Croatia was country No. 39 for me to visit in my lifetime, Slovenia (40), Montenegro (41) and Bosnia (42). Because these countries would be too much material for me to write about in just one article, I will focus on only Croatia and Slovenia in this article and then write about Montenegro and Bosnia in November. So lets get traveling shall we?
My friend, who lives in London, met me in Amsterdam where we then flew to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia on July 1. We rented a car for 2 1/2 weeks and explored these gorgeous countries in depth from the major cities to country villages, from the mountains to the Adriatic Sea, which is an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. We spent our first day walking Zagreb, then the next day we drove to neighboring Slovenia, which is the former home of Melania Trump. Nestled just south of Austria and east of Italy, Slovenia is very alpine in character and is drop dead gorgeous.
We spent a full day exploring Ljubljana, the small, but quaint capital of Slovenia. The next day, we drove to picture postcard Lake Bled, which is a turquoise colored lake surrounded by the Alps. It is one of Slovenia’s major tourist attractions and was one of the highlights of my trip. Our hotel overlooked the lake, where we rented bikes and rode the bike path that completely circles the lake. During our three-hour bike ride, we stopped for ice cream at the late Yugoslavian dictator Joseph Broz Tito’s former villa, which overlooks the lake and is now a very expensive hotel.
The next day, July 4, we drove to spectacular Postojna Cave, which is the only cave in the world with a double-track railway line running through it. While Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico are impressive, Postojna Cave blew them out of the water. Visitors enter the cave by taking a 25-minute train ride through the cave dodging stalactites above their heads and riding past huge stalagmites on either side of them. Not far from these caves is Predjama Castle, a Renaissance castle that was built in 1570 by a Robin Hood character who built it deliberately under a huge vertical cliff and wedged against the mountain so he could hide from his enemies. I had visited dozens of castles in my lifetime, but had never seen anything like this before.
Leaving Slovenia behind, we reentered Croatia once again and headed straight for spectacular Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia. With its forested canyons filled with crystal-clear lakes and stunning waterfalls, we hiked along the elevated boardwalks that meander through the park and spent four hours doing so, including a very relaxing boat ride on one of the lakes.
From Plitvice, we headed south through the Balkan Mountains toward the beautiful Adriatic Coast, where we spent the next two days in Split, Croatia’s second largest city. Driving in this historic and extremely dense city was a nightmare with very little on-street parking available, so we had to park our car and walk with luggage in tow a half mile to the apartment that we booked, which was located inside the palace of Roman Emperor Diocletian. It was beyond cool to be spending two nights in this blocks long palace, which is today a World Heritage Site.
From Split, we then drove down the beautiful Adriatic Sea coast to the number one tourist attraction in Croatia, the historic city of Dubrovnik, with its Old Town completely surrounded by huge brick walls. Just like in Split, we spent two nights in a private apartment in the heart of the Old Town. Our first day there, we explored the city by foot and the second day we climbed to the top of the wall that surrounds the city’s Old Town for amazing views of the city and the Adriatic Sea.
Leaving Croatia for good the following day, we then drove further south along the coastline and entered the tiny country of Montenegro, but I will leave that for my next article. My story would be incomplete if I did not mention how delicious the food was in both Slovenia and Croatia. For that reason alone, my trip to Croatia and Slovenia was worth all the time and effort that was needed for me to discover these tiny treasure packed countries.
Gary Richards is a teacher and Norwalk resident who enjoys writing about his travels.