West Highland Way Afterparty in Edinburgh

IMG_20190727_141428

To cool off after the epic hike, we spent one more weekend in the rainy and gloomy Edinburgh. The only items on our agenda were wandering the cobbled streets and visiting a couple of obligatory sights before returning home. I’m sure there are countless Edinburgh guides that are bigger and better than this, so I think my main goal with this post is simply to dump some of our photos here for safekeeping. I do have a couple of recommendations for the best restaurant and the best tourist activity, though!

Obligatory Sight #1: Edinburgh CastleIMG_20190727_154129_01

IMG_20190727_163016

I don’t know if they’d even let you out of Edinburgh without having visited the famous castle on the hill. On a rainy morning, the ticket queue was not too bad, so we actually made it in and out in a reasonable amount of time. A special feature worth mentioning was the cemetery which was located in a spot with some of the best views and dedicated to soldiers’ dogs – our furry companions truly deserve nothing less than that. Nice castle, sure, but it has nothing on my beloved Turku Castle.

Click on the images to view larger versions

Obligatory Sight #2: Royal Botanic Garden EdinburghIMG_20190728_115148

The weekend-long drizzle turned into a downpour of biblical proportions as soon as we had walked over to the furthermost corner of the botanic garden. The umbrellas we had got for a tenner didn’t help much with the strong gusts of wind, so we just stood under a random tree until the rain subsided a little bit. Note to self: don’t pack sneakers for Edinburgh, they’ll just get squelchy in a second. Should have worn my hiking boots if I wanted to keep my socks dry. Worth a visit, these gardens, anyway!

IMG_20190728_122109

IMG_20190728_122711

IMG_20190728_123252

Obligatory Tourist Activity Tip: The Edinburgh Dungeon

The underground Edinburgh has been put to good use. The Edinburgh Dungeon will give full bang for your buck (or your £15): tourist groups are led through the underground maze, where they get a glimpse of Scotland’s darkest history with the gracious help of some foul-mouthed actors with an attitude. Such a hilarious tour! Not recommended for the most thin-skinned amongst us – Karens need not apply.

Restaurant Tip: MUMS Great Comfort FoodIMG_20190727_212839

While in Edinburgh, we ate a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but there was one restaurant that deserves a special mention: MUMS Great Comfort Food serves exactly what the name suggests, tasty comfort food which is excellent value for your money. We spotted the place by accident while strolling by, and on the early Saturday evening we needed to queue for about half an hour to get a table. I’m actually surprised we didn’t have to wait longer than that. We wined and dined well, and while our final check included ten items, the total only came up to sixty quid. The delicious munchies and the cozy retro decoration were great, but the true draw of the place is its amazingly friendly staff. The wait staff always had a twinkle in their eye and a smile on their face no matter how busy it got.

Unfortunately, the people seated in the table next to ours must have had escaped from some kind of a rehab centre for entitled arseholes or whatnot. I didn’t quite catch what exactly their problem with the food was, but even after the waitress had canceled the whole check for their entire group of six (!), these jerks kept berating her on their way out. That’s when we decided to pay our own check by card, gave all the paper money we had left as a tip and said it was for the excellent service. It wasn’t much, but it was meant as an encouraging gesture. The response we got still warms my heart: “I knew I was gonna cry tonight, but I didn’t expect them to be happy tears.” I may or may not have teared up, myself, as well.

IMG_20190727_173452

All in all, we truly had an excellent holiday in Scotland – I could even say it was perfect if only I had been able to keep my socks dry on the flooding streets of Edinburgh. But that was my own mistake.

West Highland Way, Part 4: Kingshouse–Kinlochleven–Fort William

IMG_20190725_103938

Day 7: Kingshouse–Kinlochleven

The second last morning of our hike dawned on us sunny and warm. Since we hadn’t slept all that well nor much, there was no question as to whether we should nibble at a piece of dry bread in our tent or enjoy a good breakfast in the pub, so the pub it was. We went for the full Scottish, which included a hefty plate of all kinds of artery-clogging goodness, as well as drinks. And also haggis. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d someday find myself having haggis for breakfast, but Chef and I both wolfed down our portions in no time at all. There’s definitely something magical about a hungry hiker’s bottomless belly.

