Soça Valley Hiking

by Elizabeth

Next stop in Slovenia was the Soça Valley, which is known for its beautiful mountains and roaring river.  We decided to base ourselves for our visit in Bovec.  The town is considered the adrenaline capital of the Soça Valley — a reputation illustrated by our hostel’s offered excursions for rafting, canyoning, kayaking, and skydiving.


Our train was quite… decorated.

Our journey to Bovec was a bit confusing.  We booked the train from Bohinjska Bistreca to Most Na Soçi, which goes through a long tunnel connecting two valleys that are otherwise not directly connected by road.  The weird thing was that we were directed to get off the train after one stop (after the tunnel) and get in a bus.  We were then transferred back to the train a couple stops later with little explanation.  Our best guess is that some kind of track work was going on.  Our subsequent bus transfer from Most Na Soçi to Bovec went off without a hitch.


We stopped by the old bridge in Most na Soçi while waiting for the bus.  I had done a google image search of Most na Soçi and was expecting a much more scenic town/bridge.  I’m not sure I would have bothered with the 2km walk into town from the train station had I known that there wasn’t much there, but luckily there was a second bus stop in town so we didn’t have to hike back.

Our original plan was that we would take advantage of the great rafting available in the Soça Valley.  Unfortunately, due to my biking accident I was unable to raise my right arm (very sore shoulder) and my left elbow was in a lot of pain.  We decided to stick with hiking and go rafting in Bosnia instead.  We were excited to hear about the Soça trail, which goes 25km from the source of the Soça river back down to Bovec.

The next morning, we caught the bus up to the source of the Soça river.  Visiting the source itself was not part of the Soça trail, but we decided that since we were there we might as well see it.  Turns out that getting up the trail to the source required some climbing/reliance on steel cables to get around large rocks.  We ended up turning back short of the source because it was too sketchy/uncomfortable with my hurt shoulder/elbow/hand.  Due to the bus schedule and time spent heading up to the source, we didn’t actually get on the Soça trail until about 11am — a bit later than our accustomed start times on the Camino.


Trail up to the source.  This section was a bit tricky with two-way traffic.

For what was advertised as a largely downhill trail, the Soça trail had quite a bit of ups and downs (or PUDS — “pointless ups and downs”).  The trail largely follows the Soça river, crossing it several times on foot bridges.  We stopped mid-afternoon at a small restaurant (the only one that we saw on the trail) for beers and cherry cake.   We also passed by a cool gorge that provided some awesome views.


While we enjoyed the Soça trail, we ran into two problems.  The first is that the trail frequently dropped hikers back on the road (or climbed up to the road/shoulder parking area only to climb right back down).  Near the end of the trail, we found ourselves dumped on the road and never figured out where we were supposed to climb back down.  This left us on a narrow, winding road with limited shoulder space for awhile.  We think that we may have made a wrong turn a couple kilometers before, but it’s unclear — the clear trail markers had disappeared at that point. 


The second issue is that we are pretty sure that the trail is not 25km as advertised.  Michael turned on the Strava app when we started walking and it tracked our route using the phone’s internal GPS.  With several kilometers left before we got back to Bovec, the app indicated that we had already walked about 30km.  Had we known the trail was longer, we would have tried to get an earlier start.  Since it was getting late and we ended up dumped out on the road, we decided to try to hitch a ride back to Bovec (hitching is very common in this area).  A young Swiss couple soon stopped to give us a ride (after rearranging the bicycles in the back seat).  Even though it wasn’t far to Bovec, we were happy to avoid further road walking — we were exhausted!


View of the mountains along the Soça trail.

Although Soça Valley was beautiful and we had contemplated potentially staying longer, we decided to limit our stay to two nights in order to finally make our way out of the Schengen area.  Our hope was also that after a few days rest, I would be up for rafting and more hiking in Bosnia.  The next morning, we caught a bus over Vrsic pass and back to Ljubljana so that we could catch an early morning trail to Sarajevo.  Of course, this meant that we got to enjoy another lovely evening enjoying Ljubljana’s good food and craft beer.  Perfect!


Michael at Vrsic pass.  The view was amazing!


Traffic jam coming down from Vrsic pass…

[We’re making an attempt to finally get caught up on getting our blog posts up.  This post describes our visit to the Soça Valley on July 15-17, 2016.]

