Croatia

The fourth of six countries I toured earlier this summer was Croatia. As with the other five countries, I gave myself a crash course about them using encyclopedias and the U.S. State Department website.

Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Plitvice

Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Plitvice National Park, Croatia

We left Slovenia by tour bus and entered Croatia through a border control checkpoint. A Customs & Immigration official came on board to check everyone’s passports because Croatia isn’t part of the European Union. After getting the green light to go through, we spotted evidence of the Croatian War of Independence (1991-95) throughout Plitvice. Bullet holes remained in the concrete facades of buildings, including homes. We stayed at Hotel Jezero in Plitvice National Park — listed as one of the world’s most beautiful places. Our tour guide told us that after the war, the government had to remove landmines from the park, which is heavily trafficked by tourists from around the world.

We spent four hours the next morning walking through only a small portion of the enormous park that’s about 115 square miles and home to 16 lakes and many waterfalls. The tallest waterfall in Croatia is the Veliki Slap. The water was blue in some areas, green in others, but always so clear that you could see the bottom of the lakes, even in deeper parts. We took a couple of boat rides and marveled at all the plant and animal life, from pleasant ducks to well-fed fish to colorful butterflies.

We had only one day in the inland part of Croatia, so I’ll need to go back to see the coastal areas which are beautiful in their own right and represent the Mediterranean shipping heritage and modern industry.

Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Plitvice National Park, Croatia

The third of six countries on our European summer tour…

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Slovenia

view of homes, mountains outside our Hotel Ribno, Bled, Slovenia

view of homes, mountains outside our Hotel Ribno, Bled, Slovenia

Bled
We departed Austria and approached the border control to Slovenia, which was through an 8-kilometer-long tunnel on the other side of a majestic mountain range — a grand entrance into a picturesque country that was part of the former Yugoslavia. Our tour bus winded through the peaceful countryside, pristine lakes, and breathtaking mountainous scenery.

We stayed overnight at Hotel Ribno in Bled, situated in a scenic, wooded area and complete with tennis courts and a restaurant with balcony seating. After dinner there, we took a walk down the paved roads and gravel paths through a nearby neighborhood. The homes were simpler than the ones in Germany but had the similar dark wood trim and rectangular flower pots hanging from every window sill. In the air was the intoxicating aroma of what smelled like lavender and tea leaves. The sun set on the rolling hills and our magical evening.

view of Ljubljana from Ljubljanski Grad, Slovenia

view of Ljubljana from Ljubljanski Grad, Slovenia

Ljubljana
The capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, is a sea of orange rooftops and mostly uniform architecture. We took a cable car (known there as a funicular) up to the top of a hill where the castle Ljubljanski Grad sits, providing an overhead view of the city skyline. Down below are several elegant bridges, including the Dragon Bridge and Triple Bridge (three bridges side by side). In the area is a mix of historic buildings and statues as well as modern retail establishments, like H&M.

Postojna
I’ve been to plenty of caves, including the longest and largest ones in the U.S. and other countries. I thought the Postojnska Jama Cave in Postojna was the most impressive one. We took a long train ride deep into the cave and then took a walking tour. The cave has beautiful lighting that enhances the stalactite and stalagmite formations. Human fish (fish with human-like skin) reside in the cave. At the end of the tour is the cave’s “concert hall,” which is a large, open space with good acoustics for singing.

Julie at Triple Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Julie at Triple Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia