Chapter 10: Majestic Mts to the Brilliant Blue Sea

Trip Start May 10, 2006
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Trip End Dec 17, 2006


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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia. It was always the major economic region so there had long been tension that their money was mostly going back to Serbia. Its interests coincided more with the west. In 1990 Slovenia was the first Yugoslav republic to hold free elections and declared independence in 1991. There was a brief (very small) 10-day war and the country was granted its autonomy. Slovenia was officially recognized as a country in early 1992. It has since been accepted into the EU and will convert to the Euro in January 2007.

I arrived in Ljubljana in the afternoon after an overnight train ride from Krakow. I walked to the hostel and got checked in then went to look around town. Overlooking the city is a castle. There's a river running right through the middle of the old town area. Along the riverbanks are various cafes and restaurants. It's quite cute. In the evening I met up with my friends, Peter and Katarina. I met them while in Cappadocia, Turkey, back in June. We just went to one of the cafes along the river and had a drink. They also showed me around town a bit.
The following day Peter & Katy took me on a tour to see some sights south of Ljubljana. We visited Predjama Castle which is built right into a cliff. It withstood a long siege in the 15th century thanks to its secret underground passageways (supplies). We waited a while to see if the knights tournament was going to start, but they were too slow setting up. We decided on seeing Skocjan Cave since Postojna Cave is more touristy. It starts off in small caves with stalagtites/stalagmites then progressively gets bigger. Cool looking, but no pictures allowed. :( It then opens into a gigantanormous cavern with a river running through it far below. The size of it was amazing. We drove on, stopping in a small town to share a pizza. Katy eats fast! Our last stop was Cerknica Lake, a lake which sometimes disappears (from what I understood it's due to the porous rocks and sometimes all the water just seeps in). The lake was there when we visited...just looks ordinary when the water is there. They had me back in Ljubljana about 7pm. I went out for a drink at a cafe along the river in the evening, but, as usual, it's kinda lame being at a cafe having a drink by yourself.
Peter and Katy took me on another daytrip on Sunday. We went out towards the Julian Alps on this day. Even from Ljubljana you can see the pretty peaks in the distance. We went for a hike in the Tamar Valley with a stop by the Planica ski jumps (they have the world record for longest ski jump - 239m!). The valley was lovely with tall mountains all around. We went to see a waterfall, but with the low water level, it wasn't too impressive. Had some lunch then to Zelenci to see a clear pond (water bubbles up from below). On to Lake Bled and they drove me around the lake for views. The lake is really beautiful with the island and church right in the middle. Peter & Katy dropped me off at the hostel in Bled and returned to Ljubljana. They were great to me during my visit - taking time away to show me around, driving me all over and paying for most everything. I went for a walk around Lake Bled taking tons of pictures along the way. It's far too picturesque. Went to dinner and ran into a couple English girls I met in Ljubljana so joined them. One is nice and social but the other doesn't talk much (it's her first time traveling). Just a quiet evening at the hostel.
I should've woken up early to catch a bus to Lake Bohinj but was feeling lazy so stayed in bed an extra hour. Took the bus there arriving about 10am and walked to the far end of the lake and up to Savica waterfall. It was ok. Katy had suggested I hike to the Triglav Lakes, but the trailhead showed it would be 2 hours each way and I didn't have time as I had to be back in Bled. Plus standing at the base of the mountain and seeing the trail wind its way straight up, laziness kicked in and I thought "no way". Around the rest of the lake stopping to enjoy the sunshine in a couple spots. The lake is very calm and clear. Bus back to Bled. Went for another walk along the lake and hung out with the ducks.

