Category: Destinations

Uppsala, Sweden

Uppsala, Sweden

Overview (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Population: 149,245 (2015)
Density: 3,100/km2 (7,900/sq mi)
Elevation: 15 m (49 ft)
Weather: Cold winters, mild summers
Warm season: May – Sep
Language: Swedish, English is very common
Currency: Even though Sweden is in the EU, they do not accept the euro or any currency other than the Swedish crown (SEK).

Founded in the 12th century, Uppsala is 71 km (44 mi) north of Stockholm. Some scenes from The Girl With the Dragon Tatto were filmed here, and it is the hometown of the fictitious character Christine Daaè In Phantom of the Opera. There was also an episode of Vikings that took pace here.

But its biggest claim to fame is its impact on religion, especially during the 13th and 14th centuries, but still largely influential even today. It is also the locale where the famous Queen Kristina, daughter of Gustavus the Great, abdicated the throne in 1654.

The city is also home to the Uppsala Cathedral, where Gustavus Vasa is buried. And it is home to the oldest university in Scandinavia, built in 1477. There is a ton of additional history and sites here, so you can easily spend a day or two taking it all in.

Logistics

We took the train from Stockholm central station. You don’t need an exact time to rush to; there is a train that leaves about every 20 minutes. You do have to commit to a time when you buy your ticket.

The train cost was 190 SEK ($30) for both of us, one way. Different trains will make different stops and so travel time will vary. Ours got us to Uppsala in about 40 minutes.

It was a very grey, overcast day, so sorry if the pictures are a bit dreary.

The Castle and Botanical Gardens

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It´s a working castle and only has tours in the summertime, but the beautiful castle grounds and botanical gardens are open year round.

The gardens began construction under the rule of Queen Kristina (that’s not her in the pic, that’s my lovely wife Jana), but were turned over to the University in 1644 by King Gustav III as a botanical garden.

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While this is not the University itself, it is affiliated with the university. I just included it here because of the fantastic Scandanavian architecture (above).

The Uppsala Cathedral is much older than it looks. It was built (inaugurated) in 1435 and is one of the largest in northern Europe, with towers reaching 118.70 metres (389.4 ft). And as I mentioned, the crypt of Gustav Vasa is in this cathedral. He is considered the  Father of Sweden since it was he who raised the army that retaliated against and defeated King Christian for the infamous blood square. That battle was the catalyst that permanently separated Sweden from Denmark.

After the church, we walked around town some more. It´s a small and cozy town, easy to move around in and not over run by tourists (like us, haha).

Then we ended up at the nicest little Italian restaurant called Villa Romana. I had the pepper steak, and Jana had pasta with beef. Both were delicious! Great food and a good wine selection, highly recommend.

And that’s about it. We walked back to central station and took the train home. It was also around 40 minutes to get back. We want to go back in the summer to see the botanical garden in all of its beauty, but there is also a viking burial mound that we didn’t get a chance to see, so we will be back!

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

 

Copenhagen, Denmark
(stats courtesy Wikipedia 2017 data sample):
Pop City Proper: 1,295,686
Metro Pop: 2,036,717
Municipality: 86.39 km2 (33.36 sq mi)
Elevation: 1 m (3 ft) to 91 m (299 ft)
Weather: Cold winters, mild summers
Warm Season: Jun – Aug
Currency: Danish Kroner (DKK or kr), credit card friendly
Language: Danish, but good English in most areas

This article documents our 2017 (second) trip to Copenhagen. Our very good friend, Melissa, was visiting from the US and we all went together on this trip. We were there a total of three nights and four days. The weather was warm but cloudy most of the time, and we got caught in the rain a couple of times. But when you’re with people you love, a little rain doesn’t stand a chance of even putting a dent in your fun!

The journal below is organized by day, with the events of that day underneath. This is more of a diary format, not as formal as my write ups. Click on the underlined links to get the full details of that discussion. It will open the event in a separate page so that the journal will remain open for you and you can come right back to where you left off. All of the restaurants will be reviewed on a separate page, and the link for that, along with a quick review of the hotel are at the bottom of this article.

Day One

Central Station always feels like crazy hustle bustle to me. Everybody’s rushing around, most pulling luggage behind them, all going in different directions but all seemingly focused on where they’re headed. Shops and stores, restaurants, cafes and bars all around, all crowded. It’s like seeing the inside of a giant human anthill.

