Europe Iceland

A Return to Iceland

I love Iceland. I went a couple years ago with Sam, and we road tripped around the Ring Road and had a fantastic time. We snorkeled between continents and, in one of my top life experiences, we went hiking on a glacier for my birthday. So when my parents said they also wanted to go, I was happy to go again – my only request was that we went in the summer so that we could be there for the peak season for puffins!

One of the biggest highlights of the trip was seeing puffins in the wild!

The start to the trip was a bit rocky, due to a layover from hell that got me to Iceland significantly later than I was supposed to after a night on the floor in JFK, but when I landed at Reykjavik at around 11:30 pm, I got my first taste of an Icelandic summer with endless nights! It looked like mid morning when I stepped off the plane. It was unreal, and I never got used to it for the entire time I was there.

For the first day, we stayed based in Reykjavik and visited the sites of the Golden Circle! The three main ones, Gullfoss, Geysir, and Thingvellir National Park, can get pretty busy, but it really is a great intro to the country. I think everyone should go beyond those areas, but as a first day, it was a great start to the trip! It also didn’t take us the whole day so we had a little time to walk around Reykjavik in the evening.

There were two main differences between the itinerary of this trip vs. my first one to Iceland. This time, we were going clockwise around the island, opposite of my first trip. And second, we were adding on the Westfjords! They’re more remote, with roads that are a less accessible (read: somewhat harrowing, especially when it’s foggy out) and they aren’t many people who live there. For the first day, we stopped at the Hellulaug Hot Pots (cool, but very windy and it wasn’t super fun to change into a swimsuit in the parking lot), the Gardar BA 64 Shipwreck (one of the cooler things we saw, the scale of it was amazing!) and the Raudisandur Beach (beautiful landscape but maybe not worth the road it took to get there).

The second day had some incredible scenery! We started at the Latrabjarg Cliffs, which are allegedly one of the best places to see puffins. We did see a puffin, but literally one. I still think it was a worthwhile stop but as a more rugged version of the Cliffs of Moher, and there were lots of other seabirds for the people out there who are interested in birding. Our other stop was the Dynjandi Waterfall, which was gorgeous! One of my favorite stops on the trip – it was one of the more spectacular waterfalls that I’ve seen in Iceland, and because it’s so remote, it doesn’t feel nearly as busy with tourists. My mom and I climbed most of the way to the top.

We had one more full day of driving to Akureyri, followed by a more chill day nearby at Lake Myvatn. There are a ton of things to do in and around this area, so we visited Godafoss, the lava fields, and some of the other geothermal areas. This is the area that reminds me most of Yellowstone. It was so warm while we were in Lake Myvatn that my mom ended up needing to buy a T-shirt! She had only packed sweaters and warmer clothes, which did come in handy on the south side of the island.

The next day started with a detour to Dettifoss, which is a great waterfall and definitely worth the drive out, but it was quickly overshadowed by Borgarfjordur Eystri! This is a famous puffin nesting area and it really delivered. We saw so many puffins and were able to get close to them without disturbing them. Puffins are one of my all time favorite animals, so it was such an amazing experience to just watch them in the wild.

We had wound our way through most of the Eastern Fjords, and so our next day started at the Jökulsarlon Lagoon! The last time I was there, I had thought the boat tours looked fun, but Sam and I didn’t have time with the glacier tour and our busiest driving day of the trip to get to our Airbnb. So this time I insisted we sign up for a zodiac boat tour. When we showed up, they got us bundled into these warm jumpsuits, which are mostly to protect us if we fell in but were also great because it was quite chilly out on the water. The glacier lagoon was absolutely incredible and a true highlight of the trip. After floating past icebergs, we got to get so close to the actual glacier, and we even saw a seal! On the drive from the lagoon to Vik, we also saw an arctic fox, so it was a great day for animal spotting.

From Vik, we didn’t go back to Reykjavik. It’s weirdly far from the airport, so instead I found us an Airbnb in Keflavik. On the way, we stopped at Seljalandsfoss, which is one of my favorite waterfalls in Iceland! I think it’s so amazing to be able to walk behind it. We did see some people getting very close to the edge of the water in a typical bold tourist move.

