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

Traveling Solo Through Croatia and Slovenia

This is the story of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. You might think that this was my plan all along but it was not. Let me explain…

One of the countries I had wanted to visit for a while was Croatia. Every time I started planning, I would get overwhelmed and end up going somewhere else. When a friend mentioned to me that we should travel together this fall, I immediately said “yes.” After some debate, we settled on visiting Croatia (other options included Portugal and Switzerland).

Instead of trying to plan it on our own, we decided to go with a tour. If you know me, you know that planning a trip is my favorite part of traveling. I love doing the research and the bookings and then executing my plan. Going with a tour was a change for me but I knew it would be best for this trip because we were booking pretty last minute (we booked in mid-July for a trip in September).

I reviewed the itineraries for a bunch of different companies and we ended up settling on Trafalgar and their “Best of Croatia and Slovenia” tour. I have seen Trafalgar tours during my previous visits to Europe and knew they were a reputable company. Trafalgar has been around for over 70 years and is a sister company to Contiki, which is the under 35 tour I traveled with on my first trip to Europe in 2011.

This is where the story should continue with how we successfully booked the trip, packed our bags and had a great time. But things don’t always work out as planned.

We both booked the tour separately and requested to share rooms. It turns out, there was only ONE spot left on the tour. We didn’t find this out until AFTER I paid my deposit for the trip. Ugh!

So where to go from there?! I ended up canceling my registration. The deposit was only $100 so it wasn’t a huge deal to lose it. My friend and I discussed other locations for a few days and then she decided that she really wanted to go to Italy. She found a tour she wanted to go on and asked me to join her.

It was a tough decision because I wanted to travel with her but I have been to Italy twice already and may go back for a third time at some point with family. I didn’t want to go this year when there are so many other places in the world I want to explore. In the end, I politely declined but I told her to go ahead! I knew that’s where she really wanted to go and I was more than fine with her doing that.

After thinking about my options for a couple of days, I decided to email Trafalgar and see if that one spot on the Best of Croatia and Slovenia tour was still available. It was and they were willing to re-book my registration and apply my previously paid deposit to the new booking.

That is how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. Well, sort of solo at least. I was with a tour that included 46 other people but I wasn’t traveling with anyone I knew. So I guess I traveled solo-light. Ha!

The trip was a great success and I had a nice time. I am so glad I decided to go even though my friend wasn’t able to go with me. As I write this post, I’ve been back from the trip a few days. I will publish some detailed posts about the various places we visited in the coming weeks but I have a few initial thoughts/fun tidbits that I thought I would share here.

Skip the cruise

Skip the cruise (or at least the big cruise ship)! Traveling through Croatia via a land tour or small ship that can navigate the rivers is the way to go. Croatia and Slovenia are both beautiful counties. I got to see so much more of both countries than I would have on a cruise. Plus, we could plan our sight seeing and excursions to avoid the deluge of cruise passengers that arrive in cities like Dubrovnik each day.

Traveling Solo

I never felt unsafe when I was on my own in either country. While I was often with my tourmates, I ate meals alone several times. I would also often set out on my own to explore during our free times. People were always very kind and almost everyone spoke great English. The food, particularly the seafood, was fresh and tasty. I never felt on guard and may have felt safer on my own during this trip than I have in any other foreign country I have visited. I highly recommend traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia (and with Trafalgar) if you are looking for a good solo travel destination.

Slovenia, Croatia & the European Union

The members of the European Union recognized Slovenia as an independent state in January 1992. The United Nations accepted it as a member in May of 1992. Slovenia joined the EU on May 1, 2004. It uses the Euro for currency.

Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003. The European Commission recommended making it an official candidate in 2004. Croatia officially joined the European Union as its 28th member on July 1, 2013. While it is part of the EU now, it still does not use the Euro.

Speaking of Croatia and Its Currency

While switching to the Euro is likely inevitable for Croatia, they currently use a currency called the kuna. The kuna is a weasel-like animal common in the region. In midieval times, the pelts from kunas were used by the Croats as payment for goods and services. When Croatia became an independent state in the 1994, they adopted their own currency and named it the kuna after this old payment practice.

