Two Lakes: Bled and Bohinj

A disclaimer… this is a beautiful area.  We were fortunate to visit in the second week of September and unfortunate that the weather had turned cold and rainy!  As a consequence it was not crowded or overly busy and was therefore quite lovely.

Arriving from our great place in Podcetrtek, Natura Amon, we checked into another great place, a farm stay called Farm Holidays Povsin.  It is just a few minutes drive away from Lake Bled (albeit down some pretty narrow roads) and not too difficult to find…. although we did have to ask a neighbour!

Again the accommodation was Alpine Lodge type style and breakfast was included.  Breakfast included meats and cheese and a continental breakfast.  It worked out about 35 Euros a person so was quite reasonable.  We drove into town to get dinner.

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As we were foiled a bit by the weather being cold with on and off rain, we spent our time doing the following:

Boat trip to the island

We took a traditional Pletna boat trip to the island in the middle.  The boat is a traditional flat bottomed boat with a colourful awning over top.  It has a capacity of about 15 people and costs 14 Euro return.  There is no timetable and when the boat is full, the oarsman rows off.  Allow about 1.5 hours as you have time at the church, cafe and souvenir shop before you return.

You can also pay another 6 Euros to go into the church but if you are not going there for spiritual reasons you can see right in as you walk past the big plate glass windows. There are some interesting traditions for getting married at the Church.  The groom must carry his bride up all 99 steps to the top in order for the marriage to be a success.  I can attest to the steepness of the steps and would imagine even the fittest groom to require some significant training to carry his wife to be (including wedding dress puff potentially) to the top without expiring!

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Bled Castle

If you haven’t already seen loads of castles, this might be worth a look.  We didn’t spend long here but the view is nice.  There is a castle printery on site if you would like to get a souvenir.  Great views over the lake.

Look around the town

Bled is pretty small but you can look around the town – there are some interesting jewellers and artisans.  There is a really cool little shop making sunglasses and watches out of the native wood.  It is on the Main Street down from one of the large hotels.

Lake Bohinj

We drove over to Lake Bohinj in the pouring rain so really didn’t get a good view of what was on offer.  It is much larger than Bled and it seems that you can do lots of activities on and around the lake.  We saw rock climbing facilities, SUP and boat rental.  There are probably loads of other things that had packed up while it was raining.  There were some hardy souls hiking the roads while we were there and the tracks that we could see looked stunning.  Definitely worth a look for a day trip.

Vintgar Gorge

This is a must!  Preferably go when it is not raining but it is truly beautiful.  You walk alongside a river on cantilevered platforms.  The aim is to get to the large waterfall at the end of the track but the Gorge is quite stunning (even in not ideal conditions!). The track itself is not for the faint hearted but is worth going.  Wear good shoes!

We spent about a day and a half in the Lake Bled/ Bohinj areabut you could easily spend longer.  A lot of day trips go out of Bled to other areas so if you don’t have a car you could be based here.

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The relaxation route: Zagreb to Lake Bled

As we have been on the road for nearly 6 months now, we try to take our time to travel from one place to the next.  At the moment that looks like driving for no more than a couple of hours each time and stopping off over night somewhere interesting – usually places that we might not stop.

We took this approach from Zagreb to Bled and while we could have driven the whole distance in one day quite easily we decided to have a spa stop!  Slovenia is known as the Wellness Capital of the area and they have loads of Therme (or heated swimming pool and spa).  Often then have pretty decent massage and beauty therapy options as well.

We chose Terme Olimia which was voted number one wellness centre in Slovenia.  It is a large complex with multiple pools, sauna’s, massages and other services.  Terme Ohidilia is a subset of this complex (we found it a bit confusing) and is quite new.  There are a number of warm outdoor pools, with massage jets, a similar number of indoor versions of the same type of thing, a lazy river connected to a colour room pool with rain and jets.  There is also an extensive number and variety of sauna’s.  Be  prepared to get naked though – these are no swimsuit sauna’s and are mixed gender. The Europeans don’t bat an eye at this but it is good to know before you arrive at one!

A thermal spa is a great day or half day stop especially if it is raining, which it was while we were there.  The other side of Terme Olimia was under construction and is apparently a different complex.  I went and had a quick peek and it wasn’t anywhere near as nice and was filled with young families. I didn’t linger!

After spending the day at the spa, we headed off to our tourist farm stay which was a real find.  Just 10 minutes drive from the spa was Natura Amon.  The rooms are alp lodge style with their own balcony.

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It is set up like a small country resort with  its own restaurant which makes  it’s own wine and most of the products it uses, a golf course, playground and animals to see.  We had the BEST food at the restaurant.  Every thing is home made from gorgeous jams (which I don’t usually like) to their own meats, dips and spreads.  Try the wild garlic spread!

For a day and a night this was a lovely little stop off on the way to the Lake Bled area.  I highly recommend it!

 

Zagreb: A cool little city

We have explored a good part of Croatia, taking in all of the coast so we thought it about time to inland to check out Zagreb.  Not sure what to expect we were completely taken with it.  It is a great little city with plenty to do.  We only spent a day there but could easily have spent longer.  We were also foiled by the weather a bit as it rained pretty solidly the whole time.

Zagreb is divided into an upper town (the old town) and the lower town.  Both are different and worth looking through.  We took a private tour in an Imitation Model T Ford.  The driver served as a guide as well and it was a very enjoyable 90 minutes through both the Upper and Lower Towns.  Lots of people stopped to stare and take photos of us!

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The tour took in a number of key sites including St Marks Church, a number of museums, the stone gate and various other buildings of importance.

If you look on Trip Advisor, one of the top things to do in Zagreb is to go to the Museum of Broken Relationships.  As it was pouring with rain we thought it might be worth a look as it is something different.  Everyone else had the same idea so there was a waiting list to get in! We decided to wait and spent about 45 minutes looking at the various exhibits that people have donated.  Unusual content for a museum but interesting nevertheless!

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Despite the rain, we also had a look at the Dolac Market in the centre of town. The market sellers (who are mostly selling fresh produce, cheeses and meats) persevered through the torrential rain and locals were out in small numbers buying their food.  There are also a small number of souvenir stalls selling local items.  If you were looking for picnic items this would be the place to come.

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Zagreb is easy to get around on foot, but Uber is there if you need it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three borders: From Herceg Novi to Starigrad

As we are flying out of Frankfurt we needed to get back up the coast from Montenegro towards Slovenia.  Having already spent a pretty decent amount of time on this coast we decided to travel through pretty quickly.  We had heard nightmare stories about the wait at the Croatian borders and had experienced a reasonably long wait at one of these ourselves.  We needed to get through 3 borders in pretty quick succession so we decided to break it into two.  We decided on travelling from Herceg Novi through to Neum in the first day and then from Neum through to Starigrad for the second day.  This meant that Day 1 had two border crossings and Day 2 had one but we would be there later in the day.

Day 1

We got up ready to leave fairly early (8am) and left Herceg Novi for the border.  Surprisingly it was very quick and there were only 3 cars ahead of us.  The Montenegro agents/police in the booths are usually pretty quick but the Croatian officials generally take a bit longer.  On this occasion, both were pretty quick.

As an aside…If you are driving through Croatia, Bosnia or Montenegro they do seem to want to look at your Green Card (card papers).  Make sure you have them handy with your passport.    If you are wondering what they look like, they are not green and are in a small wallet about the size of your passport.  Your rental or lease company should give them to you on renting the car. Ours did but I didn’t know what it was or what it was for.  On researching going across the border I couldn’t seem to find  any information on the net about this which was slightly stressful.

