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Trip Report Great Holiday in Slovenia & Croatia

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Sweat dripped off my nose, and my calf muscles may never recover from the thousands of stairs, but it was totally worth the pain. Both countries are far more gorgeous, and much less stressful, than I expected. Yes, I had seen pictures, but the reality is MUCH better.

Context: I’m a middle-aged Canadian woman who likes museums, art, & (especially) architecture. On this trip I travelled with a friend (N) who has seen more of Europe than I have, but neither of us had visited Slovenia or Croatia before. We both like scenic countryside; neither of us is a shopper.

I’m putting hotel reviews in a separate entry, so people uninterested in budget accommodations can skip them.

Here’s the overview, for those who want to research specific places. In 3 weeks, we flew into Zagreb, trained to Ljubljana, picked up a rental car, drove (Lake Bled, Koper, Rovinj, Plitvice, Zadar, Split), then took a bus to Dubrovnik, from where we flew home.
Here’s the link to a few pictures: http://s560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Croatia%20and%20Slovenia/

Zagreb: We both thought the Croatian capital was much more interesting than the guidebooks made it sound. The Upper Town is picturesque, with winding streets, some pedestrianized, plenty of convenient cafes, and great views of the whole city. The amazing tiled roof of St. Mark’s church– a pattern with the coats of arms of Zagreb, Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia –is probably the most unusual and iconic sight. I was intrigued by the cathedral, which has a wall with the 10 commandments inscribed in Glagolitic script, an alphabet used for various Slavic languages in the medieval period, of which I had never heard before this trip.
I had read the “what’s on” brochure in the hotel room, and insisted on a visit to the Art Deco exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Crafts. It was marvellous, (if you like Art Deco), and even had English translations of the descriptions: pottery, beadwork, clothing, furniture, posters, sculpture. I was entranced. The museum itself turned out to be quite interesting as well; we were especially taken by the varied ceramic stoves, especially the one in the form of a famous Croatian general/priest. Somehow I never envisioned the Duke of Wellington, or Martin Luther, as a stove…!
We also visited the Museum of Naïve Art –what I would call “folk art”—but thought it was a bit small for the admission price. We didn’t visit the nearby Museum of Broken Relationships, although we amused ourselves suggesting exhibits!

Ljubljana: The train journey provided views of steep wooded hillsides topped with tiny churches, and the railway station tourist office was notable for efficiency and English fluency. I should add that English speakers are common—even grocery clerks could translate numbers, and everyone in a tourist-related position spoke at least rudimentary English. However, it’s usually a lingua franca—the most common tourists were Germans or Italians, and North Americans seemed fairly scarce.
Central Ljubljana seemed like a a giant, open-air museum of European architecture, medieval to Art Nouveau. Not huge and monumental, “town-sized”, and extremely neat and clean. Restaurants and cafes line the Ljubljanica River, overlooked by the restored castle on its picturesque crag. We visited the castle, with spectacular views from the tower, but foolishly endured the spectacularly awful 3D (sorta) movie, called a “virtual museum”. Buskers and summer concerts/ displays set up around the main pedestrian square, Preseren Trg, and the adjoining Triple Bridge. The Gallerija Emporium is a department store built in 1903 with an Art Nouveau entry that is even more spectacular inside than out. We visited the pink Franciscan church, and walked through the market to the Dragon Bridge (and the dragons on the corners provided great photo ops).
Next day, we wandered the streets below the castle, delight around every corner: the Baroque cathedral with 20th c. bronze doors, medieval houses with bizarrely sloping roofs, a Plague Column, gorgeous Secessionist decorated houses—even an outdoor chandelier at a tiny intersection. But Ljubljana is so pretty and charming that you didn’t need to be an architecture fan, as N was equally delighted with it. We could have happily spent a third day here.

