Friday, 24 February 2017

Solo in Slovenia

4:40 A.M., Monday morning on the 6th of February 2017. My alarm goes off. Painfully early I snooze 4 times, to eventually get up and head out to take the train to the airport.

The adventure had begun.

6 hours later I finally stood on Slovenian ground. The Ljubljana Jože Pučnik airport is a very small airport, flanked by the beginning of the Julian Alps on one side. It was a cloudy, rainy morning.
There is a public bus going to the city centre, 4,10€ (and an additional 1,50€ per bag over 10kg.) will take you to the bus station just on the edge of the city centre in about 45min to an hour.

Ljubljana is quite a small capital city in comparison to most (capital) cities in Europe. My hostel, Hostel Vrba, was located on the other side of the city just out side of the actual centre but it only took me about 25 minutes to cross the city by foot with my backpack.
This is an absolutely great hostel to stay in while discovering Ljubljana and Slovenia by extent. The staff is incredibly nice and helpful, everything is quite spotless, comfortable beds, a well equipped kitchen and a great atmosphere. I thought to travel around a bit and stay in different hostels, but the country really isn’t that big so Ljubljana is the best place to start off just about all your travels in the country. So I ended up staying there for the week.

Day 1 was cold, grey and rainy so I didn’t do much for starters because, well, I don’t like the cold. I know, why would I go to a Balkan country in the middle of the winter??! Well, my grandmother is Slovenian, which makes me quarter Slovenian, hence the interest in wanting to go to Slovenia. Back to the roots in a way.

Anyway, so because of the weather I didn’t do much. Walked through the old town a bit and had a coffee and a tuna sandwich in one of the cafes next to the river on the old side of town, which would be a great place for drinks anytime of day if it wouldn’t have been so damn cold and rainy. By 5 o’clock I thought I had braved enough rain to deserve a nap. So after chatting with some people in my dorm I fell asleep for an hour or too.
That evening I ate huge delicious pizza, just across the stream from the hostel.

On strong recommendation from Alexis, member of the hostel staff, I woke up early again the next day to take the bus at 8a.m. to the Julian Alps.

Slovenia has its public transport quite on point, for 8,40€ I was able to take a bus straight to Lake Bohinj, which would be my first stop deep in the Triglav national park. A very comfortable bus (with free unlimited wifi!) will take you there in about 2hours.
The Triglav national park is situated in the north-western part of Slovenia and is part of the Julian Alps. The park is named after its highest peak, Triglav that stands high at 2864 m. But cradled by the mountains down low, lays lake Bohinj.

When you go to lake Bohinj be sure to take the ski lift up to the Vogel ski centre. If you have clear weather with not too many clouds you can see the lake in the valley entirely. A day ticket will cost you 14€ and take you to 1 535m up into the mountains where, in winter, you can hire ski- or snowboard material for a day on the slopes. Or go hike in the mountains in the summer. The view is absolutely amazing, any time of year I can imagine. In winter however, I can tell you for sure that it was beautiful.

I hiked the length of the lake in a good hour and half including many photo-stops and walking through approximately 20 cm snow. I thought this was the best way to take in all the breathtaking beauty of this lake, and I was quite right actually.
When you had your coffee at the visitor centre, just around the corner from the bus stop, take the bus back to lake Bled (3,60€).

You will already have had a first glimpse of the famous lake Bled when you passed it to go further into the nation park for Lake Bohinj. But now it’s time to explore the magical lake Bled. And it really is magical. Get of the bus the moment you can when you see the lake, this is on the other side of the lake from town.
This way you can take an easy walk half way around the lake to the city to you right or, you can go left (where the bus came from) and hike all around the lake. I personally didn’t do this because I was quite tired from the hike at Bohinj. But it should be well worth the hike. Again all year round.

Because Bled isn’t as high in elevation as Bohinj and because the temperatures had risen again since about a week, there wasn’t any snow around this area anymore so the walk around was far more easy and quicker.