Jana has been here so many times she could navigate it with her eyes closed. Melissa and I were like country comes to town pacing behind a very confident Jana. Up, down, around, and eventually outside and down a long exterior walkway next to the rails. Since we arrived at central by subway, we couldn’t completely trust it being on time, especially with the summer schedule still in play, so we arrived pretty early. Nothing to do now but dig in and wait. At least it was a nice sunny day.

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Click here to come ride the train with me! This is my second time doing this. I just love a long train ride. And southern Sweden, in particular, has some of the most gorgeous countryside in Europe. We arrived at Copenhagen Central Station about five and a half hours later, a half hour later than expected.

We checked in at the Manon Les Suites hotel (see review of hotel at bottom of article). We were pleasantly surprised at the size of the room and overall swank factor of the hotel.

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After we checked in, we went over to the Tivoli Gardens. Click here to see the full write up of this magnificent park. We walked around the park and gardens for a bit. It was a pretty crowded, as you might expect of an amusement park on a warm summer evening, but the layout was done so well that you just didn’t feel cramped. Every now and then, this formal marching band would just appear on one of the main paths, then disappear after a brief show. Dreamy.

Once we had walked up a good appetite, we went to the Nimb Restaurant and had some drinks and a savory dinner on their private terrace as we watched the people go by.

Day Two

We went on the The Culinary Experience food tour. This was a four hour, four kilometer (2.5 mi) walking food tour.

It was delicious, even though the rain tried but failed to ruin it. We got to see some some very nice sights that most tourists never see, and our guide gave us a great historical perspective of the areas we went through and even how the food itself changed over time. It was very nice.

We did the one hour canal tour from Nyhavn. It was a guided tour that went up the main canal and around some of the smaller ones. It was fun and educational, plus we got some great pictures from the water.

After leaving a wine bar, we got ambushed by a really bad thundershower. We were all soaking wet, even though we had umbrellas. Returned to the hotel and ordered pizza delivery!

Day 3

Lounged around a bit in the morning, then went and had a great hamburger at Halifax Burger Restaurant for lunch. This is one of the places I formally reviewed on the restaurant list. You must go here if you’re in Copenhagen!

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We did the Urban Tour, which is a 3 hour 15 kilometer (9.3mi) bicycle tour. There were frequent stops for our guide to tell us the historical perspective of things around us. The clouds built up during the tour – did we make it without getting drenched? Click here to find out.

After the bike tour, we walked around some, did some more window shopping, then had dinner at Peder Oxe. Cool name for a restaurant, eh? It was a pretty unique place. Check out the review of it at the end of this article.

 

Day 4

Once we checked out of our hotel, we left our bags with the front desk and took the metro down to the National Aquarium of Denmark (Den Blå Planet). Very well done aquarium and media presentations.

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Click here to check it out. Also got lunch at the cafe, which wasn’t half bad, and was also included in the restaurant reviews.

Well, that’s it. We went back to the hotel, got our luggage, and walked over to the train station. A great visit with our friend Melissa. The rain tried to douse our fun a couple of times, but we didn’t let it ruin our good time!


Accommodations

Manon Les Suites – Good location. It was a 15 minute walk from the train, and we easily walked to all of our attractions.

Nice hotel suite. Around $400/night. Sounds pricey, but it really was a suite and it was very roomy for three guests. A private master suite with full bath. Comfy day bed in living room and half bathroom. Could even sleep another on sofa in living room. Refrigerator and sink. Full bath has no shower door, causing bathroom floor to essentially flood. Not a malfunction, typical European shower design.

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Awesome and unique pool, which we ooo’d and ahhh’d over but did not swim in, this time…

Restaurants

Click here to see the full reviews of all the restaurants we went to, complete with pictures, addresses, and The Travelin’ Man’s recommendations.

Travelin’ Man’s Guide to Stockholm

This is an index of all of the current Stockholm activities and places that I have documented. More are being added every week, so be sure to sign up for notifications at the bottom of the page so you will get notified when I add a new article.

Each entry below has a thumbnail image with the name and a description of the attraction. If you want to see the Travelin’ Man’s detailed article of that attraction in a separate window, simply click on the underlined text.

