time to rest instead. It was much needed.

Another thing that the Bled area is known for is their cream cake. It is made with eggs, cream, milk and sugar. After visiting the island, we went to a restaurant where we were able to try the cream cake. It was okay. I was expecting more flavor to be honest.

The boats used to get to Bled Island
The pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary on Bled Island
The view from my breakfast table in the Hotel Park in Bled, Slovenia.
The famous cream cake
A view of Bled from Bled Island
Reasons why you should visit Slovenia
The area was so pretty with such amazing views!
I loved the clouds and the mountains in the background here.

Amazing Views of the Julian Alps

The Julian Alps stretch from northeastern Italy to Slovenia. Mount Triglav is the highest peak in Slovenia and is included in Slovenia’s coat of arms. The views we had of the Julian Alps as we were visiting and driving through the Bled area were spectacular!

Reasons to visit Slovenia
The majestic Julian Alps in the background.

Lake Bohinj

Lake Bohinj was a hidden gem that our tour guide took us to on our second day the Bled area. We had to walk through some trees and down a fairly steep hill to get there but boy was it worth it!

Lake Bohinj is possibly the prettiest lake I have visited. As someone who is always in search of the perfect reflection shot, Lake Bohinj delivered! The views were spectacular. The setting was so peaceful. The water so clear. This lake HAS to be in the list of reasons to visit Slovenia.

Reasons to visit Slovenia
Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. Absolutely stunning!
Me at Lake Bohinj

My Final Thoughts on Why You Should Visit Slovenia

As you can see, there are many reasons why I think you should visit Slovenia soon. I love that it’s a little off the beaten path and that not a lot of people have been there. In fact, many people get it confused with Slovakia. I would say I have made that correction to others about 25 times. If you get the chance, go to Slovenia. Add Croatia and Bosnia to the itinerary and you will have a great trip filled with good food, wonderful people and an interesting history lesson.

You can check out other posts from my trip to Croatia and Slovenia here and here.

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Reasons why you should visit Slovenia

Solo and Stranded by The Mykonos Winds

The Mykonos Windmills

“Will the Mykonos winds ever die down so I can get off this island?”

That was a direct quote I kept asking myself over and over when I visited Athens and three of the Greek Islands, including Mykonos, in the summer of 2014.

But before I tell you why I was asking myself that, let me back up a bit.

Some Background Information

In early 2014, I got an email from my friend, Amy. She lived in the UK and she and a couple of friends were heading to Greece that July. She asked if I would like to go along. I knew instantly that the opportunity to travel to Greece with friends was too good to pass up. Therefore, it was a no brainer for me. I replied “Of course! I’d love to go.”

After some back and forth, I found out that they were going to fly directly from London to the island of Skiathos. They planned to spend all of their time in Greece on that island. I loved the idea of visiting Skiathos but since the flights from Chicago to Greece are not short or cheap, I wanted to see more than just one island while I was there.

I decided to fly in a couple of days before them and visit Athens and the Parthenon. Then I flew to Skiathos and spent a few days with Amy and her friends. Up next was Mykonos. I planned to end my trip by visiting Santorini and its famous sunsets.

Other than when I was with Amy and her friends, I was solo on this trip.

Traveling Solo in Mykonos

I arrived in Mykonos from Skiathos early in the morning, before the hotel lobby opened for the day. I spent my time waiting for the lobby to open on the front porch, where I enjoyed the sunny, but windy morning.

The Mykonos winds were something that instantly surprised me when I arrived on the island. They were strong. At night when I was in my hotel room, the wind reminded me of winters in the Midwest during a blizzard. I imagined the wind whipping snow around outside my window.

I really liked Mykonos. It was everything that I expected it to be. I spent my days wandering around the island. I loved the narrow pathways with the white houses and bright colored trim. The food was delicious. The ocean views from anywhere on the island couldn’t be beat!

One my favorite sites was the famous windmills, which were built in the 16th century to mill wheat. Their use gradually declined until they ceased production in the middle of the 20th century. There are currently 16 windmills on Mykonos, seven of which are positioned on the landmark hill in Chora.

The Mykonos Windmills

I also loved the Panagia Paraportiani church. Dating back to the 1400s, it faces the sea at the entrance to Chora. It’s considered a great example of Cycladic architecture and is classified as a national monument. What makes it so special though is its exterior. It is actually five tiny churches squeezed together, giving it a very unique shape.

The Mykonos Winds

On my last day in Mykonos, I got up and ate breakfast, checked out of my hotel with my large suitcase (I was not an efficient or logical packer back then) and headed out to do some last minute exploring before catching one of the afternoon ferries to Santorini. I decided to take the ferry instead of fly from Mykonos to Santorini for a different (and cheaper) experience.