THE CAR: This warning is for North Americans with no clue about European cars. Since we wanted to see the countryside, we had booked a vehicle. N had never driven a manual; I hadn’t done so in 30 years, so an automatic transmission was vital—and expensive. Here’s the warning: there exists something called a semi-automatic (the car rental agency called it a “standard automatic”, which we naively interpreted as meaning “a regular automatic”). A semi-automatic has no clutch, but it has a gearshift sort of like a manual—except on the left, where 1st would be, is an “A”. You put it in “A”, and it automatically shifts up through 2nd, 3rd, etc. However, starting it, and shifting into reverse, are like a manual (without the clutch)—and so is the rolling back on hills if you change gears! I was somewhat flummoxed, and N (we shared the driving) spent the first half of our 10-day rental saying “How do I start it again?” and cursing the handbrake (which she couldn’t seem to get the hang of— so picture that the passenger was letting off the brake while the driver turned the key!) Ok, we are idiots, but not everyone is comfortable driving unfamiliar vehicles in unfamiliar countries. And having said all that, we agreed that this was a good place for a first experience driving in Europe. The main highways were excellent: smooth, well-signposted, with high-tech tunnels through the mountains. The villages did not usually have street signs, but we had brought a GPS with downloaded European maps, thankfully. The drivers were also great; courteous to pedestrians, and – well, the simplest way I can put this, is to say that they didn’t drive like Romans (my secret terror when I read about Italian influences in Croatia!)

Lake Bled area: We picked up the rental car in Ljubljana and headed north on the motorway. Our first stop was the small town of Skofja Loka, with a medieval village at its centre, and a castle turned into an interesting museum (local flora & fauna, medieval lifestyle, etc.)

From there we went on to Lake Bled. Pictures of this region convinced N that Slovenia would make a good addition to the original idea of a trip to Croatia, and she said it was more beautiful than the pictures. We drove up to the castle that afternoon. It has wonderful views over the incredible blue-green lake, the giant resort hotels, the summersledge, and the picturesque island in the lake. It also has a restored wine cellar selling local wine, a working reproduction of Slovenia’s first printing press, and displays of weapons and furnishings. Lovely spot. Afterwards, we drove around the lake. There are a couple of swimming areas, and we saw the first of many Slovenian campsites.

Our second day started with a boat ride to the tiny island in the lake. No motorized boats are allowed (you can rent a rowboat), so we took a seat in one of the pletna: somewhat like giant punts, seating about 8 people per side, propelled by a standing boatman with 8’ oars. At the island, you walk up a flight of stone steps, visit the church (legend says that you try to ring the bell inside) and admire the view/buy souvenirs/drink coffee before heading back. The lake is a must-see; the island, maybe not.
Then we set off to satisfy N’s dream: a car tour of the Julian Alps. Thank Rick Steeves for this idea—because it was wonderful. I was somewhat apprehensive, as guidebook remarks such as “some of the hairpin bends are cobblestoned to increase traction” were not reassuring. If you find the Cabot Trail makes you nervous, though, you will die of fright on this road. However, the mountains were amazing—and I lived in Calgary for 3 years. The driver really can’t appreciate the view, since the road is narrow (barely two lanes) with 50 switchback turns between Krajska Gora (the ski resort near the Austrian border where the route starts) and Bovec (where we turned around and switched drivers). Some of the turns are cobblestoned, and meeting tour buses on these turns was unnerving (back up or else), but I thought the drive was marvellous.

Karst Region/Slovenian Coast: We drove south down the A2 and A1 motorways to the Skocjan Caves in the limestone (karst) area of SW Slovenia. Our 90-minute walking tour was interesting; no one could fail to be impressed by an underground chamber over 100 m high, and 300 m long. Unfortunately, the pace of the guided tour didn’t allow much opportunity to admire (and the hundreds of stairs didn’t allow me much breath to gasp—while the height of the suspension bridge removed any remaining air from my lungs).
After lunch our GPS found Hrvastovlje. This was my Slovenian “must-see”, and by the time we arrived, we felt “off the beaten path”, as the tiny village at the foot of a ridge of stony hills seemed thoroughly remote. However, before we left, an Italian couple and a large German family had arrived to see the interior of the tiny 15th c. fortified church, covered in original frescoes, including a vivid “Dance of Death”. The local custodian has taped descriptions in several languages, describing the scenes from the Old Testament, New Testament, and 15th c. seasonal activities. Absolutely stunning.