From here we drove through Dubrovnik, out to the coastal Croatian, Bosnian and Hercegovina border.  Again this was really quick and we found ourselves in Neum much earlier than we had imagined.  After all our planning we could have actually made three borders in one day.

We booked a hotel (the Posejdon Hotel) which was right on the water.  We had a lovely big terrace attached to our room (room was fairly basic but decent) .  Unfortunately the weather turned on us and we had a bit of a storm so enjoying the water wasn’t quite how we anticipated it to be!

Neum is located on a very small piece of coastal land between Dubrovnik and the rest of Croatia. It seems to serve mostly local tourists and people travelling through the two parts of Croatia.  It is worth a stopover (although probably not for more than a day or two) if the weather is good.  It is much cheaper than Croatia but is very small.  The water is the same quality as the beautiful beaches in Croatia.

The next morning we left to cross the final of our three borders.  Again almost no wait and the Croatian border patrol waved us through.  It was almost as if they had had enough of all the summer visitors, it was now September and they couldn’t be bothered!  Great for us.

We drove up north of Split, not far from Zadar to a place called Starigrad.  What a win!  We had a lovely apartment right on the water, with it’s own terrace.  I had a great time jumping off the terrace into the water and generally acting like a 12 year old.

We knew this was our last coastal experience before we headed inland so were gutted when the weather packed up a bit.  Too bad – I swam and jumped  anyway.

In summary, outside of August you could probably easily do the three borders.  Would I risk it in August?  Probably not unless you were happy for a very long hot day.

Montenegro – a rough diamond?

 

Apart from it’s geographical location, I didn’t know anything about Montenegro before I left New Zealand. I had read it was a great place to go and it was highlighted by Lonely Planet as a great place to go.  In fact it was on Lonely Planets places to visit in 2016 list! We had some time, were already in Croatia so decided to go down for a look.  We had about a week spare to explore.

What did we do?  

Bay of Kotor

Firstly we headed to the Bay of Kotor which is pretty close to the Croatian border.  We decided to stay 3 nights and booked an apartment by the water through Air BnB. There are loads available.  Our apartment was about a 20 minute walk from the Old Town and had it’s own little beach.

The Bay itself  is gorgeous and on a sunny day the water sparkles. Each morning we were there cruise ships came into the Bay about 6am each morning.  This means that the Old Town can get quite crowded but we are not talking about Dubrovnik levels although it may not take long to get that way.

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The Old Town is worth a visit and we spent an afternoon exploring the shops and cafes.  I found a great shop that makes handmade leather shoes (no I didn’t buy any – my size wasn’t in!), some lovely artisan shops and in the farmers market outside the best pesto cheese ever.  It was bright green and so delicious I went back each day to get more.

There are lots of things to do in Kotor but we decided to actually enjoy our apartment and its location for a change!

 

We chose to rent SUP and paddled around the Bay.

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It was 35 euros each for the day and they delivered and picked up from our accommodation!  We were pretty happy with that.

We also decided to take a short boat tour out to Our Lady of the Rocks and the town of Perast.  When we got to the boat company, they had booked us on the wrong tour so rather than lose our business, they just sent us off on a speedboat on our own to two the tour.  Score!  It was a great tour 🙂

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The church is really interesting with great ceiling art and a small museum.  Each year on a certain date, fisherman drop a new rock around the island, each year making the island slightly bigger.  This is a town tradition that has been going on for many years.  The tour also took us across to the town of Perast where we had a quick look before heading back.  Perast has a number of restaurants, churches and some swimming areas.  Women selling their lace work can be found here too.

Ulinj

From Kotor we headed further south to the beach town of Ulinj.  This is a town that Montenegrin and Albanian locals seem to holiday in.  There are a large number of beaches and an Old Town.  The beaches are pretty crowded and the streets are impossibly narrow.  Some of the cliff beach bars have the most incredible vistas.  Unfortunately many of them are spoilt by the large amount of rubbish around.  It is the only area in Montenegro that we saw piles and piles of rubbish everywhere.