Someone I met while traveling told me about an "adventure tour" she had done in Slovenia
that was fun. I checked online and the brochure to sign up but the owner said it was
unlikely they'd be going as no one else had signed up. Last night I found out that it would be going though so waited at the hostel for them to pick me up. The Adrenaline-Check van came and got me about 7pm. Unfortunately, my unspoken hopes of an all female group did not come true - it was all guys. D'oh! There were four British friends, an Aussie and a kiwi. We stopped at a supermarket on the way out to the mountains. The guys wanted to load up on beer (no way, English guys who drink!?!)...5 cases worth. Oy! It was comforting to see our Slovenian guide and driver having a beer on the way. Uh oh. The drive took us over Vrsic Pass, which is 50 hairpin turns. We survived. We were taken to a restaurant for dinner then to camp next door. We were in tents under shelters. The tents had inflatable mattresses and duvets - quite comfortable. I had my own while everyone else had to share. We made a campfire and sat around drinking and talking. I was the first to bed at 1:30am (we were told to be ready at 8:30am).
Well, I was up at 8:30am but no one else was. Matic, the guide, woke up about 9am and
started getting breakfast stuff together. I woke the others up at 9:30am for breakfast. We ended up starting our bike ride about 11am. Matic took us on some roads to a waterfall and some good views. We stopped by a small canyon for swimming. The river water was absolutely freezing! Total shock to the system. We biked back to camp and ate. Then we drove out to a spot for some rock climbing. Of course, there had to be beer drinking too. Drove to Bovec to meet our rafting guide. We got on all our wetsuit gear then to the river. The water level was low so the rapids weren't that big. We started with some basics - paddling, floating in the river, getting back in the raft. We stopped at a couple places for rock jumping. About this time a massive headache was kicking in on me. We continued rafting finishing with a float in the river. Drove back to Bovec and met up with Matic. Now my head was killing me and I felt nauseous (not sure if the headache was caused by my bad eye or not). When we got back to camp, I just went to my tent and crashed. The gang woke me up for dinner, but I still wasn't feeling good enough to eat. I asked them to save me a burger. I felt better at 1:30am so got up and found a few of the guys still awake. Some of my food had been eaten but the burger was still there. I warmed it up on the fire and ate. The others went to bed and I soon followed.
I woke up again at 8:30am and everyone was still asleep. Woke the rest up by banging a pot about 10am. Had breakfast and pack up our stuff to be picked up later. Drove out to where we'd be doing our canyoning. Matic showed us our final "slide", a 12m (36ft) waterfall! We hiked up for about a half hour then down into the canyon. We started with some very small, easy slides going down different directions. The slides progressively got bigger - a couple being quite fun. Had some jumps too. The running and jumping ones were a little hard as I was afraid of slipping on the wet rock. Near the end was a "surprise" slide in which we didn't look over and Matic pushed us. You drop about 5m into a cave-like area...quite neat. Then it was time for the last 12m slide. Looking over the edge may have been a mistake...it's freaking high! Matic would hold us at the top and let us go so we'd drop (it was much more of a drop than a slide). We all survived without injury. It wasn't until after that final slide that Matic told us all the other adventure tour groups rappel down that one with ropes. !!! Had lunch afterwards then back to camp to get our stuff. We went back over the pass again, this time during the day so we could see the views. Stopped by Planica ski jump and Lake Bled before going back to Ljubljana. Checked into a hostel and out to meet the group at 10:30pm. We went to a bar along the river for drinks. Rafael, the Aussie guy, was being an ass to the waitress and Jo (an English girl the Brit guys brought along from the hostel). He seemed to be trying to drive away the only girls we had around. Moved on to a couple other bars before going to a danceclub. I was going to go back to my hostel but the guys made me stay. The crowd at the club was all dressed up to be seen. Lots of Slovenian homeboys - they looked ridiculous. Went out and danced with the group. The Brits were good at being silly. Jo said she liked my dancing. Maybe there was something wrong with her. ;) Left about 4am and did some rap battlin' with Dan on the way back to the hostel.

Had to be awake and checked out of the hostel by 10am. Kinda tired. Found out there's no bus to Piran, a small town on the coast, 'til 1:45pm so wasted some time around the city, in the park and have lunch. Lizzie and Helen (English girls from Lake Bled) were on the same bus and staying at the same hostel in Piran. Arrived there about 4:30pm, got checked-in then I went for a wander. I liked the narrow, cobblestoned streets. They reminded me of Spain or Italy (Italy is right next door so I'm sure they influenced the architecture style). Ate dinner at a little restaurant by the sea then for a walk around in the evening. Early night to bed.
Slept in and checked-out of hostel but left my stuff there as I'd be leaving town later. It was raining outside so I sat in and used i-net for a little while. The rain stopped so I walked around. As I ate lunch, it began to pour rain again. So most the day was spent inside due to the rain.

I caught the 4:25pm bus from Piran to Rovinj (there's only one bus a day in that direction). Rovinj is another small town on the coast, but in Croatia...