Hiking in the Julian Alps: Lake Bohinj versus Lake Bled

by Elizabeth

One of the iconic images advertising travel in Slovenia is the church topped island sitting in the middle of Lake Bled: 


Beautiful Lake Bled

When we decided to come to Slovenia, we knew that Lake Bled needed to be on our itinerary.  Then we heard about Lake Bohinj.  Located about 30km from Lake Bled, we heard from multiple people in Slovenia that Lake Bohinj was actually more beautiful than Lake Bled and offered better hiking options.  The price and availability of (last-minute) accommodation ended up making the decision for us — we headed to Bohinjska Bistreca (in the Lake Bohinj area) and planned to day-trip to Lake Bled.

Our apartment in Bohinjska Bistreca was located just outside of the small town on the second floor of a large house.  For only 50€ a night, it was a bit more than we’d been hoping to pay but was well worth the money.  The large deck patio was a perfect spot for eating meals and enjoying the sunset.  Our host was nice and cheerful, and even though she only spoke a few words of English and we could only speak a few words of Slovenian, we managed to make all the necessary introductions. 


View from our private deck.


We took advantage of the apartment’s kitchen to make burritos!  We’ve been missing Mexican food.  Even though some of the ingredients that we found are a bit off (“Mexican beans” turned out to be kidney beans), it hit the spot.

On our first afternoon, we picked up a bunch of groceries and stopped by the tourist office to purchase the Bohinj Guest Card.  It ended up being quite the deal.  For only 10€ each, we got free local bus transportation (including to Bled on certain buses), free entrance to several sights, free electric bike rental, and free transport on the tourist boat crossing Lake Bohinj (priced at 9 euro per person).  We also picked up a helpful map showing the various hiking and biking routes in the Bohinj area. 


We enjoyed this great view on our daily short walk from our apartment to the local bus stop.

In the morning, we caught the bus to Stara Fuzina and hiked up to the Mostnica Gorge and Waterfall (free entrance with Bohinj Guest Card).  The gorge was beautiful — deep with curved walls formed by the water’s pressure and various shades of blue water.  On our return from the waterfall, we stopped for beers and blueberry cake at a small restaurant in the hills.  We then managed to take a wrong turn and ended up heading back on a small road, with group after group of a children’s summer camp passing in the other direction.  We rejoined the main path back at the entrance station and actually headed back up again to see the gorge from the other side (our intended path before our wrong turn).  Worth the detour as I think that we actually got a better view of the gorge on our return path.


View on the way up to the gorge and falls.


Crossing the Mostnica gorge on a footbridge.


Looking down at the Mostnica.  The blues in the water were amazing and impossible to capture.


Selfie at the waterfalls.

Upon returning to Stara Fuzina, we decided to head over to Lake Bled for the afternoon since rain was forecasted for the next few days.  We walked to Lake Bohinj to catch the bus (unfortunately ending up on a bus not covered by our pass — oh well) and enjoyed the short ride to Lake Bled.  We spent the afternoon walking along the path around the Lake.  Lake Bled is rightfully popular.  The lake itself is beautiful and the church on the island in the middle is picturesque — offering a great view/photo op from every angle. 



Random grand piano flower planter along Lake Bled.

Since we weren’t interested in visiting Bled castle up on the hill or the island in the middle of the lake, other than a swim in the lake and our walk there wasn’t much to do.  We were content with our visit, but ultimately fell in love with the less touristed Bohinj area.

On our second full day, we hiked up Rudnica, a tall hill in the middle of the Bohinj valley.  The hike offered a nice challenge with about 1300 feet in elevation gain over 4.5km (9km roundtrip) in what felt like very humid weather.  We lucked out and, although we heard thunder in the distance, there was no rain.  The view from the top was great!  After our hike, we caught the tourist boat across Lake Bohinj (complete with commentary from the guide) and enjoyed a nice late lunch at a popular trout restaurant in Ukanc.


View of Lake Bohinj from a viewpoint on the way up Rudnica.


Crossing one of a few meadows on the Rudnica trail.


Signing the trail register at the top of Rudnica — funny since it wasn’t even 1000 meters tall.


View from the tourist boat on Lake Bohinj.