IMG_20190725_094932

After breakfast, it was once again time to pack up camp and leave one of our backpacks behind for pick-up. Meanwhile, the hung over American louts had also managed to crawl up from their hidey holes, their bloodshot eyes squinting in the bright light of dawn. Everyone else was squinting, too, only not for the sunlight but to give the spring breakers the evil eye while passing them by on the way back to the trail. Not the friendliest audience for them that morning. Anyway, the most important thing was to get a decent head start on that shrieking group of brutes so our ears wouldn’t have to bleed again that day.IMG_20190725_115533

The day’s walk started out flat and easy but soon turned into another sweat-inducing climb. Fortunately, we were able to soak our swollen feet in cold streams on our breaks on the way up. Based on a quick glance at the guide book, I was aware that the notorious Devil’s Staircase was awaiting us that day, but we actually didn’t even realise we had climbed it until we were almost at the top, already. Much less painful than the name suggests – in good weather and with minimal gear to carry, at least.

IMG_20190725_122527_01Looks like the Devil’s Staircase is just a ladder to heaven in disguise

IMG_20190725_122811Feels good to be on top (of the world)
IMG_20190725_123330Feels even better to be walking downhill
IMG_20190725_124008Stepping stones for rainy days
IMG_20190725_125731

What goes up must come down, so after the staircase/ladder much of the way was a gentle descend to our next pit stop in Kinlochleven. According to our guide book, the old industrial town of Kinlochleven is nothing but an eyesore, a mere stain on the trail, “the ugliest on two thousand miles of Highland coast”. Not the most enticing description, for sure.

IMG_20190725_195042IMG_20190725_141839

However, once we made it to town, we couldn’t help but think that the description was quite unfair – I was expecting something much uglier. I mean, yeah, the first thing that greets you on your way to town is a bunch of nasty water pipes ruining the natural views, and sure, the houses originally built for the now-closed aluminium smelter workers are carbon copies of each other, but at least the village is tidy, well-kept and surrounded by mountains – and split up by a river just like my much beloved hometown of Turku. It felt cosy.

IMG_20190725_144038 An entire village’s worth of gnomes on one tiny yard

IMG_20190725_153722 MacDonald Hotel #barwithaview

In Kinlochleven, we stayed at the MacDonald Hotel Campsite, where they offered a nice and secluded grassy area for tents. We made it to the hotel about one and a half hours before our backpack arrived, which wasn’t a problem since we could wait in the hotel’s lovely bar with a view – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen something uglier, somewhere.

When the backpack arrived, we got to chat a bit with the Baggage Freedom owner Gregg. A lovely man in a kilt, there aren’t many things better than that. Gregg is a British army veteran who is now running his own company mostly by himself, although every now and then his mates help him out so he can have a day off. For once, I picked the right service provider. Strongly recommended!

IMG_20190725_153739Chef was in no hurry to get anywhere

After putting up our tent, we went for a quick swim behind the campsite where the River Leven meets Loch Leven. We couldn’t go further than a few metres from the shore, since the current seemed strong, but it felt amazing to soak in the chilly water after a full day of sweating it up under the scorching sun. We returned to our tent to find a new neighbour in a brave 19-year-old German girl, who was on her first solo hike far from home. I remember my first solo trip, which was well into my twenties and only for a weekend in Copenhagen. Hats off to you, lass! We did our grocery shopping and cooked dinner together with her.

At the end of the day, we went to the bar for a cold one, which turned into a few more until it was accidentally already closing time. We were chatting with two lovely Scottish cousins, and as we all know, time flies when you’re having fun. We had already seen the blokes a few times on the trail, but only started a conversation when they showed up at the same campsite. Our conversations covered all sorts of topics from Brexit to old viking rituals, but for me, the most memorable bit was realising that in Scotland, even these rugged and tattooed dudes use the word wee in their everyday speech when they mean something is little. A wee beastie, a wee holiday – too cute!

(The Final) Day 8: Kinlochleven–Fort William

IMG_20190726_104704

The last day, how did that happen so soon?! We slept in, perhaps a bit too late, and after a sluggish breakfast got back on the trail to yet again sweat our arses off in the heat of Scotland. Sounds ridiculous, but it was truly, seriously hot. The last leg wasn’t very challenging, but it sure was hilly. A few extra water bottles really came in handy.

IMG_20190726_112112
IMG_20190726_120354
IMG_20190726_125807
IMG_20190726_130247

As we were approaching Fort William, we began to notice felling areas and other signs of human habitation. We also had to go through a few sheep enclosures – one of them was so muddy around the gate that I almost lost one of my shoes in there. However, it was really interesting to spot a sheep herder and his dog at work high up the mountainside. The dog appeared to take its orders in the form of different whistles and brief shouts and expertly herded the little balls of wool in good order down towards the closure. IMG_20190726_134352
IMG_20190726_133851

We had our last proper snack break in a wide open spot with the most fantastic, panoramic views on the entire hike that day. We even had a little bench there, and many of the passers-by were visibly jealous of our private lunch spot. Right as we were digging into our backpacks for the instant soup, a spandex-clad mountain biker stopped next to us, and we proceeded to have this very brief exchange with him:

Spandex Man: “Excuse me, do you know if that’s Ben Nevis right over there?”