The attractions are grouped by which island they are on. The amount of time for each attraction is given. Use those two pieces of information to help plan a day of sightseeing in and around this beautiful city.

Archipelago

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Fjäderholmarna [2-3 Hrs] Stockholm’s closest archipelago island, and the 30 minute boat ride was scenic and relaxing. It leaves from the Strandvägen ferry terminal. There are several great restaurants to choose from, some scenic walking trails, and a blacksmith that makes jewelry right on the island.

 

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Vaxholm Dinner Cruise [3 Hrs] The cruise goes non-stop from Stockholm to the beautiful Vaxholm. You really can’t go wrong here, the dinner, drinks and cruise were all excellent; we and everyone around us had a marvelous time.

 

Lake Mälaren

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Drottningholm Palace Cruise [4-5 Hrs] Ok, spoiler alert here, in case you haven’t already heard, Drottningholm Palace (aka Summer Palace) is one of the nicest palaces in all the land! It is in this palace that the royal family actually lives.

 

 

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Skokloster Palace – [8-9 Hrs] It’s a boat ride from Stockholm to the Skokloster palace and back. Experience the breathtaking beauty of lake Mälaren’s shoreline. On board cafeteria and bar, and the trip includes an onboard tour guide who will call out noteworthy sights along the way.

 

Djurgården

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Skansen [4-5 Hrs] It’s a museum, a zoo, and a historical town replica. It’s all of those things and all outdoor. There are some rides and activities for children. It also offers some fantastic views of Stockholm.

 

 

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Vasa Museum [2-3 Hrs] This museum displays an almost perfectly preserved ship that sank off the coast of Stockholm in 1628. They claim that it is the worlds only fully preserved 17th century ship. And it is completely intact.

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The Viking Museum [1 Hr] The big challenge for museums is how to present their wealth of information in a way that will be interesting, and also to present it in a way that you will remember it. The Viking Museum does a pretty good job at both of these things.

 

 

 Gamla Stan

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Rooftop Tour [2 Hrs] Walk around on the roof of the old parliament house, eight stories up! Get a full 360 degree view with no windows, walls, or barriers. And the guides give great historical perspective on what you’re looking at.

 

IMG_2817Stockholm Free Walking Tour [2 Hrs] It’s definitely a tour worth taking, even for locals since you probably walk right past a lot of this stuff but don’t know its history.

 

 

Norrmalm

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Under the Bridges Boat Tour [2 Hrs 15 Mins] I listed this one under Norrmalm even though it cruises around Södermalm because the tour departs from the main island. This one was just ok, and didn’t get a good rating. Some good tour information on architecture and history.

 

 

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Stockholm – Intellectual, fashionable, and very cultural. More than 100 museums, some world renowned. Picturesque, stately beauty of a city on the Baltic. Magnificent palaces, exquisite restaurants, unforgettable boat tours. By mid summer, over 18 hours of daylight per day!

 

Södermalm

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Segway Tour [2 Hrs] We had a nice route that took us around Södermalm. I say it was a nice route because they kept us away from the heavy traffic areas and we had limited big intersections to get through.

 

Other

IMG_8163Hagaparken [All day] This is a massive and beautiful sprawling park across the lake from The Stockholm University campus. Not only is it a gorgeous display of nature, but it also has the Haga Palace, King Gustav III’s Pavillion, botanical gardens, a Chinese pavilion and gardens, a Turkish Kiosk, and it is also the site of the Swedish Royal Burial Grounds.

 

 

 

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Pop Total (2014): 264,579
Area Total: 414.57 km2 (160.07 sq mi)
Density: 640/km2 (1,700/sq mi)
Elevation: 1 m (3 ft)
Weather: Brisk winters, warm/hot summers
Warm Season: May – Oct
Currency: Euro, credit card friendly
Language: Italian, good English in most places

What’s so special?
Often referred to as “a floating masterpiece.” It is difficult to describe how Venice makes you feel. So popular in the movies, it is familiar, even if it’s your first visit. While she is not snobby or arrogant, she says like me as I am, or go away. The depth of culture and history could occupy a person for years, not to mention the exquisite architecture. You can really feel history all around you, everywhere you go here. And fine dining, whoa, the simple travelin’ man almost went hungry due to all the fancy restaurants!