I got to the dock and found out the ferry I was booked on was delayed because the Mykonos winds were really strong that day. At that point, I wasn’t concerned. There were several ferries that made the voyage to Santorini each day. I figured I would catch one of them.

Throughout the afternoon, the Mykonos winds caused ferry after ferry to be canceled or delayed. I would go from one dock to another, dragging my big suitcase with me as I went. By the end of the day, I had five or six ferry tickets in my hand but I was still in Mykonos.

The workers at the dock and ticket office assured us that the final ferry of the day would be arriving so I, along with many other passengers, waited for it. I was confident that it would be worth it and that I would make it to Santorini that evening.

The ferry did arrive as expected. Delayed, but it arrived. However, once it docked, we were informed that it was not leaving. There were no more ferries going to Santorini that evening.

I was officially stranded.

Ugh! Passengers all around me were scrambling, trying to decide what to do. Many of them resigned themselves to sleeping outside on the cafe patios around the dock. I was not comfortable with that as a solo female traveler and was convinced there had to be another option.

Hotel rooms were extremely hard to come by that evening since it was busy season and most rooms were booked weeks or months in advance. I stood outside of a restaurant I had eaten at earlier in the day (so I knew their Wifi password) and checked all of my favorite sites until I was finally able to find a room. I checked in, took a quick shower and went to bed. What a relief!

The Next Morning

I overslept. Yep, that is now the next morning started. I overslept and I missed the 5:30 a.m. ferry.

At this point, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. I just wanted to get off the island. Why was it so hard to do that?!

I knew the one thing I had to do was get up and figure out a plan. I decided to head down to the docks to see when the next ferry was set to depart. The Mykonos winds had died down a lot over night so I figured the ferries would be running that morning.

Before leaving the hotel, I made one decision though. I decided that if I wasn’t on a ferry heading to Santorini by noon, I was heading to the airport and booking a flight back to Athens instead. I would spend the rest of my trip in Athens. Since my flight back to Chicago departed from there, I figured it would be the easiest way to make sure I didn’t miss that flight.

Upon arriving at the port where the ferries departed, I found out the next ferry to Santorini departed mid-morning. “Okay, good,” I thought. That will work. It was around 8 a.m. and that wasn’t a bad wait considering all of the waiting I did the day before.

But just my luck, it was sold out. It turns out, there weren’t tickets available on ferries heading to Santorini until that evening. Ugh! At this point, my frustration became palpable.

I passed on buying a ticket because I was not going to wait all day again. I was going to the airport before that happened. Since I didn’t have anywhere to be at that moment, I decided to stick around the area and see if anyone canceled. Maybe they would let me buy a last minute ticket for the mid-morning. ferry if someone did.

The mid-morning ferry arrived on time and as it docked, I realized instantly that the boarding situation was one where you got on the boat and showed your tickets later. It presented an opportunity for me and I took it. I joined the crowd and got on the boat. They wouldn’t throw me into the sea for not having a ticket, right? I found a place to sit, tried to be invisible and started figuring out in my head what I would tell the ticket checkers.

When the ticket checker got to me, he was not pleased that I did not have a ticket for that particular ferry. I started pleading my case, showing him all of the tickets I had from the day before. This was not a case of freeloading. I had bought a ticket – just not for that particular ferry.

Eventually, he relented. He told me to find an empty seat and walked away. Honestly, I think he just wanted me to stop talking. Either way, it worked. I was able to finally relax,enjoy the views and enjoy the ferry ride to Santorini.

My Takeaway

This trip was the first time I had traveled to Europe on my own. The experience of being stranded on Mykonos was a great learning opportunity for me. I was able to think on my feet and come up with a plan quickly. I was flexible and patient. The confidence I gained from this experience gave me the boost I needed to know I can go almost anywhere on my own and have the trip be successful.

It was the start of many fun adventures!

Want to keep reading? Read all about my time exploring in Athens here.

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Traveling Solo in Mykonos

Two Days in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik

One of the highlights of our tour through Croatia and Slovenia was our visit to Dubrovnik. I think that Dubrovnik lives up to the hype you hear, particularly in the early morning and the late evenings when it is not so crowded. I loved the old buildings with the orange roofs and the walls that surround the old city. We spent two days in Dubrovnik, Croatia and here is a rundown of the things we did.

The History of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is on the Adriatic Sea in southern Croatia.

It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean Sea, meaning it’s very crowded when the cruise ships disembark in the area. In 2011, its population was 42,615. Dubrovnik and its famed walls joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1979.

