Along Ancient and Wild Roads: San Agustín Day 5

*Disclaimer: Though this is being written during the COVID 19 crisis, the travel took place in 2019. I merely have the time to write about my past experiences now with the quarantine in place. I do not condone going against the regulations and advice currently in place during the pandemic.

If you read my last post you know I had a rough day of travel dealing with illness. Thankfully, the next day I woke up feeling much better. We had breakfast at our hotel before hitting the road to head down to San Agustín.

Our drives were often adventures, but this one in particular was memorable. We ended up on this small dirt road in the rain heading through a natural park. There were signs to watch out for Tapir and Spectacled Bears. Sadly we saw neither, but it was still quite the adventure heading through what felt like wilderness.

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We stopped briefly at a canyon with a beautiful river running through it. We enjoyed taking some photos before getting back on the road again.

After enjoying the view for a bit, we continued on our way. At last we reached paved road again making the drive a little bit smoother.

We finally made another stop at a waterfall. This one we were actually able to see, unlike the one we’d tried to see on our second day. I believe it was Salto del Mortiño from doing a little searching, but don’t take my word on that for sure. I also don’t feel photos really can do it justice. It was beautiful and the canyon it flows into is impressive.

From there we made our way to our main destination of San Agustín. I, like many others, had never heard of this place before coming to Colombia. As it turns out, it’s a pretty impressive archaeological park, actually the largest collection of megalithic sculptures in Latin America. As someone who has a spent a lot of time in Europe, I’ve seen plenty of archaeological sites, but none of them were anything like San Agustín.

The park was spread over a large area of land, with various sculpture and structures as well as a museum and a sort of outdoor statue gallery. All of the sculptures were pretty amazing, though some were in better shape than others. One of the things I found the most impressive was a “fountain” which was where people had carved into the rock of a riverbed, with decorations and various channels and pools. It was beautiful and incredible to see, unlike anything I’d seen before.

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We really enjoyed our time at the park. Once we had seen everything, we were pretty tired, especially after climbing a large hill and enjoying the views. However, my dad mentioned there was a really cool carving outside of the park called La Chaquira.

We drove down an incredibly muddy and steep road until we could go no further as a small river was running over the road. We parked and started walking, but it was taking longer than we had expected. We asked a local how much further and he estimated maybe another kilometer.

As we were all pretty tired we opted to turn around and head back. We got in the car and began driving, but unfortunately our rental car had very little horsepower, and only about half way up we started sliding back down the hill.

My mom, my brother, and I all climbed out of the car, hoping a little less weight might make the car able to climb the hill. My dad tried a second and then a third time, with no luck.

A local man showed up trying to get down the road. He stopped and got out of his car to come help us. He gave some directions to my dad while me, my brother, and mom all tried to push the car.

Unfortunately, in the process of getting out of the way as it began to roll back down the hill, my mom slipped and caught her hand on some barbed wire. I pulled some bandaids out of my purse and patched her as best I could.

Two girls who were hiking ran into us next, as did a man on a motorcycle. They all stopped what they were doing and offered to help. My brother was getting a low blood sugar (he’s diabetic) and needed to step aside to rest. But between me, my mom (one handed), the two girls, the motorcyclist, and the local who had first stopped to help we managed to give it a good enough push to get up the rest of the hill.

We thanked our good Samaritans and then climbed back into the car all exhausted and muddy, but very glad to be off of that nasty road.

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La Chaquira– the statue we tried to find but failed to actually see. Photo from Wikipedia

After all that nonsense we finally went to check into our hotel, a beautiful place called Hotel Estorake. The owner graciously gave us some towels to clean up with and some fruity tea. Once we were settled my dad went to find some antiseptic cream to put on my mom’s injured hand and some soda or juice for my brother’s low blood sugar. We rested and enjoyed the beautiful hotel in the meantime.

Finally, all feeling slightly better after our wild day, we went to grab dinner. We went to a place called Altos de YerbaBuena. I had some steak, though it was a little under-cooked for my tastes (and I’m not usually opposed to pink). Everything else was amazing though, especially the fresh juice.

After we’d finished our dinner we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. We hoped the next day might be just a little less eventful, but at least we’d had an amazing adventure we would always remember.

Powering Through: Popayán Day 4

*Disclaimer: Though this post is being written during the COVID 19 crisis, this trip was taken in 2019. I’m merely taking advantage of having time now to post about my adventures. Please read and enjoy being able to travel vicariously while in the safety of your own home!

So this was without a doubt one of my worst days of travel ever.

I’ll go ahead and mention right now that I have rheumatoid arthritis, which essentially means my immune system is very confused and attacks my body rather than the proper things it should attack like germs. As a result I have to take medication that suppresses my immune system to make sure I don’t end up with permanent damage to my body. So, unfortunately that means I am much more likely to get sick.

Before going on my trip I had consulted a travel medicine doctor. All my immunizations were updated, and I was given some antibiotics and anti-Malaria medication (more to come on that). I’d recommend seeing one of these specialists if you plan to travel to places like Colombia, but I just wanted to point out that my experience won’t be everyone’s because I unfortunately just am not as strong as some people.