Croatia's history has long been linked with Italy as the countries are so close. Italian
architecture, food, culture can all be found in Croatia along the Adriatic. Croatia was part of the Yugoslavia federation. It declared independence in 1991 but its constitution did not guarantee the rights of minorities so a Serbian region of Croatia declared its own independence. Fighting broke out in areas with large populations of Serbs. After six months of fighting the Croatian constitution was amended to protect minority and human rights. In 1993 further military offenses took back Serb controlled areas and more attacks in 1995 secured the rest, forcing many Serbs to flee to Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Serbs can supposedly return but resettlement would be difficult. Croatia today is stable and on its way to EU membership (maybe 2008).

...so I arrived in Rovinj just before 7pm and had no clue where to stay. There was a guy at the bus station offering a room so I haggled him down a bit and went to see it. He spoke no English but showed me a paper explaining the 1 night supplement of 100% (I read about this in Lonely Planet) so essentially it's like paying for 2 nights. I told him "no" and that I would go find a hotel. He wrote on the paper if I stayed two nights there'd be no supplement and a better per night price, so I said ok (since it was already late I wouldn't have much time to see the town). I went for a look around town - it has a cute old town and a marina. I like the way the old town looks lit up at night. The dark, narrow, cobblestoned alleys are my favorite. There was some sort of wine festival going on with live music so I hung around inside the tent of that for a while. Accomodation and food were looking pricey in Croatia so I figured I'd save some money by making myself dinner. Stopped by a market and picked up pasta stuff and some homemade wine. The pasta sauce I picked up wasn't very good and the wine was dreadful so dinner left a lot to be desired. Just did some reading and early to bed.
Slept in. It was a gray, gloomy day outside. I looked around town. Seems it's the holy day for St Euphemia as the church had mass going all day. I got some new pasta sauce that was actually decent and used that for lunch. Wish there was a cheap i-net place or movie theatre as there really wasn't much to do. This is one of those days where it would be nice to be at home curled up on the couch watching movies. So I just wasted time wandering around. In the evening I went back to the winefest tent and listened to some bad Croatian rock band. Another dull evening in the small town.

I took a morning bus to Rijeka, passing by what looked like some trendy beach towns on the way (they looked kind of nice). It was rainy though so better to be getting somewhere in the bus. Continued on to Karlovac then to a campground near Plitvice National Park. The campground is 7km from the park and there's nothing nearby. I arrived there at 3:30pm so had the rest of the day with nothing to do. The bar opened at 5pm so I went there and watched some tv. Had dinner at the restaurant at the campground then back to the bar to watch a documentary on the park. Too many boring evenings in a row are making me a bit restless.
The campground has a morning shuttle that takes you to the park entrance. I took my stuff with me and put it in storage at the park entrance. Plitvice Nat'l Park is unique for its lakes connected by waterfalls over travertines. There are paths / walkways to follow through the park but that also means you can't really tramp around on your own and explore. I chose to follow a route that was supposed to take 4-6 hours. It started with a path down by one of the lakes and a big waterfall. The lakes are in a series with each a little higher than the other so that they spill over from one to the next (waterfall). The lakes have beautiful turquoise water. The whole area was very scenic. It's a shame it was overcast and drizzly instead of sunny with clear blue skies for the pictures. Some of the trees were starting to turn their Fall colors so that looked nice. It actually only took me 3 hours to walk around the park. On my way out there were now LOTS of tour groups (old folks)...glad I was there early. I got some stuff to make myself lunch then caught the 1:30pm bus to Zadar.

Zadar is on the coast about halfway of Croatia's length. I arrived in about 4:30pm and got a local bus out to the youth hostel. It's a YHA hostel...those tend to be kinda stale. It looked like a big storm was going to come in on my way to town, but it missed me. Zadar's old town is pedestrian only and has marble stones along the streets. It's a cute old town. There are a few churches and squares, but mostly just regular shops and cafes. Zadar claims to have the most beautiful sunset in the world (that's a mighty high claim. apparently Alfred Hitchcock was here and said it was the best sunset he'd seen.). The sunset I saw was beautiful...not sure if I'd say it was then best I'd ever seen though. Had dinner and poked around town in the evening. Back to the hostel and it looked as though there must be a kids school group there or something. Went to a nearby bar for a drink then early to bed.
I looked around Zadar again the next morning.