One of the benefits of the Bohinj Guest card that I was excited to try out was the free electric bike rental.  We couldn’t get a reservation until our third day, but it looked like we had lucked out and the threat of rain had fizzled/passed.  We picked up our bikes in the morning from a local camp’s reception office — a bit weird since they had a sporting/adventure office that rented normal bikes.  The lady who gave us the bikes didn’t seem to know much about them and didn’t have any helmets.  We went to the normal bike rental office to borrow a couple helmets and their bike pump, since Michael’s bike basically had a flat tire.  Foreshadowing?  Probably.

As it turned out, we could never figure out how to turn on the electric bike feature on Michael’s bike.  Mine worked, but I found it disconcerting that it would turn on to give me extra power at random times (and not at my direction).  I also found it difficult to turn the feature off.  I decided to only turn on the electric feature on uphills, as the bikes were extra heavy due to the motor.  Of course, after we set out it also started to rain lightly.  On one of the subsequent downhill turns (after the electric motor was off), I lost control of my bike (and its not so awesome brakes) and ate it.  On later inspection, the front bike wheel was at a 90 degree angle and somewhat easily turned back into place, which is somewhat consistent with my memory that the front on the bike was going crazy shortly before my crash.  Luckily, I didn’t hit my head.  Unfortunately, I was bleeding quite a bit from my left elbow and palm.  I got off the path and laid down since I felt faint (normal for me when blood is present).  A passerby walking his dog asked if I was okay and, not believing our response that I’d be fine, offered us a ride back to our apartment.  Michael hid the bikes, locking them to a tree and we accepted the ride (from a woman who lived nearby that the passerby knew).  I was glad that we did, as I was in a lot of pain and felt like crap.


The culprit.

When we got back, Michael bandaged me up with the assistance of the first aid kit that our host brought up after seeing us return (no English needed!).  On further inspection, it turned out that I was also lucky to have worn leggings instead of shorts, as I likely would have scrapped up both knees had I not.  I also had the beginnings of what would become a large, ugly bruise on my thigh (handlebar? unclear).  While I rested, Michael went to retrieve my bike.  He very much enjoyed the electric motor’s help on the uphills and flat spots, but confirmed that the brakes didn’t seem especially great.


More dragons.  Michael wanted me to take a picture of the dragon by itself, but since there were kids there I figured it would be less creepy if he was in the picture.

Since I felt better upon his return, we took the bus back out past Lake Bohinj to the Savica waterfalls (another free entrance with the Bohinj Guest Card!).  There is about 500 stair steps to get up to the falls, but the view at the end was nice.  While I took the bus all the way back to Bistreca (where we stayed), lucky Michael had to stop to pick up the second bike to ride it back.  What a good sport 😉



On our final day in Bohinj, our train ride out to the Soca Valley left us just enough time to fit in another hike — this time a morning hike through the woods and back past farms with cows and goats. 


We could easily have spent several more days in Bohinj.  There were so many more hikes to do and, even without a car, everything was relatively easy to get to.  We are definitely putting this on our list of places to return to!

[We’re making an attempt to finally get caught up on getting our blog posts up.  This post describes our visit to Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled on July 11-15, 2016.]

I <3 Ljubljana

by Elizabeth

Within hours of arriving in Ljubljana — Slovenia’s capital — Michael had declared (several times) that we should move there.  The city is great.  On a small scale, it’s like San Francisco or Portland walked into an Etsy shop.  Lots of great food, craft beer, and plenty of “made in Slovenia” signs on every street.  The old town area was closed to car traffic a few years ago, giving it an idillic feeling.  Everyone is out and about — strolling along the river, sipping at a spritz at one of the many outdoor cafes, or enjoying an ice cream. 


Central Ljubljana straddles  the Ljubljanica River and ensures that there are enough riverside spots for everyone to enjoy.


The Ljubljana Castle sits on the hill just above the old town.

On our first evening, we stopped by “Open Kitchen,” where a bunch of restaurants had set up food stands in the market square (similar to Off the Grid in SF, but without the food trucks).  We were able to try out several Slovenian dishes, including a ravioli-like pasta stuffed with potato in a truffle sauce, a sparkling red wine, and a grilled dough-like dessert topped with berry compote.  So good! 


Friday night in Ljubljana at Open Kitchen.


Our doughy dessert was made in huge woks, complete with a caramelized sugar crust.