Needless to say, I turned in early the day before and was sick most of the night. Thankfully I took my antibiotics and by the next morning was feeling a little better, though still not at my best.

Anyhow, just thought I’d point out that travel comes with risks, and illness is unfortunately one of them. Just do your research and be prepared. But if the worst happens, just ride through it. My memories of Colombia are good overall, in spite of these minor hiccups.

I woke up in Salento after a very rough night of being sick. Thankfully, after having my antiobiotics I was feeling a little better so I had some breakfast. My mom opted to stay at the hotel and rest as she too wasn’t feeling well and my dad, brother, and I went off to a little valley where we had seen signs mentioning that there were Tapir in the area.

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Sadly we didn’t see any animals, but it was beautiful and sunny. We enjoyed some time out in nature before heading back to pick up my mom and check out of the hotel.

Unfortunately, I started to feel worse again as we took off. My brother kindly let me take the passenger seat so I could recline. I took a good two hour nap feeling feverish again.

We stopped to pickup some snacks from lunch at a convenience store and then continued.

Before too long we arrived in Popayán. We checked into our hotel Casa la Plazuela which was in a beautiful old colonial home with a courtyard.

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I went ahead and took a nap while my family went out to explore the town. I went ahead and put some of their pictures in here so you can see the beauty of Popayán, also known as The White City.

I was able to get out of bed for dinner. Unfortunately yet again I didn’t write down the name of the restaurant, probably because I was still not feeling great. I had some shrimp and rice, hoping the rice might help settle my stomach at least.

Thankfully I was feeling well enough to take a quick walk around the main square and get to enjoy a little of the beauty of the town before heading back to bed.

Journey Through the Andes: Salento Day 3

* Disclaimer: This post was written during the COVID-19 pandemic due to having time to do so, however the trip itself took place in 2019.

So anyone who really knows me is aware I have a bit of a coffee problem. I absolutely love it. I have it pretty much every day, and I love trying new types and going to new local shops when I find them. So, needless to say, being in Colombia I had to spend some time exploring the coffee region. Thankfully my dad was able to arrange our trip so that we had some time to head through the coffee region on our route.

We started our morning in Ibagué where we’d stayed the night to split up our travel time. Our hotel, The Sonesta, had a lovely buffet breakfast that we enjoyed before hitting the road.

That road was in fact a one lane steep windy drive through the mountains. Part way along we came to a dead stop and ended up waiting for maybe an hour. We never did quite figure out why… whether it was construction or an accident or something else. Thankfully it was beautiful where we were and we enjoyed some butterflies and nice views, as well as a funny dog who came car to car to beg for food.

Finally the traffic cleared and we continued our drive. We struggled to pass trucks going up hill, making our drive slower than we’d anticipated. Thankfully once we got to the peak and started heading down it got a little easier.

We eventually arrived at Finca el Ocaso, a local coffee farm that offered tours. We caught the one o’clock tour with no problems.

Our guide, Daniel led us around the plantation, showing us the whole process of coffee making, from growing the plants all the way to roasting and brewing. We picked some coffee cherries and then wandered the rest of the farm. My brother and I especially loved the farm dog, Emilio, who followed us all over as we took the tour.

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We finished up the tour getting to try a cup of coffee, which was delicious. That was just a traditional blend, so my brother voted to also go to the cafe and buy a cup of the 300 coffee, which goes through a greater fermentation process and sounded interesting.

After finishing the tour and our coffee, we bought a few bags to take home and then headed to our hotel. It was actually a hostel called Coffee Tree Hostel. Initially they had mixed up our reservation and put us in a dorm room, which was a bit strange, but thankfully they were able to correct it and gave us our two private rooms with some beautiful views of the valley.

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We rested a bit, all pretty tired from the long day before deciding to head out for aw alk in an area called the Cocoro Valley. Not only is this a beautiful natural landscape, but it features a lot of Wax Palms, a beautiful tall variety of palm tree that only grows natively in the Andes of Peru and Colombia. They can grow up to 45 m (148 ft) and sometimes even taller.

We wandered through the valley for a while, enjoying the beauty of the palms and snapping lots of pictures.

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After our walk we went to grab dinner in Salento. It looks like for some reason I didn’t write down our restaurant from that night, but some of that might have to do with the fact that I was beginning to feel somewhat sick and was only able to stomach some spaghetti and bread rather than anything more adventurous.

Then off to bed for me, while my brother and dad headed out for a night walk. I was excited for another fun day ahead, not yet realizing that my travel experience was going to get just a little bit more interesting.

Out of the City: Bogotá to Ibagué Day 2

* Disclaimer, this trip was taken in 2019. Due to the current COVID 19 situation I have extra time on my hands and therefore want to blog about it now.

The family and I woke in Bogotá and had another delicious breakfast at Casa Platypus, our lovely hotel.

We then set out to climb Monserrate Sanctuary, a beautiful mountain with a church on the top and gorgeous views of the city.