Yugoslavia and the war

One of the things I liked best about touring Slovenia and Croatia as part of a land tour is the opportunity it gave me to learn about the history of the region. I knew that Slovenia and Croatia were both formerly a part of Yugoslavia but didn’t really know much about the region’s past and what caused Yugoslavia to split into the countries it currently is today (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo (which is still being disputed)). While most of the areas are safe and peaceful today and travel is encouraged throughout, we were advised to avoid Kosovo.

Some tension do remain among the countries. This became evident on the second day of our tour. It took us three hours to get through the Croatian/Slovenian border. While very inconvenient, particularly for our coach driver and tour director, it gave me lots of time to nap and try to fight off the jet lag.

A Bit Different Than What I’m Used To

I currently live in Chicago, a city full of people with different skin colors, religions, languages, traditions and beliefs. I thrive on this diversity and love learning new things, meeting new people and observing how different people live. One thing that struck me over and over about Slovenia and Croatia was how non-diverse the countries were. About 85% of Croatians are Catholic. Using my observations as a gauge, I’d guess about 99% of them are white. It was so different than what I’m used to.

The Best Time to Visit Croatia

You probably don’t want to hear this but I think the best time to visit Croatia was probably 3-5 years ago. The word is out and the crowds have arrived en mass. Not only are the inland towns being inundated with land tours, cruise ships are now docking and dropping off thousands of additional tourists every day. I found the crowds in Plitvice Lakes National Park and Dubrovnik to be especially overwhelming. My advice is to go during the shoulder seasons (April/May/September/October). If you go during the summer, plan to explore early in the mornings before most of the crowds are up and moving about. You will have a much more relaxing, enjoyable time.

Croatia and Its Outdoor Cafes (with a Catch)

Croatia has one of the most vibrant cafe cultures I’ve ever seen. Everyone sits outside in cafes to enjoy their coffee and people watch. I love outdoor cafes and I could get used to that lifestyle very easily. The unfortunate thing is that most people in Croatia smoke cigarettes, which was a major annoyance for me. Every time I would sit down to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of tea, someone would sit next to me and instantly light a cigarette. It was the most annoying thing about this trip for me and it happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I sat down! I would quickly finish, pay and then move on.

The Necktie

Croatia has given the world many things but no Croatian invention is as internationally renowned as the necktie. The history of the necktie can be traced back to Paris in 1630. King Louis XIII was inspecting a line-up of Croatian mercenaries in traditional costume when his eye was taken by pieces of fabric that the soldiers were wearing around their necks. The material ranged from tatty cloths for the soldiers to fine silks for the officers, but the stylishness was ubiquitous. King Louis was impressed by this modern fashion. He recommended it be adopted by the people of France and soon, the necktie became the hottest fashion accessory on the streets of Paris.

Those are my initial thoughts along with a summary of how I ended up traveling solo through Croatia and Slovenia. I will post more soon but in the meantime, check out a few photos from the trip below and a post listing Four Benefits of Traveling Solo here.

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Traveling Solo Through Croatia and Slovenia

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Our home away from home for the duration of our trip – the Trafalgar coach. Yes, it even had Wifi.
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Tour life. We would get off the bus and go to our rooms and then the hotel staff would deliver our bags to our rooms.
Neckties and Croatia
Pretty Croatian neckties
Cats in Dubrovnik
There were a lot of cute, healthy cats in Dubrovnik and Split. Don’t worry, I didn’t touch them so my allergies weren’t impacted. I admired them from afar. 🙂
Postcard in Dubrovnik
Writing postcards to Iowa with a glass of rose at an outdoor cafe in Dubrovnik. I’ve turned my 9 year old nephew into a postcard monster with all of my travels. He he always reminds me to send him postcards whenever he knows I am about to leave for a trip.
Flat Stanley in Croatia
My constant companion throughout this trip was this dude – Flat Stanley. He was cut out and colored by my 9 year old niece. Here he is in Plitvice Lakes National Park. Look at the color of that water! Stanley was kicking his feet up in excitement because he loved it so much! 🙂
Flat Stanley in Croatia
Stanley wanted to drive the coach…but I told him “no.”

