A Day at Xcaret: Day 2

Day two of my adventure in the Yucatan Peninsula was devoted to a fun day at a local theme park. For those unfamiliar with Xcaret, it is essentially a park devoted to Mexican culture and the natural wonders of Mexico. It features some small Mayan ruins, buildings created in classic architectural styles, native animal enclosures, water attractions, and cultural shows. Our family felt it would be wise to devote an entire day to exploring, which ended up feeling just about right for us. I think ideally two days might be nice if you have the time, but you can definitely hit the highlights in just one.

Unfortunately, our morning started out looking like we might not get to go to Xcaret as Hurricane Agatha was still causing a fair amount of rain and also strong winds. Though it hadn’t hit the Yucatan directly, there were some lingering effects from it while we were there. Nonetheless our family figured since we’d booked tickets we would head over and at least see if the park was open.

Since our hotel was made up of individual cabins, the “lobby” area was mostly outside, which was where breakfast was being served. Thankfully some of it was covered and the staff even sweetly moved an empty table into the covered area for us so we could eat out of the rain.

Breakfast was delicious! Fresh fruit and yogurt, bread with cheese, beans, ham, and sausage and plenty of coffee.

After we’d finished up eating, we packed up and headed on the road to Xcaret.

Soon enough we arrived and headed inside to claim our tickets. Thankfully the park was open and ready to operate in spite of the bad weather!

On our way in we enjoyed some of the animals as well as the small Mayan ruins.

Our initial plan had been to go up in the sightseeing tower to get some views of the park, but unfortunately it was one of the few things closed due to the weather, so instead we changed into swimsuits and headed to the Mayan river! One of the most fun things in Xcaret are the three “lazy” rivers that run through the park. You get a life jacket and then float down them, enjoying the various sights along the way. There are caverns with bats, some little water falls coming down into the river, and other fun experiences along the way.

I will mention that my mother and brother both had to sign a waiver to go on the river since they are diabetic (type 1). While these Mayan canals are similar to “lazy” rivers you see in some water parks, there is minimal current in some places, so it does take some swimming or pulling on ropes to get to the end which can be strenuous. Just know if you’re looking to relax, this might not be the attraction for you and people with health problems are discouraged from going on the rivers and may need to sign a waiver if they opt to do so.

After floating the river, we decided it was so much fun that we’d go do a second ride on a different one. On our way walking back we enjoyed some of the animal exhibits and also a demonstration of the Danza de los Voladores, a Mesoamerican ceremony done to ensure rain for the harvest. It is really incredible to see. Five men climb to the top of a pole and then four descend tied by ropes, spinning upside down while the fifth plays a flute and drum. Sadly my WordPress account will not allow me to post videos without paying significantly more, but I did post a Youtube clip of one (not Xcaret’s) if you’d like to get an idea.

We settled on the Manatee River as our second choice. This one sadly wasn’t quite as interesting as the Mayan. It also had fewer sections with ropes, so you really did have to mostly swim it. We were all pretty tired by the end. The good thing was that we did get to enjoy seeing one of the manatees while swimming by! We had to kind of climb up the edge to get a good look, but it was still very fun to see one so close.

After finishing with the river, we went ahead and changed out of swimsuits and then headed to check out some of the other animal exhibits.

We started first with the jaguar and puma enclosures. The enclosures themselves were actually incredible. There was a jungle like area for each cat, and in between that and the rest of the park was a huge gorge and waterfalls all through. Visitors could look from the sides or from a rope bridge overlooking the enclosure.

We didn’t see the puma, but the jaguar was out and about, making noise and walking around. As we live in an area with pumas, we were fine with only seeing the jaguar since that isn’t an animal we’d spot in the wild at home.

After admiring the big cats (or at least the one we could see), we headed over to the aviary. Similar to the jaguar enclosure, it was a huge open space, a gigantic room with a spiraling path from the canopy down to the “rainforest” floor. There were so many birds, and we enjoyed getting to explore and see such a great variety of them.

Once we reached the bottom of the enclosure, we exited and did a quick tour of the butterfly pavilion. We’d seen more impressive butterfly exhibits in the past, so didn’t spend much time there, but it was still fun to pass through.