When I said that Ljubljana was an easy town because there weren’t so many famous things to see that you felt you had to hurry around to get to them all, well that doesn’t hold true for Venice. You could spend a week in here and still only have scratched the surface on sight seeing. Nonetheless, we paced ourselves and tried to take it easy while still taking in some spectacular sights.

We were there in early May and hit the jackpot with the weather. It was very warm, but not uncomfortably so, and it only rained a couple of times, but didn’t last long and wasn’t very hard. We were there for two and a half days (three nights).

We did a lot of walking here. Well, everyone does since there are no cars, haha. We found it easy to navigate around, and believe it or not, a compass actually comes in handy here. Check the map before you head out and use the sun or a compass to go in the general direction you need, and you will get where you need to be.

The Rialto Bridge

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You’ll definitely be seeing the Rialto bridge. It’s one of the main bridges to get across the Grand Canal. It’s also the oldest one (there are four total). When you stand on that bridge overlooking the canal, after the selfies, you just can’t help but think of how many people have crossed since it was constructed in 1591. Think of all the gondolas that have gone under that bridge. Let your mind slip back in time and picture what it must have been like all those hundreds of years ago. And here you stand over four hundred years later. Given how they say the whole city is slowly sinking, it’s likely the bridge won’t be accessible four hundred years from now. Think about that while you’re standing there. I have these time warp flashbacks all over this city.

Saint Mark’s Square

 

 

You’ll want to read up on your Venice history before getting the significance of Saint Mark’s Square. There’s a lot to see and take in here. The artwork carved into the buildings, the Saint Mark’s Basilica, the clock tower, even the famous horses of Saint Mark. Although the ones atop the Basilica are replicas, the real ones are inside.

We also did the tour of the Palace there. Don’t be intimidated by the line, it moves pretty well. This wasn’t what I expected in a palace tour, but only because I didn’t read up on it first. This was not a palace where royalty lived and occupied. It was strictly for business. And I will say, by the time we left there, I understood a lot more about their history and evolution of their government.

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IMG_2491You want to talk about fresh seafood? Yeah? Well we stumbled across this open market. I’ve never really seen anything like this before. And checkout the swordfish. You ask for a swordfish steak and they literally hack it off for you right there while you wait. And I even saw one of the eels trying to slither away! How’s that for fresh?

The Islands around the Island

 


There are dozens of other islands in the area around Venice. There are boats that circulate between them. Sort of like a hop on hop off but for boats. We used this service and went to three of the larger islands north of Venice: Murano, Burano, and Torcello. They each have their own stories to tell and their own charm and beauty to share, as well as shops and restaurants. I definitely recommend doing these.

Accommodations

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We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast called Ponte Chiodo. We arrived from the airport via boat, and this place was easy to find from the landing dock. Our host was extremely helpful and very friendly. When we first arrived, he sat down with us and reviewed the map of the area, pointing out things for us to do and recommending several restaurants and bars in the area. You can never go wrong getting info like this from a local.

As you can imagine, being Venice, this was a historic house. It was very romantic, well cared for, and very clean. The room and bathroom were quite spacious. There was a covered sitting area where breakfast was served. It’s surrounded by the well kept and beautiful grounds. We brought a bottle wine down one evening and just chilled out sitting there. I would definitely stay here again. We were on the third floor, and the stairs were very narrow and steep, so make sure you’re up to the task of man handling your luggage.

Restaraunts

I know I may have exaggerated at the opening when I said Simple Man went hungry in Venice. Well, that was just for effect, haha. Truth be told, most of the places in Venice are way over the top fancy, but even though they’re on an island, surrounded by seafood, there was plenty of beef and other options to satisfy even the simplist palate (mine). All three of the dinner restaurants we went to were at the recommendation of our host, and they all rocked. I’m not going to discuss venues or prices here,  because they were all quite fancy and a little on the pricey side, but well worth it. We also booked in advance for all of them. All three were of the finest quality and all three are highly recommended.

Antica Adelaide: Very small but nice restaurant literally less than five minutes from where we were staying. And as you can see below, Jana with the fancy, me with the good stuff. She got the cuttle fish in the black sauce. Mine was fantastic! Who would have thought I would be eating ribs and sausage in such a fancy place? It was excellent.