In 1991, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik was besieged by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army for seven months. During our trek to Cavtat, a neighboring village, on Day 2, we had a Dubrovnik resident telling us her first hand experience of being in the city when the siege took place. Their family friends from a town outside of Dubrovnik had sent their kids to Dubrovnik for school that morning. After the siege happened, her dad picked up their friends’ kids from school. The kids ended up staying with her family for over six months. How scary for everyone!

The city suffered significant damage from shelling. Repair and restoration work was completed in in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and now Dubrovnik has re-emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.

Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia

Day One

We arrived in Dubrovnik in the mid-afternoon and had some free time before going into the old town for dinner that evening. Our hotel was within walking distance to a rocky beach so that’s where I headed after checking into my room. Our bags hadn’t been delivered to our rooms yet but I didn’t let that deter me. I went in my jeans and gym shoes. I didn’t plan to swim anyway.

The beach wasn’t crowded and the rocks were smooth and colorful. It was so nice to chill and listen to the waves come in. Apparently I let myself relax too much though because I got so distracted by the waves that I didn’t notice a bigger wave come to shore until it was too late and it soaked my gym shoes.

Doh!

After hanging out by the beach for a bit, I decided to get a glass of wine and write some postcards to home at one of the outdoor cafes between the beach and our hotel. The nice thing about organized tours is that your tour mates are always nearby. After sitting for a bit, a couple of my tour mates walked by and asked if they could join me. We ended up spending the rest of our free time sharing travel stories and drinking wine while enjoying the beautiful afternoon. It was lovely.

For dinner, we headed to the city center for our group farewell dinner at Gusta Me. This wasn’t our last night on tour though. The weather was suspect that evening so our tour director switched the dinner with our sunset cruise. It was worth the change even though it didn’t rain until later in the evening (more on this later).

Day Two

The next morning, day two of our two days in Dubrovnik, Croatia, we got up early and headed back into the old town to explore. Heading there early was strategic because it allowed us to walk around and see what we wanted to see before the hordes of cruise ship passengers arrived.

We had a bit of a guided walking tour and then were on our own. I headed to the wall entrance. The walls around Dubrovnik are the largest and most complete I have seen so I was definitely wanted to check them out.

The Walls of Dubrovnik

The city walls that surround Dubrovnik today were constructed mainly during the 12th–17th centuries and are a source of pride for the city. The walls run an uninterrupted course of approximately 6,360 ft in length, encircling most of the old city, and reach a maximum height of about 82 ft.

One thing to consider before deciding to walk the walls is that it is not cheap. It was $30 USD (200 kunas) to enter. I thought it was worth it for the views and the exercise but if you are on a tight budget, this might be something you should skip.

The views. They were spectacular! The sea on one side, Dubrovnik on the other. It doesn’t get much better than that. The walk itself was fairly easy. The path at the top of the wall was well maintained. There were stairs but not too many after the entrance, where there were a lot of them.

I spent about an hour admiring the views and snapping photos. The thing I didn’t realize is that there aren’t many exit points. Once you enter, you are committed for over an hour. When I did finally find an exit, I took it. I was heading away from the city for an afternoon excursion to escape the crowds and didn’t want to miss the boat. I also wanted to get some lunch before we boarded.

Burek Deliciousness

For lunch, I had a burek with spinach. Burek is a family of baked filled pastries made of thin flaky dough known as phyllo and stuffed with cheese or meat. My favorite was stuffed with spinach and cheese. I would go back to Croatia just to have a burek. They were delicious! They are available at the bakeries you see along the streets. Make sure you have one when you visit Croatia!

After lunch and ice cream for dessert (when in Europe, you have to have at least one ice cream a day. I think it’s a rule for all tourists, right?), we boarded a boat and spent the afternoon in the village Cavtat, a much more relaxed, less crowded mini Dubrovnik.

The Sunset

For dinner that evening, we boarded a different boat from the local marina and set out for a sunset cruise. There couldn’t have been a better way to end our tour.

The food and wine on the boat were great! I had the fish and enjoyed it as much as the company. But then it was time for the sunset and it was FABULOUS! I love Hawaiian sunsets but the sunset on this night was even better. The colors were so vivid and were always changing. It was a great night. Several times I had to pinch myself to remind myself that I really was in Dubrovnik with a glass of wine in my hand while experiencing a stunning sunset. It doesn’t get much better than that!

It was the perfect way to end my two days in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The Rain and My Shoes

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that it rained overnight during our first night in Dubrovnik. Remember I also said that my shoes got wet when I went to the beach? Well, to dry the shoes out, I put them outside to dry. Clearly that backfired because it stormed for hours so they were wetter the next morning than when I put them out to dry. Unfortunately, they were my only gym shoes and since we were going to be walking so much that day, I had to wear them.

