Yesterday’s rain continued, and we wondered what the next two weeks would be like.  Little did we know at the time that after Zagreb, the remainder of the trip would be mostly rain-free and beautiful when it mattered the most!

On this day, we got SOAKED, at least from the knees down, where the umbrella and rain jacket made no difference during our walking tour of Ljubljana (“LEW byah na”).  At least we had a terrific local guide with a great sense of humor.  He was a hoot!



A little background about the city, Ljubljana has been the cultural, educational, economic, political, and administrative center of Slovenia since the country gained independence in 1991.  It is a vibrant city with a mix of architectural styles dating back to the Roman period.  After the 1511 earthquake leveled much of the city, it was rebuilt in the Baroque style.  Another earthquake struck in 1895, so many of the buildings had to be rebuilt once again.  Hopefully, that’s the last of the earthquakes, because the remaining old buildings are so much more interesting than the contemporary boxes!

After our tour, we had free time to poke around the farmer’s market and wander the streets of the city.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped, so we could enjoy the sites with closed umbrellas.

























St. Nicholas Cathedral door














Glass or plastic?  Choose your bottle and fill ‘er up!


The “Epl” (Apple) computer store

Ljubljana was the last we would see of the picturesque country before traveling on to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia.  Having grown fond of Slovenia, I would have loved to have seen more of the small country that puts such a high priority on preserving their pristine beauty and is ranked 5th in the world in recycling!

Zagreb is our program director, Sinisa’s home, so he could speak plenty from personal experience about what it’s like to live in the bustling city now, and what it was like under Tito’s rule before Yugoslavia broke apart.

Sinisa, 50, had an interesting childhood growing up as the son of popular singer Drago Diklic, known as “Croatia’s Frank Sinatra.”  During one of our bus rides, he played some of his father’s music and showed us pictures of his dad with Tito (Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia’s communist leader from 1953-1980).

In the early 1990’s, when the war broke out and Serbia attacked Croatia, Sinisa fled to London while the remainder of his family stayed behind in Zagreb away from the fighting that destroyed Vukovar and other cities in the eastern region bordering Serbia.

Sinisa returned to Zagreb after the war ended and lives in the city with his wife and son.  As we entered the city, he pointed out the contrast between Slovenia and Croatia:  Slovenia is extremely clean and free of graffiti, whereas Croatians aren’t nearly as conscientious about recycling and there was a lot of graffiti on old and new buildings alike.  It was heartbreaking to see some of the lovely old Austrian architecture defaced; however, if there was any consolation, we learned that none of it was gang-related.  There are no gangs in Zagreb, and the city is actually quite safe to walk around, even at night.  The graffiti is done by destructive kids, and authorities are having a difficult time getting a handle on the epidemic.

The city is large, home to about one million of the over four million people in Croatia (or “Hrvatska” as the locals call it).  There is a generation gap in the population, because many older people were killed in the war, but even more younger people are leaving the country for jobs in Germany and other countries.  As a result, Croatia has the oldest population in Europe.  This leaves remaining Croatians feeling worried about the future of their country.

Croatia’s past was tumultuous.  Elders, including Sinisa’s grandmother were Austrian, Italian, Yugoslavian, and Croatian in their lifetimes without ever having moved from their home once!  It has been occupied that many times in one lifetime.  Each time, people had to learn a new language, obtain new documents, and live under a new set of laws.

If you were fortunate in the early 1990’s, you still had that home after the war.  One eighth of Croatian’s homes were destroyed, and it took twelve years for the country to build 160,000 homes to replace them.  So many schools were destroyed that remaining schools had to educate children in two or three shifts, including one at night.

Due to land mines that still haven’t been cleared (and won’t be until 2024, according to government estimates), much of Croatia’s food must be imported, because of the dangers associated with farming.

If Croatians could wind back the clock to any period of their past, most would choose to live under Tito’s rule once again.  Although there was a documented (very) dark side of their leader and how he had dissenters killed, life was good under Tito’s brand of communism.  Tito had divided Yugoslavia into six republics after World War II, and Croatia (along with its friendly neighbor, Slovenia) was the most industrialized and successful.  Practicing religion was permitted, passports were granted, travel to foreign countries was allowed, and Yugoslavians had the best lifestyle and most freedoms of all of the communist countries.

During the industrial boom of the 1960’s, apartments were provided for free to all factory workers, there was job security, and every citizen had free medical care and free education.  Nationalism was forbidden and there were no elections, but if you didn’t mind (or kept your opinions to yourself), you had a comfortable lifestyle in an extremely safe country.