Our hotel was in the cargo port city of Koper. Nearby Piran and Portoroz are the tourist meccas, but since accommodation there was out of our range. we didn’t find staying in nearby Koper a hardship. In fact, it has similar winding cobbled streets and Renaissance buildings to Piran, just less manicured – and with cheaper restaurants!
The next morning we drove into Piran. We admired the main square and the cathedral of St. George (he’s really big in this area—patron of Ljubljana, statue with dragon in Zagreb, again here). We had hoped to visit the salt pans, where an open-air museum shows the traditional salt-gathering methods. However, when we discovered that a 30 minute walk on an unshaded gravel road was involved, our enthusiasm melted like ice-cream in the 36o heat. The tourist office informed us of a tour boat that went there—but “they call us when they decide to go, but they haven’t called today”.

We drove through Portoroz, popular for package holidays in large resort hotels. Since we are accustomed to sandy beaches, the hundreds of people sunbathing on pebbled shores, rocky ledges, or concrete jetties looked startlingly uncomfortable. That evening I had a swim off the public “beach” (i.e. no sand, just concrete and rocks) in Koper; compared to home, the water temperature was adequate compensation for the lack of the sand!

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    Wow, sounds amazing and Croatia and Slovenia are on my short list for next travel destinations. And you sold me on the Art Deco museum, I LOVE deco, love it!! And the last trip where I tried to see an Art Deco museum (in Buenos Aires), it was closed for renovations, I was so looking forward to that museum after walking for miles to it (wanted to fully enjoy the walk there).

    Tiny villages are a treat when I'm traveling, so I really enjoyed reading about them in your trip report, thanks for sharing!

    Did you by any chance go to plitvice lakes or have any suggestions for it (avoid?, too touristy?)? I did catch the Rick Steeves episode where he went to Lake Bled and got to enjoy a few drinks in that pub in the area, and it looked like such a gem and a wonderful experience.

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    nfldbeothuk, sounds like a great trip, I am so happy you enjoyed it. We visited Croatia a few years ago and fell in love with it. We are now planning our 2012 vacation, as a drive from Prague to Ljubljana, with a few days spent in Czech Republic (Prague and Cesky Krumlov), a few in Hallstat, Austria, and a few in Slovenia (Bled and Ljubljana).

    I know this is not enough, but I think we will only have 4 full days in Slovenia. I was thinking 3 nights in Bled and one in Ljubljana, from where we will fly back home.

    Is it possible (I mean, realistically doable and enjoyable) to drive in one day from Bled, via the Julian Alps to Ljubljana? Would love to see the mountains, and I know it seems easy on the map (200 km, 3 ½ hours) but I know the reality might be different. You did the drive, what do you recommend? Do the drive and have 1 full day in Ljubljana, or not do it (go directly to Ljubljana) and have 1 ½ days there? We’ll try to get a “full” automatic car :) Thanks

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    Sorry for the interruption; here's the rest of the trip.

    Istria: We headed back into Croatia (the border crossing was quick and uncomplicated), and our first stop was an Istrian hill town called Groznjan. This was a Fodors/Moon suggestion, and an enjoyable one. The “hill towns” are medieval/Renaissance villages perched above fields and olive groves (yes, think Tuscany) with winding lanes, old stone houses, and quiet cafes. However, if this is less-touristed than the the best-known town (Motovun), I can’t imagine Motovun in July: Groznjan had 3 parking lots filled and 2 tour buses on the morning we visited.

    From there we made the short drive to Porec, following GPS instructions and thanking Rick Steeves (only guidebook giving info about parking areas for no-parking city centres). The 6th c. Byzantine basilica was the attraction here, and it was very attractive, with a timber roofed separate baptistery, glittering mosaics inside, and the floor mosaics of an earlier church preserved outside. Everything was labelled in 3 languages (Croatian, Italian, and English were a common trio on signs in Istria).