You can rent a JetSki for cheap (25 Euro for 50 mins) and boat tours and water taxis are easily available.  The locals are very proud of their local area – most have some English.

We went out for a look to the famed beach for Kite surfing, Velika Plaza.  It is a reasonable drive from the main centre and requires driving on a non-sealed road.  The beach itself is pretty rugged with rubbish piled up under the trees, a muddy sandy beach and very little else.

We also went out for a look at the river mouth famed for its great restaurants.  Ada bojana is well known for its great food.  We didn’t have time to stop and eat but it was interesting looking at the all the restaurants along the river bank.

On the way back we drove over a bridge where fisherman had elaborate fish catching huts in the river. Very interesting to watch.

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We stayed here two nights and then decided to move back down the coast to Budva.

Budva

I think that Budva has been misjudged!  Maybe this is because we arrived in early September and the rush had gone, but we didn’t mind it!  It was rubbish free, had a lovely old town, some very nice beaches,  a water front swimming pool club and some lovely food stalls and restaurants.  It is famed as a party town ( we didn’t see it) and extremely busy.  Maybe September is the time to go!

We spent one night here and enjoyed the best part of a full day here.

There are miles of gorgeous beaches to relax on all along the coast.  While most of them require you to rent a lounger, the water is so beautiful it is almost worth it.  The pool club had lovely food and great cocktails and you can rent a big day bed too. Bliss!

Budva to Lovcen to Herceg Novi

We had initially intended to drive up to the Durmitor National park however time dictated that we changed our plans to visit Lovcen National park instead.  By doing this we probably saved 2 to 3 days and we were really happy with what we saw.  The National park is an easy drive from Budva and in the National Park (which is lovely and worth staying if you have time) is Njegos Mausoleum.  It is worth a visit and sits atop Mount Lovcen.  Get there early as there are limited parking spots (less than 10) and the photo opportunities are better without the crowds!  There are a large number of steps to climb (felt like 1000 but I think was about 400) to get to the top but it really is worth it.  The views are 360 and the mausoleum itself is pretty impressive.  It is 3 Euros to get in.

From the mausoleum, we travelled down the road to Kotor.  This particular route is famed for it’s extremely narrow (read wide enough for one small car)  road with 25 hairpin bends.  I will be honest – at times it was terrifying.  One of those times was when a camper van came hurtling towards us; another was when we met a large bus coming the other way.  We stopped nose to nose just in time.  All the same it is a breathtaking drive – for views I mean, not your heart stopping!

From Kotor it is an easy coastal drive to Herceg Novi where we spent the night before our series of 3 border crossings back to Croatia!

In summary, Montenegro is a beautiful place.  The people are mostly friendly and are really proud of their country.  They need to address the rubbish in some coastal areas (not the international tourist ones).  I would say get here quick.  It will be the next Dubrovnik!

 

Dubrovnik – Paradise lost

Dubrovnik was on my bucket list.  It was the whole reason we came to Croatia and I have to say I feel a little let down.  The Old Town is truly beautiful and the walls give a stunning view.  Why am I disappointed?  The city is so overwhelmed by tourists (Split was busy but this is next level)  that I think they have got greedy.  It is much more expensive than any other place in Croatia we have been and we have had rude and or indifferent service at restaurants in town.  Our tour guide told us to do everything we want to do this year as next year it will be even more expensive (prices for entry have increased significantly this year).

We spent 5 nights (four days) in Dubrovnik doing the following:

Old Town

There are lots of buildings to look at, the usual walking tours, restaurants and souvenir shops.  We visited a Dali Exhibition,  which had a number of his smaller more minor pieces on display.  We also visited the War Photo exhibition which was very good.  It had photographs from all sides of the Yugoslavian war period.  Many very powerful images and well worth the entry price of 50 Kuna each.