One thing you absolutely have to do when in Bled is, try the traditional Bled cream cake, Kremsnita. This delicious calorie bomb is a perfect treat for you days hiking. You’ll find it in just about any cafe or restaurant you walk into. Combine with a big coffee with cream and a strategic good view of the lake and it’s the perfect afternoon treat.

The bus back to Ljubljana from bled will cost you 6,30€.

On my third day in Ljubljana it was the national holiday of culture. The perfect day to pick up on some local culture, so I made sure I was on the Preseren square by 11 o’clock in the morning for the free walking tour.
It was an icy cold day if you ask me, but the tour was great so made up for the cold mostly. 
The Ljubljana free tour is a tour from Our guide, Helena, took us around the most important sites around the old and new parts of town (either side of the river) and told us all about the history of all the things we saw. It was a great introduction to Ljubljana.
Because of the national holiday all museums were free of charge, of which I took advantage from and went to the city museum of Ljubljana.

After this I was still a bit disgruntled by the cold so I thought a little treat was in order. Wandering through the streets on the new part of the river I stumbled across a little place called “Puffy lil’ pancakes”, naturally I stopped for some little pancakes (what the Dutch call; Poffertjes) and went all the way with both Nutella and white chocolate topping. Content with all that sweetness I wandered back to the other side of the river walked into the immigration gallery and through the rest of town a bit more. Slowly making my way back home for another well-deserved nap.

Spent the rest of the evening in the hostel talking to new people from all over the world.

Thursday morning I met Bruno, thanks to Alexsis, and not an hour after we were off on a road trip to the
Škocjanske caves! What an awesome day!
By car it didn’t even take us an hour to get there. Once there we went out to the viewpoint for some great views and (finally) some real sunshine!!
An hour and a half tour will take you approximately 300m deep into the caves for a 3km walk around all the different chambers with an English speaking guide telling you all about the wonders of the underground world  !

After our visit to the caves we stopped at the Predjama castle to end our days road trip.

That evening we decided to go for something Slovenian. So on recommendation of hostel staff we had burék, which is basically just puff pastry with meat or some kind of ricotta cheese in it. Ended the day in the hostel, drinking some more wine and talking to some more people.

As Friday was my last day in Slovenia and I still hadn’t seen the Ljubljana Castle yet, I headed up there to complete my trip.

It was cold and cloudy but a pretty site so see nonetheless. I walked up and around the castle, had a coffee in the castle wrote my postcards (tradition, you know) and walked around the castle grounds on the hill.
I loved the fact that you have these places (that must be very green in summer) in the middle of cities. It always fills my need for nature when being in cities.

Castle courtyard
Ljubljana's charm was definitely multiplied by this castle on the hill. I always love finding these sweet escapes in cities. 

I spent my last evening in the hostel with all these new friends, home made gnocchi and cheap ass wine. It was the best possible way to end my solo adventure, surrounded by all these people in the travelling world. A world where I know I will always long to go back to and where I really belong.

Fully refuelled for the next semester, life's pretty good at the moment!
Excited for the next adventures to come!!
xoxo Lizzie

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Iconic Ireland

In the mood for an easy get away? To a place where you'll rarely have to fuss around with sticky sunscreen, but you can snuggle up next to each other under an umbrella 200days a year on average. Then Ireland is your place to go!

Fáilte go hÉirinn !

(Welcome to Ireland)

As described by the lonely planet the land of ancient rocks and great legends this country has something for everyone. Looking for vibrant city's? feeling like long coastal hikes? In the mood for viking history or just a good pint of Guinness? 
Daily flights from Brussels international airport will bring you to Dublin, the beating hart and capital of this extraordinary republic. From there it's easy access all across the country by car, train, bus, coach bike or hike if you're feeling very adventurous.

My friend and I only had just over 60 hours worth of city trip, I think we're safe to say we got absolutely everything out of it we possibly could.

So early evening flight out of Brussels got us to our hostel by 10pm and out for dinner, a beer and a bit of live music in the bar around the corner from the hostel.