    We ended that day by driving along the coast to the city of Rovinj, passing the Lim canal (it looked unspectacular to us, but there are numerous boat tours from Rovinj). Rovinj provided several swimming areas near the city centre, all good as long as you have flip-flops or water shoes—or hardened feet—for the pebbles. The town was very busy, with swarms of tourists on the streets in the evenings, fishing boats and yachts filling the harbour, and great views from the hilltop cathedral site. Terrific people-watching and sea views from the restaurants and cafes, and ice-cream—really good ice cream, more like gelato—omnipresent as everywhere in Croatia. Despite that, I have to say the “sights” in Rovinj were less striking than Porec and Pula.

    Pula was our destination the next morning. It’s a large, busy city, and we were anxiously scanning for the GPS-identified street called Ampiteater Cesta, when we finally noticed the huge Roman ruin looming above the car! The Roman amphitheatre is worth the trip: huge, with four rows of window openings, some original seating, and underground passages. We rented an audioguide; the place had no signage, but the English audioguide tended to ramble on -- good if you had no idea of a Roman arena. Don’t miss the underground display of the Roman oil exporting industry, complete with piles (literally) of ancient amphora. We wandered around Pula – there is also a Roman temple – and picnicked in a waterfront park. Although the arena brings many visitors, it doesn’t seem like a “tourist” city; a few turns off any attraction finds you in a quiet neighbourhood.

    Plitvice National Park: We drove cross-country from Pula to Plitvice. This was the only time the GPS went significantly awry, as the last hour was along a winding country road (GPS said 90 km/h, but I never managed above 70) bordered by roofless houses, partially rebuilt farm buildings, and deserted countryside. Plitvice National Park was a Serbian headquarters during the 1990s war (try to imagine Banff as an invader’s bastion) and this area was the only significant wartime damage we saw in our 3 week trip. The road finally connected with a well-travelled secondary highway, and we spent the night at a peaceful country B & B.

    The park is a wonderful spot. Even at the crowded height of the tourist season, the incredible clear green lakes and the dozens of tall, narrow waterfalls were beautiful. We walked up from Entrance 1 to Station 4, which took us about 3 hours, including the shuttle boat across the lake (so no athleticism needed). There’s a shuttle bus that takes you most of the way back down. It’s an easy, well-marked trail which I only wish I could have seen with fewer bodies blocking the view. However, schoolteachers can’t take holidays in October! It is clearly a national treasure; every Croatian recommending a local beauty spot said, “Of course, not so beautiful as Plitvice”.

    Zadar: We connected to the A1 expressway from Plitvice, and drove easily down to Zadar. It’s a big city with suburbs and industrial zones, crowded with Croatian (and some European) tourists. We stayed out near the seaside, and used the local bus to take us to the largely car-free old city. There is a lot to see here: the city walls, the 9th c. round Byzantine church, the Romanesque cathedral, and the eye-popping assembly of reliqueries called the “Gold and Silver of Zadar”, which has more saintly finger-bones than I ever imagined collected in one place! Zadar is obviously working to attract tourists: there is a solar-powered light display mounted in the pavement of the seafront promenade (called Greeting to the Sun), and a local innovator built a “sea organ” further along the promenade. The sea organ is a series of underwater pipes which produce sounds – a cross between whale singing and organ pipes – as the tide and waves move in and out. It’s a popular spot for sitting and relaxing. Despite the crowds, we liked Zadar.

    In the morning we followed the expressway as far as Sibenik, where I wanted to see the cathedral. Sibenik doesn’t seem tourist-thronged, and the outskirts are fairly generic, but the domed 15th c. cathedral is fascinating—especially the outside, which is covered with delightful carvings, including unique sculptured portals and 71 heads of contemporary townspeople and even their animals. We walked – or climbed, since even by Croatian standards this place is hilly—around the old city, admiring the restored monastery garden and the walls of the fortress.

