West Highland Way, Part 2: Drymen–Balmaha–Rowardennan–Inversnaid

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The further north we proceeded the better the views became, and the number of photos I snapped appears to have increased in direct correlation with the growing altitudes. Therefore the remaining posts are going to be quite picture-heavy, since culling the selection any further would take me forever.

Day 3: Drymen–Balmaha

The third dawn arrived cloudy but dry, and it was nice to get back on the trail after a refreshing shower at the Drymen campsite. Instead of waxing poetic about this day, here’s a bunch of photos to highlight the wonderfully varied landscapes along the way.

IMG_20190721_105112Through pasturesIMG_20190721_110221…to the light at the end of the bush tunnel…

IMG_20190721_111036…along overgrown paths…

IMG_20190721_114901 …onto wide open roads with panoramic views…

IMG_20190721_115745 …stopping for snacks and to smell the flowers…IMG_20190721_125509…onto hillier and hillier terrain…

IMG_20190721_140919_01     …until we finally got a taste of what we came here for!

IMG_20190721_140020 Conic Hill

The trail took us past Conic Hill and onto Balmaha. It was definitely worth it to ditch the backpacks for a while and climb to the top of the hill to fully take in these impressive views over Loch Lomond. Oh, and if you’re planning to do this, better hold onto your hat or the wind will claim it immediately. Up until this point, there had been no crowding on the trails, but the closer we got to Conic Hill the more day trippers we saw. No wonder, though, since the views are magnificent.

IMG_20190721_142155 View from Conic Hill over Loch Lomond

Down in Balmaha it started to drizzle again, so we thought we’d have a second lunch break at the Oakwood Inn. The restaurant seemed to be operating at full capacity, not even the rainy patio had any free tables left. Fortunately, a friendly Danish couple noticed our plight and asked us to join them at their table. We happily squeezed ourselves onto the narrow benches and somehow managed to all stay under the small sunbrella, mostly covered from the rain. What’s not to like: good food and great company! However, after lunch they continued in the opposite direction (crazy Danes embarking on a tiring ascend that late in the afternoon and in that weather – I was surprised to learn they eventually made it out alive). Chef and I, in turn, once again tried to hitchhike to our next campsite with no luck. At least we only had to walk a few more kilometres in the drizzle.

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Cashel Camping seemed quite alright for a one-night stay. Since the drizzle didn’t stop all night, we really weren’t feeling like swimming but opted for a warm shower, instead. While Chef was cooking dinner, I did a bit of laundry and for once my timing was perfect: the large campsite only seemed to have one working tumble dryer for all its guests, and while our clothes were drying, a frustrated queue started to form in front of the machine. Sorry about that, guys, better come earlier next time.

Note: After Drymen, the trail winds through the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park for a good bit, and there are camping restrictions in many places along the way. For example, you often need to pay for a permit or book in advance if you’d like to pitch your tent on the shores of Loch Lomond, and in some places wild camping is completely banned. This is something to take into consideration when planning your hike. We had no problems with showing up at campsites without a booking, there was always enough space for one more tent.

 IMG_20190722_105851Got a little chuckle out of these haggis “facts”

Day 4: Balmaha–Rowardennan–Inversnaid

On the fourth morning, we opted for a lazy breakfast and bought readymade sandwiches and hot drinks at the campsite shop. We had noticed ads for a bag-carrying service at all stops along the way, and even that started to seem tempting. Our guidebook had mentioned the possibility, but at the time the mere thought had seemed absurd – can you even claim to be a hiker if someone else lugs your stuff from point A to point B in a van and you’re just skipping along with a daypack? Spoiled brats’ shenanigans, psht.

But then, it was dawning on us that the walk would be so much faster and more enjoyable if we didn’t need to drag all of our earthly possessions on our backs, so we asked the reception clerk if he could try to book the service for us for the same day. However, at ten in the morning we were too late, as the driver had already passed by the campsite. Then we tried to book it for the next day, but soon learned that none of these services apply to Inversnaid, which was our next destination. Apparently, Inversnaid is easy to reach on foot but by car the detour would take much too long to be worthwhile. Our only remaining option was to carry on carrying on like we had so far.

