After our week in the Istrian city of Rovinj, we drove North into Slovenia where we based ourselves in the capitol city of Ljubljana and explored the surrounding area. Highlights included our visit to a local Slovenian primary school and Lake Bled. From Slovenia, we headed west, back into Croatia and made a brief three night stop in the capital city of Zagreb.
We really enjoyed our brief visit to Slovenia, and looking back on our trip, wish we had scheduled more time in the country. While we enjoyed the food a little more in Croatia, the people of Slovenia we found to be warmer and even more welcoming.
We learned that the Slovenian’s see their country in the shape of a chicken, and describe the various locations by parts of the chicken. Ljubljana is at the heart of the chicken, located in the middle, most areas of the country could be reached within a couple hour’s drive.
Slovenia has a little bit of everything – mountains, rivers, lakes, rolling hills. Bordered by Austria on the north, the cities we visited had a strong Austrian influence. The home we rented was in a residential area, about a 30 minute walk from historic downtown. Before this trip, the walk may have seemed a long way. As we continue our adventure though, we are acclimating to walking a few miles each day, and the walks to town are becoming part of the daily routine.
One of our days we spent exploring Lake Bled where we climbed the few hundred steps to take in the views from the castle terrace while enjoying the local creme cake. After the castle, we hoped on one of the flat-bottom Plenta boats, and were rowed out to the island in the lake where we climbed another set of steps for some Ice Cream before returning to our apartment.
The remainder of our time was spent exploring the city of Ljubljana, including a day in a one of the city primary schools. The school visit was definitely a highlight of our time in Slovenia.
Our visit to the school was coordinated by Gasper, the son of the owners of the home we rented. We’ve really enjoyed chatting with the various kids we’ve met during our adventure, Gasper was no exception. Now in his first year of High School, he was very eager to chat with us and share information about his home. When he heard we were interested in visiting the school, he set up a meeting with the President of his former Primary School and worked out all of the details. Gasper also loves to travel and is has already planned an itinerary for a visit to the States when he finishes High School, mapping out a route to travel across the country visiting the National Parks along the way.
The school was impressive. Primary school runs from what is equal to 1st to 8th grade in the states. The school President spent her morning with us, taking us from class to class. Children in Slovenia start studying English as their second language in 1st grade. It was really interesting to see the progression as we visited some of the younger grades first in which the kids could say basic phrases and have their questions translated. By the time they were in 7th or 8th grade, the classes were fully taught in English and the kids could communicate very well.
Another classroom that really surprised us was the computer lab where the students are taught coding and robotics. We visited with the coding teacher where she showed us the robotic legos the students were learning to control through their programming lessons. The whole setup was very impressive.
From Slovenia, we headed west, back across the Croatian border and to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. Three nights in the city was just enough time to see the sites and have a little downtime. Zagreb, while a large city, is also very walkable. Sidewalk cafes are a huge part of the city. The streets are lined with tables spilling out into the streets, one cafe after another, many only serving coffee and bar drinks, without any food. At times it was hard to tell when one ended and another started.
We arranged to take a walking tour of the city on our first afternoon in town. It was really nice to have someone escort us through the city highlights while showing us the lay of the land. Having a local share a taste of their local life makes a huge difference in our overall experience. Before the tour, we scrambled around trying to find a place to eat lunch. After the tour, we had a list of restaurants we wanted to try, knew our way to the open air market where the locals bought their daily produce, and probably most important, where we could find parks to play in. It’s always nice to learn a little about the places we visit. Picking up a few extra tips from a local really saved us hours of wandering aimlessly through town over the following few days.
Did you know that Slovenia is the only country in the world that has “love” in the name?! In one of the we days we visited a school. It was different from our school at home by a lot. Some kids at the school ran, some kids walked, some kids skipped, some kids whispered, and some kids yelled. They have a cafeteria where some kids get three meals each day. The principal was really nice.
On one day in Slovenia, we went to Bled. We took a little white train that took us to a big row boat that took us to the only island in Slovenia. We walked up 99 stairs, around a church on the island and looked through the windows. Then we went and got gelato. I got lemon and it was really good.
In Zagreb we saw two museums. One had a really really pretty roof. Then we saw a chapel. It caught on fire a long time ago and the only painting that was not burned was a picture of Mary holding Jesus when he was a baby. We then walked all over town and found some more great gelato.
In Slovenia, we stayed in a tiny house we called “The Tiny House.” On our first day, we explored the town and found some new jeans for me. The next day, we drove to a little down called Bled where we saw a castle and rode in a boat to the only island in Slovenia. We started the day by meeting our guide, Barbara. First, Barbara showed us the skating rink while Mommy and Daddy payed the lunch bill. Next, we hiked up to the castle and learned that it was bought and sold and bought and sold again. After the castle, we got in a boat that was hand rowed out to the smallest island ever, and the only island in Slovenia.
The next day we went to school! It was so fun! First, we sat in the principals office and talked about education. Next we saw the pre-kers through 2nd graders. Then we went up and helped the 8th graders in their English class. Then we had a snack in the cafeteria before playing on the rooftop playground. It was the best day ever!
The day we arrived in Zagreb, we had a 2-hour tour of the city with a guide named Eva (pronounced with a short E) We started in the upper city where we had great views of the church and a museum called the museum of broken relationships. It also had a little church, and the most important government buildings. Then we went to the lower part of the city where we walked in an underground tunnel and go to see the beautiful church up close. Afterwards, I got some new clothes and Emily got gelato. Woop!Woop! Oh yeah! The next day we went to a farmers market and got green beans and plums. The lady who sold us the beans gave us a few carrots for free when we said Hvala, which is the local word for “thank you” The man gave us the plums for free also!
Croatia, once considered an “undiscovered Italy” is no longer undiscovered. Many cruise ships stop in the ports of call of the Croatian Coast. A cruise can be a great way to get a glimpse of the cities. To truly experience Croatia and see why it has become so popular, an extension pre- or post-cruise will providing the opportunity to stay over night and see the cities after the cruise crowds head back to sea.
Taking a tour with a small group provides the opportunity to experience the sites of Croatia with other like-minded travelers on popular pre-designed itineraries. Let the tour companies organize the logistics, so you can “sit back, and enjoy the ride” Visit the top attractions during the best times and let someone else take care of planning all of the details.