Our last stop was the Blue Lagoon! I hadn’t gone with Sam, as he wasn’t interested, but I knew I wanted to go. This was one of those where I was worried it would be too touristy. And don’t get me wrong, there were a ton of people while we were there. But somehow, it didn’t feel too crowded, and it was so relaxing. Such a good way to end the trip!

Overall, my second time in Iceland was incredible. It’s one of my favorite places I’ve ever traveled, and I would recommend it to anyone! After doing both directions of the Ring Road, I think I liked the pacing of the clockwise version slightly better, but both of those are amazing ways to do the trip and there’s no shortage of natural beauty and cool landscapes across Iceland.

Europe Portugal

A Portuguese Thanksgiving

Traveling over Thanksgiving is maybe the best travel idea I’ve ever had? I am such a fan of leaving the US and exploring other places during this time of year. Colin and Alan joined me once more and this year, we headed to Portugal! Who needs pumpkin pie when you can have pasteis de nata?

We spent the first half of the week in Lisbon. Colin and I arrived in the morning and tried to beat jet lag by storing our luggage and wandering around. The luggage storage was a time – I had euros, but not enough coins for what we needed, so I asked a local store for change. While they couldn’t give me change, they could make a copy of something for a few cents and I could get coins that way, so one of my main souvenirs from the trip was a black and white photocopy of my drivers license.

Yes, Lisbon has just as many hills as everyone says. The train station was about 20 minutes from our Airbnb. In classic “grandparent telling you a story” fashion, it was indeed all uphill. We would pick different areas each day and wander around, so I can’t speak much to specific recommendations, but it was such a fun city. We were also there during the World Cup, so we went and watched some of the matches in local bars.

I only had two goals in Portugal, and the first was to visit Peña Palace! I’ve seen so many gorgeous pictures of it, and I love a good castle. It was a pretty easy day trip out to Sintra. We took a quick train ride and then joined the herd of tourists to the bus, which took us up a horrifying series of hills. It didn’t feel nearly as crowded by the time we’d bought our tickets and walked up yet another hill to the palace, and I loved the mosaics and tile throughout. The castle also had some very odd ceramics and a room full of elk antlers. Royalty, they’re… not like us at all.

From Lisbon, it’s an easy trip up to Porto. We split it up a bit, both on the way there and the way back. On the way there, we went to Coimbra, a university town, which was delightful. I would have spent more time there if we’d had it. There was a cute main street, and the campus was… where else but at the top of a hill? We had lunch here and continued on, but it might have been worth doing a full day trip there from Lisbon.

On the way back, our stop was Aviero, which I found to be a bit disappointing. I think all the photos are of the same small section. Yep, that’s my obligatory snapshot below. It has a canal running through it, and theoretically you can do boat tours, but most of the area around the canal was blocked off with a giant mall. I was hoping for something like Ljubljana, but it was much smaller and it seemed like there was less to do.

Porto itself was a delight. I loved our time there, even though the first full day it rained on us very hard. We took a walking tour and then spent the time between the tour and dinner in the Airbnb bathroom, blowdrying our shoes and socks. Also, fun fact, when Colin and I said we live in Utah, the tour guide recognized what that was because of dinosaurs, which is the single best reason anyone has for knowing about the state I live in.

The center of Porto is along the river, which was how they shipped the wine. The first night, we ate along the river, which is maybe more expensive and maybe a bit touristy, but also, the views are stunning?

My favorite street art in Porto

Remember I said I had two goals for Portugal? The second was to go to wine country! The major region in Portugal is Douro Valley. Douro Valley is primarily known for port, although they do have non-dessert wines there as well. Basically, port was created because England demanded wine as part of some sort of agreement, and it was going bad when they shipped it to England, so they started fortifying it so that it could make the trek.

We took a great day trip, which took us to a few different wineries and gave us incredible views of the entire valley. I wouldn’t say I’m usually a big fan of port, but the offerings they had were delicious, and we also got to try different olive oils and honeys as a part of the tour. Also, did you know it was possible to make rosé port? That one was my favorite one.

All in all, an amazing week! I see why everyone raves about Portugal. Both of its major cities are so cool, with lots of interesting neighborhoods to explore. Outside of planning the wine tour, which we booked the week of after waiting to see how the weather played out, and booking Airbnbs in Lisbon and Porto, we didn’t really plan anything in advance, and it was so easy to get around on the trains and explore different areas of the cities. It was a week of good pastries and good wine, and what more can you ask for on Thanksgiving?