Took the 12:45 bus from Zadar to Split. The hostel I was staying at was in the middle of old town but didn't open 'til 5:30pm so I went to an i-net cafe for an hour. Got myself checked-in at the hostel then out to look around. Another cool old town...I'm afraid I'm going to get tired of old towns even though each is unique. This one has some nice squares and an old cathedral. I ate dinner at a little restaurant recommended by the woman working at the hostel. There was a drunk middle-aged guy and very drunk older woman at the table next to me. The guy started talking to me and told me I should have the tuna (the restaurant didn't have any tuna). The lady has spilled beer all over the table so came to sit by me. She looked like she was about to pass out and was slurring "I'm sorry" and "forget everything". The people working at the restaurant felt bad so moved me to another table. The guy left and they escorted the woman out. Made for an interesting dinner. Back at the hostel, I met two Americans, Logan and Alex, from San Diego. I hung out with them having a beer. A little while later Charlotte from the UK joins us. Both Logan and Charley have good taste in music and are telling me bands I should check out (though I can't remember most). Weird that my memory doesn't work as well when drinking. Hmmm... We went out to a bar/club on the beach that is supposed to be the happening place in town, only it wasn't very happening. Charley and I shared a swing chair and the guys sat across from us. Maybe they couldn't hear or maybe it was that Charley and I were mostly just talking to each other, but first Alex left then Logan. Charley and I didn't stay too much longer and strolled back to the hostel.
Slept in. Gathered stuff to go to the beach then stepped out to see it was kind of overcast. Charley and I got some food and wandered around town a bit. We decided to do a daytrip to the nearby town of Trogir. On our way there the weather improved. We looked around old town and up the tower in the cathedral for views. Of course we had to sample some ice cream. Wandered town some more then bus back to Split. I had a short nap at the hostel before Charley and I raced up Marjan Hill for sunset and had a beer up there. Stopped by a restaurant on the way back for dinner. An old guy at the table next to us was letting his flatulence flow. oy! Luckily we weren't eating at the time. Afterwards, we went out for a drink but didn't stay out late as we were both tired.
In the morning I took the bus to Brela as I read somewhere it's supposed to be nice (it's an hour south of Split). When I got there I saw that Forbes had rated it as one of their top 10 beaches. Forbes must not get out much. Well, at least in my opinion, any beach that's full of rocks doesn't deserve to be in the top 10. The water is beautiful though. I tried to just look at that as the beach was full of old, ugly Germans. I laid there in the sun for a few hours then up the big hill to catch the bus back to Split. Nice sunset on the way back. I found Charley back at the hostel and we went to dinner with Alexis, another girl in our dorm. It took forever for the waiter to take our order, but he brought out our wine quick once we ordered. Only problem was he dropped it and it spilled all over my lap. Ya, a half liter of red wine all over me. D'oh! It started to seep through rather quickly. I raced back to the hostel to change, slightly embarrassed the whole way 'cuz in the dark you could just see that my whole crotch area was wet (not that it was red). Threw the pants and shirt into the laundry and hurried back to the restaurant. The waiter didn't bother to clean up the broken glass. Dinner was already there and getting cold so I scarfed it down. The waiter felt bad and gave me my dinner for free, so the meal and wine only cost me like $2. Alexis went back to the hostel while Charley and I went out for drinks at a bar right next to the hostel. We had a couple drinks then started chatting with a group of kiwis at the table nearby. They had been doing shots with the bartender and invited us into the bar for a "lock-in". The bartender closed the bar and the kiwi guys were helping clean everything. He served us up drinks and shots one after another (at no charge). I was trying to get Charley to lay on the bar for a picture - when else are you going to get the opportunity to lay on a bar in Croatia!?! When she wouldn't do it, I hopped up for my picture. Only the bartender had me lay all the way down then poured tequila over my belly button and made Charley suck it out with a straw (poor girl)! He continued to pour over my belly and have Charley drink. I also got some poured in my mouth. We stayed just a bit longer and left when the others did. Late night to bed.
Tried to sleep in for a while then up to wander around. It was then that I realized the
alcohol hadn't yet left my system. Back to the hostel for more sleep. In the afternoon I
walked out to a (rocky) beach and laid in the sun. Was there a few hours then back to the hostel. A new girl, Tara, arrived and I knew she looked familiar and asked where she'd been recently. She said she'd been in Croatia the last two weeks and I knew I didn't see her there so figured I was mistaken. But then talking to her a little more, I recognized the accent and said "you're the Scottish lass from Glasgow!" We figured out that we met while in Brasov, Romania. That was a while ago... I hung out with Alexis, Cara, Brianne, Tara and Aya in the common area having drinks (yes, the hostel was 6 girls and me. life just isn't fair). Charley came back from her daytrip to join us. Soon after, Al (the owner of the hostel) stopped by too. Al took us out to a bar/club called Quasimodo. When we first arrived, there was hardly anyone there and no one dancing. The music was mostly '70s and '80s stuff to start with, but progressed to cool indie stuff. We were all out dancing, except Cara and Brianne who were flirting with some local Croatians. Most the other people were staring at us like we were crazy. (Al told us the Croatians always try to look cool, and dancing wouldn't be "cool".) Al moved us on to another bar where we had a couple drinks. Charley and I stopped by the "lock-in" bar from last night, but it was locals only this time. Another late night.