Finally, we were starting to get hungry. We had paid for slightly more expensive passes in order to get lockers included for our things (we felt this would be helpful for the times we wanted to get wet), and the tickets we purchased ended up coming with a meal included. We chose to go with the Mexican restaurant rather than the ones with more international options. The setup was buffet style, allowing us to sample a wide variety of foods. I was excited to get to try cactus for the first time, alongside just enjoying various cuts of meat, grilled vegetables, tamales and other good things. It definitely wasn’t the best food, but it was filling and there was a good variety so it made for a decent dinner without having to leave the park.

Satisfied with a good meal, we opted to stop by some of the aquarium exhibits before heading to the show we wanted to see for the evening. The sea turtles were amazing to get to see up close. They were so much bigger than I had anticipated them being and the babies were adorable too. Though I had seen a couple turtles in Hawaii the year before, this was fun to really get to study them for a little while.

Feeling satisfied with having seen as much as we could for the day, we headed in the direction of the performance we wanted to see.

On our way we stopped by some of the cultural and architectural exhibits. There is also usually a horse show in the evening, but it was cancelled due to the rain, but the riders were at least out and about showing off their horses and costumes.

So our plan had been to head to see a performance called the Mexico Espectacular, which was supposed to be a celebration of Mexican heritage, culture, and history. However, as we were walking over it began to pour down buckets of rain. I think the rain I saw in Mexico might have been the most rain I’ve ever seen in my life (joys of living in a desert climate is I’m not used to much in general, but certainly not anything like this tropical downpour).

We made a run for it and found seats together for the show, though we were now all soaked, but thankfully we forgot all about that soon enough!

We were soon immersed in a colorful spectacular, starting off with an abbreviated history of Mexico, celebrating the culture of the native peoples, then on to the conquistadors taking over and so on until the modern era. In the second half, the performance focused more on the different dances and music of the various regions of Mexico. This part did start to get a little long in places, but for the most part they kept it moving and always brought out something new and interesting just about the time I was getting bored. All in all it really was a spectacular performance, and I’d highly recommend to anyone who is planning to visit Xcaret!

As the show came to a close, we hustled to get out of the park and on the road to our next hotel. We were staying in Playa del Carmen for the night at a place called Hotel Colibri Beach. All in all it was a comfortable and nice place, right near the beach (though it was much too late to enjoy that). I did rest in the hammock on our porch for a bit that evening, but otherwise it was straight to bed to be ready for more adventures ahead!

Into the Volcano: Colombian Adventure Day 11

*Disclaimer: Though written during the COVID-19 crisis, this trip took place in the middle of 2019. Please stick to local guidelines in regards to the virus, but enjoy traveling virtually with this post.

We’re drawing to the end of our adventure. My family had a leisurely morning at our hotel on the beach, enjoying breakfast and then strolling along the water.

At long last we packed up and headed off on the road towards Cartagena, where we would be spending the last few days of our trip.

However, we did have one last little stop to make on the way there.

We had to go to El Totumo, the volcano.

Okay, well admittedly it’s not a real volcano. Not even close. I’ve seen a few real ones in my life, most dormant of course, and this is actually probably a man-made structure, though there are of course all kinds of legends surrounding it.

However, Totumo is in fact a large “mud volcano”, a huge mound of earth with stairs up to the top, and inside is this thick gooey black mud that they claim is good for the skin.

Now, I have plenty of people tell me I’m brave, but I’ll admit I can be kind of a coward in some situations. I initially was determined NOT to do the volcano. It sounded way too out of my comfort zone.

However, as we got closer, I began to realize that if I didn’t do it, I’d probably end up regretting it. And the last thing I wanted was to look back on the trip and have regrets. I didn’t know if I’d ever be back to Colombia. This was probably my only chance.

We pulled up and parked and headed towards El Totumo. We got changed into bathing suits before starting up the stairs towards the top. My mom waited at the bottom to take pictures.


I watched as my dad climbed down a rickety ladder into this huge pool of dark mud. There was already a couple in there, along with a local man who was rubbing mud all over them.

I took a deep breath and headed down into the mud.

It was surreal, like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

I flailed at first, freaking out a little when my feet didn’t connect with anything solid, worried I’d begin to sink, but when my dad told me to let go of the ladder and relax, I realized that I in fact floated. I felt somewhat weightless.