 

 

 

Nono Risorto Pizza: This was probably the cheaper of the three places we went, and yes we got pizza. I mean come on, we’re in Italy! Very nice atmosphere, we sat outside in their own private courtyard at a quiet table for two. There was special dim lighting that added to the effect. It was very romantic. Lots of other traditional Italian selections on the menu. I didn’t post a picture. Just close your eyes and imagine pizza with round salami slices on it – you got it. But I could have posted a picture of the extremely cozy outdoor setting. Bad JC.

Cà D’Oro alla Vedova: This was an easy walk from where we were staying. It was raining on the evening we were there, but this place made us feel nice and cozy. A quiet table against the wall, and a bottle of of an Italian red valpolicello. As you can see below, Jana is definitely not afraid of the fancy stuff. Hers was the well presented scallops and vegetable lasagna. But check out my beef strips, they were very delicious. And I didn’t share.

 

 

 

 

Trieste, Italy

Trieste, Italy

Trieste, Italy (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Pop Total (2013?): 204,849
Area Total: 84.49 km2 (32.62 sq mi)
Density: 2,400/km2 (6,300/sq mi)
Elevation: 2 m (7 ft)
Weather: Brisk winters, warm/hot summers
Warm Season: Apr – Oct
Currency: Euro, some places still don’t take credit card so bring cash
Language: Italian, mostly good English

What’s so special?
It is a beautiful and very historic city, dating back to the protohistoric period. Outstanding and well preserved Roman exhibits. Diverse European history, which is reflected in the architectural styles throughout the city.


Perhaps the most famous thing you will want to check out is the Piazza Unità (Unity Square). This is the largest sea-front square in Europe. And its timeless, majestic beauty will move you. There is just not a lens wide enough to capture what it feels like to stand there. What you can’t see behind me is the beautiful Gulf of Trieste!

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One of the things that did strike me about Trieste is its history with and dedication to the Roman era (1st and 2nd century AD). There was one place where they found this old archway imbedded into a building. They gently tore the building down and uncovered a trove of Roman artifacts, including the still intact archway.

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Another even more dramatic example of that is the Roman theatre. They found traces of it underneath a building, then took down all the buildings in that area and dug down deep, uncovering the almost in tact Roman theatre. Go see this place and feel their ghosts still there enjoying a theatrical presentation.

We took the PromoTurismoFVG two hour tour of the city. When you book your tour, remember to make sure you get English. We were the only non-Italian speaking people in the group so they did each segment in Italian, then summarized for us in English as we walked to the next area. Not the best way to get it, but it got the job done.

Accommodations

We stayed at the Residence Liberty hotel. Great location, centrally located for walking the city, and only a couple of blocks from the water. This place felt pretty special to me. First of all, it’s more like a suite compared to most places we stay in Europe. We had our own kitchen, and the bathroom was huge.

The setting was historic, meaning it’s very old. Some people don’t like this type of rustic feel. But we stay in a lot of B&B’s that are set in old, historic houses, and this definitely feels like that.

The staff was awesome. There was no bar/restaurant.

Restaraunts

Citta di Cherso: Service was good, and you do need a reservation. Good quiet atmosphere. Small but not cramped in. Good wine, only offered regional. We got the malvasia wine, it was excellent.

Scabar: They misplaced our reservation but still were able to get us a good table. Overall the food was a little fancy but very good. Again, we got the malvasia wine. Good prices. Note that this place was too far to walk, we used a taxi.

Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

Lake Bled and Vintgar Gorge

Our goal here was to do the gorge and the Lake Bled area in one day. This was one of the very few European vacations we’ve been on where we actually had a car. We left Ljubljana fairly early, getting to Lake Bled in just under an hour. From there to the gorge is only 15-20 minutes by car.

The weather was absolutely perfect while we were there, which was early May. Cool mornings, mild afternoons just right for walking.

The currency in this area is euros, and everyone we encountered spoke excellent English.

Lake Bled

For anyone who is unfamiliar with this area, it is probably one of the most beautiful places you will ever visit. We managed to be there while the weather was just absolutely perfect. And little to no wind made the lake itself look like a sheet of glass, as you see in the pictures. The castle, especially from down below on the lake, has the look of a fantasy novel or fairy tale. It is probably one of the most stunning castles I have ever seen. I mean seriously, if it looks this good in pictures, just try to imagine how it looks in real life. And then repeat the experience when you’re up in the castle looking down on the lake and island.