The 1970’s brought a boom in tourism to Yugoslavia, a popular destination for Austrians, Germans, and Brits; so, the country prospered even more.  But, in 1980, the “Benevolent Dictator,” as Tito was called, died.  His funeral was the largest in history; over 159 nations attended.  Not only was he well-loved by his own people, but he was well-respected by world leaders for having stood up to Stalin in 1948.

When Tito was alive, he wanted Yugoslavia united as one with no nationalism; however, when he died, nationalism was out and the Serbs wanted independence.  Ten years after Tito’s death, his legacy was destroyed.

Sinisa looks back on Tito’s days fondly.  Life was good back then!  Although his family and friends didn’t have access to the variety of items other countries enjoyed, the freedom to travel made it easy to pop over to Italy for a shopping binge and pick up Italian shoes or jeans.  In Austria, they would make a beeline for chocolate.  (I can relate to that!).

It was interesting to hear Sinisa’s stories a well as those told by the local guides, lecturers, and hosts of our home visit for dinner later in the trip.  Having been to Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia on a Danube River cruise in 2007, I had learned about Tito as well as the horrors of the 1990’s war; however, the experience wasn’t as in-depth.  I was completely captivated this time around.


Our room at the Hotel Esplanade, built in 1925 for passengers of the Orient Express.  The TV greeted us with “Welcome, Mr. Cook,” and we could program a wake up call to have the TV turn on at our scheduled time with various peaceful videos of the ocean, forest, etc.







Julian Alps

Our program director, Sinisa, told us he had a “surprise” for us today.  He has a good sense of humor.  When we arrived at our “surprise,” we were in ITALY!  Sovenia is bordered by Italy and Austria, and you could actually bicycle through all three countries in one day quite easily.  Since all three are members of the European Union, you wouldn’t even need a passport.


We walked into Italy at this now-shuttered border station to take cheesy pictures at the Italia sign and have a good laugh about the additional country we were visiting.


Sinisa Diklic, our program director

At one time, this border separated communism from capitalism.  (More on that in a future post.)  Now you can go all the way to the English Channel without a border crossing slowing you down.  In 2020, Croatia and Montenegro will also be members of the European Union, so there will be even less need for a passport on road trips.

Our next stop was really the unexpected surprise:  Planica, Slovenia’s Olympic ski jump center and location of the most recent ski jump World Record.  Set in 2015, Peter Prevc jumped a whopping 248.5 meters (about 814 feet or 271 yards)!


When we first arrived, I said to myself, “Ok, we’ll see some beautiful mountains with ski jumps and just imagine what it would be like to jump off them.”  I had visited the Olympic ski jump in Oslo, and I thought that was amazing enough.  I would have been happy just having an experience like that again.

Surprise!  There were skiers jumping, and it was SUMMER!  Little did I know that except for the main jump where the World Cup is held, the training jumps were covered in a special Astroturf that was kept wet for the skiers to train on all year long.  In addition, there was an indoor cross-country ski course, where we braved the cold for a minute (in our t-shirts and shorts) to take a quick snapshot before going back outside to watch the jumpers.



After getting an overall view from the center’s balcony, we got an up-close look to watch the ski jumpers.  It amazed me how YOUNG some of them were!  One of the kids flying through the sky couldn’t have been more than ten years old.  (I missed the shot of him.)  That’s a brave kid!





In Slovenia, they start young, learning how to ski at the same time they learn how to walk.  Once they are stable on their skis, the kids learn how to jump by starting on a playground slide-sized jump, and then work up from there.


This is the highest ski jump where the World Record was broken by Peter Prevc.  The World Cup is held here. Note the tiny ski jump at the bottom.  This is used to train toddlers!  Next, they graduate to the longer jumps behind it.

We had so much fun watching (and trying to photograph) the jumpers that we could have stayed there all day.


Laura, this one’s for you!  Bring in da goat!!


Free time was spent nearby exploring the ski resort town of Kranjska Gora, surrounded by beautiful mountains.  There was a ski lift directly behind the hotels; no driving required!

Unfortunately, those lifts didn’t get any use last year due to the lack of snow.  It usually snows October to May; however, global warming has caused quite a weather change in Slovenia, including less snow and more tropical thunderstorms.

The lack of snow made for good foraging in the surrounding forests, however.  Berries and mushrooms grow in abundance, and mushroom soup (which we enjoyed later on at dinner) is a mainstay of the cuisine in the region.






A cheese vending machine!  Laura, don’t ya love it?  We saw a milk vending machine the following day, and they even sold both glass and reusable plastic bottles to dispense the milk in.