We stayed in the mud for just a short while, all enjoying the strange sensations. The man rubbing mud on the other people tried to convince us to hang out so he could massage us as well, but I HATE having strangers touch me, so I insisted on leaving, and my dad and brother were willing to go with me.

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The scariest part of all was going back down the steep steps. We had tried to scrape some of the excess mud off, but unfortunately it still clung to us and made the path very slippery. We hung onto the rails as we hobbled back down to the ground.

After getting safely down we headed over to a nearby lagoon to try to wash off. A large group of school children were playing in the water having come from the volcano. After dodging some local women who wanted to help wash the mud off of me, I headed deeper into the lagoon, sinking into the mucky water. To my surprise, the children soon were swarming us, practicing a bit of English and marveling at my brother especially who is 6’4″ (193 cm) and very pale (our family is pretty much entirely of northern European descent).


I just wanted to wash the mud off, and was not pleased with the attention, so I slunk off to the side and let my dad and brother get the most of it. My dad chatted a bit in Spanish, and my brother just laughed at all the kids gathered around him.

The water was shallow, dirty, and filled with reeds. It didn’t make for much of a bath, but we did our best.

Thankfully we soon managed to get a good amount of the dirt off and were able to head back to the car in our wet suits. We then took off for Cartagena.

We arrived in the late afternoon. I was still feeling pretty filthy and felt a little embarrassed as we turned up at a lovely little hotel housed in an old colonial house just outside of the old town called Casa Bustamante.

Thankfully the owners were very gracious and told us we should just jump into the pool to clean off.

We all headed to the back garden area and into the small pool. It felt very refreshing after the mud bath and the ride in the warm and humid car.


After some swimming we all cleaned up and then we headed into the old town to explore some and look for dinner.

We had some time to just enjoy the beauty of Cartagena since the restaurant we wanted to eat at wasn’t open just yet.

We enjoyed the historic buildings, the walls, and of course more fun street art.

At last the restaurant we wanted to eat at opened up, and we headed in to get something to eat. It was called La Cocina de Pepina and offered a number of local foods. I enjoyed some beef in a rich and flavorful sauce.


The food was delicious and we all enjoyed trying bites of one another’s plates.

After a bit more wandering we headed back to our hotel for the night. We were all excited to get some good sleep to be ready to explore more of beautiful Cartagena in the morning.

Birds and Waterfalls: Colombian Adventure Day 10

*Disclaimer: Though this post is written in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the travel was done earlier in 2019. Please follow the advice of your local government and health organizations and stay safe!

We woke early the next morning because we had decided to go on a birding tour. We did one in Costa Rica and really loved it, so it seemed like a good thing to try.

After a long drive up into the nearby mountains, we ended up in a small town called Minca where we met up at Jungle Joe’s a place that did local tours.

Our guide met us and a few other people and we headed up a steep and muddy hill.


Our guide tried to help us spot a number of different birds. We did see a toucan and got to see another bird perform a courtship dance down in the brush.

Halfway along our tour we stopped at the top of the hill and enjoyed some coffee from a local school. We also got to see these beautiful nests hanging from a nearby tree.


We headed back down the hill and over a makeshift bridge and back around to where we’d begun the tour.

After we were finished with our tour we decided to a place called Marinca where there was a waterfall pool where you could swim. It was another wild drive along a bumpy dirt road. We were all a little worried after the last time nearly getting stuck on a rough hill. Thankfully we made it to the parking area with very little trouble.

We walked a ways and soon were at the beautiful waterfall. There was a second one higher up as well which my brother and dad went to see, but my mom and I were too exhausted and opted to stay and soak instead.

It was very cold, but felt refreshing after so much walking in the heat during the day.

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After we had done enough swimming, we finally headed back down to our hotel.

We spent the rest of the afternoon just enjoying the pool and the beach and our lovely hotel. We had some more delicious fruit juice and just enjoyed being in such an amazing place.

After a while of lounging, we finally cleaned up and headed into the nearby town of Santa Marta to grab some dinner.

We ended up at a place called: El Balcón de Ouzo. I think I had lamb with some pita bread, but I can’t quite remember and failed to write it down. My mom had the empanadas which were really good and we split some yummy appetizers.


We walked around just a little before heading back to our hotel. It had been another long and tiring day and we were ready for a good night’s rest.

