Sunday Summary #46

1|  My vacation in Slovenia was one of my favorite trips this year, and this couple’s blog post has GORGEOUS pictures of some of my favorite destinations!

2|  NomadicMatt is one of my favorite travel bloggers, and I love this piece he did about pursuing your life’s passion.

But I don’t buy into the idea that “you can find your passion” by sitting down with a pen and paper and thinking, “OK, I’m going to write down my passion and just do that.”

I think you stumble onto your passion.

You go out and live life and then realize: “this is the thing that lights my fire the most.”

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Slovenia | HIGHS AND LOWS

As we wandered through Ljubljana during our last day in Slovenia, I kept feeling overcome with anger. I ADORED this country, and every delightful experience just made it harder to say goodbye. 

The open market was mostly organized and really enchanting. We ate freshly purchased blueberries while picking out purses, honey brandy, and glass blown vases. We wandered through shops and watched children chase bubbles through the street under a sign proclaiming that Ljubljana had been awarded the title of European Green Capital 2016. We sat in Le Petit Cafe and ate a cheese platter and a chocolate soufflé while going over the things we loved best about our trip…and the things we didn’t love as much. For your own Slovenian travels (do it!), here is one woman’s preferences:

The Bad

  1. Driving on tiny mountainous roads. This was seriously scary for two Midwesterners, and we didn’t even go into the Alps. It didn’t help that we had a larger vehicle, so if you want to do more exploring than we did, book a smaller rental car ahead of time!
  2. Lake Bled. This was the only area I’d heard of, and apparently the same was true for everyone else. Although Bled Castle was really great, I just couldn’t stomach the pristine beauty of the place while jostling through crowds (note: this complaint was going to seem VERY petty once I got to Venice).

And…that’s it, I think. Slovenia won me over, hard. 

The Good

  1. Renting a car. Do it! Although you can get to all of the tourist destinations by bus or tour guide, it is so rewarding to take in the country at your own pace. Having a car gives you freedom to stay longer, change plans, or just get in some roadtripping. 
  2. The pastoral yet majestic scenery. None of the pictures I took really capture the way the Slovenian countryside filled my insides with peace. So much of where we went included quaint steeply sloped houses with bright flower boxes in the foreground and stunning mountains in the background. It’s what I imagine New Zealand must be like. 
  3. Vintgar Gorge. This place is AMAZING, go at 8:00 am to get the full exploratory experience!
  4. Predjama Castle. Great tour, cool castle, lovely surrounding landscape.
  5. Skocjan Caves. It is one of those places that make you think, “The world is more magnificent than I ever thought to imagine,” so I recommend it highly for those who need a boost of wonder!

I adored Slovenia. I hope this is not my only time to see the country. If any of you ever go there, let me know and we can shriek about its perfections!

Slovenia | UNEXPECTED HOSPITALITY

After spending the day in Skocjan Caves, we drove in the vague direction of our hotel reservation, assuming we would find somewhere to eat dinner. We wound our way through Vipava, but the one time we got out to see if a wine shop also offered food, everyone inside turned to watch us. This is my literal worst nightmare, so we walked right back out (also it was clear they’d don’t have food). 

We drove through winding streets that increasingly looked that we were leaving civilization behind, and when we finally found the town where our reservation was, we were stopped when the road led us to a castle wall. We walked through the entrance, and I connected to wifi at the (closed) castle exhibit. With new directions in hand, we walked along the village wall, knocking on doors and opening ones that were unlocked. Just when we were about to give up, a man stuck his head out of a second story window. “You have reservation here?”


“Yes!” we said, and gave our name. He welcomed us at the door and showed us to one of two available rooms. 

Still very hungry, I asked where we could get food nearby. 

“Oh, today is a bad day for you. It’s Wednesday,” he said ominously. “The restaurant is closed. There is another one 5 km away, but it is also closed.”

At our devastated faces, he offered to make us dinner if we wanted. “YES, thank you, anything would be wonderful!” We went back to the car and brought our things to be tiny apartment. Thirty minutes later he knocked on the door, announcing that dinner was ready. We climbed the stairs to his apartment, where he had laid out a delicious meal, complete with local red wine and a TV turned to the Olympics. With food in our bellies, we happily chatted with him for awhile. It turns out we were staying in the tower of a castle’s city wall! 



When we finished our meal, he asked if we would need breakfast as well, and the next morning he had once again laid out a feast for us, quietly leaving us to eat alone in his kitchen after some chit chat. We paid him for the room and the food, and what had begun as a giant confusion turned into one of the most enjoyable parts of our trip!