    Split: From Sibenik we took the coastal highway to Split, a scenic drive with seaside marinas in every cove, and towering rocky hills in the background. Split is a busy modern city with lots of ongoing construction, but of course visitors go for the unique old city, built within the remains of a gigantic Roman palace. The first ride into the centre from our beachside apartment was a unique experience, as the back of the bus was packed with local football fans heading to a match, singing boisterous (football, I assume) songs to tunes such as “Glory, glory hallelujah”.
    We found the bus station, just past the ferry terminal (which is huge, as a number of island destinations are reached from here) and booked our ticket to Dubrovnik, then wandered along the seafront. The summer festival was ongoing, and we watched costumed Roman guards marching through, and traditional Dalmatian dancers on an oceanfront stage. A lovely eveing.
    The next morning was spent returning our rental car to the airport—which is in a small town 40 minutes away—then we toured the cellars of the Roman palace. These are very interesting, with vaults and occasional sarcophagi, although the signage is somewhat confusing. Above ground, the central Peristil is a city “square” with columns remaining from the emperor’s palace, a cathedral largely formed from the remains of the palace, and café seating on the remaining palace steps. We almost missed the “Vestibul”, an almost-intact domed entry, because the scaffolding around the entry made us think it was a blocked-off construction site. We were glad we searched out the Ethnographic Museum on the far side of the Vestibul; not so much for the displays (although some of the multimedia displays of traditional festivals were interesting) as for the unique views available from its entrance.
    We also admired the Venetian-styled Old Town Hall, in a square which could have illustrated “architecture through the centuries”, and the impressive statue of a 9th c. bishop, created by a noted 20th c. Croatian sculptor.
    After a refreshing swim, the next day found us downtown on a comparatively cool (for Croatia) day, and after viewing the cathedral, I proposed climbing the belfry. The heat had discouraged such an idea at any of the other towers we had seen. Some Roman god of irony must have put this idea in my head. After purchasing the tickets, we discovered that the first two floors were accessed by a single stone staircase, about 70 cm wide, with steps at least 35 cm high. Note that this had two-way “traffic”, and that both of us are very short and inclined to plumpness! Oh, and the remaining floors were open metal stairs—and I don’t really like the sensation of ladders. Fortunately, the view from the top was amazing—you could really see how the houses and shops had been built inside the palace walls, as well as admire the sparkling blue water and the mountainous backcountry.
    That evening our dinner in Franz Tudman Square was accompanied by an orchestra tuning for a concert in the square, and on the way back we stopped to listen to a small folk group on the outdoor stage, singing songs which had Croatian listeners singing along. We hated to leave in time to catch the (infrequent) bus back to our apartment.

    Dubrovnik: The modern bus followed the coastal road, and the scenery was magnificent. We stopped in a rather depressed-looking industrial town called Ploce, and in Bosnia (the road has to cross the tiny strip of Bosnian coastline; the Bosnian town is mainly beachside hotels).
    Dubrovnik was just as photogenic as we expected, and although the bus/ cruise ship onslaughts were rather wave-like, it was no more crowded overall than Split or Zadar.
    This is certainly the ultimate walled city, with two large gates with drawbridges, no cars, hundreds and hundreds of steps, and a tour of the walls as one of the main sights. Fortunately the cool temperatures had continued, and we enjoyed the views from the walls, of the towers, tile roofs, and crashing seas. We were lucky enough to reach the bell tower at 10:55, and when I realized that the bell was struck by a pair of jacks (bronze life-size figures), we stopped and watched the “show”. Later we learned that these were reproductions, as the originals are in the Dubrovnik City Museum.
    We enjoyed hanging around the Old Port, and admired the works in the Dominican monastery museum. The Franciscan apothecary museum didn’t really appeal; maybe if there had been more information about the exhibit I would have enjoyed it more. We enjoyed sitting around the city fountain, and watching the “digital” clock (time in Roman numerals, + moon phases)in the bell tower at the other end of the main street. The cathedral was bit dull, but the City Museum (in the building called the Rector’s Palace, across from the cathedral) was an interesting variety of items: fine art, religion, city life, recreation of the original rooms. Don't miss the giant "hands" holding the stair rail.
    For anyone who endured this far and is wondering if I visited the Buza Bar: we admired it from the wall, but at 6 pm tables were nonexistent. The walk up the steps wasn’t wasted, though—St. Ignatius church has the ugliest chancel carpet in existence, and I have a picture to prove it! Who thought giant red cabbage roses went well with gilt Baroque?