Monserrate was surprisingly crowded for a Monday. We rode the funicular up the mountain and then explored a little up top before deciding to walk down. It was a steep climb, and some of the paths were pretty slippery. I ended up falling on my butt once or twice, amazed as I saw an older Colombian man lap us twice while jogging up and down. It was definitely an adventure. We learned later that day from our cab driver that it was Ascension Day, and therefore a holiday, hence why people were out enjoying the good weather and visiting the church.

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Having made our way back to the bottom, we headed back to our hotel, grabbing a picnic lunch on the way. We packed our bags, and then caught a cab to the airport where we picked up our rental car.

From there, we simply worked on making our way out of the city, which was quite the adventure. I’ve ridden my fair share on European roads, but this was a whole new type of crazy. Motorcycles everywhere. Pedestrians and people selling things just heading straight into the road without a second thought. Stray dogs. And so much traffic.

Once we’d finally gotten out of Bogotá, my dad headed for a waterfall he thought might be fun to check out. The day was sunny and beautiful, so it seemed like a great idea.

However, as we got closer, a fog suddenly appeared. As we drove down into a valley, it made the road barely visible in front of us.

On top of that, as it was still Ascension Day and therefore a holiday, the road was extremely crowded, and we saw nowhere to park. Unfortunately we had to give up on seeing the waterfall and turn around. Once we were out of the valley the fog completely disappeared.

After a few hours on the road we came to the town of Ibagué where we would be staying for the night. Our ultimate goal was to get down into the coffee territory, but it was a little too much of a drive for one day.

We checked into the Sonesta, a lovely hotel with a beautiful view over the city and nearby mountains. After enjoying some refreshing drinks and settling into rest in our rooms, we headed out to grab some dinner.

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We had dinner at a restaurant called Deregio. Most of the people there appeared to be locals, made clear especially by a number of birthday celebrations going on.

For food I had chicken in mushroom sauce as well as a cherry lemonade. The family had various other dishes that I had a few bites of and very much enjoyed. Then for dessert, the family split a cake with Nutella and amaretto, and a fluffy pastry with caramel, ice cream, and berries. Everything tasted delicious.

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Completely full we headed back to the hotel where we went up to the roof to enjoy the infinity pool overlooking the city. My brother and I also hit up the Turkish steam room, though my father thought it was pretty funny considering we would soon be in some really hot and humid areas. Nonetheless it felt amazing and was just what was needed after a long day of walking, driving, and having more amazing adventures.

Stay tuned for future Colombian posts and let me know if you have any questions.

 

A Colombian Adventure: Bogotá Day 1

So with the continued Coronavirus quarantine, I have a little more time on my hands. Therefore, I decided it might be a great chance to write about some past adventures that didn’t make it on the blog due to lack of time with work and everything else going on.

First up it’s my South American adventure! Join me in my 2019 trip to Colombia. I hope maybe it’ll be a chance for some of you to vicariously and virtually explore a little more of the world while you’re stuck inside.

You’ll probably notice most of my posts on the blog feature Europe as a travel destination, and also often highlight solo trips. While I have mostly spent my time in Europe, I am always looking for opportunities to expand my horizons beyond that familiar continent. I also, love traveling by myself, but in some places it’s just a little more comforting to have people with me. Which is why when my family offered to do a Colombian expedition together, I jumped at the chance.

Now, I know for some it seems a bit odd that a woman in her late twenties still takes family vacations with her parents and younger brother. I’ve had people who just can’t seem to understand it, but my family has always been pretty tight knit and as I haven’t started one of my own yet, I still can enjoy going places with them. It also really helps that my dad speaks pretty much fluent Spanish and French, is a great driver who is willing to go places in a car I would never dare to try driving, and also just has a knack for finding fun places, restaurants, and experiences.

So, with that introduction to the facts that this vacation was: in the past (before quarantine), with my family, and a little different from my usual travel experiences, let’s get this adventure on the road.

We started our adventure in Bogotá, the capital of Colombia nestled in the Andes in the middle of the country. Many who go to Colombia stick with the coast (understandable as it is gorgeous and less of a hassle to reach in some ways), but our family was determined to see as much of the country as we could.

We had spent all day the day before traveling, flying down to Bogotá from the States and got in late. So after a good night’s sleep, we rose the next morning at our hotel called Casa Platypus and got ready to start our day.

The hotel was really fun! It was in a more historic neighborhood, and housed in this beautiful old restored building. They served us breakfast, starting off with a tropical fruit, which I believe was a granadilla, a sort of passion fruit variety. It was not my favorite, but it was very fun to try something I had never seen in my home country. Otherwise the rest was more Americanized fair like waffles, eggs, bread, and coffee.

After a filling breakfast, we set off for our first destination of the day, admiring the city as we went. Bogotá is not all that historic (at least in comparison with some of the European cities we’ve visited), but still beautiful in its own way. We especially loved the fountains running through the street, almost canal like in the way they weaved down the hill. We also saw a lot of amazing street art, which made the city very colorful and unique. You’ll see plenty more photos of that to come.

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Our first destination of the day was the Gold Museum. This is actually pretty much the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world, making it one of the more impressive museums in the country. As I walked among the various gold jewelry and other amazing crafts, I definitely had some understanding of why the conquistadors were so eager to find El Dorado. There is definitely beauty in this precious metal, and I enjoyed getting to see the culture of these people the settlers mostly wiped out in their greed.

Not everything was gold, of course. One of my favorite pieces showed a jaguar eating a man’s head (see below).

After exploring the collection for a while, we finally felt we’d seen enough and headed out into the beautiful sunshine. The clouds were clearing.

We wandered over to another museum, this one completely free. This was the Botero museum. Fernando Botero was an artist who had a very distinctive style. Rather than embarrassing myself by trying to elaborate, I’ll just share my photos here so you can see for yourself. It’s not really my favorite type of art, but it was interesting, and the museum itself was beautiful.

My family traditionally has a picnic lunch on most of our travels, and then has a larger evening meal at the end of the day. It helps us stay budget, and also keep a fast pace during the middle part of the day when we want to do our most exploring. I tend to follow this practice in my own individual travels as well.

So we grabbed some food from a nearby grocery store. We ended up with this weird fruity cornbread, which none of us really liked, but was definitely unique, and some chips, fruit, and soft drinks.

After all of that, we joined up with a free walking tour. As always, you’ll hear my plug for these. They are one of my favorite things to do while traveling, and I’ve really never had any I thought were bad. Since the guides rely completely on tips to make their income, they usually do a pretty great job in giving insight into the various city attractions, country culture, and other trivia you might find useful.

We saw a lot of amazing street art on the tour, as well as some fun historic sites.

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We also got to stop at a coffee shop where we tried chicha, a fermented corn and cane sugar drink, and chucula, a hot drink of ground up corn, beans and spices–sort of like a weird chai.

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After finishing up the tour, we decided it was time to get some dinner. We ended up at a barbecue place our guide had recommended. I had veal with potatoes, corn bread, plantains, and also a delicious coconut drink. I’m a huge coconut fan, so I was glad to get to enjoy having it in one of its native habitats.

We finished up eating and went back to our hotel to rest a bit. All of us were pretty tired after such a busy day. We did go out later to grab some ice cream at a supermarket and wander a little bit more, but eventually returned to get some good rest in order to be ready for another big day ahead.

One Last Day in Budapest: Adventure Day 12

Well I’ve reached the end of the road, and so has this series of blog posts. It was quite the adventure, but like all good things it had to come to an end.

I began my morning in Budapest with some breakfast at my hotel. The breakfast room had a beautiful view of the Parliament Building, which was amazing.

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After breakfast, it was time for the one thing in Budapest I’d actually booked. A ticket to one of the Turkish Baths.

For any who aren’t aware, Budapest has natural thermal waters and as a result the city has multiple baths and spas that allow you to enjoy these hot springs.

The last time I was in Budapest I went to Szechenyi Baths which was amazing, but I’d also seen some pictures of the Gellert Baths, and decided with a second trip it would be fun to try those as well and compare.

So with my booking in hand I packed a day bag with a swimsuit, some water, flip flops, etc. and headed off to walk to the Gellert Spa.

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I arrived and headed in to check in at the front desk. I received my wristband which would get me into the entrance and then connect to my cabin to allow me to get in and out. Cabins were only slightly more than a locker, so I definitely wanted that for the comfort of changing and storing my things.

And then I headed off to experience the baths in all their glory.

I’ll let my pictures do most of the talking. The beautiful historic decorations were very enjoyable, and the water felt amazing. I took a few photos before locking my phone back away, and just carrying my rented towel and a bottle of water around (important to stay hydrated in the heat).

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I spent maybe two or three hours enjoying the various pools, and the multiple saunas and steam rooms. Due to it being March, the outdoor wave pool was closed, but the small heated outdoor one was open at least. I also didn’t know the large swimming pool (the one with all the columns) required a cap to be in it, so I wasn’t able to experience that. But otherwise I enjoyed the whole place and made the most of my time there.

All in all I’d have to say if you want to pick one Spa, Szechenyi is probably a little better. They have more pools, and their outdoor area is incredible, and I believe open year round. However, Gellert is still beautiful and definitely is a good experience. Without anything to compare it to, I’d say it’s pretty amazing in its own right.

I turned my towel back in and headed out. I enjoyed the beautiful entrance area and took a few pictures before heading off.

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It was getting a little bit stormy, unfortunately, so I headed across the river to the Great Market Hall. It’s an indoor market selling a large variety of different foods, produce, and goods.

I wandered a bit, glad to be out of the rain. After some window shopping, I headed to the basement of the market where there was a grocery store. The food stalls were all pretty crowded, so I opted to just pick up some grocery store pastries and a drink. By the time I came out, the bad weather had mostly passed so I sat in a nearby square and ate.

After that I headed off to explore the castle district. I started by wandering the Fisherman’s Bastion, which was free. I thought about going into Matthias Church, but it was getting close to closing time by the time I got up there, so I opted to skip it, and decided to head over to the Budapest History Museum in Buda Castle.

 

The museum was decent. Not anything extraordinary, but fun and a good way to spend some time.