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Soon after leaving Cashel we walked past the Sallochy camping area, which would have been even nicer for spending the night. They have numbered spots for tents along the shore, but between March and September those must be booked in advance. Balmaha Visitor Centre or the website for the national park should be able to help with the details. I think I recall the price being £7 per person per night.

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Once again, the weather was cloudy but fortunately not very rainy. The trail was lovely: it followed the shoreline of Loch Lomond, we got to dip our toes in the water on breaks and there were waterfalls and other interesting bits along the way. Somewhere around the halfway mark, we spotted Rowardennan Hotel and its restaurant lured us in for lunch. Even though there were brief moments of drizzle, it was really nice to be seated outside on the patio overlooking the loch while sipping a cold one.

IMG_20190722_130647Rowardennan Hotel
IMG_20190722_132025Lunchtime views from the patio. Kayaks for rent, too, if you’re into that.

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If only all hikers and campers, be it in Scotland, Finland or anywhere else, took it upon themselves to abide by this simple guideline. The most pea-brained of us could even go for a nice arm tattoo reminder, if picking up after oneself is too challenging otherwise.

Let no one say, and say it to your shame, that all was beauty here until you came.

IMG_20190722_163209A piece of history covered with moss

IMG_20190722_180655Inversnaid Falls

The best moment of the rest of the day was when the forest trail suddenly ended and the Inversnaid Falls were roaring in front of us. You can’t tell the scale from my pictures, but the main waterfall was truly massive and very impressive! Right next to the falls, there’s the old-school Inversnaid Hotel, which mainly appears to target the elderly. Or at least a tour bus dropped off a bunch of them at the doorstep while were passing by. Later in the evening, after pitching our tent, we also visited the downstairs restaurant for a pint, and there were only a handful of pensioners and a mediocre live band. It kind of reminded me of the weekday ferries between Finland and Sweden. Nothing wrong with that.

IMG_20190722_181931Inversnaid Hotel: Riff-Raff Wing

Even if your budget won’t allow you to get a room at the hotel, it has a lot to offer to campers. First, you can fill up your water bottles for free from the tap outside the hotel. Secondly, campers are allowed to use the toilets when the hotel is open. Thirdly, the hotel has a dedicated space for muddy and ruddy hikers. You must take your dirty boots off at the separate entrance and don’t expect any table service, ether. Instead, you can sneak around in your socks and order food and drinks at the counter by the clean-people restaurant. This riff-raff space is very clean and stylish and, as a huge bonus, there are many sockets for charging your various gadgets.

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In addition to all the great things mentioned above, wild camping is free in the dedicated area, which is about a 5–10-minute walk from the hotel, and you get to wake up to excellent loch views. There’s also a nice little beach for swimming, or, in my case at least, for lightning-fast dipping just to rinse off some of the dust and sweat before crawling into a comfy sleeping bag. It wasn’t secluded, but it was quiet: there were only two or three tents in addition to ours that night. Quite a bargain, warmly recommended!

Prices (July 2019):

  • Oakwood Inn, Balmaha: cider+beer+shared pizza+chips&cheese+coffee+hot chocolate=£31
  • Cashel Camping: tent spot for two £13 per night, dryer £2, breakfast sandwiches and hot drinks for two £7
  • Rowardennan Hotel: lunch and drinks for two £22
  • Inversnaid Hotel: 2 pints £7

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

 

West Highland Way, Pt. I: Glasgow–Milngavie–Drymen

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Apparently, all it takes for me to update this blog is a brief year-long break and a tiny pandemic, but better at sloth pace than never. In a way, it’s nice to reminisce about the good old days when travelling was still a thing people did.