    Two of my favourite experiences were the cable car and the ferry to Lokrum. The cable car runs from a station just above the upper edge of the city walls, to a Napoleonic era fort (Fort Srd) on top of the mountain. It’s not for anyone afraid of heights—there’s a very steep rise—but the views are breathtaking. Then, next to the cable station at the top is a small exhibit in the remains of the fort, showing the Croatian viewpoint on what is called the “Homeland War”, with many photos of the siege of Dubrovnik and the fighting in Dalmatia.
    Lokrum is a tiny, uninhabited island just offshore. The 20-minute ferry ride from the Old Port gives great views of the city from the sea. The island has swimming and picnicking areas, a tiny freshwater pond, a nude beach (no, we didn’t), a restaurant, a ruined monastery, an elderly botanical garden, and the remains of a fort (which was closed due to fire risk, unfortunately). It made a lovely day trip.
    We ended our final day at the Gradskavana, a charming and atmospheric café at the Ploce end of the main street—I have no idea why the Reform Orange Cake needed reforming, but it was delicious, and the people-watching equally so.
    I can’t end without mentioning the shuttle bus ride to the airport: this was absolutely the most vertiginous road of the whole trip; I must have said “I’m glad I’m not driving” at least 10 times. However, if you don’t mind heights, drive this road even if you aren’t going to the airport—it’s spectacular.

    Overall impressions: We were amazed at how thoroughly Croatia seems to have recovered from the 1990s war (Slovenia had a much less violent break-up from Yugoslavia). We were also impressed at the general feeling of prosperity (almost no beggars) and growth. The people were extremely friendly (twice, strangers saw us studying a map and asked if they could help). If you can visit when it’s a little less crowded and hot, it would be absolutely perfect. It’s a great holiday destination for history lovers, architecture buffs, or nature / outdoor fans.

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    Brings back great memories. Thanks for the terrific report.. Sorry abut the Buza Bar, though. It seems that right around 4 p.m. is the magic time that you need to be there to secure a great table.

    ((H))

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    Mademoiselle, as you can see in the second half, I am a total convert to Plitvice Lakes. I wondered if I'd be underwhelmed, but I really liked it.
    xyz, I love-love-loved the alps, but if you already have 3 nights in Lake Bled, maybe a quick drive up to Krajska Gora would be enough extra scenery. We only went to Bovec and back, not all the way in a circle, and our drive was at least 3 hours one way (not straight driving, but you can't resist a pull off at some of the scenic lookouts). I suspect a loop to Ljubljana might be more like 7 hours, even if you schedule the "car on the train" section.
    Maitaitom, I always love your reports, and appreciate your kind words.

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    Thanks for the report, nfldbeothuk. I did about half of your trip (some of the Croatia part) in 2009, and I'll be doing the Slovenian half in about a month! I'm excited to return to Ljubljana (only part of Slovenia I saw in 2009) and to visit Bled, the Julian Alps, and Piran (or Koper) this time. Unfortunately, I will be driving solo through the Alps so I will have to stop a few times to enjoy the views, I believe. But your description of Bled and the Alps drive is reassuring, since it is hard to get a good feeling from the guidebooks. I'm planning to drive all the way around (starting in Bled and driving counter-clockwise) and spend a night in Korbarid or Bovec - hoping to explore some of the WWI history there. I may wind up staying in Koper, too, instead of Piran.