 

Packing for Europe in the Fall

Travel without Checking a Bag

Twas the night before I leave for a trip to Croatia and Slovenia and here I am; sitting on the couch, relaxing and writing a blog post after packing for Europe in the fall. Who am I?

This never happens. Usually at this point before a trip, I am scrambling to finish laundry and packing. It is common for me to be putting stuff into my suitcase as I am walking out the door en route to the airport.

So what is different this time? A few things. The main thing is I did my laundry last weekend and made myself wear what was left in my closet for work this week. This allowed me to pack last night without having to account for unfinished laundry. Also, in general, I am very relaxed about this trip. While I am going solo, I booked it through a tour so they do all of the planning. All I have to do is show up, which means no second guessing myself tonight about whether I booked hotels and day trips correctly.

Speaking of packing, I am turning over a new leaf there.  I am packing for Europe in the fall with only my backpack and a carry on suitcase. You read that right – no checked bag for me on this trip!  I am so proud of myself!

I am a big fan of Sarah Murdoch. Sarah works with Rick Steves and also plans and guides her own tours. She always stresses packing light in all of her blog and social media posts. I know how practical and correct she is so I am taking it to heart! While I’m not at her level of light packing yet (she travels with just a backpack), I have definitely downsized and am looking forward to how much easier I know it will make this trip.

So how did I do it? Here is a complete list of what I packed. (Note: Some of the Amazon links below are affiliate links which means that if you purchase anything through the use of my links, I receive a small commission).

In my suitcase…

  • 5 tops
  • 2 jeans
  • 3 dresses
  • 2 pajamas
  • Lots of socks and underwear
  • 2 bras
  • A rain/trench coat
  • 2 cardigans
  • A pair of athletic shorts and a T-shirt for lounging around
  • A swimsuit
  • My Cubs sweatshirt in case of cold hotel rooms
  • 4 pairs of shoes (my sneakers, a pair of ballet flats, a pair of nicer flat sandals and my flip flops for moving about hotels)
  • 3 pairs of fun earrings
  • Makeup
  • Zuca bag with my toiletries
  • A ziplock bag with my shower supplies
  • Outlet converters
  • A guidebook
  • Money belt (not sure if I will use it but I bring it just in case)

I *think* I included enough clothes so I will not have to do laundry while I’m traveling if I don’t want to. I wear clothes multiple times between washings at home so why not do the same when traveling? The list above includes key pieces I need to dress up for a nicer dinner or dress casually for every day activities.

There is a key to getting all of that in my suitcase and keeping it organized: packing cubes. These are the ones I have and they make a big difference for me. I love them and don’t like to travel without them anymore.

Away suitcase
My empty Away suitcase

My Away suitcase
All packed and so organized!

In my backpack…

  • My DSLR camera
  • Medicine (mostly allergy meds and some Advil)
  • A light fleece jacket for the plane
  • Noise canceling headphones
  • My Trtl pillow (the best travel pillow! I highly recommend it!)
  • A small crossbody purse with my phone, currency, passport, mints and chapstick
  • A book
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste, contact solution and case
  • My iPad
  • Compression socks for the plane
  • A folder containing our itinerary and Flat Stanley (courtesy of my 9 year old niece)

And that is it! I am happy with this list. It is minimal but complete. I cannot wait to take off tomorrow and explore Croatia and Slovenia over the next week and a half!

Want to read more? Check out my posts detailing my solo trip to Greece here and here!

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I’m Looking for a Bit of Inspiration

Millennium Park in Chicago

Do you have those days when you are looking for a bit of inspiration?