After I was done there I walked back around the castle, enjoying the views as the sun set.

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With the sun going down, I decided it was time to get some food. It was still pretty early, but being a Friday night, I figured getting there a little early couldn’t hurt. On top of that I had a 6:30 AM flight to catch the next morning, so I headed off to find food.

I ended up at a place called Kacsa Restaurant. I was the first one there, and also felt pretty under-dressed. But I went for it anyways since the reviews of the food were good.

My first course was a pastry with duck in it. It was amazing! Second course was a stuffed cabbage, which maybe wasn’t exactly my normal type of dish, but was something that sounded traditional and different. And then finished off with another traditional dessert. They also had live music with a violinist and pianist playing. It was a great way to end my trip.

I grabbed a tram back to bottom of the big hill my hotel was on and then caught a bus up to the top. From there it was just packing up and getting ready for another big day of travel.

I thankfully got back to the States with no problem, even with the travel restrictions in place. The good thing about it was the planes were relatively empty so I had lots of space to spread out. And after a full day of flying I arrived safely at home sweet home.

The timing of my trip really was pretty incredible. Less than a week after I was back, things pretty much completely locked down. I’m so glad I was able to experience the beauty of such amazing places as Croatia, Slovenia, and Budapest. It was a really incredible vacation.

With all this time on my hands with the quarantine I might write about some older trips on here as well. Please feel free to subscribe, comment, like, etc. And hopefully there will be more adventures to share with you in the future.

Off to Budapest: Adventure Day 11

So if you read my last post, you’ll know I had some changes to my travel plans, meaning most of my time in Zagreb was lost. However, all that meant was I was getting on the road earlier, ready to head off to my next destination: Budapest.

I’d actually been there before, but I found decent tickets flying home and honestly loved my time there before. I also felt like, the last time I was there, I was overwhelmed and didn’t get to see as much as I wanted. So, I was determined to go there a second time. To read about my first adventure in Budapest see this post. 

I took off early from Zagreb. I had to miss breakfast at my hostel, but I figured early was better than late, especially since the borders had been so congested the day before.

On the bus it was mostly the same old thing. Enjoying views of the Croatian countryside and listening to audiobooks. Until we arrived at the Hungarian border,

Thankfully, there were hardly any other people there, so I was hoping we might get through faster.

However, this time they collected our passports to take them to be scanned, then handed them back one by one and as we went to get on the bus they took our temperature. Nothing like a spontaneous temperature check to get you sweating.

Thankfully, I wasn’t running a fever (and as I’m writing this nearly a month after can confirm I didn’t have Covid 19). So I was allowed to enter the bus and take my seat again. Only one person was held back, but I guess they double checked his temperature and it was fine so he was eventually allowed to take his seat.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, and soon I was pulling into to the bus station in Budapest. From there it was just a quick tram ride and then a long climb up a hill to my hotel, mostly ending up taking stairs since I neglected to properly read directions.

I was staying at a bed and breakfast called Budavar Pension, right next to Fisherman’s Bastion, a famous landmark on the hill. I thought it would be fun to stay on the Buda side of the river since my first time I’d stayed on the Pest side (for those who don’t know they were originally two separate towns on opposite sides of the Danube).

After checking in at my hotel and dropping my luggage, I opted to head to the Hungarian parliament building and see if I could get a tour. I booked quickly online to ensure my spot before heading in that direction. On my walk over, I enjoyed some of the views of the Danube and the bridges there and then meandered towards the parliament building, enjoying the sunshine.

For any who love beautiful architecture, I highly recommend seeing this amazing building. It’s huge and ornate, and the tour was very fun.

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After that I wandered over to Margaret Island, a park in the middle of the Danube. It was very busy, but still a fun excursion.

Then it was back to the hotel to clean up for dinner. I especially enjoyed the view from my window as the lights of the Fisherman’s Bastion turned on.

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I decided to go to Paris Budapest, a French Hungarian fusion restaurant. It sounded different and wasn’t too far of a walk from my hotel, just down the large hill and right across the river.

The lighting was a little strange, so apologies for the not so great pictures, but nonetheless here is what I can tell you about my meal. I started off with a beet soup, supposedly using local and seasonal products. I love beets, so I enjoyed it pretty well. For my second course I had the duck, which is another of my favorite foods I don’t get much in the United States. And to finish off I had some kind of a caramel nut dessert. I had asked for a different one but the waiter talked me out of it. Regardless the meal was delicious and I enjoyed it.

Finished with my meal, I took back off for my hotel. I walked up the large hill and stopped at the Fisherman’s Bastion to enjoy the view of the city. And then it was off to my hotel to get a good night’s sleep. I had one more day left in Europe and was determined to enjoy it.

Travel is Unpredictable: Adventure Day 10

I’d title this blogpost with my actual destination, but I feel like that would be false advertising as I actually spent pretty much no time in the place I ended up spending the night, and therefore don’t feel like I can give very good advice about it.

So,  I may have already mentioned in past posts that my experiences with Croatian and Slovenian buses varied. However, the one company I had a very bad time with was Flixbus, which was a pity because I found their website probably the easiest to use and they seemed to have quite a few options.

