Meta: I wanted to expand some of my social media presence with an Instagram account that I started last week, @LateForDinner_official. I will be posting some different pictures on there that I have taken but might not have talked about on this blog. Don’t forget to check out Lauren’s Facebook (link below) for even more!
We had nearly one unplanned week between our two England housesits and since we had some of our favorite memories in that part of the continent, we planned a crazy little trip back to the eastern portion of Central Europe. The generally small size of the countries there means that there are several capital cities within hours of each other. We had not been to four of them so in our ever present goal of more countries on our rapidly expanding list we went for it.
Zagreb, Croatia was our first stop, the cheapest place of the four to fly into. It was the first flight since we started that was delayed so we did not take off until late into the evening and we were exhausted by the time we landed. We got our rental car and made it to our Airbnb before finding a quick bite to eat and then promptly headed back to get some rest.
When we were seniors at Dayton our basketball team made an amazing run into the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament which was an unforgettable experience for both of us. The school being as small as it is, I ended up befriending one of the basketball players, Devin Oliver, who by the time we were seniors had become co-captain of the team. We didn’t talk much and I was a nobody, but as a real testament to his character he never hesitated to say hello, even around his imposingly tall teammates. After graduation he got a professional contract in Ljubljana, Slovenia which is nearby to Zagreb. We reached out to him to see if he was able to meet us for lunch and he accepted without hesitation. So rather than sightseeing around Zagreb, the next day we took the short drive up to Ljubljana to meet Devin for Lunch.
The two hour ride itself through Slovenia was beautiful. The chilly autumn morning went from sunny to foggy and back again, the ethereal mist dissipating to reveal rolling hills of red, yellow and orange leaves. We passed many small towns, each with a church spire that looked over the surrounding red-roofed houses.
Before long we made it to Ljubljana where we agreed to meet Devin for burgers at a popular restaurant sitting in the shadow of the nearby Ljubljana Castle. The food was great, but the company was even better. We chatted about the old days, caught up on each other’s lives, and generally had a great time. I’m so glad we decided to get in contact with him as I was originally worried he wouldn’t even remember me! After parting ways, we wanted to make sure to see the beautiful Lake Bled before the sun had set at 4:30 so we unfortunately could not stay to enjoy the city much.
Lake Bled is a glacial lake fed by hot springs that adjoins the small town of Bled. It is a highly touted tourist destination that nestles in the Julian Alps. The Julian Alps are located on the opposite side of the Dolomites which we first glimpsed at our first destination on our adventure, Pordenone. We sped in that direction going close to 85mph determined to get there before sunset which we luckily did with a little time to spare.
The lake itself is simply gorgeous. It is surrounded on all sides by tree-covered mountains, many of which were snow-capped since we visited late in Autumn. In the middle of the lake there is a picturesque little islet with a pilgrimage church among other buildings. On the far side of the lake where you are able to see the entire lake we parked and took several amazing pictures where a little dock jetted out into the water. We made it there just as the sun started to turn the clouds a stunning purple-orange color. We left feeling ecstatic that we made it on time and our eyes were certainly satisfied so we headed back to Croatia. I certainly hope to spend more than a day in Slovenia some day.
Though it was our second night in Zagreb, the next day was our first opportunity to explore a little. As per usual we went on another trusty free walking tour to get a more informed look into the city and all of its sights.
We started the tour in Ban Jelačić Square beneath the two hills and two towns that make up the city of Zagreb, one town for each hill. In the old days before the two cities combined to make Zagreb, one was home to religious personnel, the other, mere common-folk. There was a lot of conflict between the two as the bridge that eventually combined the two is still named the Bloody Bridge due to all the fighting over the river that runs under it. Our tour guide took us up the hill, stopping to show us a couple murals of famous Croatian innovators, including Nikola Tesla.
From there, we stopped at several places on top of the hill with some fabulous panoramic views of the entire city, along with an interesting little museum called the Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum houses artifacts left over from ended relationships with a little story about the relationship and how the artifact was important to that relationship. Adjacent to the museum is the town hall and St. Mark’s Church which is well known for its uniquely colored roof containing the coat of Arms of Zagreb (right) and the coat of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.
Our last stop was near the Zagreb Cathedral, the largest building in Croatia which shows the importance of religion in the country. The cathedral itself was built in the 13th century and its spires dominate the city’s skyline.
Before leaving us, our tour guide gave us a few food recommendations for traditional Croatian food that sounded delicious so we decided to go to one for dinner. The restaurant we chose had two small but separate rooms to eat, one unconnected to the man building. There we sat without anybody else in the room, including servers and other restaurant staff, which made our experience a more romantic and intimate experience than we had anticipated when we went. We even had our own personal waiter. The place we went serves only Štrukli, a special dough filled with cottage cheese and sour cream and other ingredients which can make the dish either sweet or savory.
Our experience in Croatia and Slovenia really proved to us that the charm and personality we attributed to the other Central European countries we have visited was by no means a fluke. I had always fancied myself as someone who would never travel extensively in this region of Europe, but my preconceived notion on this part of the world definitely missed the mark and I couldn’t be happier about it! The people are all really fantastic and kind, as well as always willing to help out a tourist in need.
Next up, we continue our short tour of Central Europe with Budapest and Bratislava!
- Winter time is renovation time! Be aware that several cities we have visited are currently doing renovations on their biggest sights, including Big Ben and the Zagreb Cathedral. I suspect this is to let down the least amount of tourists as possible.
- When visiting Central Europe, be conscientious of what type of money the country uses. Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Hungary all use different currency than the Euro.