We took two city walking tours, one of which was a historical tour which focussed on the war.  We have taken walking tours from each of the other countries in the conflict that we visited so thought it was good to have a more complete picture.  The tour guide was very balanced and explained some of the areas that were not clear from other tours.  We also took a Game of Thrones tour because … well you have to don’t you!  A decent amount of season 2-6 was filmed here.  Our guide (who was hilarious although not trying to be) explained with photographic examples where things were filmed and how the area was prepared. It was a really good tour and if you are  a GoT fan, one of these tours is really worth doing.

City Walls

Dubrovnik has one of the most beautiful (and restored) city walls we have seen.  The area was bombed in the war but the community has restored the area using the same design and materials.  Apparently the price increased 50% this year so if you are going to Croatia, get here quick!  The view from the walls is truly stunning and was a highlight.  We managed to get up there for sunset which was picturesque.  It is really hot and crowded so get there either in the morning or in the evening.  The latest you can go up is 7pm and they like everyone to come down by 7.30.  The day we went the sun set at about 7.35 and there was no one rushing you down and the bars still served drinks at key viewing points.  You do need at least an hour to get around as it is 2km.

Cable car

The cable car is another opportunity to see the view from above.  It is about 20 Euros to go up.  You can also walk up the hill or get an Uber for much cheaper!  We took the cable car and the views are stunning.  You can grab a drink at the cafe at the top so that you can enjoy the views for a bit longer.

3 Islands Day Cruise

This seems to be a standard tour that lots of boats offer.  It was a nice day out however don’t get too excited by the food offered.  Ours was inedible (the chicken was so hard we could have knocked someone out with it) and the drinks were some very strange tasting fizzy that we tipped out and wine that was like a bad home brew.  The three islands we visited were in the Elafiti archipeligo and included Lopud, Kolocep and Sipan.  Kolocep and  Sipan are cute little islands where you have time to grab a drink or have a swim.  We spent time jumping off piers as it was hot!  You spend quite a bit more time on Lopud as it is famous for its sandy beach.  Our boat docked on the rocky side of the island and you then walk through town, up a hill and grab a golf cart (like a taxi) which takes you to the other side of the island where the sand is.  So… we got there, surveyed the scene, decided it was too crowded, the water didn’t seem as clear and that we preferred the rocky side!  We promptly got back in another golf cart to return us to our rocky beach where we spent the afternoon.  I think we have to hand in our passports… we now prefer the no mess, no sand version of the sea!

Belje Beach Club

We had a spare afternoon so spent time at this beach club which is right at the back of the Old Town.  You do have to pay for loungers and umbrellas and you will need your trusty rock shoes!

Lokrum Island

This was recommended to us by a number of locals and travellers we met on the day tours.  It was one of the highlights!  You pick up a boat to the island at the back of the  Old Town.  The boat goes every half and hour so you can get over or back whenever it suits.  The island has a park like feel with shady trees, great rocks to jump off into the sea, restaurants if you haven’t bought a picnic and even massages if you can afford them.  The picnic area under the trees wasn’t too crowded and had large rabbits and peacocks walking around between people.  There is also a little lake called a Dead Sea which you can swim in.  Overall a nice day out with a picnic.

So my summary about Dubrovnik… I think it is probably not what it was and it has got too big for it’s boots.  Yes it is still visually stunning but I would limit my time there.  The Old Town is picturesque but the crowds, cost and poor service take the shine off this Adriatic jewel.

Dubrovnik… paradise lost

Dubrovnik was on my bucket list.  It was the whole reason we came to Croatia and I have to say I feel a little let down.  The Old Town is truly beautiful and the walls give a stunning view.  Why am I disappointed?  The city is so overwhelmed by tourists (Split was busy but this is next level)  that I think they have got greedy.  It is much more expensive than any other place in Croatia we have been and we have had rude and or indifferent service at restaurants in town.  Our tour guide told us to do everything we want to do this year as next year it will be even more expensive (prices for entry have increased significantly this year).

