Spring Break in Slovenia (Part III)

April 12, 2012

Today we drove to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. We easily found parking close to the city center and made it to the Tourist Information just in time for the two-hour guided town walk. We had a good guide who was knowledgeable and interesting. We spent the most time at the castle. The tour included admission to the castle tower where our guide was able to show us the city from above. We were again lucky to have a sunny day!

After the tour, we ate lunch at Restauracija Pri Vitezu, which was recommended by our guide. Unfortunately, by the time we got there Brandon was starving, the few tables outside were taken, the menu was only in Slovenian and the man at the next table was talking so loud we could barely hear the waiter’s explanations. Needless to say, it wasn’t our most pleasant meal in Slovenia, although the food was good.

(Ironically, that man at the next table was Giancarlo Guerrero, the music director for the Nashville Symphony, who was in town conducting the Slovenian Philharmonic. I found it interesting to hear what he was saying about the symphony management and musicians. I kinda miss that world sometimes…)

After lunch, we explored more of Ljubljana. A short rain shower passed over, but we were prepared with our rain coats and umbrellas. We checked out the market hall and the main market square and also visited the Serbian Orthodox Church. While Ljubljana is a nice city, it didn’t impress us like other European cities we’ve visited. Everything seems to revolve around Jože Plečnik, the architect, or France Prešeren, the poet. And the only time the city rose to prominence was the four years it was the capital of Napoleon’s Illyrian Provinces.

Since there wasn’t anything else we felt the urge to see, we did what we enjoy doing the most in European cities–sitting at an outdoor café watching the people.

After our drinks, we found a quaint wine shop where we were able to buy some requested bottles for a friend and then we drove back to Bled for dinner at Okarina Etno.

April 13, 2012

Our last day in Slovenia was grey and overcast, but we still walked by the lake one last time after we checked out of the hotel. The weather didn’t seem to bother the swans!

We stopped for one more piece of the delicious kremna rezina cream cake and then we headed out of town.

As we drove through the countryside, we saw lots of the distinctive roofed hayracks. Because of the frequent rainfall, the hayracks are covered by a roof that allows the hay to dry thoroughly.

We drove back through Austria to Berchtesgaden, Germany. Brandon and I had spent a lovely four days in Berchtesgaden during his R&R from Iraq in 2008. We stayed at Hotel Bavaria and still remember the delicious meals prepared by the hotel’s gourmet chef. At one meal, Brandon had a side of baked potato smothered in an herbed sour cream that we have since referred to as “Death by Potato.” We returned to Hotel Bavaria in hopes of finding “Death by Potato!”

We knew that the hotel is now under new management, but when we got there, we discovered that they don’t even serve meals unless half-board has been reserved! Needless to say, we were disappointed, but the new owner did direct us to another restaurant that serves something similar.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at Gasthaus – Cafe “Am Luitpoldpark,” they were preparing for a large celebration and had no available tables. We understood enough of the hostess’ German to come back in an hour. So, we walked to the pedestrian area to try to find a place to have a pre-dinner drink. We stopped at Goldener Bär and ended up having pre-dinner spargelcremesuppe in addition to a drink. One of the best parts of spring in Germany is the white asparagus crème soup!!

We went back to the gasthaus and they still didn’t have a regular table, but they converted one in the front of the restaurant to accommodate us. The food was worth the inconvenience! Brandon had a decadent potato with plenty of garlic sour cream and bacon and I had käsespätzle.

April 14, 2012

The next day we still couldn’t see the top of the Mount Watzmann, so we decided to simply drive home.

We had a lovely time in Slovenia over Spring Break. We wish the weather had cooperated in Berchtesgaden, but we have wonderful memories of that area from 2008. As it turned out, it was good that we arrived home earlier than expected on Saturday because Brandon ended up driving to Belgium on Sunday for a meeting in Brussels on Monday morning! Thankfully, little recovery was necessary from our nice relaxing vacation.


Spring Break in Slovenia (Part II)

April 11, 2012

Rain was forecasted for today, but we’ve learned you can’t let that stop you when you’re traveling or you won’t see anything! I was dying to ride one of the traditional pletna boats out to the island in the middle of Lake Bled. For some reason, I love boat rides. Brandon is indifferent, but he humors me.

The pletna is a Lake Bled tradition that dates back to the 17th century and the boats are still hand-built according to the same centuries-old design. They also have electric boats that they use in the winter and in bad weather. We had tried to take a boat to the island the day before, but the gondoliers were only offering rides in the electric boats because there was little demand. I was afraid we would have the same issue this morning, but luckily a group of four also wanted a ride out to the island, so a total of six people made it worthwhile for the gondolier!

It took about 20-30 minutes to row to the Island (Otok). We had about 30 minutes to explore the church, little museum, and gift shop before our pletna would head back across the lake. This turned out to be plenty of time.

We walked up the 99 stairs to the Church of the Assumption…

Rang the church bell (A local superstition claims that if you can get the bell to ring three times with one big pull of the rope, your dreams will come true!)…

And found a watercolor print in the souvenir shop before re-boarding the pletna. This is one of my favorite pictures of the island from the boat:

After our boat excursion, we stopped for lunch at Pizzeria Rustika. While the location was not the most convenient, the pizza was delicious! We had the Capricciosa with tomato, cheese, ham, artichokes, capers, and oregano.

While we were at lunch, I was reading my Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe book and found a Self-Guided Driving Tour of the Julian Alps. Since we didn’t want to hike in the rain, we decided to drive! The drive is supposed to take all day, but we thought we’d see how far we could get in an afternoon, especially since the weather would likely put a damper on our stops.

