Sleeping and Dining in Ljubljana, Slovenia

June 20, 2016

The Slamic B&B made a good base for us as it is walking distance from both the bus/train station where we dropped the rental car and the town center and old town.

Ljubljana - B&B Slamic

The rooms are quiet, average size and comfortable. The room has a euro bathroom, good amenities including – a safe, hair dryer, water boiler with instant coffee and mini bar. Good wifi connection.

Reception is minimally manned. If you want something you often have to track someone down, in the bar or elsewhere. Once you do they are very nice and accommodating.

Breakfast includes a decent selection of cold items, the usual: cereal, cheese, cold cuts, some fresh fruit and croissants. The bread selection includes only white bread and rolls. They have both drip coffee and an espresso machine. You can also boil your own egg.

Lunch at Julija, a Rick Steves pick, with tables on the pretty main drag of the old town. We had a simple lunch of two of their salads,

Ljubljana - Mediterranean salad with shrimp and feta

the Mediterranean with shrimp and feta and the Julija with grilled calamari.  Both were well prepared, shrimp sweet and squid tender. Served with a basket of bread, it made a great light lunch.

Dinner at Gostilna As – Rick describes this upscale establishment as snooty. While sometimes snooty can be fun, especially if the food is exceptional and the people watching interesting, in this case it was just boring.

Ljubljana - Gostilna As

A sophisticated clubby atmosphere in a cellar space with vaulted ceilings, dark wood furniture and white table cloths. Service is friendly and maybe a tad pretentious. There were very few diners on a Sunday evening and they were out of several of the fish. They only had monkfish, sea bass, and then finally offered up a grouper fillet. The quality of the food is excellent, portions are small, but the dishes lack imagination. Wine list was also a problem as they were out of some of the more interesting bottles we wanted to try.

We started with the tuna tartar – two small squares of very fresh chopped tuna with avocado and wasabi and garnish with a pea sprouts, that simple. Good but not dazzling. Don had the tagliatelli with venison and light spices – a homemade pasta with a ground meat sauce lightly seasoned, again good but not exceptional.

Ljubljana - Gostilna As - monkfish served with summer vegies

Both fish mains – the grouper fillet and the monkfish – were served with grilled summer veggies, perfectly done and beautifully presented. Don’s grouper was excellent, crispy skin and beautifully cooked. My monkfish was good, but again not exceptional. I would recommend this place only if you are really wanting an upscale atmosphere for a private tête-à-tête. Otherwise, find somewhere more fun.

Lunch at Tokyo Piknik a Japanese bar along the river.

Ljubljana - Tokyo Piknik - ramen

We were lured in by the promise of Japanese ramen, a favorite of ours. They do an OK job, certainly not the best we have ever had, but if you are looking for something different it could hit the spot, especially on a rainy day.

Ljubljana - Tokyo Piknik - jiaozi

They have a special that also included jiaozi (pot stickers). Served fresh hot they were nicely done and flavorful. The wrapper, however, was a little different than what we are used to, more brittle somehow.

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Dinner at Zlata Ribica – on a lovely summer evening we chose this place at random for its outdoor seating along the water. Great selection of quality seafood.

Ljubljana - Zlata Ribica Restaurant - Head Cheese

Head Cheese

Ljubljana - Zlata Ribica Restaurant - cod pate

Cod Pâté

Ljubljana -  Zlata Ribica Restaurant - Octopus

Octopus

Ljubljana - Zlata Ribica Restaurant - Tuna Steak

Tuna Steak

For their menu including photos, check out their website.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia in Photos

June 19, 2016

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We ended our journey through Croatia and Slovenia in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital, a small quaint river city with loads of atmosphere, outdoor cafes, restaurants and bars. A lovely place to stroll and just hang out with friends. For tourists there are not a lot of big sights, but rather it’s an opportunity to just wander, eat an ice cream, drink a beer or coffee and enjoy a hopefully beautiful day.

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We strolled the city both on a Sunday afternoon and a Monday morning. Sunday was much quieter with seemingly more locals while Monday morning was teeming with tour groups.

Ljubljana - Castle

We did the Rick Steves walking tour from his guide book and went up to the castle that looms above town (4 Euro funicular only, 10 Euro funicular plus the castle).  You can also walk up. Looks like a pleasant walk for those so inclined.

Ljubljana - Castle

Nursing injuries, we took the funicular.

Ljubljana - Castle

The views from the top are somewhat obscured by large trees. If you want better views you’ll have to pay the entrance fee to the castle and climb the tower.

Ljubljana - Cathedral

 

The Cathedral is worth a pop-in for its exquisite baroque ceiling

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and fascinating doors created for the visit of Pope John II in 1996.