Belgium Europe

Beautiful Belgium

The best flight option I could find from Salt Lake to Europe went through Amsterdam. I figured I’d hop back up from the Balkans to give myself a few days nearby, so I ended up spending the last three days of my trip exploring somewhere new! I didn’t have anything specific I wanted to see, but I wanted to eat waffles and chocolate and soak up the Belgian atmosphere. My friend Alan was able to join as well and it was so fun to see a bit of Belgium with no real agenda.

I based myself in Antwerp, since it was the northernmost city that was a slightly shorter trip from Amsterdam. From the first glimpse of the train station, it was gorgeous. I think it was my favorite of the three places I spent time in while I was in Belgium!

In classic fashion, I didn’t consider local holidays when I was planning this, so our first full day in Antwerp was some sort of national holiday. Sort of like when I forgot that Easter existed when Megan and I were in Italy – it just doesn’t occur to me, a person who barely celebrates holidays. Regardless, what that meant was that most of the places in Antwerp were closed. We figured it would be the same if we went to any of the other nearby towns, so we just went bar hopping in Antwerp. Let’s just say…. I’ve heavily sampled Belgian beer.

Somehow, we made it to Ghent the next morning, if a bit hungover (okay, more than a bit). Ghent was abuzz with a festival, which was really fun. There was live music and tents and all the streets were shut down, so we just wandered around and soaked it all in. Plus, both Alan and I got Belgian waffles covered in chocolate, which was really one of my main bucket list items in Belgium!

The last day, we headed to Brussels! We met up with one of Alan’s friends from study abroad, who fed us a delicious lunch and then showed us around. It was a whirlwind tour, so I’ll definitely have to come back some day, but I did see the statue and the Grand Place and a very cool park before I had to go find my bus back up to Amsterdam so I could fly home. It was such an amazing trip, and I felt so lucky to get another summer in Europe!

Bosnia and Herzegovina Europe

A Day Trip to Bosnia & Herzegovina

I absolutely loved the day I spent in Bosnia and Herzegovina – it was one of my highlights out of this whole month of traveling. Mostar is SO cool.

After the drive from Dubrovnik, we started with a quick tour of the city. We walked through the Old City and then headed to the most famous part of Mostar: Stari Most! Also known as the Old Bridge. Fun fact, the original Stari Most was built in 1566, but it was destroyed during the conflict in the 1990s. The restoration work was finished in 2004, and it’s a UNESCO site now. Sometimes locals jump off the bridge, which seems wildly unsafe but also would be cool to watch. Once we were on the other side, our guide turned us loose with an instruction on when to get back to the bus.

I headed over to the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, which advertised that it had the best views of the bridge. I had to borrow a long skirt because I was wearing shorts and, well, it is still a working mosque. It was a beautiful building, and climbing the minaret did have amazing views of all of Mostar!

Mostar represents pretty much my only souvenir purchase of the trip. The markets were selling these absolutely gorgeous Bosnian coffee sets. It’s similar to a Turkish coffee set – I hesitate to say they’re the same, because I honestly don’t know and haven’t been to Turkey/tried the coffee there, but it has a similar shape. I tried some Bosnian coffee at a café for lunch along with a cheese burek! It was delicious.

We had a stop at the Kravice waterfalls on the way back. It was amazing to hike down to the waterfalls, only to find a thriving area where locals were hanging out. I went swimming in the waterfalls and had a hard cider, and it was such a perfect afternoon.

Other side note – I was really pleased that this tour took us through the entirety of the Bosnian coastline, such that it is. Beyond being a really pretty drive, I also have looked at the geography of Bosnia and Herzegovina for ages and wondered about that tiny little piece of its borders that touch the Adriatic.

I am really looking forward to making it back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sarajevo has had a fascinating history, and from the little I’ve seen of this country, it’s a magical place.

Europe Montenegro

Sailing Through Montenegro

It is absolutely wild to me that you can do day trips to two completely different countries from Dubrovnik. Of course I signed up for both – while I’m very interested in exploring both inland Montenegro and inland Bosnia & Herzegovina, I couldn’t resist a small taste of both of them when I was right there!