Slovenia | CAVES AND CAVE-CASTLES

I love caves. My fear of choice is definitely heights and not even a tiny bit claustropobia, so when I found out that Slovenia boasts not one but TWO world famous caverns, I got really excited. 

(A brief aside: these caves ARE world famous, even if most Americans don’t even know that Slovenia is a country. Although we haven’t seen any tourist hoards like those in major European cities, from what I can tell, Slovenia is a popular outdoor destination for other Europeans.)

On Tuesday, we drove an hour and a half from Bohinj to Postojna. The caves here are the most Disney-ified caverns I’ve ever been to. No, there weren’t princesses or cartoons. But the ticket-buying process was streamlined, and a long avenue of restaurants and souvenir shops led you to the cave entrance. This consumer-heavy concession is actually helpful, since we had to wait 1 1/2 hours for our tour. Postojna is the world’s most visited caves, after all! The Disney-ification continued as we got on an underground train that took us through 4 km of cave tunnels. We were then taken on a walk through some of the more beautiful caverns (the Spaghetti Cave was my favorite) and a quick viewing of an aquarium of olms (little dragon-like lizards) before again boarding the train to return to the entrance. 



Postojna is beautiful, and there are a lot of fancy stalagmites and stalactites to see…but I wasn’t hugely impressed. Luckily, just 9 km away we saw Predjama Castle, a massive fortress built into the side of a mountain with secret escape caves leading out the back (the Slovenian Robin Hood-esque hero Erasmus used them to survive a seige…at least until he was killed by a cannonball while he was using the bathroom).



Predjama was AMAZING, and wonderfully easy to tour with the help of a really great audio guide. After Vintgar Gorge, I think this was my favorite destination in Slovenia. 


Back in Bohinj, we woke on Wednesday to steady rain. Unable to resist a perfect slow morning, we didn’t leave the hotel until 11:00. Along with everyone else whose guidebook told them “when it rains, you might as well go to a cave,” we made our way to the Skocjan Caves. 

Unlike Postojna, we hiked about one kilometer to get to the entrance of Skocjan after buying our tickets. So many people were there that they had to divide the 1:00 tour into six groups. I was happy to be in the last English-speaking group because of our top-knot wearing guide with killer cheekbones. But even his beauty fell away when we got underground and HOLY COW. These caves are the most amazing I’ve ever seen. 

For one (and for, like, all points) it is HUGE. One of the first caverns you enter is big, and you think, “Oh, cool. It’s mostly a big slanty hole without many cave ornaments, but it’s nice.” And then you walk through an entrance, and AHHHHH!  It is exactly like the Mines of Moria (Lord of the Rings reference, for any non-nerdy readers). It is simply MASSIVE. I cannot describe it. It’s simply lit without being ostentatious (cough Postojna cough) and the effect is astounding. You even cross a bridge that is dizzying may high above the underground river that created the caves. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but here are some from Google that only partially captures the grandeur of it all. 



If you like caves, Slovenia is the tourist destination for you. And while I recommend visiting all three of these sites, Predjama Castle and the Skocjan Caves are definitely superior!

Slovenia | VINTGAR GORGE and BOHINJ

Yesterday’s post ended in tourist-heavy Bled, so this morning my mom and I woke early to get outta there. We didn’t even take a boat out to the tiny island that graces the cover of every Slovenian guidebook in existence. Instead, we drove 4km to Vintgar Gorge at 8:15 am. My brother was in Slovenia last month, and he strongly suggested we go early to beat the crowds if we wanted a magical experience. 

And it IS magical. It’s literally a gorge with no possible way to walk near it except for wooden walkways built into the side of the cliff. It feels very Swiss Family Robinson, and since we were some of the first people of the day, it felt like adventure and discovery. 




By the time we reached the end and headed back, the walkways were packed with people. Some were blocking the path to take pictures and others were grumbling at the path-blockers, and it was altogether a different experience. We found a brief respite by climbing down to the water by one section where people have built hundreds of little rock towers. We built our own and left our mark on Vintgar Gorge!



We drove from there to Bohinj, which our guidebook promised was the better-but-less-crowded version of Bled. We didn’t actually stop at the lake, however, choosing instead to go straight to the waterfall, Slap Savica. The road there felt impossibly tiny, and my Midwestern American roots were constantly confused by drivers who sped around corners and bikers and oncoming traffic. 