Us: “Probably, but we’re not 100% sure.”

Spandex Man: “No matter, I’ll just take a pic and tell my mates it is!”

And it was, which we were able to confirm once I got my hands on the map. But hey, doesn’t matter as long as your mates believe it! Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to summit Ben Nevis this time around, as it would have required another full day which we simply didn’t have, but at least now we’ve got an excellent excuse to one day return to the Highlands.

IMG_20190726_143248Ben Nevis, we shall meet again

As is often the case with long hikes, the last miles were once again quite anticlimactic. After the breathtaking views of Ben Nevis and its surroundings, the rest of the hike was a seemingly never-ending log trail winding down towards Fort William which then turned to pavement and long lines of cars speeding by.

IMG_20190726_155452I think this picture is certificate enough for me

The original end of the West Highland Way is in the outskirts of Fort William, but they’ve later moved it downtown. I’m not even sure where, because we had zero interest to go chasing after another sign in the concrete jungle. Instead, we headed straight for the pub for some burgers and cokes. Gregg was already waiting for us at the station with our second backpack, and he would have driven us back to Glasgow for around 20 quid if we hadn’t already bought ourselves tickets for the Caledonian Sleeper train straight to Edinburgh.

IMG_20190726_155715

It didn’t seem like there is much else to do in Fort William besides bewaring of elderly people and giggling at teenagers sitting in circles and singing along to Ed Sheeran songs outside the supermarket. We walked around, fruitlessly, trying to find a place for wild swimming. Couldn’t find any, so we just went to the swimming hall. Their abomination of a sauna was but a lukewarm room without even the most primitive sauna stove, yet they had deemed it necessary to post a sign on the door warning people about the heat. Oh you poor, misguided souls. In any case, I (and probably everyone on the same train with us) surely appreciated the chance to wash my hair thoroughly before our train trip.

IMG_20190726_211019Caledonian Sleeper: views along the way

And what a train trip it was! Some of the best bits of the WHW through the windows. No sweat, no midges. The train did not depart on schedule, though, and my assigned seat just happened to be the only broken one. A friendly member of staff told me that “Mark” would take care of it as soon as he wasn’t too busy, just ask Mark. That’s nice, but was I supposed to know which one of the many men buzzing around the cars was Mark? Perhaps he’s some local railroad celebrity. I did eventually get a functional seat and the train caught up to schedule along the way, too. I wouldn’t mind taking that train trip again.

Such an amazing eight days on the trail! Assuming that tourism is one day again an option, I warmly recommend the West Highland Way to anyone interested in longer hikes.

P.S. Learn from my mistakes, pack decent rain gear.

P.P.S. Absolutely do take advantage of the baggage transfer services! For a modest fee, walking will be a bajillion times more enjoyable.

Prices (July 2019):

  • Kingshouse Hotel/Way Inn: breakfast £15 pp
  • MacDonald Campsite, Kinlochleven: £20 per night for two people in one tent
  • Caledonian Sleeper train ticket Fort William–Edinburgh: £15 pp (early bird online discount)

To read all posts on this trip in English, use the tag WHW19EN.

 

SlovinIt19: Beach Holiday in Caorle

IMG_20190628_051620

After the action-packed hiking week in Slovenia, we continued sweating our arses off in a different way as we moved on to take a quick breather on Italy’s side. There are several tempting beach holiday destinations in Northern Italy, and after thorough google research we ended up picking Caorle, which is located halfway between Trieste and Venice. We were looking for a relaxing atmosphere, nice beaches and a bit of personality, reachable by public transport, and Caorle fit the bill perfectly.

trainItalian air conditioning = fanning yourself with a train ticket

From Ljubljana, we first took a Flixbus to Trieste on the Italian side of the border and continued on to the Portogruaro-Caorle station by train. Finally from there, we caught a local bus to the centre of Caorle. The early morning Flixbus had a plenty of room left, and we only bought our tickets the day before our journey. The train wasn’t packed either and we were able to get our tickets on the day of the journey. Both the bus and the train ran pretty well on schedule, only the bus got stuck in traffic for a while as we were nearing Trieste. However, Trenitalia’s claim of aria condizionata was just a bad joke. This was the week when all of Europe was hit by a record-breaking heatwave, so our train trip was nothing short of pure agony. Our thighs and backs got glued to the leather seats and little droplets of sweat formed small streams running down our faces. A sauna would have been wayyyy more comfortable than that.