It was a squishy morning but overall, it was fine…

At least I thought it was until I got home a couple of days later.

I wore the shoes home as well (I always wear gym shoes when flying because I never know when I’ll be running to my next gate). I took them off when I got home and put them by the door. A couple of hours later, I walked downstairs and it smelled awful. I spent about ten minutes looking around, thinking that something was rotting or that my dog pooped in a corner…until I realized it was my shoes.

Yikes! So gross!!!

I ended up putting them outside until I could throw them in the washer. They are okay now but man, I considered throwing them straight into the dumpster in the moment.

Dubrovnik and Game of Thrones

I have never seen the Game of Thrones so the significant or interesting places related to the show that our guide mentioned during our walking tour didn’t mean anything to me. If you are interested in doing a Game of Thrones tour during your visit to Dubrovnik, this tour has great reviews. It looks like it sells out quickly though so buy your tickets ahead of time if you can.

Want to keep reading? Check out my other posts from Croatia here and here.

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Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia

Fortress Lovrijenac
Fortress Lovrijenac is built on a high sheer rock overlooking the sea, This detached fortress was of prime importance for the defense of the western part of Dubrovnik, both against attack from land and the sea. During its service fortress was manned by 25 man garrison and a Commander of the fort.
Dubrovnik Walls
Starting my walk along the top of the walls surrounding Dubrovnik
Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia
Beautiful Dubrovnik.
Houses in Dubrovnik Croatia
The hill behind the buildings in this photo was where the Serbs’ bombs were fired from in 1991
My on the walls of Dubrovnik
I finally asked someone to take my photo 🙂
Two Days in Dubrovnik Croatia
Back to selfies
Walls in Dubrovnik Croatia
A look at the outside of the walls from the top
Dubrovnik Croatia in two days
The walls surrounding Dubrovnik from the outside
Burek in Dubrovnik
My favorite food find in Croatia – the burek. This one is stuffed with spinach and cheese. So delicious!
Dubrovnik from the water
Dubrovnik from the water
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik from the top of the hill. So pretty!
The Franjo Tu?man Bridge in Dubrovnik
The Franjo Tu?man Bridge in Dubrovnik. Construction of this bridge was interrupted by the fighting after this bridge. Its completion represents Dubrovnik’s triumph recovery from the war.
A picture of the bridge as the sun began to set.
Dubrovnik Sunset
A beautiful sunset and a very happy traveler.
Sunset in Dubrovnik
Those colors!
Selfie at Sunset in Dubrovnik
What a prefect ending to a great trip!

A Day in Stettfeld Germany

One of my favorite parts of the trip to Germany was our day in Stettfeld, Germany. While in Stettfeld, we met with extended family currently living there.

The morning we met them, we went to church and then met up with George and his daughter, Annika, who led us to their home. George’s wife, Simone, prepared an amazing meal for us, including the powdered sugared doughy goodness in the photo below. The food was delicious and the company was even better, even though most of the German family didn’t speak English and we did not speak German. It is always interesting how people can still find ways to communicate. In this case, we bonded over beer. 🙂

George and Simone’s son, Andreas was there along with Simone’s parents and her brother. Her brother’s family joined us later on as well. Simone’s dad, Ludwig, used to work at one of the local breweries. He enjoyed explaining the different types of beers he brewed and letting us sample them.

A Day in Stettfeld Germany
All of us from the USA
A Day in Stettfeld Germany
Everyone at the house during our visit (except for me, I took the photo 🙂 )
A Day in Stettfeld Germany
I don’t remember what this was called but it was delicious!
A Day in Stettfeld Germany
Ludwig helping Tim choose a beer from the selection

After lunch, we continued our day in Stettfeld, Germany by walking though the town and then over the the church and cemetery. The town is tiny but it was nice to be out and walking.

The church (pictured below) is where my great great grandmother was baptized. The church balcony included old, wooden, uncomfortable benches and kneelers. Aunt Julie joked that it was where the sinners would sit so I slid on in. I figured it’s where I belonged.

A Day in Stettfeld Germany

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A Day in Stettfeld, Germany
The kneeler for sinners. I belong here. 🙂

 

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Yellow House in Stettfeld Germany
I love buildings with pretty flower boxes in the windows.
Court house
More pretty window boxes.

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a Day in Stettfeld Germany
Just hanging out in the cemetery in Stettfeld

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A Day in Stettfeld Germany
Julie doing research for her book.

The picture below is of an ancient canoe carved from a log. It was inside the Stettfeld courthouse building and was over 200 years old.

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Next up on our journey through Germany? Dachau and Munich. You can check out that post here.

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