When we returned to Lake Bled, I had hoped to go for another swim; however, the clouds looked threatening and thunderstorms were in the forecast.  Instead, we grabbed our umbrellas and set out on a 3.5 mile walk around Lake Bled, not worrying about rain, but hoping a lightning bolt wouldn’t strike our umbrellas!  It turned out to be the only time rain was a nuisance on our trip besides the following day on our walking tour of Ljubjana.  The walk around the lake was gorgeous, though, even in the rain!  It is one of the most popular walks in all of Slovenia, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it!








This was our hotel.  There was a ski lift on the right.

For dinner, we were taken by bus to a traditional local restaurant, Gostina Lectar, in the town of Radovljica.



Antique skis were displayed in the lobby.

The restaurant has been in existence since 1822; however, the 500-year-old house has been in the Lectar family for three generations.

Before dining in a private room, we first watched a private ginger-bread-making demonstration in the charming basement bakery and gift shop.  Actually, it was really honey-bread, since ginger isn’t native to the area, but honey is abundantly available.


Dinner was served by Mr. Lectar himself, and we started with his family’s locally-made wine and mushroom soup in a cute bread pot.  Very clever!  Platters of meat, sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut were then served (one platter per four people), and plenty remained behind as we were all quite full from the abundance of food.  There was still dessert, though, and we were served apple ice cream in a carved-out apple.

The town was so picturesque, that I was glad I slipped out to take this picture before night fall.









Our hotel at Lake Bled had something I had never seen on a breakfast buffet:  honey straight from the comb.  It was delicious with cheese and their freshly-baked croissants.  Between the wonderful assortment of food and fairy tale view of Bled Castle, it was a pleasant and relaxing way to start the day!


The view from our patio table


Bled Castle dates back to 1100, the wall was built in 1300, and the church in 1600.


There is a permanent rowing course set up on Lake Bled, and we watched dozens of sculls gliding back and forth during breakfast.

We began our morning tour (14 passengers in a deluxe 45-passenger coach!) with a beautiful drive through the Julian Alps to Vogel Ski Resort where we took a breathtaking cable car ride up to the top at 4,000 feet.  The views were spectacular!



Skiing is Slovenia’s national winter sport, and they are dedicated to it, no matter what it takes to get to the slopes.  It is typical for Slovenians to spend a total of 14 hours (round-trip drive and the wait time to get on the cable car and ski lift) just to be able to ski for 36 minutes down from the top of Vogel!

Our next stop was for a walk through a tiny village where the homes were adorned with overflowing baskets of flowers and the stream was incredibly clear and colorful.  It was the most beautiful little stream we had ever seen!






The town of Ribcev Laz located on the crystal-clear glacial Lake Bohinj was another picturesque stop we made where we were mesmerized by the clarity and color of the water.  Our free time at Slovenia’s largest lake provided an opportunity to take in the views of the limestone mountains and enjoy doing some photography.





Throughout the morning tour, I came to understand why those who had been to Slovenia were so emphatic in their recommendations to visit this small gem of a country.

When we returned to Lake Bled, we made our way around to the other side of the lake from our hotel to visit medieval Bled Castle that dates back to 1011.  Fortunately, it was a sunny day, and we were able to take in the gorgeous views of the lake, including the church on Bled Island and our hotel across the way.







Although most of our group chose to return to the hotel afterwards via our private motor coach, Bruce and I opted to walk down and take in the views around the lake.  We rewarded ourselves with a piece of delicious Bled cream cake at the Park Hotel.  Created by their chef in 1953, it is so popular now that they make 500,000 of the cakes each year!  Considering that every single person dining on the patio around us had a piece of cream cake in front of them, I had no doubt that statistic was accurate!




This is where we enjoyed Bled cream cake and took in the views of Bled Castle across the way.


Between our piece of cake followed by a gelato at a stand down the street, we made a lunch of it.  Nutritious?  No.  Delicious?  Absolutely!

Dining alfresco at a local restaurant that evening, I was curious to see if the grilled squid would be as good as the night before at the hotel, and I was not disappointed!




Our flight from Atlanta to Ljubljana, Slovenia (via Zurich) was uneventful, and that’s a good thing!  I love being able to fly out of the busiest airport in the world (and Delta’s hub).  It means never having to fly United Airlines ever again (if I can help it!) and opting for Delta and Southwest Airlines (domestically) instead.

Vantage Travel’s arrangements were flawless, and we had a seamless day of arrival.  For our pre-cruise extension in Slovenia, we spent three nights in Bled at the Grand Hotel Toplice, located on Lake Bled, and dating back to 1845.  GORGEOUS!  Although the hotel wasn’t anything special on the outside, it was grand on the inside with a lovely lounge and restaurant overlooking the lake.