Ljubljana - market

The markets were rather sleepy on a Monday morning in late June, not much produce yet, with less than half the market space utilized. The hard-to-find fish market is located on the lower level of the arcade along the water between an art gallery and a restaurant. Although a small, the fish looks fresh with more variety than I’ve seen on the restaurant menus.

Ice cream shops are everywhere. We tried the popular Cacao just in front of the arcade. Nice and creamy with great flavor, but I’m sure others are just as good. Strolling with ice cream is one of the top attractions of Ljubljana.

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It rained on and off during our short stay with very clear air, amazing dark skies and fantastic clouds.

More photos from around Ljubljana:

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Sleeping and Dining in Kranjska Gora, Julian Alps, Slovenia

June 13-19, 2016

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Lake Jasna at the edge of town

I chose Kranjska Gora as our home base in the Julian Alps due to its proximity to the region’s highest peaks, including Triglav, the highest. It’s a pleasant ski resort that retains some semblance of a normal mountain town, especially at the early end of the hiking season.

Hotel Lipa

We stayed at the hotel Lipa for 6 nights. Our plan was to do some hiking in the mountains and maybe do the Triglov hike, an overnight trek to the highest peak in Slovenia. Unfortunately the higher altitude trails were still covered in snow in mid-June of 2016, making summiting impossible for us.

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View from room 2

The hotel is conveniently located on the edge of town, 5-7 minutes walking distance to the center and other restaurants. Sleeping in room 2 with a balcony facing the mountains, I could keep an eye on the changing weather patterns.

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The room was spacious but not huge and included a safe, minibar and water boiler. The Wifi was connection was reasonably good and the bed comfortable.

The hotel service is friendly – they did a load of wash for us and got Don ice for his bad knee – but not overly so. If you need someone to actually take an interest in what you are doing you might not find them attentive enough.

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Breakfast included a wide variety of cold items, with eggs made to order. Wonderful hot flakey croissants, good bread and a wide variety of cereal and cold cuts. Not much fresh fruit though.

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Their restaurant/pizzeria is one of the nicer ones in town. They also have a better wine list than most. We liked it enough that we ate here 3 out of the 6 nights. There really isn’t that much to choose from.

Dining at Hotel Lipa

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For lunch we tried the Sardinia pizza and mozzarella salad. Both were well executed. They make a nice thin chewy wood fire crust.

On the first evening there were a half a dozen or so occupied tables when we arrived. The server that was on duty at lunch was still there, still very attentive and efficient. We had an easy dinner starting with the salad bar – a small but nice selection of fresh vegies and prepared salads –

Kranjska Gora-7and for mains the beef with tomato pasta

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and the chicken with vegie risotto. Both dishes were nicely prepared and served fresh hot. The house carafe white wine was also quite good.

For our second dinner at the hotel we did the salad bar again and tried one of their fancy dishes, the beef baked in salt.

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Presented table side, they break the salt crust and take the meat out of the protective layer of greens. We had ordered the meat medium rare. It came out a bit rare, but we prefer under done to overdone and were not disappointed.

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Beautiful piece of meat and a fun splurge. Dish is served with roasted potatoes and vegies – also nicely done but Don’s are better. Ordered a bottle of Edi Simcic Duet Goriska  Brda Red Blend, surprisingly, a good Slovenian red wine that was bold enough to stand up to the meat.

Dinner at Gostilna Pri Martinu

The dining room has a cozy alp-style German/Austrian vibe and is known for their well-prepared generous portions at reasonable prices. Just don’t order the house red wine. It’s not very good. The white might be better as Slovenia makes more white wine than red. We started with the grilled vegetables, as advertised a generous portion and nicely grilled.

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For mains we tried the grilled trout served with cooked greens and potatoes and the venison served in a rich gravy with bread dumplings and garnished with red currents. Both dishes were well prepared.  Service is friendly and efficient. This is a solid establishment and well worth a visit.

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Homesick? The Vopa Pub serves Sierra Nevada

Lunch at Restaurant Shanghai

A cute typical looking Chinese place in a strip mall at the edge of town. On a Friday at midday we were the only customers. The young couple that runs the place is very nice, but the food is only OK. Good sized portions though.

 

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We ordered the spicy chicken

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and the pork Sichuan style. Although both dishes included a mix of vegies in with the meat, we really should have ordered one meat dish and one vegetable dish. The chicken was breaded, fried and served piping hot. Both sauces tasted pretty much the same and lacked depth of flavor, just somewhat hot and the pork too salty. Come here only if you are looking for a change from local fare.