Montenegro is a tiny jewel of a country. I hadn’t realized how recently it became independent – 2006! Which is so wildly recent. Something fun that I had learned is that both Montenegro and Kosovo de facto use the euro as their currency, despite not being formally in the Eurozone. I think Montenegro would rather like to join but to do so, they would actually need to create their own currency and circulate that before they could go back to using the euro officially. Not sure where this rule came from but it sounds like a fascinating application of bureaucracy.

The Bay of Kotor is probably its top tourist attraction, and it is absolutely stunning. We stopped in Perast first and spent some free time there to explore. Then we boarded a boat, stopping on a tiny island with a beautiful church and finally cruising down the fjord to the town of Kotor. Most of my time was spent in the Old Town, which had winding narrow alleys to explore. Some of the city walls are still up, and I was able to walk along those as well. There were some nice restaurants tucked into the plazas, and I had a lovely late lunch of risotto and wine and sat out of the sun for a bit. It was a hot day, so I was glad I had picked an activity along the water for most of it!

I’d love to make it back to the eastern part of Montenegro someday so that I can do some hiking in their beautiful national parks and potentially spend a little time in the capital, Podgorica, but I had a great time along their coast! 

Croatia Europe

Croatia Pt. 2: Dubrovnik

Fun fact, I watched Game of Thrones for the first time in 2022. Partially in preparation for this trip, if we’re being honest, and partially because I was finally ready to commit to learning all the character names. It was cool sitting at a café and drinking coffee and working my way through one of the books! Especially because the Game of Thrones tours were happening literally around me as I did so. I did accidentally spoil one plot point for myself while I was doing research for this trip, but that’s on me because the books and show have been out for ages. (Me: “what do you mean the _____ stairs?” *watches more show* “Ohhhhhhh….”)

I had about a week in Dubrovnik, which was amazing. It was important to me to stay in Old Town, and while that meant slipping through throngs of tourists when I wanted to get groceries or go back to the apartment where I was staying, I could also feel the history all around me. I loved wandering through the twisty passageways and climbing the staircases to try to find new areas to explore.

The first item on the list of every single “what to do in Dubrovnik” list is always the city walls. They are absolutely spectacular. After buying your ticket, you take a flight of stairs up and then walk along the edge of the entire old city. The views of the town and of the Adriatic Sea are unparalleled. I went just after breakfast, but there are also some nice (if touristy) cafés up there for the people who want to enjoy a coffee or an ice cream while looking out over everything. I would definitely recommend going here if you’re in Dubrovnik, and ideally early before it gets too hot!

One of the mornings I was there, I also went hiking up to the top of Mount Srd! It was kind of a haul to get to the trailhead, I honestly think I went up more stairs on the way to the trail than I did once I got to the mountain, but it was my first foray into Dubrovnik outside of the Old Town and it was nice to get a taste of the rest of the city. The trail cuts through some forest and then, once you’re out of the trees, it becomes a series of switchbacks. There’s not a lot of shade so definitely go early and bring sunscreen! The bird’s eye view of the city was worth it, though, and there were a few museums and cafés at the top to make a day of it.

Croatia hugs almost all of the coast in this region, so there are some fun excursions you can do to various islands nearby. I ended up signing up for a trip to the Elafiti Islands, so for $50 they shuttled me around to all three islands and gave me lunch and unlimited glasses of wine. All the time on the islands was free time, although they did provide suggestions of what to do. The amount of time on each island was perfect, with enough time to explore and relax but we still got to see quite a lot. My only big error on this one was not bringing very much cash, so I felt like I was rationing throughout the day because most places did not take card and also didn’t have ATMs.

The other island day trip I did was to Lokrum Island. This one shows up as one of the Game of Thrones filming locations, which was fun – they have a whole exhibit with an iron throne you can sit on if you want to, but you also don’t need any GoT background to enjoy it. It’s a very easy 15-minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik, and they leave every half hour or so. There’s an old monastery that was fun to explore, as well as a botanical garden, and there are a lot of nice areas to swim just off the coast. As I look back through my pictures, quite a large number of them are images of the baby peacocks, which were wandering around freely. They were adorable! It was definitely a good inclusion on the itinerary.