Immersed in Nature: Colombian Adventure Day 9

We woke up in the Eco Hotel Chayrama. Our cabin let in a lot of natural light, so we were up early. My brother and I walked around the place, and he got some photos of a giant grasshopper on our cabin porch.

Soon enough my mom and dad were awake as well and we went to get breakfast by the pool. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed our breakfast outside.

We also particularly loved the wild scarlet macaw that apparently just hung around around the hotel. I think he was hoping to have some of my fruit.

After we finished eating we took off for Tayrona Park, a beautiful natural preserve along the coast.

We got our tickets and headed in. We parked and started off hiking towards the beach. The weather was hot and humid, and there was a bit of a climb up and then back down towards the beach. Thankfully on one of our little rests we did see a long string of monkeys making their way through the trees. I have to say, after a trip to Costa Rica the year before I had really anticipated seeing more wildlife, but sadly a lot of the animals in Colombia are more shy and therefore not as easy to see. I was just glad we got to see this one little glimpse of jungle life.

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The park was beautiful, and though we were pretty warm and tired, we enjoyed the walk down to the beach. We reached La Piscina–a natural enclosed ocean pool where we stopped and had some fun swimming, laying on the beach, and even snorkeling! We saw some very beautiful tropical fish in the clear waters.

The hike back was the really exhausting part. The weather had become almost unbearably hot, and with how humid it was being damp didn’t really help. In fact if anything my wet swimsuit was very uncomfortable to hike in.

We arrived back at the car hot and exhausted. On our way to our next hotel we stopped and grabbed a grocery store lunch before driving on our way.

Our next hotel was just outside of the city of Santa Marta. It was called Casa Verano, and was absolutely gorgeous. After such a long and exhausting hike, it was nice to just have a relaxing afternoon by the pool enjoying some fresh tropical fruit juice.

After resting for a while we headed out to grab some dinner. We went to an Indian fusion place called Babaganoush. The sunset as we drove there was lovely!


The food was really good. We had some crab cakes and pumpkin soup as starters. My brother and I both got cocktails, a strawberry daquiri for me and something different for him. We even had some dessert to treat ourselves after our long and exhausting day.

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It was a pretty fantastic day all in all. We headed back to our hotel to get a good night’s rest, ready for another adventure the next day.

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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.

Rijeka is Full of Surprises: Croatia Day 6

So sometimes on trips, you end up staying in places not because they are something you really want to see, but because they make for a convenient stopping point on the way to other important places.

Rijeka was one such stop on my journey. After doing some research about Croatia and learning that many of the coastal and island towns shut down during the off season, I realized I would either need to do more things inland or find another place to spend my time. While there are some inland sites in Croatia worth seeing (for example the Plitvice Lakes, Zagreb the capitol, and others), I read really good things about Slovenia which is right next to Croatia.

In order to get there from the lakes, it would be a long bus ride, so I figured I’d stop in the coastal town of Rijeka. I had not heard anything very good about it, in fact Rick Steves pretty much just said it was a grubby port town, but there weren’t very many other options.

Well, I woke up early to make my journey by bus. Of course, to my delight it was pouring rain once again. I hauled my suitcase down the trail to the National Park where the bus stop was. I stood under the shelter shivering, suddenly wondering if this was the right place. No one else was there, and there was no sign of the bus, even though my ticket indicated the parks were the start of the route.

I was just about to give up and figure I’d misunderstood where to catch my bus and had missed it, when suddenly around the bend appeared a bus! I quickly went up and got loaded on. I curled up in the warm seat, shedding my wet layers and laying my umbrella near the heater to dry. I was the only one on the bus which was very strange!

We stopped shortly after at the other park entrance and picked up another passenger. I was relieved to know that apparently the bus did stop at both bus stops, which would have been nice to know before panicking.

The ride wasn’t too long, but it remained rainy and gray, so not the best for enjoying the scenery. But before too long, I arrived in Karlovac where I was going to catch a transfer bus to Rijeka.

I had a short layover (do you use the term layover for buses?) before I was able to board my next bus and continue on my way.

The sun had appeared again by the time I made it to Rijeka. I disembarked towards my hotel, not expecting much.

I arrived at my hotel, right off the port called Prima 4 Rooms. It was one of my pricier stays just because of the location, but it was well worth it to be so close to everything.

I dropped my things and then took off to go explore.