Our multi-stop dinner at Open Kitchen was complemented by a public music performance in a nearby square.  The large band included players from all over the world on strings, trumpets, drums, etc.  Ljubljana instantly felt comforting and beautiful.


A glimpse of the evening’s musical performance.  We’d probably been watching for a half hour already when this singer stepped out with a baby strapped to her back and a toddler at her side.  She declared that Italian families stick together!

The next morning, we visited the Ljubljana castle.  Perched atop the hill in the middle of Ljubljana, the castle felt like it was always present as we walked around old-town Ljubljana.  The complex is open to the public for free, although there is an entrance fee if you want to visit any of the museums inside. 


View from the walk up to the castle — we’re almost there!  There is also a funicular, but that costs money 😉


Looking down on the castle complex.  On the left, you can see the set-up for the evening film under the stars that we attended later that night.

We opted to spend an extra 2.50€ above the basic entrance fee to join the castle tour (called the Time Travel tour).  It ended up being very different from your ordinary guided tour (which we join infrequently).  Throughout the tour we were met by various “characters” from the history of the castle, who told us a bit about their lives and the castle.  They wore period costumes and told us different perspectives on their history. Well worth the extra cost!


A visit from the Romans.


Tales of the conflict between a Napoleonic soldier and a Catholic nun.


Creepy puppet featured at the otherwise, child-centric puppet museum at the Ljubljana Castle and included in the general ticket price.

In the afternoon, we met up with the Slovenian woman who we’d met on the Camino (on day 8) and who’d helped us with various tips about visiting Slovenia.  It was great to see a familiar face and to hear about the rest of her Camino.  She recommended visiting Lake Bohinj and Soca Valley in Slovenia, and Vukov Konac in Bosnia (all of which we visited later and enjoyed).  After our visit, we rushed back to our hostel to pop some popcorn and grab a couple beers before heading back up to the castle for its summer film under the stars series.  It was a perfect evening to sit and watch The Nice Guys, which was a funny, lighthearted film (in English!).  There was even free ice cream as we entered (and exited)!


Michael with the mascot of Ljubljana — a dragon.  As with many other European cities, the history of the Ljubljana castle is filled with stories of dragons.  For anyone familiar with dragon lore, this of course means that St. George makes an appearance to slay the dragon.


More dragons! This one is on the “Dragon Bridge.”

Between planning our next steps (so time consuming!), we spent the next day and a half in Ljubljana exploring Park Tivoli (unfortunately it was super hot), enjoying a horse burger, visiting a cat cafe, wandering through Metelkova Mesto (an ex- army garrison taken over by squatters/punks in the 1990s to create a spray painted and artsy commune, now mainly a club/bar scene), finding a favorite ice cream spot, and generally walking around the lovely old-town area.


Horse burger from Hot Horse.  Surprisingly tasty.


Obviously, Michael was a fan of the cat cafe.  And no, that’s not an optical illusion/weird perspective — that cat is huge.  Easily a 20 pound Maine Coon.


More cats at the cat cafe.  These three had funky fur that was extra fun to pet.


Underwater-themed art in Metelkova Mesto.


Another art piece in Metelkova Mesto.

Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Ljubljana and would encourage others to visit.  Had we not been concerned with the length of our Schengen stay, this is another spot where we could have easily spent more time.


Michael loves Ljubljana!

[We’re making an attempt to finally get caught up on getting our blog posts up.  This post describes our visit to Ljubljana on July 8-11, 2016.]

Slowing Down in Slovenia: Piran & Skocjan Caves

by Elizabeth

After an exhausting stay in Barcelona, we were ready to take it easy in Slovenia.  The cheapest way to get there turned out to be a flight from Barcelona to Trieste, Italy, followed by a short bus connection.  Our early morning taxi to the airport and flight were uneventful.  We were able to hop on a bus from the airport to the Trieste bus station fairly quickly.  Bus station looks the same as it did five years ago when we sat around waiting for our bus to Croatia (coming from Venice) — still run down and sort of sad, but functional.  We had a few hours before the direct bus to Piran on the Slovenian coast, so we wandered around Trieste for a bit and ate some focaccia.


The “Grand Canal” in Trieste, Italy

The bus ride to Piran was scenic, with glimpses of the coast and a few cute coastal towns along the way.  In under two hours were were in Piran.  It is adorable. 

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