One of the reasons I made this statement was because a few days before this particular bus ride, I was informed it was cancelled. Rather than simply refunding me, the company asked me to call them (which is always fun when you’re roaming internationally) and get things squared away. I had no luck getting through to anyone and decided to just book another ticket and hope maybe I’d be refunded another time. Tickets at least aren’t too pricey.

So, as a result of this change, I had to take a later bus to get to Zagreb, my next destination. I’ll admit I’d given myself minimal time to begin with, mostly because the guidebooks I’d looked at hadn’t mentioned anything particularly exciting about the city. Other than being Croatia’s capitol, there wasn’t much that really excited me, especially after seeing some amazing historical sites like Zagreb and Split, and beautiful towns like Bled and Ljubljana. The main reason I chose to go, was that it would cut down on my travel time to my final destination of Budapest, where I was schedule to fly back to the states due to good deals I found on tickets. However, the bus change did effectively cut off the minimal time I had even more so.

Travel does involve some flexibility. So I decided to simply enjoy the fact that I could have a more leisurely morning up at Lake Bled. I enjoyed breakfast at my hotel, and then walked around the lake a little bit in the sunshine.

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After a little bit of meandering I headed back to the bus stop. I had to make my way back down to Ljubljana before I could head to Zagreb.

Again I enjoyed the ride through the mountains with beautiful views on that particular sunny day.

Arriving in Ljubljana I was supposed to only have less than an hour to wait for my bus. I used the bathrooms in the train station (actually free–which in Europe is a bit of a novelty), and grabbed something to drink from a vending machine so I would be set for the bus.

However, the bus ended up being more than thirty minutes late. I boarded, heading up to the second story (as it was a double decker which I thought was fun). I had to shoo a lady out of my pre-booked seat, and felt a little bad, but as I had paid more I wasn’t going to be nice about it.

After that we set out. I listened to an audiobook and enjoyed the views out my window. And then we hit the border.

Now, this was March 11th. Coronavirus had just begun to spread worldwide and was beginning to create some panic. My mother in fact had messaged me mentioning that the US was shutting down borders, worried that I might not be able to get home (as I’m writing this at my house in the US I’ll go ahead and assure you that I did manage to get home safely).

And of course, this meant that in Europe borders were getting tighter as well.

At the border we sat there for maybe thirty minutes on the bus. They kept shutting off the engine to save energy, making it very stuffy on the top level. We got out of Slovenia no problem, but at the Croatian border, we were held up for a while.

Finally we were allowed off the bus to get in line to hand over our passports.

I watched in horror as five people ahead of me were pulled aside and told to wait. I could barely breathe as I handed over my passport, wondering if I too was somehow going to be pulled back. I hadn’t been to Italy or other places facing pretty extreme cases, but I wasn’t sure what their criteria were for pulling people.

Instead, I was waved through and headed over to wait with the rest of the passengers. We watched on as two of those held back were sent over to us, and then the other three were left standing awkwardly by the immigration booth. Two girls who looked maybe my age or younger, and then a young nun wearing a facemask. The three of them stood waiting for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. I felt awful for the three of them, probably unsure what was happening. I was at least glad to be off the stuffy bus for the wait, even if I was watching the time and wondering when I’d be getting safely to Zagreb.

Sure enough, a few minutes later the girls came back over to join us and began to gather their bags from the bus. I eavesdropped a bit and heard that they had been told they needed to go into quarantine and could not pass the border. I guess both of them were from Germany, where the numbers of infections were higher at the moment, and for that reason weren’t being allowed into Croatia.

The bus driver, did at least kindly drive them (with all of the rest of us) back over the border and dropped them at a gas station and then did a loop to go back through.

The whole process was disconcerting and scary. I breathed a sigh of relief once we were through, but it put us more than an hour late on our schedule.

We arrived in Zagreb late in the afternoon, getting into evening time. Of course, the tram was packed with commuters, but I shoved my way on with my suitcase and paid for a ticket with the driver regardless.

Thankfully, a few minutes later we were in the commercial center and I was able to disembark and go find my hostel.

I was staying right across from the cathedral, which was beautiful. I did snap one picture of it before heading inside. Interestingly enough there was an earthquake there not long after my visit and I read that the cathedral suffered some damage. Even though it was a brief glance, I am glad I saw it before the quake.

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I stayed in Kaptol Hostel, though I went ahead and paid for a private room rather than doing a dorm. I’d opted to treat myself on the trip and pay a little more for privacy and a good night’s sleep.

Once checked in I put on some clean clothes and headed out to find a nice dinner. As it was my final night in Croatia, I wanted to use up all my kuna before heading over the border yet again.

So I headed out to find food. I’d asked at my hostel for a recommendation, but unfortunately they owned a restaurant down below and would only recommend that one to me. So I set off to find my own. Which is how I ended up at Restoran Lanterna na Dolcu.

I was the only one there, but they had good reviews, and the food sounded good. I took a seat down in their fun old cellar and had a glass of Croatian wine.