 IMG_20190627_111232

We stayed at Hotel Fabrizio, which unfortunately ended up being a bit of a disappointment. The booking site advertised a room with a balcony, but in reality there was only a tiny window. The room was dark and dingy. The staff were very friendly but quite disorganised: for example, they tried to charge us twice for the same room. Nobody spoke English, but we were able to get by on body language and a few words of elementary school German. On the bonus side, the breakfast was pretty good (although only served for one hour from 8 to 9 a.m.), and beach chairs and umbrellas were included in the room price, whereas normally you’d have to rent them for 20-25€/day or 85€/week.

IMG_20190628_211156IMG_20190627_112320

Our pain and suffering subsided as soon as we settled in and got to wander around town. Caorle is a cute, small town full of colourful houses and beaches stretching as far as the eye can see – a perfect spot for simply loafing around for a few days. Each day of our three-day beach vacation pretty much followed the same routine: breakfast at the hotel, off to the beach until lunch, a shower and a nap in our air-conditioned room, and finally venturing out to enjoy the colour therapy while looking for a nice place for dinner.

IMG_20190628_061711IMG_20190627_110414

The Old Town of Caorle is made up of a maze of narrow streets and tiny squares surrounded by cheerfully colourful houses. For that reason, Caorle is also called Little Venice, even without any canals. For me, the low and colourful buildings are reminiscent of Miami Beach, and I love that! When I see these kinds of places, I’m always hit with architecture jealousy – why don’t we use any colours in Finland? (NB! Grey and beige are not colours!) It would make November a million times more bearable if we got to enjoy a rainbow of colours on our way to school and work like they do in Caorle.

Caorle

When it comes to restaurants, the menus in Caorle are naturally full of all kinds of seafood in addition to the usual pizzas and pastas. All of it is definitely worth sampling! And even though it’s the promised land of pasta we’re talking about here, I have to make this outrageous recommendation for an excellent Chinese restaurant called Nuova Hong Kong: they serve incredibly tasty food at reasonable prices, the service is friendly and fast, and they have outdoor seating at a charming little square away from the noisiest streets. This is a great opportunity to add a little variety to your diet, especially if you’re staying in Italy for an extended period of time.

IMG_20190628_203613

One morning we made an exception to the routine I mentioned earlier and walked to the beach to watch the sunrise. At 5 a.m., there were only a handful of joggers and photographers around. We also got to check out the outdoor art exhibition, consisting of dozens of carved rocks, without herds of German tourists blocking the view. I really, really love the sunrise vibe, but I never have the energy nor motivation to wake up for it in Finland. Everything’s different when you’re on holiday.

IMG_20190628_051115IMG_20190628_060425IMG_20190628_054703__01IMG_20190628_054401IMG_20190628_062413IMG_20190628_061155

Despite its unique architecture, Caorle is quite a typical beach holiday destination in the sense that it comes alive in cycles and the atmosphere changes completely between these cycles. During daytime, people enjoy the sun and the sea, the beaches are teeming with tourists and pink skin sizzles in the heat. In the late afternoon, everything quiets down as people retreat indoors to have a siesta and perhaps something to eat. And once darkness sets in, the quiet streets are suddenly back to life and full of couples and families. Neon lights blink at arcades, ice-cream sellers rake in the dough and shoe stores (open until late night) invite people in for some impulse shopping. It’s a unique vibe I’m sure everyone who’s ever been to a beach destination recognises. Caorle is among the best, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone with a basic grasp of Italian or German!

IMG_20190628_212101IMG_20190627_223042

Prices (June 2019): Caorle

  • Flixbus Ljubljana–Trieste: 10€ pp (upstairs premium seat)
  • Train Trieste–Portogruaro: 9€ pp
  • Local bus ticket Portogruaro–Caorle: 3€
  • Accommodation, Hotel Fabrizio: 76.35€/night/room for 2 + tourist tax 0.70€ per night per person
  • Renting beach chairs and umbrellas: 20–25€/day or 85€/week
  • Pizza and drinks for two, Hotel Negretto: 28€ (incl. service fee)
  • Slushie 3€, water bottle 1€

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

 

SlovinIt19: Ljubljana

IMG_20190625_184528

After our exercise-filled nature holiday in Bled and Bohinj, it was time to move on to Ljubljana, where the wild mountain scenery made way for carefully maintained parks and impressive architecture. As we were only passing through, our brief one-day visit barely allowed us to scratch the surface of this beautiful city. We were originally supposed to meet a Slovenian friend of mine while in town, but the plan fell through due to unforeseen circumstances. (Hey D, I’ll be back for those drinks later!) We ended up spending the day wandering around aimlessly and just taking in the sights.