    I'm still not sure if I'll be visiting Rovinj and Istria yet - since I will be ending my trip from Milan I am not sure whether to spend two nights in Istria or two more in Italy. I'm wondering if I will like Rovinj. While I found Dubrovnik unique and unforgettable, I didn't fall in love with the place and found it overrun with tourists (who probably said the same about me I guess!). I hear Rovinj is also largely a beautiful tourist destination and less of a real city like, say, Split is.

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    Mademoiselle, I visited Plitvice in 2009. It is wonderful - huge turquoise lakes full of trout, with trees and waterfalls all around (I live near the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest so I'm well acquainted with beautiful waterfalls). I visited in very early October and the weather was still nice. I stayed at a hotel in the park itself. I did most of my hiking the first day and went back the next morning for a bit more; a benefit of staying at a park hotel is that they can stamp your pass to re-use it for free for a second day.

    The park was somewhat crowded on that Sunday afternoon in October - not mobbed but plenty of people, tour groups, etc. But on Monday morning it was almost empty - until after 10:00. My advice if you go to Plitvice (echoing Rick Steves) is to get to the park EARLY to avoid the crowds. It makes for a much more pleasant experience. It would still have been worth going even for that one Sunday afternoon. The tour groups didn't spoil the beauty.

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    Thanks for sharing a wonderful trip. I laughed at the description of driver starting up with passenger doing the handbrake. I am sure that you two must have lots of laughing memories to share.

    I was thinking as I read about the heat, "There but for the grace of retirement go I." It is so wonderful to travel off season with a few less in the crowd and more reasonable temps! may you enjoy such travel in a few years!

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    I forgot to mention your pictures. I enjoyed them and wished that there were more. I also sneaked a peek at some of your other albums of summer trips. Hope that it is not too much longer to retirement so you can enjoy the joys of travel in any season whenever you want!

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    I forgot to mention your pictures. I enjoyed them and wished that there were more. I also sneaked a peek at some of your other albums of summer trips. Hope that it is not too much longer to retirement so you can enjoy the joys of travel in any season whenever you want!

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    Nfldbeothuk, thanks bringing back those wonderful memories of Croatia. We loved it, too and even though we try not to repeat vacation places, I am sure we’ll go back to Croatia. There is still so much to see…
    And thanks for sharing the pictures, the Julian Alps look amazing, we have to go there somehow :)

    Andrew, Rovinj and Istria are stunning – and we had our best meals there. Actually, the best was one late afternoon, when we stopped at this lady’s place, in her front yard. She had a small sign advertising local food, only had 2 wooden tables with benches and umbrellas for shade, and 2 dishes (a veal dish and a pasta dish). Tomato salad with tomatoes just picked from her garden, and drinks. Probably dessert too, but I don’t remember that. She spoke no English, but the veal dish was wonderful, and the truffle sauce pasta, the best I had in my life.

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    To finish up, here are the hotel recommendations (or not!) for budget travellers:

    Accommodation requirements: we divided up the search, and we both used the same basic criteria: clean, safe neighbourhood, separate beds, air conditioning (we are used to 25o as a hot summer day, and a good night’s sleep was essential to our cheerfulness), and a budget top of €100 per night.

    Slovenia Accommodations:
    Ljubljana: Hotel Katrca 1905 Address:Rozna dolina, cesta 1/26, Phone: + 38614228840 e-mail: katrca1905@gmail.com
    Pros: very clean, quiet, good breakfast included.
    Cons: not near city centre or restaurants (10 minute bus ride), no frills room, no elevator

    Lake Bled: Hotel Astoria Address: Presernova 44, Bled Phone: + 00386-4-579-44-00 e-mail: astoria@vgs-bled.si
    Pros: large hotel with restaurant, computer for guest use, in-room safe. Breakfast included. Large room with balcony and view of castle. Parking on site.
    Cons: caters to tour groups, lackadaisical service at breakfast.