The first thing I enjoyed was just wandering around the old town, especially the small market very close to my hotel. It was fascinating to me because Rijeka had a lot of charm to it. The architecture in particular was very beautiful. But, for whatever reason it was kind of grubby. Just a good washing could really help them with their image. But nonetheless, I still enjoyed looking around.

After that, I decided to head up to the castle. I always love exploring local castles, and this one was free to enter! I figured that was a win win.

It was a long climb up to the fort. I took a few breaks along the way and just enjoyed the views. But at long last I arrived at the top and was able to enter the castle.

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There wasn’t a lot to explore, but I walked around a bit and then settled at the cafe in the center and enjoyed a cup of coffee.


From there I wandered over to the nearby church and monastery and peaked in. I always enjoy seeing cathedrals. I know some visitors to Europe tire of them after a while, but to me each one has something unique to offer.

From there I headed down the hill and back into the center of town. I decided to do some more wandering and see what else there was to see. I actually found that Rijeka had some good signs in the historic area offered in a variety of languages. I looked at another cathedral and then also found a cool old tunnel from WWII that was open to walk through.

After all of that I took a little break back at my hotel and did some research on where I wanted to grab dinner. But there was one more thing I wanted to see. The Maritime Museum in town was supposed to be interesting, but also housed in a beautiful palace. It was open until 8 PM, so I figured I’d stop by before dinner.

I arrived at the museum and asked for a ticket. However, the man at the desk informed me sadly the museum was closed for a wedding. He told me I was welcome to look at the maritime and temporary exhibits, but wouldn’t be able to tour the palace itself. Graciously he offered to let me in for free as a result.

I was a bit disappointed, but figured I’d go ahead and look around at what was available anyways. I’ve seen some much better maritime museums before, but this one was still nice.

Thankfully, by the time I was done wandering around the exhibits, the man ran up to grab me and let me know the wedding was over and I was welcome to see the rest of the building!

It was indeed beautiful and I enjoyed getting to see it. Highly recommend the museum to anyone spending a day in Rijeka!


After I finished wandering, I headed back off to go find some food.

I stopped at Maslina na Zelenom trgu (Olive on Green Square) which looked good and had some decent reviews. I started off with some homemade hummus which sounded good, though was maybe a little too much for one person to eat on her own.

My main course I settled on having pizza. For those who don’t know, as Croatia is pretty close to Italy they do tend to have a good amount of Italian food as well as their own more traditional dishes. Besides, the pizza was supposed to have a local sausage, sheep cheese, and caramelized onions which definitely sounded unique compared to what I’d find in the US. It did end up being delicious!


I paid my bill and walked around a little more. I bought some Croatian brand ice cream at a grocery store and ate it on the way back to my hotel. Then it was off to bed, knowing I’d have an early morning ahead of me as I set off to Slovenia!

Stay tuned for more adventure posts ahead!

Lost in the Lakes: Croatian Adventure Day 5

Okay, I’ll admit that the title is a bit misleading, but day two at the Plitvice Lakes was a bit of an adventure! Make sure to check out my first day at the lakes here.

I woke up that morning to find that there was pouring rain outside, much to my disappointment. I had breakfast in my room with some yogurt and fruit I’d bought at the supermarket the day before, and some instant coffee the hotel had provided. It was my one hotel that didn’t have a breakfast included (a priority for me when I choose places), but the location was just too good to pass up on without renting a car.

Now, I’d done a bit of research the day before, and realized with surprise that the upper lakes were closed for trail maintenance. Once again the off season was thwarting my plan. I probably should have chosen to do just one day at the lakes, but unfortunately it was too late to reschedule at that point, and with the limited hours it probably was good I had made sure to give myself enough time in the event of a delayed bus or some other problem.

I noted there were some other trails in the park, though perhaps not quite as impressive as the lakeside ones. So I opted to enjoy the lower lakes again in the morning, going backwards on the route I’d taken the day before to enjoy some different angles of viewing. And then after that I’d try to take a hike in the woods. With any luck I was hoping the rain would stop by that point.

After bundling up in my fleece and rain jacket, I headed out. I hiked down to the park, caught a shuttle over to entrance 1 and then proceeded to hike down into the canyon and enjoy the lakes.