Said goodbye to Charley :( (hopefully I'll see her again in London) and later caught the ferry to Hvar with Cara, Brianne and Aya. The hostel rep was there waiting for us and showed us the way. Hvar has a nice marina, cool old town and a fort up on a hill overlooking the town. Had some lunch then to the beach (big, uncomfortable boulders to lay on) with Aya and Brianne. Laid out in the sun a couple hours. Back to the hostel to clean up then out for dinner with the girls. Hung out with people at the hostel before going out into town at 11pm. We bar-hop for a while before going to the club in a sort of castle at 1am. We just dance a little as the group didn't seem into it. I miss having Charley to hang out with as she was always good fun. We left the club about 2am and went back to the hostel.
Slept in. Had lunch with the girls in town then I went to lay in the sun for a little while.

In the afternoon I caught the ferry to the island of Korcula. The ferry dropped me off on the opposite side of the island as the main town so I had to catch transport. The bus was packed so I paid a little more to share a van with some others. I met a couple Aussie guys, Liam and Lukan, who knew the way to the hostel in town...only the owner wasn't there. We had ourselves a beer as we waited. The owner is a young guy who apparently came in second on South Africa's Big Brother. Once he got back, we checked-in and I went for a wander around town. Another cool old town. Back to the hostel to hang out with people in the common area there. Later we moved on to a club for dancing. It was ok at first but then got too crowded. Liam bought me a couple shots of something really nasty. Still out late and not back to hostel 'til around 4am.

The owner was closing the hostel and kicking everyone out but called a guy with a pension room for me. I moved my stuff on over there. I went up a hill for pics of the town and wandered around. Took a nap then to the market for snacks. In there someone called out, "Tom!" I figured it was one of the guys from the hostel, but it turned out to be Shaun and Amelia from the Africa tour 1.5 years ago! What a small world! We chatted for a little while then made plans to meet up later. I sat in the sun 'til the clouds moved in. Went by the bus station but didn't see the girls (from Hvar) show up. Later I met up with Shaun & Amelia, and we went to a bar on top of a castle rampart. We moved on and ran into the girls on the way. They took us to a restaurant where Tristan and Victoria were already at. The others had dinner and we went on to another bar for a couple drinks. On to the club where we ran into Liam and Lukan. The girls didn't stay long there so said goodbye to them. I was tired and hungry but the others were still ordering so I stayed. It was cool to hang out with Shaun and Amelia again. Didn't get to bed 'til after 2am.

Had to wake up really damn early for the 6:45am bus to Dubrovnik. The bus ride was a little rough after last night. Arrived into Dubrovnik about 10am and had the room touts swarm me again. A talked a lady down on price a little plus she had a car to drive me. Left my stuff at her place then went out for a long walk for views of the old town. I'd been here about a month ago so had already looked around town. The old town is still really cool to walk around in. This time I did the city walls walk which takes you around the walls of the old town. Back to the room for a nap. Out for dinner at an Irish pub and listened to some live music. Looked around old town by night. As this was my last night of the Eastern Europe tour I probably should've splurged, but was low on cash so didn't.
In the morning I caught the bus to the airport and flew to Germany to start my visit with friends.

Both Slovenia and Croatia are great countries. Not the best for prices, but not bad.
Slovenia has beautiful scenery - mountains, lakes, caves. Croatia has some beautiful scenery too - Plitvice, the coast. I'm sure the coast would be great for sailing island to island. And all the old towns were cool. I'd definately recommend a visit to either.
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