    Koper: Hotel Vodisek, Address: Kolidvorska Cesta 002, Koper Phone: + 386 5 6392468 e-mail: info@hotel-vodisek.com
    Pros: only two blocks from city centre, breakfast included, on-site parking
    Cons: hard to find (Putting the hotel name on the sign would help!), small room, “communist-era” spartan atmosphere

    Croatia Accommodations:
    Zagreb: Hotel Jarun, Address: Hrgovici 2, Zagreb Phone: +38513691111 e-mail: info@hotel-jarun.com
    Pros: newish property with attractive rooms, in-room safe, delicious breakfast included, quiet neighbourhood with nearby neighbourhood shops/cafes, 5 minutes walk to tram line. This was the most upscale property we had, seemingly aimed at businesspeople
    Cons: 20 min. tram ride to city centre

    Rovinj: Villa Kristina, Address: Luje Adamovica 16, Rovinj Phone +385 52 815 537
    Pros: walking distance to city centre and to beach, newish property, delicious breakfast included
    Cons: parking “down the street”, no elevator for third floor room

    Plitvice National Park: Pool Apartments, Address: Grabovac 223, Rakovica Phone +38547784146 Email plitvice-strinic@hi.t-com.hr
    This was the only non-AC room: nowhere near the park, including the large hotels, had AC. However, because of the elevation, the temperature dropped pleasantly at night, so it wasn’t a major issue.
    Pros: country B & B look and atmosphere, with small pool and tasty breakfast served on the room’s patio, very quiet village, helpful hostess, short drive to park entrance
    Cons: short drive to a restaurant (but nowhere in the area would have given much choice for dining), smallish room

    Zadar: Villa Gravic Address: Romansa 34, Zadar Email info@villa-gravic.com
    Pros: new 1-bedroom apartment with sofabed in living area, kitchen, parking onsite, market and restaurants nearby, 5 min. walk to beach
    Cons: 10-20 min drive or bus into city centre, no elevator, fans in bathrooms don’t work, producing sauna effect

    Split: Beach Apartments Lavica Address: Grljevacka, Podstrana, Phone +38521332500 Email marijana@putovanje.hr
    Pros: private beach area with fresh-water shower, double bed + sofabed, kitchenette, parking onsite
    Cons: not much nearby but condos and rental apartments, 15 min. drive or 30 min bus along busy highway to Split centre, musty feel to apartment, 55 stairs down hillside to apartment (and more down to beach!)

    Dubrovnik: Rooms & Apartments Kortizija, Address: Od tabakarije 27, Pile, Dubrovnik. Phone 00385 95 875 Email bozo.kortizija@du.t-com.hr
    Pros: great location, just outside Pile gate, only 20 stairs down from main road, view of city walls and ocean. Three twin beds, and kitchen/ living area. Powerful AC.
    Cons: no elevator, and spiral staircase to third floor, small dormer windows, top of our budget

    Restaurants:
    This will be very short. My friend N has digestive issues and doesn’t like surprises, so we ate at rather simple and predictable places. For lunch, the pizza is really good in both countries! Having said that:
    Zagreb: The Trattoria Leonardo (Skalinska 6) had pleasant outdoor dining in the Upper Town.
    Ljubljana: The Zlata Ribica and the Abecedarium are kitty-corner from each other, on the castle side of the Triple Bridge, and we really enjoyed both. Squid with potatoes and greens one night, ham & polenta the next.
    Koper: La Storia, on the waterfront, had good sea bass.
    Rovinj: Stelle di Mare on Sv. Kriza had delectable salt cod pate, and a wonderful view.
    Plitvice: We ate at a place called Sedra. Warning: the stuffed pork is stuffed with salami. I guess, as the saying goes… if you like this kind of thing, then this is the kind of thing you like??

    And have the ice cream everywhere!

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    Thanks for a great trip report. We visited Sarajevo and the southern Dalmatian coast last year and had seriously considered and researched a trip to Slovenia and Istria for this fall. We have decided to go to Belgium instead but the Slovenia/Istria trip is definitely one we would like to take in the next few years.

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    Thankyou for providing such a comprehensive trip report. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading it and your information has been invaluable in helping me plan a similar trip for September 2012.

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