DAY 1 - rain/sunshine/rain/clouds/rain

TIPP: always find a hostel that offers free breakfast! even if it isn't much, it's always better than starting your day having to getting your money out right away.
To get the most out of our day we sorted ourselves out with a 24hour Hop on Hop off bus ticket to get us to all the must see places easiest.
The spire

So of we where, hopping on and off busses every time we felt like it.

Beginning at the spire, ...

..., eavesdropping on walking tours through the Trinity College grounds, ....
Ireland houses of Parliament on your right and the Irish whisky museum on the corner right in front 

..., taking out our sunnies for every ray of sunshine on the rooftop of the bus, ....

Saint Andrews Church 

..., getting of at Temple bar coming across the Molly Malone statue by accident, ....

Molly Malone 

..., finding an awesome 60ties diner called Eddie Rocket's, reasonably priced sliders, fries and a soda in a real old school fashion city diner is all we needed for lunch, ... 

.., stepping back in time in the viking history museum in Dublinia, wandering some more around Dublin castle, St Patricks Cathedral, the huge Guinness brewery and storehouse and Phoenix park among many others. To end a very busy day with a good meal and a big pint of Guinness accompanied by some live music as you must whilst in Dublin.

Christ Church Cathedral
Meanwhile we had decided to take a day tour to the west coast the next day and so we did.

After a painfully early morning we got on a coach for DAY 2 - rain/wind/rain/more wind/sunshine!

First stop; walking tour around charming Galway city

This 'City of the tribes' will be European capital of Culture in 2020 and for good measure. The cultural heart of Ireland, the city has over 23 festivals a year finding a reason to celebrate just about every,- and anything!

The Lynch window

Ireland might ass well be the land of the legends under the motto: "never let the truth get in the way of a good story".  

That being said, legend let's us believe that from this very window former mayor James Lynch FitzStephen hanged his own son, as judge and executioner,  for the murder of a Spanish young man who he had mistaken for being his girlfriend's lover.

St Nicholas' Collegiate Church
This collegiate church in the city centre, dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra (the patron saint of seafarers) in recognition of Galway's status of being a port and always stood central of life in Galway (literally and figural speaking that is).  

Fun fact: In 2002 the church hosted the first same-sex marriage in an Irish church.

As you may notice the tower has a clock missing on it's north-western side. This because, the roman catholic Galway Cathedral sits on that side of the city and the parish church didn't want the roman Catholics to be able to see the time from their clocks.

After a few hours in a cosy bus listening to, possibly, the best tour guide/bus driver talking about the Irish desert, Halloween by the Celts and how it all started, about the Wild Atlantic way on which we were driving and how it's the longest designated coastal road in the world, teaching us Irish and so much more. To stop at the best places for pictures through the bellowing wind and horizontal rainfall.

Around noon we stopt in a little village of Doolin with an old fashion pub where we had an absolutely mouth watering home made beef Guinness stew to brace ourselves for the absolute cherry on top of our trip, the Cliffs of Moher.
These magnificent cliffs rise about 214m out of the Atlantic Ocean on the highest point which O'Brien's tower marks, but have an average height of 120m from sea level.

It was down right jaw-dropping amazing to be on the edge of the Atlantic ocean. It's an absolute must-do if you're in Ireland, because even the most beautiful pictures can't capture the essence of this extraordinary site. Yet, we try.

travel buddy, Manon, looking over at O'Brien's tower

Manon and myself being blown away by the wind, trying to take a selfie

lushes green grass sides and slithers of blue sky and sun after a long days rain,
things couldn't have been better.

Feel like hopping on a coach to see these beauties for you self? Head over to the Dublin tour company website or ask your hostel is they go with the company for more information on all the different tours and prices, don't forget your student card, most tours give student discounts!!

 An elegant sunset drive across the country back to Dublin brought us to the end of our impulsive 62 hour city trip. As proper broke backpackers we had a painfully early flight in the morning so we slept in the airport to have a Starbucks breakfast at 3 AM before our flight back to Belgium. 

As uni has begun again, it'll be all about city tripping again until time (and money) for more!
xoxo Lizzie

Dublin/Ireland, Sept 6 to 10th 2016