IMG_20190625_124511IMG_20190625_125708IMG_20190625_155221IMG_20190625_133807IMG_20190625_155532IMG_20190625_204522

At the time of booking the trip, I wasn’t aware that our timing collided with the Slovenian Statehood Day on 25 June. Many shops and other establishments closed early that day and the streets were surprisingly quiet, which of course made walking around easier but also meant that the atmosphere was a bit strange – most of the locals seemed to be celebrating out of town. But hey, at least we got to admire the architecture close up without always getting blocked by other tourists. I simply adore those colourful buildings! And how about that daycare playground with its green wall and cloud ornaments? For a capital city, Ljubljana seems surprisingly clean and charming.

IMG_20190625_140442IMG_20190625_144030IMG_20190625_144537IMG_20190625_144933IMG_20190625_144258IMG_20190625_144452

We also spent a good chunk of time in the lush Tivoli Park, which offered us some much needed shade and refuge from the afternoon heat. In addition to enjoying the park’s floral splendour, we also found an outdoor art exhibition and a small botanical garden whose collection of exotic trees was grown in pots out in the yard. However, my favourite Tivoli memory is from the water lily pond, where a plump duck was straining to park its behind on a floating water lily leaf. After making considerable effort and trying many strategies from straight-up climbing to backing up rear first, the duck finally succeeded, but the leaf couldn’t support its weight and dipped underwater. The duck still kept proudly chilling out on its freshly conquered, semi-sunken leaf pontoon. Obviously, I have a soft spot for chunky animals, but I never seem to have the time to pay attention to these details in my everyday life.

food-lj

When it comes to food, I can recommend the Icy Bobo ice-cream roll stands and the restaurant Druga Violina, which employs people with special needs. Druga Violina is located in a quaint old square near the Ljubljana Castle. The portions are big, the food is tasty and the prices are very affordable. For a quick snack, it’s also easy to grab a cup of fresh berries from the riverbank market.

IMG_20190625_205101 IMG_20190625_210311

After dinner, we (among many others) climbed up to the Ljubljana Castle to watch the sunset. The castle hill has great views over the old town rooftops, and as an added bonus, there are mountains shimmering on the horizon. Not a bad way to finish the day.

Prices (June 2019): Ljubljana

At this point of our holiday, I had already gotten lazy about writing things down, so I’ve only got a couple notes on prices.

  • Accommodation, Guest House Stari Tisler, room for 2 with shared bathroom: 50€/room/night + tourist tax 3,13€/person
  • Three-course dinner and drinks for two at Druga Violina: 35€ in total

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

SlovinIt19: Lake Bohinj and Triglav National Park

IMG_20190621_194221Welcome to Bohinj!

The third day of our holiday began in typical Bled fashion, with a refreshing bout of hail and rain. Naturally, it only started to pour down while we were outside waiting for the bus to our next destination, Lake Bohinj. Always fun to travel with your hair and clothes dripping with rain water, but at least the trip took less than an hour. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t leave behind some suspiciously damp bus seats – so sorry for the unsuspecting travellers who caught the bus after us! It wasn’t what you probably thought it was.

Bohinj

Sobe_CuskicSobe Ćuskić, Ribčev Laz

In Bohinj, we spent a total of four nights at B&B Sobe Ćuskić, located in the village of Ribčev Laz. The lovely hostess didn’t speak much English, but everything went smoothly anyway. Our top floor room was clean and spacious with lots of natural light. We also had our own balcony with views to the mountains, as well as free access to a shared kitchen. The location was very convenient: right next to a bus stop, about a ten-minute walk from the head of Lake Bohinj with shops and restaurants. Our room for two cost 50€/night, which in my opinion was excellent value for money.

IMG_20190624_073115IMG_20190621_195232

While Bled is known by “everyone” and has the crowds to show for it, Bohinj remains a relatively unknown oasis. An American man we met at the Bled bus station was puzzled about why we would, after Bled, bother to go see “another lake”. Well, Bohinj isn’t just another lake, Sir. I’d even go as far as claim that Bohinj is just a bigger, calmer and more affordable version of Bled. Anyone looking for peace, quiet, mountainous scenery and endless hiking opportunities should feel right at home in Bohinj. Kayaking, parasailing and paragliding opportunities are also excellent there.

st_johnChurch of St. John the Baptist, Ribčev Laz

We started off by investing 27€ each on the Mini Bohinj Package, available at the tourist office, which included a boat tour on the lake, a return trip on the Vogel cable car, a drink at the Vogel restaurant and a visit to the Church of St. John the Baptist, which is probably the best-known historical monument in Ribčev Laz. There were many different packages to choose from, but the mini was best suited to our purposes.