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For a starter I had baked štrukli which was delicious. It’s a traditional Croatian dish with pastry dough, cream, cheese, and bacon. Super decadent and delicious!

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For my next course I ended up with steak, yet again with mushrooms and vegetables. The waiter for some reason recommended I get a side of potatoes with it, which ended up being way too much food. But it did effectively use up my kuna. Unfortunately that left me with not enough for dessert, and besides I was pretty stuffed anyways.

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I paid my bill and then wandered around a little bit. I found a grocery store and picked up some lunch for the next day since I’d be on a bus about midday.

Then it was back to my hostel for a good night’s sleep, figuring at least in the morning I could maybe go see some things after breakfast.

Unfortunately, just as I was going to bed, I happened to check my email and sure enough had an email from Flixbus saying my ride the next day had been cancelled.

Less than 24 hours before I was scheduled to leave, they went ahead and cancelled my ride with no explanation. Again, I’m going to advocate based on my experiences with this company not to use them. They seem to be very unreliable, and they definitely messed up my time in Zagreb due to their unpredictable changes.

I looked over my options for alternate buses, and of course I could either leave very early in the morning, or late evening and get in after midnight. I was very disappointed about the prospect of literally getting no time in Zagreb, but knew arriving so late would be a bad idea. So I reluctantly booked a new ticket for 8 in the morning and rescheduled my alarm.

So as you can see, I cannot speak to Zagreb as a city. Due to unforeseen circumstances I didn’t end up getting to do anything more than walk around a bit, eat some good food, and sleep. Maybe one day I’ll get to go back, but that’s just part of travel. You can’t plan for everything and sometimes just have to go with the flow.

 

Retreat to the Mountains & Lake Bled: Adventure Day 9

When doing “would you rather” questions you sometimes hear “would you rather visit the beach or the mountains?” I’ve always been torn on that question. Sure, the beach can be beautiful and amazing, but there’s something fun about escaping into the wilderness of the mountains (and to be honest as an Idaho girl I’m more used to it anyways). One of the beauties of my recent adventure was getting to see a variety of different landscapes in a short amount of time. And sure enough I made it to both the beach and the mountains.

After finishing my time in Ljubljana, I opted to head into the Julian Alps and stay a night at Lake Bled. With more time and a car I might have enjoyed getting to explore more in the area, but with limited time and relying on public transport, I opted to just hit the highlights.

If you’re like me and had never heard of Lake Bled before now, let me just mention it’s a beautiful lakeside town in the Julian Alps with one of the oldest castles in Slovenia and an island with a pilgrimage church surrounded by a crystalline lake. It sounded like the perfect place to visit while in Slovenia.

I rose and had breakfast at my hotel in Ljubljana before walking to the bus station. It was another 30 minute walk, but again the weather was good, and I figured I’d use the money I would otherwise spend on a cab on something fun elsewhere.

At the station I found my bus heading up to the lake. The bus was relatively empty, the ride only about an hour. I enjoyed the views driving before arriving in the town.

My hotel graciously let me check in on arrival around eleven AM. I had opted to stay at another bed and breakfast in the Old Parish House, located right next to the church of St. Martin. I’d splurged for a lakeside view from my room just for fun.

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After dropping my things, I decided I’d like to make sure I got out to the island first thing. I walked around the lake, enjoying some views and then headed down to an electric boat that could take me out to the island. You can rent little rowboats, usually more in summer, but this seemed efficient, warmer, and simpler (especially by myself).

The man running the boat dropped me and one other person, telling us he’d be back in an hour. I headed up the steps to the bell tower and church. I headed into the church of the Assumption of Mary first where I was able to ring the bell of wishes. It was pretty amazing, getting to tug on the big rope three times and then hear the bell ring out above me. Sadly as a solo traveler I couldn’t get a picture or video of me doing it very easily, but still a fun memory, and you can see the rope in the pictures at least.

After that I climbed the tower. The view wasn’t great because there was mesh on the windows, but, I still enjoyed getting to see the inside of the clock tower.

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After that I headed to the cafe on the island. My ticket for the visit had included a freem slice of Potica, a traditional Slovenian dessert, with coffee. It was a little too dry for my taste, and not nearly sweet enough (I have a huge sweet tooth), but still fun to try.

With a little more time to kill before the boat came back, I wandered the gift shop, went to admire the views at the edge of the island, and then took some more pictures.

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After that, the boat took me back to shore, and I headed up to the castle. It’s definitely a bit of a climb, but the views from there were amazing and I actually really enjoyed the castle itself too. It had an audioguide you could use on your phone, so I listened as I walked around.

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One area I really enjoyed in the castle, besides the fantastic views, was the museum. They had some fun artifacts from the area and good overview of the history.

After I finished exploring the castle, I headed back down the hill to the lakeside. I knew what I wanted to do next was walk all the way around the lake. It was a little over three miles, though I ended up having to take a quick detour when I hit construction midway around. The views were spectacular though, and well worth the walk.

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By the time I was back at my hotel, the sun was going down. I opted to head out to find food. Unfortunately, one of the first places I decided to go to was completely shut down. No indication if it was just seasonal or the restaurant had gone out of business, but either way it threw me for a loop.