After last summer’s SlovinIt tour, it was time for a couple’s holiday. In late July, Chef and I started off towards Scotland. I had been dreaming of seeing the Scottish highlands ever since as a child I first read Don Rosa’s comics about Scrooge McDuck’s early years. Our main goal was to complete the legendary West Highland Way hike, which would add another 150km to our hiking meter.

Before the first day of walking, we spent the night in a shabby neighbourhood near the centre of Glasgow. We went budget first with picking the hotel, and apart from the cheap price, there aren’t many other positive things to say about it. The McLays Guest House was a run-down maze, and we also heard someone get stuck its claustrophobia-inducing lift. We managed to avoid falling victim to the lift trap, but my luck took a turn for the worse at the nearby Vietnamese, where I noticed the avocado in my meal a bit too late. Such a fresh start to our week-long hike when my good night’s sleep was replaced by hugging the porcelain throughout the night. Typical.

Day 1: Glasgow–Milngavie

The official starting point of the West Highland Way is in the town of Milngavie, a twenty-minute train ride from Glasgow. However, our guidebook recommended starting the hike from Glasgow for a softer start to the challenge ahead, so we did exactly that. It was a nice and leisurely way to begin our journey, watching the city slowly turn into countryside, strolling through a park and by a river in the sunshine, through fields and past cows on pastures.IMG_20190719_163213

We had almost made it to Milngavie when dark clouds started gathering above us and the first droplets fell on our forehead. That was our cue to take a little break at the highly recommended Tickled Trout pub for a cold pint and a plate of delicious fried food. We had been meaning to stay the night at a campsite in Milngavie that our guide book mentioned, but then Google revealed it no longer existed. Surprise! Someone smarter than us might have checked that in advance instead of in the pub late on the same day. We didn’t have any gas for our camping stove, either, because they had been sold out at the camping shop we visited back in Glasgow, and the shop in Milngavie would be closing early and there was no way we could have made it in time. The pub’s friendly staff then suggested we try the garden centre next door, and fortunately they had some in stock. Otherwise, no dinner and no fun since you’re not you when you’re hungry, right?

IMG_20190719_181936_01__01Stylish as ever

The light drizzle turned into downpour and showed no sign of stopping, so at some point we just had to get back on the road and wade through the puddles. Luckily, we had packed just the pro gear the situation called for: disposable two-euro rain ponchos. However, since our spirits weren’t too high, we first tried to hitchhike straight to Drymen. Surprisingly enough, nobody wanted to pick up two soaked backpackers. Once we made it on foot to the centre of Milngavie, we asked around if camping by the nearby park was allowed, but nobody knew the answer. We did know that wild camping is allowed along the hiking route, but at that point we were still in town. With our options limited, we decided to just go for it – besides, who was going to leave the comfort of their dry and warm home just to scold us for pitching our tent in the rain? We did, however, get scolded by a middle-aged couple who saw us walking out of the supermarket holding a plastic water bottle and thought we were idiots for paying for water when you could get free water from the blue taps downtown. A valid point, yes, but what if you not only need the water but also something to carry it in?

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Soon after the official starting point of the trail, we spotted a nice place for our tent, hidden behind the bushes, right next to a stream. On the other side of the stream was a golf course, but obviously there was nobody around in that weather. We took a quick dip in the refreshing water and retreated to our chambers to prepare some dinner and listen to the rain lashing against the tent fabric. As you can probably tell from the poor quality, the rain was not kind to my electronics and the picture above is one of the last I was able to take on my phone before its camera went kaput. I also forgot to take my separate compact camera out of my backpack and it got damp and broke down during the night. Oops. Next time, we might want to invest in some better rain gear (or at least upgrade the diposables from the two-euro ponchos to fancier five-euro jackets) and try not to use Google Maps in the rain quite as much, and our belongings might even survive the trip.

Day 2: Milngavie–Drymen

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The rain had stopped while we slept, and in the morning we woke up to another hiker’s excited dog running loose and sniffing around in our camp. We actually met a lot of doggos on the trail, which is always a nice bonus! Even though it was still cloudy, the weather conditions no longer seemed like a threat to the success of our hike. Most of the puddles had even dried up overnight.