IMG_20190621_202716 Midsummer dinner at restaurant Kramar

We arrived in Bohinj in the afternoon on Midsummer’s Eve. Unlike in Finland, where Midsummer is celebrated as “the nightless night” because the sun doesn’t set at all, in Slovenia it gets dark quite early even in summertime. So, the first day, we only had time to unpack and wander around in search of a meal. We found the perfect restaurant a short stroll away from the village centre, located right by the water’s edge. The food at Kramar was simple but tasty, however it was the views from the outdoor terrace that really won us over and got us in the right Midsummer mood.

IMG_20190621_195938Bohinj blue hour

Savica Waterfall

IMG_20190622_104858Gloomy morning view through the window

The next morning was rainy and foggy, so we didn’t feel bad at all about lounging in our room until late in the afternoon. When the sun suddenly appeared from behind the cloud cover, we decided to make a quick visit to the Savica waterfall, which is one of the most popular natural sights in the Bohinj area.

IMG_20190622_163831__01__01

The boat tour included in the Bohinj Package is very convenient in that you get two separate tickets, each good for a one-way trip from one end of the lake to the other, and they don’t need to be used on the same day. So we took one of our tickets and travelled by boat from Ribčev Laz to Ukanc. The boat stops by the docks next to Camp Zlatorog Bohinj, and from there you can either walk or hitchhike to the waterfall entrance. During high season in July–August, there is also a bus that goes all the way up to Savica, but we were there a bit too early in June. We picked the easy one-hour walk instead of hitching.

IMG_20190622_175536Savica

Our sporty choice kind of backfired once we made it to the ticket booth and found out there were still around 550 stairs to climb to even get within ogling distance of the waterfall. But none of that bothered us once we actually made it to the top, as it’s always pretty cool to see the most famous postcard views of your travel destination in person, rather than in the card rack of the nearest corner shop. The only bother was having to go back down to Ukanc the same way as we came, since the trail can get quite boring and there aren’t any sights along the way. At least the buses were still running, so we didn’t have to walk all the way to Ribčev Laz.

Vogel Hiking Trails

IMG_20190623_085605Orlove Glave chairlift

In the winter, the surroundings of Mt. Vogel operate as a skiing centre, and in the summer you can hop on the lifts and easily get to a height of 1537m to admire the spectacular mountain views without ever breaking a sweat. On the fifth day of our vacation, we spent our Bohinj Package cable car tickets to do a bit of hiking around Mt. Vogel. The same tickets were also good for the Orlove Glave chairlift, which took us even higher to the trails.

IMG_20190623_094405Snack break viewsIMG_20190623_104909Something that makes my soul sing
IMG_20190623_110607
A scared feller along the wayIMG_20190623_104236An excited feller at the top of a mountain (Šija 1880m)

The mountain weather forecast for the afternoon didn’t look too promising, so we decided to only do a short hike and summit one of the nearby peaks around the end station of the Orlove Glave chairlift. A very steep path took us to Šija in well under two hours, snack breaks included. In good weather, continuing further along the same trail would have led us to Vogel itself, but even this short route offered magnificent panoramas over the Julian Alps.

IMG_20190623_124505

After our brisk little walk, it was nice to kick back and enjoy a glass of wine at the cable car upper station terrace, with views all the way down to the lake. A tip to any drink ticket users: wine costs less than other refreshments there, so spend your Bohinj Package drink ticket on a Coke and pay cash for your 1,50 € glass of wine. I also recommend taking a moment to visit these furry friends living next to the upper station viewpoint!

Pigi_and_friendSpotted: a plump pig called Pigi

IMG_20190623_084218The Vogel cable car takes you straight to this picnic spot. Suits even the laziest of us!

Adventures and Adrenaline in Triglav National Park 

BohinjA happy mountain sloth in its element

On the sixth travel day, we finally got down to business, i.e. went on a proper day hike in the national park! In the morning, we caught a bus to the neighbouring village of Stara Fužina, where we started off on a steep forest trail leading to the Vogar viewpoint at the height of 1085 metres. That made for a nice warm-up ascent of about half a kilometre.

IMG_20190624_075706 IMG_20190624_113403

Our original plan was to do the five-hour circle route of Vogar–Pršivec–Planina Viševnik–Planina Jezero–Vogar, but the route between Planina Jezero and Vogar was unfortunately closed due to fallen trees on the trail. Our plan B was the one-way route of Vogar–Pršivec–Planina Viševnik–Crno Jezero–Slap Savica, which meant ending the hike at the waterfall we had already visited the previous day. I had a lot riding on this choice, since it was Redds’s first “real” mountain hike and I didn’t want to disappoint her.