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They have these really cool boats that will take you out to Bled Island. They’re called pletnas. They’re similar to the gondolas of Venice, but bigger and covered. A guy stands up on the stern of the boat and uses oars to row while remaining standing. They are around €15 per person, round trip.

We got there pretty early and were the first ones on the boat. Got us a good seat up front, but meant we would have to wait for more passengers to arrive. They try to fill up the boat before leaving. But we didn’t mind, it was such a gorgeous morning and there were some fish swimming around the boat that we enjoyed watching for a bit.

The boat ride to the island was surreal. The water was like glass, and the only sound was the oars gently dipping into the water as we glided silently along. Sitting up in the front provided the best photo ops of the castle, the island, and everything in the area. Do yourself a favor and get the person sitting across from you take a picture of you as the backdrop is just gorgeous.

The island itself is pretty small and only has a couple of buildings. One was a cafe where we sat and drank espresso while looking down at the lake. There is also a small 17th century church with a tower. Follow the walking trail around the island and keep an eye out for the rather large fish skulking around close to the shore.

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All told it took us just under two hours. Once we got back on land, we had planned to have lunch up at the castle. You need reservations, which we had, but the island took longer than we thought so we had to cancel. Which in a way is bad because the restaurant is outdoor and overlooks the lake and island.

IMG_2344But it’s also good because we stumbled across another jewel. Apparently this area is famous for its cream cake. But the place we settled on was where it all started, so of course we had to see what the original was like. Sinful, that’s what! And we had a seat right up against the rail and overlooking the lake. The name of it was Restavracija Panorama. It’s on the pathway that leads around the lake toward the north heading to the castle. The rest of the food was ok, and good wine, but it’s the atmosphere you’re going to enjoy the most.

Once we finished our most excellent cream cake, plus meal, plus wine, we were feeling as though we needed a good hike. Well, you saw the castle, right? A helluva hike it was! It was pretty steep, with a combination of steep inclines and stairs in some places. Just take your time and enjoy the views and you’ll be there before you know it.

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Inside the castle itself was not really all that spectacular, but it is definitely worth the hike to see the views. It’s like your up on a cloud looking down on paradise. Just magnificent. Makes you feel like a Greek god or something. And of course the walk down was much easier. 🙂

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Vintgar Gorge

We came to the gorge from Lake Bled. Driving, It only took about 15 mins to get there. If you’re not worn out from climbing up to the castle, the gorge is well worth your time, but it is also a good bit of walking. If you just wanna go take a nap or whatever, you could always come back to the gorge the next day. But we were still taking revenge on that cream cake and so decided to conquer the gorge in the same day.

But one way or the other, hopefully you can manage a visit to the Vintgar Gorge. I want to say it is just gorge-us? Haha. Seriously, it is a sight to behold. You don’t tour it from the top looking down, oh no, you are down in it! Wooden and cement pathways were constructed along the bottom sides of the gorge in the 1890’s. So you are literally walking almost right over the very river that cut the gorge. The path is quite safe and sturdy. You can see signs everywhere of fresh maintenance updates on it.

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It features beautiful green water with several waterfalls. The stone walls are over 100 meters (300ft) high in some places. The water is translucent, but green. Just amazing. All told I think it’s around 1.5 meters (about a mile), so double that for a round trip. There is a €5 fee per adult to enter, and there’s a concession cabin along the way.

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And by the way, that’s called the Šum, and it’s the largest river waterfall in all of Slovenia. What looks like glare in the picture is actually heavy mist from the waterfall. Have fun!

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia (stats courtesy Wikipedia):
Pop City Proper: 279,756
Metro Pop: 537,712
Municipality: 163.8 km2 (63.2 sq mi)
Density: 1,708/km2 (4,420/sq mi)
Elevation: 295 m (968 ft)
Weather: Cold, short winters, mild summers
Warm: April – October
Summer: Low 80’s
Language: Slovene, English is very common

What’s so special?
This area has breathtaking landscapes, magnificent architecture, and unforgettable castles. Rolling green hills, shimmering lakes, even caves and a dramatic gorge to explore. Truly, a hidden gem you will want to come back to again and again. Be sure to scroll through all of my Slovenia journals as they are all close to Ljubljana.