The first part was the Vršič Pass (vur-SHEECH). We entered Triglav National Park and quickly came upon the first of the road’s 50 hairpin turns (24 up, then 26 down). Each one was numbered and labeled with the altitude in meters. They are cobbled to provide better traction!

Just after switchback #8, we stopped to see the little Russian chapel. I’ll let Rick explain:

This road was built during World War I by at least 10,000 Russian POWs (of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to supply the front lines of the Soča Front. The POWs lived and worked in terrible conditions, and several hundred died on illness and exposure. On March 8, 1916, an avalanche thundered down the mountains, killing hundreds more workers. This chapel was built where the final casualty was found. Take a minute to pay your respects to the men who built the road you’re enjoying today. Because it’s a Russian Orthodox chapel, notice that the crosses topping the steeples have three crossbars.

After that stop, we headed for summit. Unfortunately, the rain at the lower altitudes turned into snow as we ascended. After the 24th switchback, we reached Vršič at 1611m (5,285 feet). However, we did not opt to get out and explore due to the weather and poor visibility.

On our way down the other side, we saw an abandoned checkpoint from when this was the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The second part of the drive was the Soča River Valley. We stopped to view the crystal-clear water of the river and Brandon especially enjoyed the suspension bridge.

Our last stop was at Velika Korita Soče (“Grand Canyon of Soča). I can only imagine how much more beautiful this sight would be on a sunny day!

We drove back to Bled via Italy. Nothing like going for a drive and unintentionally entering another country! However, it’s just like entering another U.S. state since both countries are part of the European Union.

That evening we had a delicious dinner at Vila Ajda. Our waiter was very attentive (again, we were the only ones there for a time!) and we had a beautiful view of the lake as we ate. All in all, another good day in Slovenia!

(I got a little photo-happy in this post, but if you want to see even more photos, check out my Shutterfly Share Page.)

Spring Break in Slovenia (Part I)

April 9-13 was Spring Break here at Hohenfels. Brandon and I have been lucky enough to have four Spring Breaks while we have been stationed in Germany. (So you don’t have to look back at the blog, we went to Amsterdam in 2009, Paris in 2010, and a belated Spring Break to Cinque Terre in May 2011 when Brandon returned from Afghanistan.) This year we decided to drive to Lake Bled, Slovenia.

April 9, 2012

We left on Easter Monday after I had some time to recover from all of the Catholic Holy Week services. It was a pretty easy drive through Austria, but it wasn’t the cheapest! You have to buy a vignette to drive through Austria. We bought a 7-day vignette for €10 at the last Esso station in Germany when we stopped to fill up our tank with rationed gas prices. There were also two tolls in Austria totaling €16,50. Finally, Slovenia also requires a vignette that cost us €15. So, in addition to gas, we paid €41,50 to get there and €16,50 on the way back. This wasn’t a problem, but it’s just good to know so you have enough cash on hand to pay the tolls!

We arrived at the Garni Hotel “Berc” around 5pm and the sun was shining!! Luka told us that it had snowed there just a day earlier and it would rain later in the week, so we better take advantage of what was left of the sunny day! We didn’t mess around and walked straight to the lake for a stroll around the 3.5-mile path. It was easy to see why this place is a popular European destination!

We ate at Ostarija Peglez’n for dinner. We were surprised to find pumpkin soup as the Soup of the Day, but it was good. We also read that they specialized in fish, so I ordered salmon and Brandon had tuna steak. We both enjoyed our meals and had an easy 5-minute walk back up the hill to the hotel.

April 10, 2012

The sun was forecasted to shine again today, so we took the opportunity to visit Lake Bohinj (BOH-heen). We visited all three parts that Rick Steves described: a village, a cable car, and a waterfall hike.

Ribčev Laz Village (loosely translated as “Good Fishin’ Hole”) is located at the southeast corner of the lake. Unfortunately, the church, St. John the Baptist, was not open.

Next, we took the cable car up to Vogel Mountain. There were some impressive views of Mount Triglav and the Julian Alps, but we didn’t realize that the best views were as we were exiting the cable car and we wouldn’t be able to get back to that spot.

The last stop was the Savica (sah-VEET-seh) Waterfall. This was the main reason that we wanted to visit Bohinj. We followed the moderate-to-strenuous uphill trail (including 553 stairs) to see the beautiful waterfall.

We headed back to Lake Bled for some lunch along the lakefront at Vila Prešeren. We also enjoyed a piece of the classic cream cake called kremna rezina, a layer of cream and a thick layer of vanilla custard artfully sandwiched between sheets of delicate, crispy crust. Delicious!

Since the sun was still shining, we decided to visit Bled Castle. While the path to get there was pretty steep, the sweeping views were well worth the effort!

At the castle, we checked out the small museum and the tiny chapel with 3-D frescoes. We also visited a working replica of a printing press from Gutenberg’s time and the wine cellar. With some help from the “monk” at the wine cellar, I bottled and corked our own bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and received a Certificate of Authenticity printed on handmade paper in the print shop.

That evening it finally started to rain, so we ate close to our hotel at Mayer Penzion. We were the only ones at the restaurant for quite a while. Traveling outside of peak season is nice to avoid the crowds, but it can also be a bit lonely! We had a good meal and then went back to our hotel to crash after such a full day.

In my next post I’ll share about our day trip to Ljubljana and the rest of our Slovenian Spring Break, but if you want to see more photos, please visit my Shutterfly Share Page.