 

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Day Hike Spik, Kranjska Gora, Julian Alps, Slovenia

June 18, 2016

Spik Hike-21

Walk 16 Spik  in Cicerone’s The Julian Alps of Slovenia , the hardest and most rewarding of our week in Kranjska Gora, has amazing vistas of the Julian Alps. Although the hike in the guidebook starts from Kranjska Gora we cut off the to-and-from town part (see below for parking advice). Otherwise we followed the directions as described. The trail was well signed but this early in the season it was not well maintained.

Spik Hike-4

Early on we had a tricky scramble over a fallen tree on the side of a hill.

Saturday was the last of the six days we were in Kranjska Gora and the first that was predicting a reasonable chance of good weather with a low risk of thunder showers. You don’t want to be at the top of an exposed mountain during a thunderstorm. It had rained on us every day. Even Friday, for which they had predicted good hiking weather in the afternoon, resulted in several showers passing through with the mountain tops remaining cloaked the entire day.

The day before the hike we went to the Julijana Agency for hiking advice and to rent any necessary equipment (e.g. crampons). The area had a late snow fall and a number of upper routes were still under snow. The folks at Julijana recommended the Spik hike explaining that the via ferrata section of the hike near the top was not that difficult but we should have helmets to protect us from falling rocks that other hikers may knock down.

Spik Hike

When we awoke on Saturday at 5am, just before day break, I was stoked to see just a few wispy clouds hanging about the mountain tops. We packed up in a flash, not knowing how long the good weather would last, and left the hotel just after 6AM.

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The way up is long and challenging but nothing too difficult until you get to the first set of cables near the top. They can look a little daunting.

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The narrow ridge before the cable got my heart racing, but if you are used to climbing at all, this is relatively easy. Just don’t look down.

This is the first of two false tops.

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The grassy knob here boasts some of the best views.

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The second false top, the first actual peak, is easy to reach.

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From here the way to the Spik peak can look scary but is quite manageable.

 

 

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The first section winds through the rocks on a path. Then there is some scrambling over rocks before the climb up to the top. This is a real climb but an easy one. Again if you have done some easy climbing it should be no problem. Just be sure to have a helmet to protect yourself against falling rocks.

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At the summit

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The real problem for us was the snow. As it was early in a snowy year there were still considerable patches that we had to go around. With crampons it would have been no problem. Despite the snow the trail was easy to follow as enough blazes remained visible.

Spik Hike-22

Going down the “short way” descends about 1400 meters in 4k and was awful without crampons. It starts with a long steep section of snow and scree. With crampons it would have been manageable but the scree still would have made it unpleasant. I think that when the trail is better maintained there is actually a trail of switchbacks that go down this hillside.

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Once into the forest the trail down does not let up. It continues a relentless descent down every kind of slippery surface – loose rocks, wet lime stone, fallen leaves and tree roots.

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In addition there is the need to actually climb down numerous rocky sections, many of which are aided with pegs and foot holds. For those good on the downhill this could be a faster way down in season when you don’t have snow to deal with, but for me who has difficulty on the downhill in general, it probably would have been better to go back the long way. It took us 5 hours up and 4 and half down.

Spik Hike-30

 

Even after all the warnings I would most definitely recommend this hike for sturdy hikers. On a good day the views are simply amazing. Unfortunately just as we were summiting the sky darkened and threatened more rain. It stayed threatening for a good hour and half sprinkling just enough that I put on the rain cover to my camera, but it never really rained. It cleared again and stayed dry the entire way down to the car.

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My favorite views of the day were the views to the west on the way down with a mix of sun and dark clouds as a back drop. So yes, if you are an active hiker with minimal climbing experience, do this hike and your efforts will be rewarded.

Where to find hiking advice in Kranjska Gora  – With two days of possible clear weather coming up we went to the TI in Kranjska Gora for trail advice. Don’t bother.  Other than the fact that she directed us to the Julijana Agency, they were totally worthless and unaware of current trail conditions. The folks at Julijana, on the other hand spent some time with us discussing the various trail options. This year, 2016, in mid-June there was still quite a bit of snow on the higher trails. Some trails have via feratta sections requiring a helmet and self-belaying equipment. That said not all via feratta trails are the same. Some are difficult requiring climbing skills while for others the equipment is more of a safety precaution.  It’s best to check with someone who knows the trails before setting out.

Parking advice for shortening the hike – Following the suggestion of the Julijana agency, we shorted the hike by parking down a road on the left hand side of the Vrsic pass road just before bend 3.  (The bends are clearly numbered.)  Down the gravel road there is an area large enough to park cars. We never saw more than 2 other vehicles in this parking area. I’m not sure if it is legit or not because we couldn’t read the signs at the entrance, but since it was recommended by the agency we parked there anyway. We were very glad we did as the hike took us much longer than we expected.

Road closures – Be aware of any festivals that may close the pass roads on Sundays. On June 19 2016 many roads were closed for the bike festival, including the Vrsic pass road.