Ljubljana – Lover’s Town

As you can see from the header at the top, it’s not a large city, especially by capital city standards. And, mind you, this is the largest city in Slovenia. But this is the truly classic, romantic European town. There are so many great things to see in this area that a lot people just use Ljubljana as a central base camp. But this works to your favor as it is not over run with tourists. We found it to be very laid back and easy.

The town has done a marvelous job of entwining itself around the Ljubijanica river. It is no hard task to grab a cozy table overlooking the river to enjoy a glass of wine or a cappuccino. While there was more than enough to see and do, it isn’t chocked so full of famous tourist attractions that you feel you have to rush around to take them all in. It’s an easy town. Pull your lover close and enjoy the richness of this old place as you explore the shops, bridges, and cafes at a slower pace. And by the way, the first part of Ljubljana, ‘Ljub’, means “to love” in Slavic. Just sayin’.

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One place you definitely want to visit that will take you back in time is Klobasarna. You get a fresh cooked, sliced local sausage on a paper plate.  Oh yeah, simple man here just loves stuff like this! But I am glad I got the half, its a good bit of meat especially if you’re intending to have dinner later.

The whole town is full of places like this. And there 15 or so bridges crossing the river in the area, and almost all of them have ornate statues highlighting their entrance or medieval carvings all along their length. One such bridge was dedicated to the dragon, which is also the town symbol. I’ll let you learn that legend on your own, but here’s a hint, you may want to keep a wary eye to sky.

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Ljubljana Castle

Towering over all these cozy cafes and shops is a castle. Look closely at the picture below. It’s actually two pictures. The one on the left is me looking up at the castle from the city. The one on the right is me looking down at the city from the castle. The big street in the center is the same one I was looking up from!

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It’s a pretty decent hike up to the castle, and since we were so full from the sausage, we took the funicular up – wait, what? Ha, it’s basically a cable car and was kind of fun. But we did hike back down. And when we saw how steep it was, we were glad we didn’t walk up.

The castle gives the most spectacular views of the city, and will make anyone look like a professional photographer. The interior is remarkably modern. This castle has a very interesting story to tell. And you should know by now, my job isn’t to tell you those stories, but to let you discover them on your own. But suffice to say this castle does have a unique history and has at times been more than a castle. It’s been a fortress, a prison, a residence, and more!

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Accommodations

We stayed at the Vander Urbani Resort. Primo location right off the main road that parallels the river, and centrally located for exploring the city on foot. The prices were competitive with other hotels in the area. We paid around €180 per night during what is considered prime season (early May).

As with most European hotels, the rooms were small. But the style of our room was particularly structured in such a way that there was no privacy for anything, I mean anything while in the room. So make sure you are really really intimate with who you are staying here with.

We only ate the free breakfast in their restaurant, but it was cozy and nicely laid out. The main guy that ran the area down there seemed always stressed out even when the place wasn’t crowded, so we didn’t feel inclined to party there. Besides, ten paces and we could be sitting outside right on the river.

The rest of the staff was polite and friendly, always eager to help. Everyone spoke good English.  I would stay here again.

Notable Restaraunts

Spajza

Venue: I’m going to tell you straight up here, the food in this place is pretty fancy. Casual attire, although I would have felt a little better if I had worn my suit jacket. Very cozy setting. I understand it used to be a house and was converted. It does have a homey feel to it. Considering how fancy the food is, and how good the service was, the prices were very good. Everyone spoke good English, and they had English menus available

Menu: It’s the first place I ever went to that served horse (which I did NOT eat of course). Venison with blueberries. Octopus. Hmmm. Also some great fish selections. But they redeemed themselves by having several beef selections, including T-bone steak.

Drinks: Great selection of local wines. We just love the Slovene wines. We actually got the Malvasia which, believe it or not is actually an orange wine. I know, but we like it! Reasonably priced,  maybe a bit on the high side.

My recommendation: So the JC Simple Man rating is not so good, but I will give this place high marks on Trip Advisor because the overall value for most people is top notch. If I was out on my own looking for dinner, I would not come back here, but for my friends who I know like this type of venue, I would highly recommend this place to them.

