We’ve officially been traveling for over a week! It’s really flown by, as we’ve already seen so much and are beginning to adjust to life on the road.
The first major region of our journey is The Balkans, aka Southeastern Europe, aka The Powder Keg of Europe; basically all those tiny countries that showed up on the map after the fall of communism in the 1990s. However, our trip began in Budapest, Hungary, which offered us a place we’ve never been before AND the cheapest nearby airfare.
After the 20 hours or so on a plane or in an airport, we weren’t quite in the mood to do anything, but sleep. However, our host in Budapest, Sandor, spent two hours upon arrival explaining everything there is to know about Budapest and everything we absolutely had to do while we were in town. While it was definitely a total mental overload at the moment, he ended up making our time in the city a wonderful experience.
Before we left on our trip, everyone told us we HAD to go to one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths—while in the same breath explaining that they are kind of gross since many of them are all ages (The children add some extra minerals to the water, so to speak). However, Skylar did some digging and found a bath far off the tourist trail that also happened to be adults only. It’s called Veli Bej and it was constructed by the Pasha of Buda during the Ottoman occupation 500 years ago. The baths are now part of a hospital; you can even get a discount if you come with a doctor’s note! The baths themselves have been recently restored and maintain much of the character of the remaining original structures. The few hours we spent there, along with a morning exploring Margaret Island, were the highlights of our stay.
From Budapest we took a train to Ljubljana, Slovenia, or shall I say three trains and a bus. The very small country of Slovenia is also not in the Balkans, but it was part of the former Yugoslavia, so we were on the right track. Skylar’s favorite travel blogger raved about the difficult to pronounce capital city (Say it with me now: Loob-YAH-nuh). However, we both found it very pretty, but kind of dull, expensive and geared towards package tourists. So after spending a day in the city, we high-tailed it up to Slovenia’s most famous attraction: the Julian Alps.
Our first stop was Lake Bled, as close to an idyllic fairy tale environment as one could possibly get; there’s not one, but two castles! The first is perched high up on a cliff overlooking the lake and surrounding mountains, while the second is smack dab in the middle of the lake on a small island accessible solely by row boat (Yes, this is a real place).
The next day we rented a car in order to explore deeper into the mountains beyond where public transportation could get us. The major bonus of the car was that it was a brand new VW Polo, Skylar’s dream car since she first saw one as a teenager. We stopped off in several villages, as well as the less visited, but no less beautiful, Bohinj Lake. Completely by accident, we had a beautiful picnic lunch next to a waterfall in Triglav National Park with the park’s namesake mountain in the background. We finished the day with a drive up and down the many switchbacks of the Vrŝiĉ Pass, followed by a quick two hour drive back to Ljubljana where we dropped off the car.
We’re now exploring the much more interesting capital city of Zagreb in Croatia and plotting our next move to the Dalmatian Coast along the Adriatic Sea. Yesterday we went to the Museum of Broken Relationships, easily one of the most wonderful exhibitions either of us have ever visited. The museum collects artifacts of people’s failed relationships from all over the world and displays them along with a caption from the person who submitted the item. The objects range from a garden gnome thrown at a husband’s windshield in the UK to a returned mixtape from India and much, much more. The museum is a must-see if you’re ever in Zagreb.
Tomorrow we head to Split, a city on the coast, and then to the island of Vis for some time on the beach.
That’s pretty much everything for now! Stay posted for more in a week or two.