IMG_20190720_131107Through the foggy lens – pretty easy to guess which pictures are taken with my phone and which ones with Chef’s

IMG_20190720_131750Savanna or Scotland?

IMG_20190720_134948Good stuff

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We had just had our lunch break before we ran into this sign advertising The Beech Tree, and tempting as it was, we didn’t feel like stopping again. However, this is a nice reminder that the West Highland Way is not by any means a traditional hike in the wilderness, instead it goes from one village to another. Pleasant gravel paths in great scenery make up most of the trail and there are only a few short sections where you need to walk on the side of the road. With a little advance planning, you probably wouldn’t even need to carry much camping gear or food if you went from inn to inn and ate in the many pubs along the way.

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We made it to Drymen late in the afternoon and left our things at the quaint Drymen Camping. The centre of Drymen is only a few kilometres from the campsite, so we decided to do a little evening stroll to visit a pub after dinner. Clachan Inn, the oldest licensed pub in Scotland, was so crowded that we didn’t even try to squeeze ourselves in but went straight next door to the Winnock Hotel pub for a pint and a little dessert. We also got the chance to top up our snack supply at a Spar before rolling back to the campsite.

 IMG_20190720_211822Drymen

Prices (July 2019):

  • The Tickled Trout: 2 x pint, 2 x onion rings, 1 x squid = £19
  • Gas for camping stove: £9
  • Winnock Hotel: 2 x pint, 2 x dessert = £17
  • Drymen Camping: £7/person/night

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

SlovinIt19: Venice and Lido

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The final stop of our grand SlovinIt tour was Venice, mainly for the good connections. Based on my presumptions and everyone complaining about how stinky and crowded the s(t)inking city of canals is, I honestly wasn’t too excited about going there. It just seemed like a destination everyone needs to suffer through once in a lifetime.

Locanda SilvaLocanda Silva:  hotel room with canal view, roof terrace view and common space

The journey between the bus station and our hotel only served to reinforce my prejudice: the profuse sweating from the heat and suffering, the cruise ship crowds steamrolling through the streets, the Google Maps walking instructions leading us to a cul-de-sac… Ugh. There were several bridges along the way without ramps, so we had to carry our heavy luggage up and down the stairs while trying to find another way to the hotel. I had already had enough by the time we finally made it to Locanda Silva, where we would be staying for the weekend. Fortunately, the hotel was very nice and clean, the staff were friendly and even the included breakfast was surprisingly good. The location also turned out to be great once we got the hang of the giant labyrinth formed by the narrow, criss-crossing streets. From there on, our general mood started to improve again.

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After a nice shower, we were refreshed enough to go out and brave the street labyrinth again, this time with a better attitude. In the historical centre of Venice, the main modes of transport are by foot and boat, as there are no cars or streets where a car would even fit. The streets are narrow and crowded. Even the canals are crowded with all the gondoliers in their striped shirts touring tourists around, all the while happily aiding them in making their wallet lighter.

IMG_20190629_170236Piazza San MarcoIMG_20190629_170649Basilica di San Marco

We had no plan for our first walking tour and were just wandering around aimlessly. All of a sudden, the shaded street opened up to St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), and in that moment I finally understood the draw of Venice. Seeing Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) with my own eyes was so impressive that the cliché of going breathless was not far from the truth. It felt like time stopped and any words dried up in my mouth. The longer you stare at all the magnificent buildings at the square, the more dumbfounding details you find. Pictures really don’t do justice to this church or the square, they must be experienced live to really see the grandeur. And that’s how you get millions upon millions of tourists flocking in, for a very good reason. If they wanted to be left alone there, they should have built something uglier!

pulutGo on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Venice. Take pictures of pigeons.