IMG_20190624_130157Pršivec (1761m)
IMG_20190624_130132
Decent nap spot

At this point, we felt good about the route choice, and Redds didn’t let her fear of heights stop her from tackling a few scary points where we had to do some light climbing. The highest point of our route, Pršivec, offered incredible 360-degree views on the surrounding mountain range and down to the valley. It was also a great place to have a snack and a bit of rest before heading back down.

IMG_20190624_135307 Bregarjevo zavetišče

On the way down, we stopped by the Bregarjevo zavetišče hut, where we were able to purchase some cold drinks. Hot meals prepared by the hostess were also available. A cold soda cost 3 € and a sausage plate would have cost 10 €, which is incredibly reasonable considering the location. Best make sure to bring some cash for this one!

IMG_20190624_144931Back into the forest

IMG_20190624_151435

Our last pit stop before Savica was the dazzlingly turquoise Čzrno jezero (literally “Black Lake”). I wonder why each and every one of these lakes with clear turquoise water is always called the Black Lake, no matter where in the world they are located, hmm? There was a similar-looking puddle of the same name on my last trip to Montenegro. Anyway, at this point we had been hiking for at least eight hours, so a little soak in the cold water did wonders to our weary feet before the last leg of our hike. Perfect weather, perfect scenery – Redds’s maiden voyage into the world of mountain fanatics had gone almost suspiciously well.

IMG_20190624_151357

And suspicious we should have been, since bad luck struck us mere 20 minutes before the Savica parking lot. The descend from Črno jezero to Savica is a super steep zig zag trail, and while we were making our way down, some poor bastard above us stumbled and set off a bunch of chunky pieces of rock and failed to yell out a warning. The falling rocks bounced off the cliffs and thumped Redds straight in the forehead. Suddenly, there was enough blood to shoot a damn slasher film, and for the first time ever, I got to practise my first aid skills in action.

I managed to stop the bleeding, but the rest of the descent was nearly impossible due to the uncontrollable shaking in my thighs from all the adrenaline (oddly enough, I was more shaken than Redds). At Savica, we asked the staff to call us a taxi to the nearest hospital, but there were no taxis anywhere in the vicinity. Thankfully, a friendly restaurant worker gave us a ride to the nearest ER, which was a 35-kilometre drive away in Bohinjska Bistrica. The nurse who patched Redds up said that another person had gotten hurt on the same dayin the same spot and for the same reason. So, if you’re planning to take this route from Savica to Črno jezero, bringing a helmet definitely wouldn’t be overkill.

Thanks to beginner’s luck, Redds only suffered a fright and some nicks and bruises – well, a bruise the size and shape of a golf ball on her forehead. Stylish! As an added bonus, at least we got to see how the Slovenian health care system works, and no complaints there. However, Redds wasn’t too excited about the idea of me publishing a picture of her monster bruise, so here’s a bunch of pictures of alpine flowers we spotted along the way, instead. Enjoy!

alp flowers

Prices (June 2019): Bohinj

  • Bus ticket Bled–Bohinj: 3.60€
  • Accommodation, B&B Sobe Ćuskić: 50€/night/room for two
  • Mini Bohinj Package: 27€
  • Entrance fee to Savica waterfall: 3€/adult, 2.50€/student
  • Bus travel between the villages in Bohinj: 1.30–1.80€
  • Dinner at restaurant Kramar by the lake (incl. main dish, drink and dessert): 17.50€

+Tip: See arriva.si for local bus schedules and ticket prices

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.

SlovinIt19: Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

Lake Bled

Once again, the first half of this year has been a bit of a blur for me, but that’s just how it goes with the rat race, I suppose. At least I got to go on a few short holidays this summer! Ever since I first started (this admittedly intermittent) blogging, I’ve spent my midsummer alone in the mountains. This year, however, my friend Redds made a delightful special guest appearance. I planned us a little tour of Slovenia and northern Italy with the goal of maintaining a nice balance between the cities, the mountains and the sea – in other words, a bunch of mini vacations in one low-budget package.

Bled

The first stop of our grand SlovinIt tour was Lake Bled, best known for its clear, turquoise waters and its tiny church island. Bled is easy to reach from Ljubljana, as buses run regularly, and accommodation-wise there’s plenty to choose from, as long as you book early.

castle_hostelCastle Hostel: views from dorm and roof terrace

Mainly for budget reasons, we picked a hostel for the first two nights. Castle Hostel is located smack dab in the middle of Bled, a short stroll from the lake. The roof terrace features excellent views over the town, and they even arrange free morning yoga classes there. Our four-bed dorm shared the same view, which seemed great at first but turned out to be not-so-great after all. With no air-con it was really hot in the room at night, but it was also nearly impossible to keep the terrace-facing window open since the party people would smoke and make noise right in front of it until the wee hours. Decent accommodation for a couple of nights, just don’t forget to bring your earplugs and inhalator.