All in all, Dubrovnik was wonderful. So beautiful, and it was really nice to be able to see multiple facets of Croatia throughout this trip. It’s worth spending some time to be able to really explore the country! I have a few places I would love to go back to, and others that I didn’t get the chance to see while I was here. Looking forward to my next visit to this region.

Europe Greece

A Road Trip Through Greece

I’ve decided that Athens is underrated. Every time I did research, I would come across posts saying that it wasn’t worth visiting. My guess is that people expect it to be like Rome, where the historical sites like the Acropolis sprawl across the entire city, or like most European cities with their quaint old towns that look like they belong inside a snow globe. It definitely isn’t that. There are historical sites scattered around, but most of them are limited to that hill where the Acropolis sits, and the rest of it looks like a city. Which isn’t a bad thing! I had a lovely time in Athens.

Our first day was more of an afternoon, because we’d flown in from Santorini in the morning. We had two nights in Athens, and each time we’d pick a neighborhood nearby and wander around a bit and find somewhere to eat. Something that strikes me every time I’m outside of the US is the number of green spaces and parks in cities in other countries – this was something that I loved about Panama City as well. It’s so nice to walk around at night and have kids playing soccer and families walking around and enjoying the place where they live. Another highlight of our time here was trying ouzo! It’s always fun trying a local drink in a new place.

The next day, we started at the Acropolis! This is one of those “must see” sites in Europe according to all the lists. I quite enjoyed it – there were loads of tourists, sure, but it’s an extensive site and there are really nice views of the city from the top. After we were done at the historical site, we headed over to the Acropolis Museum. Something that I loved here – they did a really clever job of representing the pieces that had been taken from Greece and could be found at other museums. The blank space where those sculptures should have been was clear. Another aspect that was super cool was the basement, which had a section that had some of the original city walls and showed more of what life would have been like in early Athens.

After we’d hit the highlights of Athens, our next day we began our road trip! After picking up the car, we headed along the Peloponnese peninsula. The drive along the Gulf of Corinth was stunning. We stopped at the Epidaurus Theater, which is considered to be the most perfect ancient Greek theater. I had initially thought it would just be the theater, but the site was much more extensive! Most of the archeological sites we went to were huge. It’s a great reminder at how extensive the Greek civilization used to be. We had lunch in Nafplio and then headed to Mycenae, another very interesting archeological site that’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Not only was the site itself cool, but there were beautiful views from the top of the hill.

After an overnight in Patras, with an Airbnb that we had a really hard time unlocking, we headed back over to the mainland! It was a two hour drive to Delphi. We parked overlooking a gorgeous valley, and there were a few cafés where we could get lunch overlooking the scenery. Delphi itself is one of the more impressive sites that I saw in Greece. It’s absolutely massive, with tons of areas to explore and some impressive preservation work on the buildings.

Once we were done exploring Delphi, we headed up north! I’ve wanted to visit the monasteries at Meteora for ages, because I’ve seen pictures and I’ve always thought they looked stunning. The drive up is mountainous, with some high elevation climbs and beautiful views. Once we got up there, we stayed two nights in Kalampaka, with an Airbnb that overlooked the rock columns. The town was small and cute, and we had a nice time wandering around to find a good dinner spot.

We went to five monasteries, which involves about a million stairs. According to my Health app, it was 77 flights, all told. Also of note, I bought a full length skirt for this trip because the monasteries actually do not allow women to wear pants. You can borrow a skirt there if you want, you don’t actually have to bring your own, but I like to be prepared. The monasteries were beautiful, but the views from the top were the real selling point. It reminded me a bit of Viñales in Cuba, although this was a more arid version instead of the tropical landscape there.

On our last full day, we headed back down to Athens! We stopped at a winery near Mount Olympus, who had fully forgotten we were supposed to arrive even though I’d emailed them multiple times to set up our tasting. Even though they were surprised to see us, we still got to hear about their process and taste a few wines! I feel like I don’t see as wide of a selection from Greece – I can’t tell if they just don’t stock it in Utah (entirely possible) or if it’s a broader trend across the American West? Regardless, I enjoyed trying some from a region that I don’t taste very often. 