IMG_20190630_133253No Mafia, Venezia è Sacra (No Mafia, Venice is Sacred)

“Love and a cough are something you cannot hide” –Unknown graffiti artist

IMG_20190629_173150Costa Luminosa: just a few extra tourists arriving to block the streets

Surprisingly enough, we got used to to the crowds quite fast and the herds didn’t bother us after the initial shock anymore. Apart from patience, the most important thing is to pack good shoes and be prepared to wear them out. A budget traveller should also be aware that even the shortest gondola rides cost close to a hundred euros. The good news is that there is a much more affordable way to see many of the sights from water – just take a vaporetto water bus! Actv sells single tickets as well as unlimited use tickets for 1 to 7 days, of which it makes sense to pick the latter according to the length of your own holiday. The vaporettos not only take you from one station to another along the main canal, but they also run between the centre and the nearby islands. Some do a circle route, so they can also be used as a mini cruise, especially if you luck out and manage to get a seat outside on the deck.

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The Saint Mark Bell Tower (Campanile di San Marco) at St Mark’s Square, seen in the background in the picture above, is almost 100 metres high and supposedly offers the best views over the entire city. Understandably, visiting the tower is an extremely popular tourist activity with queues and entrance fees to match. To spare your nerves and save some money, consider taking a vaporetto to the nearby island of San Giorgio Maggiore instead, and visit the church (Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore) bell tower there. Tickets are a lot cheaper and there was no queue when we dropped by in the afternoon.

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Even though the San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower isn’t quite as high as St Mark’s, you can still spy lots of interesting stuff from the heights. My favourite find was the exquisite maze behind the church. Sadly, they didn’t let any tourists in to lose their way and their life in the scorching sun, but it was still cool! I’ll get me one of those for sure, as soon as I can turn my balcony into a backyard.

Lido
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If the crowds of Venice start to stress you out, the vacation island of Lido is only a short vaporetto ride away. Crowded and narrow streets become but a faint memory as soon as you step foot on Lido – there are “normal” roads for cars and wide pavements there, and even regular buses and not only those of the water variety. Lido feels like a traditional resort with its lush flower plantings and shiny shopping streets. The atmosphere is sleepy and calm, even though you can still find a lot of people there.

IMG_20190630_180745Capanna beach huts for rent
IMG_20190630_172339The riff-raff bathes on a crowded slice of beach…IMG_20190630_173239…while money buys you some breathing spaceIMG_20190630_173117Pebble beach? Nope, just a couple of seashells!

Although our half-day beach visit was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the historical centre, I still think Lido is probably at its best as a playground for trust fund kids and their kind. There are some free beaches scattered around the island, but they’re also incredibly crowded, while the private beaches have more space than they know what to do with. An officious guard immediately drove us off from an open stretch of sand and back in with the rest of the riff-raff, but hardly bothered to hassle other similar rule-breakers. Redds and I probably didn’t manage to look difficult enough, so we became an easy target for bouncing around.

Venice by Night

The magic of Venice can be best seen late in the evening, when the cruise crowds have retreated back to their ships and the sun begins to set. One by one, lights are popping on at the restaurants lining the main canal and live orchestras begin to play at St Mark’s Square. The main sights are lighted in a way that brings out a whole new side to them.

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Normally, I’m not one to shop for souvenirs, but I had to make an exception in Venice. I’ve been collecting masks ever since I did an internship in Tanzania. In Venice, every tourist shop bursts with cheap, fake masks for a couple of euros, but there are still some traditional stores like Ca ‘Macana, where each mask is carefully crafted by hand. The selection is mind-boggling and ranges from the handsomely-beaked il dottore masks to imaginative steampunk versions and charming animal characters. It was almost painful to make a choice, but I ended up getting a fox mask with crooked eyes. I could imagine wearing it to a secret society meeting – now I just need to find that society. Honestly, I’d be happy to travel back to Venice just for the chance to shop for more masks!

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Prices (June-July 2019), Venice

  • Accommodation, Locanda Silva, room for two with a private bathroom and canal view, breakfast included: 100€/night + tourist tax of a couple of euros
  • Actv pass for 2 days: 30€

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

 

SlovinIt19: Beach Holiday in Caorle

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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)
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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

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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.

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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.