The waterfall itself was not super impressive, only because the path bottlenecked at a gate that kept us far from the falls itself. But the hike up 500 steps was lovely, and I can never get over how great it is to smell grass and dirt and trees. 


We headed back to Bohinj and got our hotel room at another cute little 20-room farmhouse/chalet/I don’t know names of things. It was only 2:00, so we decided to drive a couple hours to Kobarid in the northwest. We only got half an hour into the drive before I called it quits – we were on even tinier roads already climbing high into the mountains, and despite singing along to the Hamilton soundtrack, I didn’t think I had the emotional fortitude to stay sane the whole drive (or especially coming back in the dark). 

Instead, we went back to our hotel and I stress-napped. Or real-napped, since it had already been a very busy day! At 7:00 we walked to a nearby hotel for a fancy (but discounted through our own hotel) dinner. Then we walked to the lake, got ice cream, and watched the sun set. 



Oh, and I was COLD tonight. I haven’t been cold in months!

Slovenia | SKOFJA LOKA and LAKE BLED

When we were planning our trip, I told my mom, “We can either save money and plan everything beforehand, or we can have fun and be spontaneous!” which is how we found ourselves wandering the streets of Ljubljana looking for a rental company that still had an automatic car in stock. Three shops later, we had our car, and both my mom and I got to experience driving in a country other than the United States. On top of that, it was the first time I’ve been able to drive a car in SEVEN MONTHS, and wow did it feel good to be behind the wheel again.


Before leaving Ljubljana, we went to an Aldi’s (called Hofur in Slovenia, but with the same logo) for roadtrip supplies. It was better than imagined, since we stumbled upon Mozart Balls, delicious chocolates from Austria that we have ordered online many Christmases since our family visited my brother there nine years ago. 


Slovenian roads are beautiful – the country is heavily influenced by a German sense of organization – and it is a JOY to drive through green green fields with mountains increasingly in the foreground. We haven’t actually driven through mountains yet, and maybe my opinion will change if we come upon some hairpin curves. 

Our Lonely Planet guidebook suggested we stop by Skofja Loka on our way to Bled, and I’m so glad we did. This sleepy city (especially on Sunday) has a lovely Old Town that leads you up to yet another Slovenian castle. We didn’t go inside, but took in the scenery and the gorgeous weather instead. 

Then we were off to Bled, the highlight of our trip where we planned on staying two days. We pulled into an adorable inn that had a room available for only one night, and as we walked around to find another place to stay tomorrow night, we realized…Lake Bled is a tourist trap!  We were spoiled in Skofja Loka, and the sight of such picturesque scenery clogged with people was a serious killjoy. Immediately and unanimously, my mom and I decided to stay only one night and move on. 
Not that Lake Bled is without its charms. The lake is beautiful, and the tiny island boasting only a church is pretty adorable. We drove up to the Bled Castle, and the view from up there were stunning!  


But. All those tourists. Hopefully our attempt to leave the super-beaten path tomorrow will be successful!

Slovenia | LJUBLJANA

As we flew into Ljubljana, I hungrily stared out the window at the mountains, bright blue sky, and unending shades of green. “It’s SO pretty,” I told my mom. “I am probably the most ungrateful person on the planet, but I’m so happy to leave Greek beaches behind and get to some forests!”

The adoration only increased when I left the airport and felt cool, crisp air for the first time in months. We caught our hotel shuttle and made our way to downtown Ljublajana, which, on a Saturday August afternoon, is a lazy European city with bridges criss-crossing rivers, extravagant churches, and backpackers strolling the streets.  There was even a guy wearing a kilt wandering around, and I wondered how to subtly bring up the fact that I too am Scottish. 


We had a room at the City Hotel, which was within walking distance of everything. I was mostly only interested in the Ljubljana Castle, so we spent the evening there, climbing an increasingly steep path up to the “Slovene Acropolis.” The castle has been renovated in a really beautiful combination of old and new, and we strolled through the open air prisons and solitary confinement cells with our audio guides. Honestly, it felt so good to be an unapologetic tourist. I don’t belong in this country, I just want to enjoy it and learn from it, and I don’t have to try to be anything more!



The castle also has a “virtual tour” of the site throughout history, which was helpful for my lack-of-Slovenian-knowledge. They also had an adorable Green Library and several restaurants. Unable to resist the allure of eating in a castle, we got an extremely fancy meal for only moderately expensive prices.


After arguing about politics and watching the sun set (the castle was open until 10:00 pm, which is AMAZING for tourist locations), we walked back down the hill and found our hotel, where we watched the Olympics in Slovene before falling asleep.