IMG_20190621_121229Lake view from the Bled Castle

Bled is one of the most popular tourist traps in Slovenia, and no wonder why: the astonishingly turquoise lake with its crystal-clear waters is surrounded by mountains and castles that could be straight out of a Disney film.  The lake keeps changing colours depending on the viewing angle and weather conditions. And those changing weather conditions seem to be able to pack all four seasons into a single day! Out of the two days we spent in Bled, both included sunshine, cloudy but dry weather, drizzle, thunderstorms and hailstones the size of a tennis ball. A storm can rise seemingly out of nowhere and soak you to the bone in a matter of minutes while the hailstones gently hammer your muscles, and the next minute the sun comes back out and there’s no trace of dark clouds anywhere. In this sense, Bled reminds me of Iceland – it is said in both places that if you don’t like the weather, wait for five minutes and check again. Unfortunately, that works both ways.

IMG_20190621_120527Better remember to bring an umbrella…

IMG_20190620_145935__01__01…or face the consequences! This only took five minutes.

My favourite thing about Bled is the trail circling the entire lake, with a plenty of nice wild swimming spots and opportunities to admire the lush vegetation and chubby duck families along the way. My least favourite thing must be the ceaseless echo of church bells from early morning until late evening  – the locals have found a way to squeeze a few extra bucks out of tourists by offering them a chance to ring the “famous wishing bells” of the island church and people positively flock to do it. Oh well, as long as business is booming, right?

 

When it comes to food, I can definitely recommend paying a visit (or two) to the reasonably-priced bakery Slaščičárna Zima, where you can easily sample the local delicacies. Make sure to taste the cream slice! And, even though it might seem silly to travel to Slovenia just to order a pizza, the popular Pizzeria Rustika is also worth queueing for – even going as far as making a table reservation might be wise with this one. These two joints won’t disappoint!

IMG_20190620_131024__01Cake break at Slaščičárna Zima. The hot chocolate was as thick as pudding, 5/5 from me!

The obligatory sights of course include Bled Castle. Built high up on a hill, you’ll get a nice, quick workout climbing there on foot. The castle overlooks the entire lake and the surrounding mountains, and the views from the courtyard are magnificent.

 

Vintgar Gorge

Bled is a great base for all kinds of tours and day trips, but if you’ve only got time for one activity (like we did), go for the Vintgar Gorge! It is one of the finest sites of natural beauty I’ve ever stumbled upon and my pictures don’t do it any justice. The start of the 1,6-kilometre walking tour is about 4 km from Bled, and can be easily reached by bike or on foot if you’re not fond of busy tour buses. By walking or biking, you’ll also be able to make an early start before the biggest  tourist hordes arrive.

IMG_20190620_090008Country scenery along the way from Bled to Vintgar

As I recall, Redds and I made it to the ticket window at around ten in the morning, and the number of visitors was still at a reasonable level then. The entrance fee includes a return trip from the starting point to the Šum waterfalls and back. As you’ll be walking in the gorge on narrow boardwalks and gravel paths, with people simultaneously going in both directions and stopping along the way for pictures, foot traffic gets easily stuck in various bottlenecks. Therefore, it’s best to go as early as possible in order to spare your nerves. By noon it’ll be too late, already.

IMG_20190620_095905IMG_20190620_095119 IMG_20190620_094719

Another benefit to an early start is the chance to see the morning mist quietly hanging above the river, making the atmosphere a bit more eerie and mystical. As the day warms up, the mist slowly disappears and the crowds appear. So be early if you’d like to enjoy this sight in (relative) peace and quiet! Reserve at least two to three hours for the whole thing.

IMG_20190620_102120 IMG_20190620_103155

Prices (June 2019): Bled and Vintgar Gorge

  • Bus from Ljubljana airport to city centre: 4,10€ pp
  • Return bus ticket Ljubljana–Bled_Ljubljana: 11,34€ pp
  • Castle Hostel: 19€/bed/night + tourist tax 3,13€/person/night
  • Vintgar Gorge entrance fee : 6€/student, 10€/adult
  • Bled Castle entrance fee: 7€/student, 11€/adult
  • Stentor BarFly, lunch by Lake Bled: 14,30€ (meal + drink)
  • Slaščičárna Zima: one piece of salty and sweet pastry each + hot chocolate: 9,55€
  • Rustika, pizza + drink: 14 €
  • Public Bar & Vegan Kitchen Bled, soup lunch + smoothie: 9,50 €

To read all my posts on this trip in English, use the tag SlovinIt19EN.