After our flat-tire experience in the middle of nowhere Slovenian-Croatian border, we were very glad to be arriving in Split on the day we intended to. While we experienced the descent in to Split through the windy mountain highway by night, it felt a lot like some of the posh Southern California canyon areas I was used to growing up. We were looking forward to seeing it in reverse on the way out 3 days later. The most complicated thing about arriving in Split was finding the paid parking lot nearest our accommodation in the pedestrian only city-center, and figuring out how to pay. Luckily, we parked next to a man who was also just parking, and explained that we didn’t need to pay until 0700 the next day, and that even then, someone would leave a “bill” on our car that we could pay later. We did find a Split Parking app which we thought we might also be able to pay through, but ultimately exhaustion won out and we just said fuck it, we’ll deal with it tomorrow. So we spent the next 10 minutes trying to follow some bad Google map directions through narrow cobblestone alleyways to….
We got an early start out of Ljubljana so that we had time to visit Plitvice Lakes on the way to Split, with most of our day spent driving in Croatia. We even decided to skip breakfast and even coffee to get a jump on the day and make driving in Croatia as seamless as possible. We thought most of our driving problems were behind us (remember when the mountain defeated us!?)… but you know what they say about well laid plans. Brendan drew the short straw and was driving in Croatia today, since I had the long and rainy mountain road day a few days back in Slovenia. We got to the Croatian border heading south quickly enough, in about 75 minutes, and that’s when our adventure began. After clearing immigration (Croatia is not part of the Schengen Zone, but is part of the EU), and celebrating at my 81st country, the fun began. Our back right tire and the low tire pressure light came on, and we began losing tire pressure, about 5 kPa (kilopascal) every 5 minutes . We were about 6 miles over the border and luckily we were very close to a gas station, which….
After already experiencing one night in Ljubljana, we already had a lay of the land and knew we wanted to visit the castle and take in Ljubljana history. So we built our day around that plan, noting in advance that there was a “free walking tour” on offer at 1500 (it was one of the yellow umbrella tours like we took in Lisbon). We slept until about noon after the arduous journey we had the day before (and staying up late to watch Game of Thrones), so the first thing we did was grab coffee and pastries in the old town at a kava (coffee) bar along the main pedestrian walk on the east bank of the Ljublianica River. We saw some nice sites along the way, and knew the walking tour would later explain the Ljubljana history we were seeing. We tried these little doughnut pastry things that the waitress recommended, and several hit the spot with a strong Americano coffee. Feeling fueled for the day, we next decided to make for the Ljubljana Castle. Finding some stairs alongside the hillside, we followed them up until we discovered the main walking trail leading up to the castle from the….
After our perilous journey over the Julian Alps left us blocked in Slovenia, we found an alternate path around through Italy and Austria to get to Lake Bled. We first spent a little time in the Austrian city of Villach. Villach is not a city you visit on purpose, but after the day we had we needed to stretch our legs just as much as we needed a travel win. We parked in the city center and used some Euro coins to buy us an hour on the parking machine. We explored by foot, starting with the old town. Right next to this interesting playground we spotted what appeared to be an old Medieval wall that was re-purposed as a World War II Memorial. I later read that Villach was a Nazi stronghold that was bombed 52 times by the Allies and mostly destroyed. It was also one of the locations that participated in Kristallnacht. We later came upon a memorial for those persecuted during WWII across the from the town’s museum. We walked down to the river Drau – not much of a view on a dreary day. Nonetheless the old areas of the city still had some charm….
After Hisa Franko‘s glorious breakfast, we hit the road on a very windy and damp day to go north through the Julian Alps mountain pass towards picturesque Lake Bled. We decided to take the Vrsic Pass to pass by the tallest mountain in Slovenian, Triglav, which stood at around 5,200 feet. Not too high as Colorado mountains go, but the sheerness of it was a sight to behold. Mulling over the plan while at Hisa Franko, an alternate plan started to emerge – to actually cross the border in to Austria and spend an hour or two in the border town Villach so that Brendan could get another country in. Since I had already been to Austria, this was a great strategy to help him close the gap in countries (even though it wasn’t a competition, it was kind of a competition). We would then hit up Lake Bled on the way back from Villach, retracing our steps from Slovenia through the Julian Alps, spending a few hours at Bled, and then making our way to our AirBnB in Ljubljana for two additional nights. As we left Hisa Franko, we saw the Julian Alps looming high ahead, snow capped and….