I scrambled to find something else. The nearest restaurant to that one was both expensive and fancy looking. As I wasn’t dressed for it, and wasn’t sure I wanted to spend so much, I realized I’d have to search elsewhere.

One of the recommendations I’d had in my guidebook was Ostarija Peglez’n. I looked in, but not only saw pretty much no one in the restaurant, but also didn’t see a menu posted, and was therefore hesitant to just walk in.

I kept looking, but honestly wasn’t seeing much. Feeling very hungry and a little cold, I decided to just go with Ostarija Peglez’n and take a chance.

Unfortunately my waiter not only didn’t give me much time to look over the menu, but also had very unhelpful advice when I asked for recommendations, basically saying everything was good (which wasn’t the point– I just wanted to narrow down my choices). I knew I didn’t want steak, as I’d had that several days in a row, and I’m unfortunately not much of a seafood person, which were a lot of the other options.

I ordered a vegetable soup to start and then salmon for my second course, figuring it would be a healthy option and keep me away from red meat.

The soup was at least pretty good, the salmon kind of dry and not very interesting. I guess the place doesn’t do much in the way of creative cooking, just kind of traditional hearty food. Thankfully the dessert was homemade strudel with vanilla ice cream which was delicious!

After a fantastic day, I was ready to head to bed. I definitely felt like I’d made the most of my day at Lake Bled. Though I certainly wouldn’t have said no to staying another day, I was ready to explore more destinations.

Castles, Culture, and Cuisine in Ljubljana: Adventure Day 8

My second day in Ljubljana was just as amazing as the first. I woke up and went to get some breakfast. My host of the B & B provided an amazing spread, even though I was apparently the only guest. She made me some eggs, provided several types of bread and toast with homemade jam. Yogurt, coffee, and fresh vegetables. Happily full I took off to start my day.

Anyone who is familiar with my blog knows I love me a free walking tour. It’s one of my favorite ways to get oriented in a new city. I have to be getting close to about two dozen taken in my lifetime by this point.

So I joined up with the Ljubljana Free Tour in the main square of the old town. I was very happy to find a dozen other tourists there as well. Though I had enjoyed my more “private” tours earlier in the week, it was nice to have a group and feel less singled out.

We spent two hours wandering around the old town, learning more about the city, its culture, and its history.

After we finished up, I grabbed another grocery store picnic lunch and sat by the river to eat. I was so glad the weather was so perfect. My b & b host kept remarking on it, so I definitely realized it wasn’t probably the norm for Slovenia in March.

Once I was done eating, I decided to head for the castle, perched up on a hill in the middle of the old town. Though you can walk up to it, I chose to take the funicular to better enjoy the view and save a little time.

Up at the castle I had opted to get an audioguide and walked around with that. Much of the castle itself is free, which is pretty cool, but doesn’t have a lot of information posted, so it was good to have the guide. I also was able to enter the history museum, museum of puppetry, go up in the viewing tower, and see a video presentation about the history of the castle. All in all it was a pretty enjoyable experience.

Best of all, in my opinion, was the views. Thanks to the good weather, you could see the Alps from the castle and it was spectacular.

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Once done at the castle, I headed back down the hill. I did a little postcard shopping and then headed back to my hotel to rest for a bit before dinner.

I had asked my tour guide for a recommendation of where to eat after the tour. She’d listed a few places, but I’d ended up walking past one of them during the day and had seen the menu. I was pleased by the options so I decided to head there.

The restaurant was called Gostlina Pri Kolovratu. The place was pretty quiet when I arrived, but of course, I realized that was probably because it was a Monday and I’d arrived pretty early.

For a drink I had a grapefruit radler made by Union, a local Ljubljana brewer and one of the biggest in the country. I started off with a cheese plate. Once again probably a little too much for just one person, but definitely delicious. Probably one of my biggest regrets of traveling alone is not being able to enjoy sharing foods. Still, the plate was very fun. Three types of cow cheese and a goat cheese on a small potato as well as some fruit and vegetables paired with it.

Then for a main course I ended up with a kranjska klobasa, a traditional Slovenian sausage similar to a kielbasa (for any who know their sausages). It came served with Matevž which is basically pureed beans and potatoes, as well as some vegetables and mustard. It was actually really delicious, and fun to try something pretty traditional rather than just looking for a creative use of local ingredients (because I’d had a LOT of steak lately).

For dessert, I ended up going with a cream cake, which was decadent and amazing. It’s apparently a local dish from Bled, which was where I was heading next, but it sounded too good to pass up. Basically it’s a thin layer of pastry with a custard cream and then a layer of whipped cream topped with another layer of pastry and some powdered sugar. I may have to figure out how to make some myself, because it really was heavenly.

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I enjoyed the walk back to my hotel. My experience in Ljubljana really was incredible, and I would recommend it to anyone already down in that area visiting Italy, Austria, or Croatia. It’s definitely a great city with lots of beautiful history, delicious food, and fun things to see and do.

Stay tuned for more Slovenian adventures as I take off for the Julian Alps.