The rest of our drive back was uneventful. Something I would advocate for if you’re planning a trip to Greece – Ardemida was a great area to stay in near the airport. Athens is kind of a haul from the airport, so we booked Airbnbs in Ardemida instead for both of the nights where we had early flights the next day and it was a great option. Cute little town, lots of good food, access to the beaches, and only about 10 or 15 minutes from the airport with good availability for Ubers! It made the logistics much easier on the tail ends of the trip. After our last night there, Colin headed back to the US, and I flew back to Croatia for part two: Dubrovnik.

Europe Greece

Santorini: Not Just For Influencers

I actually went to Santorini wondering if it would feel overrated. It seemed like it was a very polarizing place, based on what I was reading on the internet. My verdict: definitely not overrated! Santorini was stunning, and I had an amazing experience there. And yes, there are a ton of ~social media influencers~ taking dumb pictures, but it’s on them if they want to spend their time in Santorini lining up for a single sunset shot instead of relaxing in one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited.

I wanted to stay in Oia, because that’s all the pictures I’ve ever seen of Santorini and it looked amazing, so Colin and I got an Airbnb in Oia. Transportation on the island can be a challenge if you don’t rent a car, but thankfully our Airbnb host was amazing and helped us arrange our cab to and from the airport. Our first night we wandered around Oia and ended up eating at this fancier restaurant. We got one of the best tables in the house even without a reservation, and watching that sunset as we sipped wine was one of my favorite memories of the whole trip!

The next day we did a wine tour! They took us to three different wineries, where we tried thirteen different wines. Needless to say, by the end of the tour we were pretty buzzed and our afternoon was mostly spent napping and reading and watching Formula 1. Santorini, and Greece in general, has a lot more white wines, and we had some great whites and roses while we were there. There’s also an interesting aspect of grape growing in Santorini. The traditional way that grapes are grown, in those hot temperatures, would roast the grapes. Instead, they train the vines to grow in circles on the ground, which they call baskets. This way, the grapes remain shaded by the leaves, and they can harvest a much larger percentage of the grapes grown this way.

The next morning we did the hike from Oia to Fira, which was so cool. The hike is almost six miles, and took us about two and a half hours. Colin told me we picked the more difficult version, as we gained about 1,300 feet over the course of the hike – if we’d gone the other way, it would have been mostly downhill! The views of the caldera were incredible. 

Yep, that’s the view from the roof of our Airbnb. Casual.

We had lunch in Fira and then took a very expensive Uber back to Oia to change into our swimsuits. That evening, we did a sunset cruise around the caldera, stopping at a few beaches to swim and eat dinner. It was a wonderful end to our time in Santorini, and we headed back to Athens the next day to start the mainland part of our trip!

Croatia Europe

Notes on Northern Croatia

Once I was done exploring Slovenia, the rest of my week was spent in and around Zagreb! Zagreb was charming. My Airbnb was about a block away from a lovely park and it was easy to walk into the city center, where there was a nice central street with tons of bars and restaurants. Zagreb is also home to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is one of the most interesting museum concepts I’ve seen and very well executed. They asked people to send them items from broken relationships – most were romantic breakups, but it also included loss of family members, broken friendships, and even the occasional metaphorical loss, like a food allergy diagnosis that didn’t allow the sender to eat one of their favorite foods anymore. Some of the stories were funny and some were heartbreaking and it was such a cool way to spend one of my mornings there.

I was initially planning on doing day trips to some of the smaller towns that are within about an hour of Zagreb, but a friend of mine convinced me I should go see Split. I booked a last minute hotel and bus tickets and headed to the coast! It’s a longer bus ride, about four hours, but it was very beautiful and it was fun seeing the point where the towns started to look less medieval Europe and more Mediterranean. The coolest aspect of Split is that about half the old town is built on the ruins of an ancient palace. I didn’t have anything specific I wanted to see. I just wandered around, ate delicious risotto, and soaked in the city. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area!

The last stop on my tour of Northern Croatia was Plitvice Lakes. It’s one of the most well-known sites in Croatia. It’s a gorgeous national park full of waterfalls and this amazing turquoise water. I think a lot of people do it as part of a road trip or via a tour, but I went on my own and that worked really well! It’s about 2.5 hours by bus, so I booked tickets on the Flix Bus app to and from Zagreb and it was very doable as a day trip. The bus drops you off a short-ish walk from either of the park entrances. 