Marley and Me

Venue: Definitely casual, laid back and relaxed. Somewhat small inside, lots of seating outside. Prices were very reasonable, between €10 and €20 for most main dishes.

Menu: Some pretty fancy pasta dishes, good salmon and sea bass selections, but a surprisingly good selection of beef, pork, and chicken.

Drinks: Good selection of local wines and a pretty good deal on the prices. We had a local cab and it was excellent.

My recommendation: I ordered the hamburger. As with most European restaurants, I asked for it med-well, and got rare. I can’t really fault them for this. Since I know this is what they do, I should not order a hamburger unless I’m willing to accept it, which I am. Overall though, I would recommend this place and I would come back here again.

Postojna Cave & Predjama Castle Slovenia

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Postojna Cave

Our adventure actually began in Venice, Italy. We landed in Venice, picked up a car, then drove to Trieste, Italy and then onto Ljubljana, Slovenia. But all of that was way too much for a single story, so I broke it down into regional segments. This particular story covers the Postojna caves and the Predjama castle.

First off, about the driving. It was way easier than you might think. They drive on the right (and correct, haha) side of the road. Using google maps trip navigation works very well, not a single issue or missed turn.

As you cross into Slovenia, be sure to stop and get a vignette. This is their replacement for a tolling system. It’s required by law. If you aren’t able to get one when you cross into the country, stop at the first gas station you come to. They are €15 for 7 days. This means you sail through most of the toll areas.

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It took us a little more than an hour to get to the caves from Trieste. We considered this an equal part of enjoyment for the vacation since it was so beautiful driving through the foothills and back country roads of Slovenia. There was hardly any traffic, so it was quite relaxing and enjoyable.

Note that the Postojna Caves are very popular, and most of the tours will sell out days in advance. How sad for you to drive all the way out there only to be turned away because all the tours are sold out. Sign up online and get your tickets in advance! This is the way of the future for most all tourist activities anyway.

There are countless caves in and around the Slovenia area. The trick is to find one that is safe and well run. Postojna caves are extremely well done. To start, if you arrive hungry, there are some really good touristy restaurants right there on the premises. Mostly hamburger and hot dog places, but they do serve wine, beer, and coffee. There is one place that is a slightly higher venue, but we didn’t try it.

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One thing that was really interesting about this place is they have an area directly accessible that goes into a cave area where they have several exhibits set up. There were three or four displays that housed live proteus salamanders. These guys have lived in dark caves for so long that they no longer have eyes! And their skin is an albino-like pinkish white (essentially colorless). This is a “must see”. Sorry, couldn’t resist. There are other equally interesting exhibits in that area related to life in the caves.

For our tour, we rode the rail cars deep into the caves, then got out and walked through them with a tour guide. He stopped at various points and give us some history about the caves or pointed out some interesting facet. It was very enjoyable and informative.

I would recommend wearing a hat as there is a lot moisture in the caves and it sometimes drips down on your head. It’s also a little chilly, so a light jacket or sweater would be appropriate.

All told, we probably spent around three hours at the facility. Definitely time well spent.

Predjama Castle

I promise you this is not a professional endorsement for the Predjama castle, and they are paying me nothing to say this: I have literally been to more castles than I can even remember, and this is one of the most interesting castles I have ever toured!

I mean, first of all, just look at it:

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It was originally constructed in the 11th century then rebuilt after an earthquake around 1570, and remains essentially untouched since. It is literally built into the side of the mountain and integrates into the caves within the mountain.

The castle was most famously inhabited by a knight, sir Lueger, who was also an infamous robber baron. Legends treat him as a Robin Hood, of sorts, and his father was the mayor of Trieste. Anyway, I’m not going to spoil the story for you or reiterate what dozens of existing sites can tell much more flamboyantly than I, but it is quite a tale.

The castle is fully open to the public (but not all of the caves) and the tours are self guided, so you basically go in and explore at your own pace. You can hire guides to take you through and get all the nitty gritty, but we didn’t do that. I don’t think you can get a guided tour at the castle proper but have to hire them elsewhere. As I have previously indicated, an excellent castle with a dramatic story to tell. Even without a guide, there is enough labeling and signage to give you the full story.

It’s about an hour drive to get to Ljubljana proper from the castle.

Oh yes, and they really didn’t like me hanging out the window waving to the peasants:

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