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I was soaked by the end of my time there. The sun was peeking out, but I was feeling pretty cold. I opted to go get a cup of coffee at one of the cafes and relax there while drying off.

Once I felt a little warmer, I opted to try to do a hike. I took off into the woods, heading up hill. Supposedly I might get some views of the lakes from some of the nearby peaks. I figured I’d do the trail loop and then catch the shuttle back to the entrance.


Of course, as I started up the hill rain started again. I debated turning around, but hoped maybe it would clear off.

The trail had a few painted markers on the trees, which I hoped would keep me from getting lost. I had noted as I continued hiking, I didn’t see any other people or signs that anyone else was hiking the trail.

As I headed up I kept waiting to reach a switch back that would take me further up the mountain. But I kept hiking straight ahead and had no sign of a switchback.

Now, not going to lie, I definitely started thinking of worse case scenarios. But I kept it together and realized maybe it was time to just turn around and head back. The trail was getting rougher, and I figured it was better to go back while I could still tell which direction to go.

Once I had gone a ways I did find my way back to the real trail. I had completely missed the switchback and kept going straight on what was probably an animal trail, or maybe just a route other people have taken that isn’t official. I started heading up the trail. It was still sprinkling off and on. I’d been hoping to have a picnic lunch at some point, but with the continued rain, I opted against it and just had some trail mix.

I reached the summit. Unfortunately I didn’t get a view of the lakes which I’d been hoping for, but still felt pretty accomplished.


I enjoyed the view before looking at the time and realizing I would be pretty rushed if I wanted to get all the way back down in time to catch a shuttle before the park closed at four. The whole getting lost and off the trail had cost me some time. With a heavy heart, I opted to just head back down the same way I’d come.

Thankfully I didn’t lose my way a second time. I got back down to where I’d started safely and then hiked back to my hotel.

I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and then went to the bistro in my town for dinner again. Unfortunately, there really weren’t any other good choices.

I had a burger made from a local type of cow and with some unique cheese and toppings. It wasn’t great, but again filling and different.

Then off to bed from there, excited for another amazing day ahead.


Exploring Split: Croatian Adventure Day 3

The next morning I had breakfast at a local cafe associated with the room I was staying in. From there I walked around the old city a bit before going to meet up with a tour guide for a walking tour I’d scheduled.

To my surprise the tour guide showed up, but no one else did. Apparently being the low tourist season I was the only one to book a tour. So it became a private tour! Very unique experience, but actually quite fun. My guide took me places he said he’d never take a group, would duck into the occasional shop to let me taste something, or notice something that caught his attention and would point out that he might not normally. We spent a lot of time in the heart of the old city where the Diocletian Palace (a Roman emperor’s palace) is located, which is pretty amazing to see.

After the tour I went to the Split City museum. It was pretty small and not very interesting, but cheap and the building it was in was sort of fun at least.


Once done with that, I bought a few things at the grocery store for a picnic and breakfast the next morning (I was leaving too early to get breakfast at the cafe).

I took my food down to the Riva, which is a beautiful seaside promenade with palm trees. I sat and people watched while I ate, and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh sea air. I had hoped to do some island hopping, but unfortunately with the off-season I was unable to book a seaside tour, and I think those operating were worried about the weather potentially being poor as well. It was a bit disappointing, but I did at least get a little time to enjoy the sea.

After that I did more wandering around the city. I also paid to go into the cathedral and the baptistery, which used to be a temple to Jupiter. Both were very interesting and worth the ticket to get in.

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I finished off the evening with a little more time around the old city before I took off for Marjan Park again, thinking I might get a good view of the sunset. It ended up not working very well, as I wasn’t willing to climb to the top of the hill again. I did see a Dalmatian though, which I thought was funny considering I was in Dalmatia itself (the region of Croatia). I ended up climbing back down the hill and enjoying the sunset from the port instead.


Since the sun was down, I went to find dinner. I ended up at a small local place that hand wrote their menu daily depending on the ingredients they had. I had a lentil stew to start and some meatballs with sauce and mashed potatoes. Very hardy traditional food that was enjoyable and filling.


I wandered the old town a bit in the dark, and enjoyed seeing the beautiful sights all lit up. The cathedral had a choir and organ practicing and it was delightful to hear standing outside.

With that I headed off to go to bed and get ready for another eventful day of traveling ahead of me.