The view of Grand Hotel Toplice from Bled Castle.  The hotel’s private “beach” and swim area is to the right of the rowboat shelter.


The key to minimizing jet leg is immediately adapting to local time.  Neither of us sleep well on planes, so it was a challenge to stay awake until after dinner.  I chose to go for a refreshing swim in Lake Bled while Bruce lounged on the hotel’s private “beach.”  At 77 degrees (just below competition temperature), I was in heaven!  It did the trick and energized me for the remainder of the day and evening.

After meeting the 12 other Vantage travelers on the pre-extension over a glass of wine and briefing by Sinisa , our program director, we enjoyed dining with sunset views of the lake and Bled Castle.  Dinner was fabulous!  Bruce and I had never tasted grilled calamari (they refer to it as “squid”) so fresh and perfectly prepared that you could cut it easily with a fork.


By now, many of you may be wondering just where Slovenia is located and why we would travel there.

A small country bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the northeast, Croatia to the southeast, and the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, Slovenia is smaller than the state of New Jersey.  Formerly part of Yugoslavia, the country gained independence in 1989.  In 2004, Slovenia joined the European Union.  It is one of Europe’s least-densely populated countries with just under 2.1 million people who are mostly Roman Catholic.

I was impressed to learn that Slovenia’s education ranks as the 12th best in the world and that 92% of adults between 25-64 speak at least one foreign language.

Slovenia’s extremely strict gun laws also impressed me.  Before you can purchase a gun, you must undergo a medical and psychiatric exam.  If you pass, the next step is to participate in a six-month training program.  As a result, the percentage of privately-owned guns is only about 15 per 100 civilians compared to about 120 per 100 American civilians!  In addition, most of those privately-owned guns in Slovenia are used for hunting, which is only allowed on Sundays.

A few other facts about the country:  In addition to banking and tourism, Slovenia is known for its production of electronics, wool clothing, wood furniture, beer, wine, and jams.  Apples, pears, plums, and vegetables are the main crops; and the cuisine is a mix of Central European, Mediterranean, and Balkan.

Slovenia is very mountainous with over half the country covered by forests, so it is absolutely beautiful—and, clean!  Conservation, a clean environment, and recycling are priorities of Slovenia, so we never saw litter on the streets, and the air and water were fresh and clean.

Located in the Julian Alps in the northwest region of the country, the scenery surrounding Lake Bled is stunning, making it an ideal locale for destination weddings—very popular for the British.

In my next post, we explore more of the Julian Alps region.


After returning from our three-week Mississippi River cruise around the same time last year, it seemed to take forever to get all of my pictures edited and blog posts written.  September starts our busy fall craft show season for Bruce’s fused glass jewelry, so my blog took a back seat to our business and associated travel. It wasn’t until December when I concluded my blog posts of that trip.

In retrospect, there was a wonderful silver lining to what at first seemed unthinkable, especially since I am the opposite of a procrastinator!  (Since I had previously posted to my blog during my travels back in the early days, it seemed so strange to me to have my trip posts take so long to complete.)

That silver lining?  First, enjoying every minute of the trip without the distraction of editing pictures and writing.  It was fine during our seven-week road trip, since evenings were mostly spent unwinding and relaxing in our hotel room.  Bruce would study the map and travel info. I had researched, while I worked at the computer.  On the riverboat trips with my mom, evenings were mostly quiet on the boat after dinner, so there was plenty of opportunity to pop open my netbook in the lounge and write while others read their books or conversed with other passengers.

This time, there was too much going on that I didn’t want to miss.  The writing could wait!  Instead, I took a lot of notes during our walking tours and lectures, filling up an entire spiral notebook.  (Being able to read my scribbled notes will prove to be a challenge, I’m sure!)

Most of all, though, I discovered how much I thoroughly enjoyed reliving the trip again and again throughout my three-month photo editing and writing process.  I caught myself smiling, laughing, and remembering things that had slipped my mind, each time I edited a new batch of pictures and wrote about what we had experienced.  Every time I sat down at the computer, I felt exhilaration and happiness; I was in the zone.


Happily swimming in Lake Bled, Slovenia (Bled Castle is behind me.)

It is for those reasons, my dear readers, that I make no promises as to when my next post will appear on this site, and when my last one will be completed for our most recent trip.  I will at least cut to the chase, though, and tell you that each and every day was thoroughly enjoyable and breathtaking.  Hopefully, my pictures will do justice to the beauty of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro; the former Yugoslavian countries we visited during our 19-day Vantage Travel land and yacht tour.

If you wish to read on without having to keep checking my site for my next post, sign up to receive e-mails notifying you when a new post has been added.  Who knows?  I may even get them all written before the December holidays arrive!