I had apparently done my research when I’d booked the tickets – I chose Entrance #2 and did Route H. This one starts with a short “train” ride to the start of the Upper Lakes trail. The Upper Lakes were much less crowded and I got to experience them in the morning, so I got that magical experience of feeling at least somewhat alone on the trail as I looked out over the lakes! As with any touristy activity, the earlier you get there, the better it is.

Once I’d wound my way through the Upper Lakes, there was a boat to get to the Lower Lakes. Even as I stepped off the boat, there were already so many more people. That side has a nice area with restaurants, so I had lunch there and then continued through the Lower Lakes. I think those were cooler waterfalls, but it was much more crowded on the trails, especially as it got later in the day. Even with the crowds, though, it was one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen, so it is absolutely still worth a visit! I made it back through the entire loop back to Entrance #2 and had plenty of time before my bus to Zagreb. I was glad that I figured out how to do it independently, as it was so much more fun to go at my own pace in the park. And with that, it was off to Greece!

Europe Slovenia

Spectacular Slovenia

I had high expectations for Slovenia, and somehow it still surpassed them! I spent a magical couple days in Ljubljana and Bled. I had started my Europe trip in Zagreb and it was such an easy train ride up into Ljubljana. It took about two hours, and for most of it, the train was along a river. As we got farther into Slovenia, the terrain got more mountainous. We also had to go through passport control on the train – for this two day jaunt, I got four passport stamps! Exit from Croatia, entry into Slovenia, exit from Slovenia, and entry into Croatia. In a world where most European travel doesn’t even get stamps, it was wild how many I accumulated on this trip.

Ljubljana is a tiny and walkable city. The center is closed off to cars, and there’s a path along the river that has loads of cafés and restaurants with outdoor seating and cool bridges, including my favorite, the Dragon Bridge. Dragons are a national symbol for Slovenia, which is exactly as cool as it sounds.

My first order of business was a boat tour along the river, which is always one of my favorite ways to see a city. It gave me a much better sense of where I was and was a great way to spend an hour. I had a quick lunch and then headed back to the transportation center – it was time to get on a bus to Bled!

I spent the night in Bled and had about 24 hours there, which was a great amount of time to see everything I wanted. To be frank, I would have loved to spend more time in Slovenia, and would have been happy to extend my time in Bled, but I had a lot of other places I was going on this trip and this was only the first stop! The bus dropped me off a few minutes walk from the lake, and the water is truly as blue as it looks in the pictures. I still had a few hours before my hotel would let me check in, so I started by heading out to the island in the middle of the lake. You can rent your own rowboat or go in one of the traditional-style boats where someone rows for you – I picked the latter.

It’s about 30 minutes to get to the island and then they give you free time to explore before they row you back. It’s not a huge place, but you can pay to go into the church if you want or even go swimming. I wandered around for a while, got some ice cream, and dipped my feet in the lake. By the time we got back to shore, I could go check in and drop off the bag I’d brought for the overnight portion. I didn’t want to carry it for the rest of the day – the next thing I wanted to do was walk all the way along the lake! It was about a 3.5 mile walk and took me a little over an hour, according to my fitness tracker. It was a gorgeous walk. I would highly recommend it if you want to explore the Bled area.

By the time I got back, I was starving, so I headed to one of the restaurants along the lakeshore. I knew I wanted to try the famous Bled cream cake while I was there, and it was definitely worth it! Very rich, but the custard was melt-in-your-mouth smooth. The perfect end to the day for sure.

The next morning, I wandered around Bled for a bit longer and then caught my bus back to Ljubljana. The weather had gotten a lot warmer, so this time I took a lot more breaks for cool drinks! I also explored a bit more away from the river. The most interesting place I found was Republic Square, which has both the Slovenian parliament and a few monuments. The buildings in this area looked a bit more Soviet. Nowadays, it’s easy to forget that Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia – they look sort of like a hybrid Italy and Switzerland architecturally and their infrastructure is great. But if you wander out of the center of the city, you can still see the vestiges of their past. I also went up the funicular to the Ljubljana Castle. The castle itself wasn’t that exciting, relative to some of the other castles I’ve visited in Europe, but there were some nice views from the top!

All in all, I would definitely recommend a visit to Slovenia. Of the countries I’ve been to in Europe, it’s one of the most underrated, and I would love to go back and explore the country further!