We spent 5 nights (four days) in Dubrovnik doing the following:

Old Town

There are lots of buildings to look at, the usual walking tours, restaurants and souvenir shops.  We visited a Dali Exhibition,  which had a number of his smaller more minor pieces on display.  We also visited the War Photo exhibition which was very good.  It had photographs from all sides of the Yugoslavian war period.  Many very powerful images and well worth the entry price of 50 Kuna each.

We took two city walking tours, one of which was a historical tour which focussed on the war.  We have taken walking tours from each of the other countries in the conflict that we visited so thought it was good to have a more complete picture.  The tour guide was very balanced and explained some of the areas that were not clear from other tours.  We also took a Game of Thrones tour because … well you have to don’t you!  A decent amount of season 2-6 was filmed here.  Our guide (who was hilarious although not trying to be) explained with photographic examples where things were filmed and how the area was prepared. It was a really good tour and if you are  a GoT fan, one of these tours is really worth doing.

City Walls

Dubrovnik has one of the most beautiful (and restored) city walls we have seen.  The area was bombed in the war but the community has restored the area using the same design and materials.  Apparently the price increased 50% this year so if you are going to Croatia, get here quick!  The view from the walls is truly stunning and was a highlight.  We managed to get up there for sunset which was picturesque.  It is really hot and crowded so get there either in the morning or in the evening.  The latest you can go up is 7pm and they like everyone to come down by 7.30.  The day we went the sun set at about 7.35 and there was no one rushing you down and the bars still served drinks at key viewing points.  You do need at least an hour to get around as it is 2km.

Cable car

The cable car is another opportunity to see the view from above.  It is about 20 Euros to go up.  You can also walk up the hill or get an Uber for much cheaper!  We took the cable car and the views are stunning.  You can grab a drink at the cafe at the top so that you can enjoy the views for a bit longer.

3 Islands Day Cruise

This seems to be a standard tour that lots of boats offer.  It was a nice day out however don’t get too excited by the food offered.  Ours was inedible (the chicken was so hard we could have knocked someone out with it) and the drinks were some very strange tasting fizzy that we tipped out and wine that was like a bad home brew.  The three islands we visited were in the Elafiti archipeligo and included Lopud, Kolocep and Sipan.  Kolocep and  Sipan are cute little islands where you have time to grab a drink or have a swim.  We spent time jumping off piers as it was hot!  You spend quite a bit more time on Lopud as it is famous for its sandy beach.  Our boat docked on the rocky side of the island and you then walk through town, up a hill and grab a golf cart (like a taxi) which takes you to the other side of the island where the sand is.  So… we got there, surveyed the scene, decided it was too crowded, the water didn’t seem as clear and that we preferred the rocky side!  We promptly got back in another golf cart to return us to our rocky beach where we spent the afternoon.  I think we have to hand in our passports… we now prefer the no mess, no sand version of the sea!

Belje Beach Club

We had a spare afternoon so spent time at this beach club which is right at the back of the Old Town.  You do have to pay for loungers and umbrellas and you will need your trusty rock shoes!

Lokrum Island

This was recommended to us by a number of locals and travellers we met on the day tours.  It was one of the highlights!  You pick up a boat to the island at the back of the  Old Town.  The boat goes every half and hour so you can get over or back whenever it suits.  The island has a park like feel with shady trees, great rocks to jump off into the sea, restaurants if you haven’t bought a picnic and even massages if you can afford them.  The picnic area under the trees wasn’t too crowded and had large rabbits and peacocks walking around between people.  There is also a little lake called a Dead Sea which you can swim in.  Overall a nice day out with a picnic.

So my summary about Dubrovnik… I think it is probably not what it was and it has got too big for it’s boots.  Yes it is still visually stunning but I would limit my time there.  The Old Town is picturesque but the crowds, cost and poor service take the shine off this Adriatic jewel.