I was at a get together with some people I mostly didn’t know a few nights ago and I was telling a fellow attendee about a trip I’m taking in September. I’m going on the trip with a tour instead of going solo. It’s been a while since I’ve done that but I’m looking forward to it.

After I finished my comment, the fellow attendee said to me “So you’re not comfortable being alone then?”

I’m not going to lie – I was a little taken aback by that reply. His question didn’t make any sense to me. My response back to him was “I’ve lived alone for almost 15 years. I’m by myself many hours each day and I travel solo quite often as well. Trust me, I’m comfortable being alone.”

I can’t help but wonder why I can’t stop thinking about that comment and worse, why I’m letting it bother me? But before we judge, the guy was actually very nice and friendly. He and his wife are lovely. I think he just said something I wasn’t expecting.

Of course I WISH I wasn’t alone so much. If you had asked me 20 years ago what my life would be like right now, my current situation wouldn’t have been my answer.

However, it is what it is.

Overall, I’m doing pretty well. I have a job that’s steady and pays the bills. I’m blessed with amazing friends all over the world and I’m close to my family. I live in a great city and bought a small but perfect-for-me townhome a couple of years ago. I’ve managed to keep my dog alive for almost eight years now. I also get to do lots of fun things and travel often too.

But I know what’s missing, or at least what people think I’m missing. The truth is – I’m really bad at dating. I get bored or frustrated and lose interest really quickly. I end things so I don’t “waste my time.” And honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve met a guy who has a good job and is motivated with some hobbies who doesn’t live at home with his parents. True story.

My sister used to tell me all the time that I’m “too picky” but I’ve been privy to enough bad relationships to know I don’t want one of those. I also don’t want to have a baby on my own. So in the meantime, I’m just doing the solo life thing and trying to make the most of my alone time. Some days, I enjoy it more than others.

While I was home alone most of this past weekend, I worked on a blog post about Hawaii that I was going to publish today. It’s a decent post but it’s uninspiring to me right now, which is something I’ve struggled with a lot when it comes to this blog recently.

So I’ve decided to turn to you, my amazing readers. I am looking for a bit of inspiration. What kinds of things would you like me to write about? It can be anything – not just travel. What about me or my life intrigues you that you’d like to learn more about? Don’t be shy, anything is on the table. Leave a comment below or send me a message. I’d love to hear from you.

Subjects I’ve considered include…

  • Single life in the city and maybe even dating stories.
  • My never ending quest to find non toxic sunscreen that works well and skincare products that are gentle but effective (especially for my rosacea)
  • Tips for hosting and cooking for a party (many of which are from my mom who really is the hostess with the mostest)
  • What it’s like to be on the board of a nonprofit
  • How to find nonprofits that match your passions
  • Stories from my book club and/or cookbook club – and why you should have these in your life too!
  • My favorite books
  • What it was like to grow up on a farm

Of course I’ll still post lots of travel things too. I love telling those stories and hopefully, inspiring you to get out and travel on your own.

In the meantime, tell me what you want to read and know! Also, for all of you who are wondering, I’m heading to Croatia and Slovenia with Trafalgar in September. While most of the trip will be pretty structured with not a lot of free time, I’d love to hear your suggestions if you’ve been there and have them. I’d love to have excuses to sneak away and be comfortable on my own when I can.

Finally, while I haven’t been posting a lot lately, I am having a great summer. Check out a few of the highlights in the photos below.

My brother and his family (including the little cutie above) came to visit a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time they’ve brought their kids to Chicago and we had a great time going to the Shedd Aquarium and the beach!!
Stella has taken a lot of uncomfortable looking naps this summer.
I had my eyebrows colored. I thought they were too dark and that I looked like a freak as a result. But my friends disagreed so I kept them…and yes I know I’m about 20 years behind on this one. I should have been having them done all along.
I went to a really fun concert at Millennium Park. The Grant Park Orchestra did their “Envelope, Please” show that night.
I spent Memorial Day with a friend and this beauty and her husband at their lake house outside of Houston. We had a great time!

Want to read more? Check out my posts from my trip to Greece here and here.