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Second Pass at Vrsic Pass, Julian Alps, Slovenia

June 18, 2016

Vsric Pass-5

Hoping for clearer weather we headed back up through Vrsic Pass. A higher cloud ceiling resulted in better views but still the stormy threatening skies persisted throughout the day.

Vsric Pass

Russian chapel built to honor the Russian workers who died in an avalanche building the road through the pass during WWI.

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Day trip to Lake Bled, Slovenia

June 17, 2016

Day trip to Lake Bled-11

With more rain predicted today, in fact this was to be the worst day, the forecast for Bled looked better than in Kranjska Gora but still with showers around.

Day trip to Lake Bled

View from our hotel in Kranjska Gora

If you are going to be spending some time in the area be sure to check the weather forecast and try to manage your activities. The forecasts have been reasonably accurate and we have been able to do short hikes, around 3 hours, between showers.

It’s about a 30 minute drive from Kranjska Gora to Bled. In the off season there is plenty of parking although we had some difficult finding parking machines that worked and ended up parking near the Hotel Savika and the Golf Hotel for 5 euros /day, half what the public lots charge.

Day trip to Lake Bled-3

Pretty walk around the lake, a brooding sky with dark clouds on either end but bright blue straight above which lit the castle.

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The walk is a pleasant activity, about hour and half or more depending on what you do along the way. Although much of the pathway is through sections of green forest it is also built up around the lake. More of an urban park walk than a secluded forest walk.

Day trip to Lake Bled-10

Great views of the castle and the island with a charming church viewed from every angle and in different settings.

For a birds eye viewpoint, in addition to climbing to the castle, on the west end of the lake there are 3 hills with viewpoints.

Day trip to Lake Bled-9

With the iffy weather, muddy trail and questionable light, we just went to one, had a lovely picnic and returned to the lakeside walk. Ojstrica was just a 15 minute walk up a muddy track, still the views are worth a little mud on your shoes. Just be careful as the mud is slick!

More photos from Lake Bled

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The drive back to Kranjska Gora via route 907 is a fun back road alternative to the main expressway.

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Monument to Rodovna village burned by the Germans in 1943

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Day trip to Lake Bled-20

Mojstrana

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Drive Through the Soca Valley, Julian Alps, Slovenia

June 15, 2016

Soca Valley-14

A drive through the Soca Valley in is one of the highlights of Triglav National Park. The glacial blue streams are magical against the green, green landscape and rugged peaks.

Soca Valley

After the Sleme hike we continued down from the Vsric pass to the Soca Valley following the Rick Steves driving tour described in his guidebook.

With the rainy weather views were somewhat obscured.

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Hungry, we had lunch at the first reasonable place, Metoja. Great sauerkraut soup and bean soup made with Slovenian sausage.

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View from Rick’s suspension bridge

We continued on along the clear blue-green Soca River through the valley, thick with green vegetation. An unbeatable combination, especially against a stormy sky. Several suspension bridges give you great views of the river. Although pretty, there are better view points than the one just after the bridge suggested by Rick.

Soca Valley-6

A narrow gap Velika Korita Soce, just past the town of Soca, boasts dramatic views of a narrow gorge. If you’re a scrambler go down a bit for better views. There is a very short steep track on the right at the bridge entrance from the parking lot or cross the bridge and take the track down and then go down river. We did the second option and climbed over the rocks back to the first option.

Soca Valley-5

This is also an area of WWI and WWII sights. We stopped at the Church of St Joseph decorated by a local artist during the war with some unusual interpretations on religious themes. A WWI cemetery sits in back of the church.

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Hike to the Boka waterfall

The Boka waterfall, if you like waterfalls, is worth the 10 to 15 minute hike up to the viewpoint, uphill on a rocky path but it’s not as bad of a climb as Rick makes it out to be.

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It’s an Impressive sight for the cascade of water between the big fall and the river below.

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Cemetery at Bovec

Later in the day, after it had been clearing for a bit, the sky started to darken again. Wanted one last stop on a bridge for a final photo of the water and stumbled on this shot.

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Just love the contrast in colors. Sometimes a stormy day can become your best friend.

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Shot earlier in the day

If the cloud cover is high enough the Soca Valley can be very pretty and dramatic on rainy day. In fact I think it is prettier in a softer light. The colors are more brilliant and you get the deepest color in the water. The sunny skies wash out the colors and blow out the water.

Vrsic Pass

As we headed back home over Vrsic pass the rain increased with very low visibility but a wonderful drive winding through the rain saturated forest. Glimpses of awesome peaks sometimes brilliantly lit through narrow openings.

It was still raining at dinner time. in fact it is still raining the next morning as I’m typing this. I keep telling myself there is a reason it is so green here.

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