Northern Europe, Part 4

One of the great things about independent travel is that sometimes you stumble upon places and sites that you would most likely never have visited, but are totally glad you did once you experience it.

There is also that other side of the coin where you travel, and when upon arrival, find you’re disappointed and wish you had stuck with your original plans. Either way, you experience something you hadn’t before and hopefully leave a little wiser if not pleased with your adventure.

The water at the Krka Waterfalls Park. (Photos provided)

The water at the Krka Waterfalls Park. (Photos provided)

As my friends neared the end of their European adventure, let’s review all the places they had visited. Starting in Budapest, they then moved on to Prague, then Austria, Germany, and France. Backtracking, they are now heading south-east toward Slovenia.

Their first major question as they started their drive was: “What is in Laufen?” (a town outside Salzburg). They needed a place to spend the night on their drive to Lake Bled and Laufen looked like the best place to stop. It was going to be a surprise stop since it was a spur of the moment decision and this time, and it turned out to be a good one. They described it as “an adorable little town perched on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Salzach river.” Laufen is in Germany, but you can cross the footbridge spaning the river and bingo – you are in Austria. So you can walk from Austria to Germany and back in about 20 minutes. A major item they noticed and liked was that there were NO tourists. None. Nada, so it was a quiet and peaceful location. A major attraction is the Maria Himmelfahrt Church, the oldest gothic church in the region. They dined in the beautiful gardens of a former Monastery and took a leisurely twilight stroll through the town and once again remembered why they loved to travel. It was a good day!

Maria Himmelfahrt Church.

Maria Himmelfahrt Church.

Their next stop: the Sum Waterfall. It’s the largest river waterfall in Slovenia dropping 40 feet. Introduced to the public in 1893, the falls are a major tourist attraction, but well worth the effort to visit. With crystal clear waters, you can actually see the fish in the river. It’s about a 2-mile walk through the gorge to the falls, but worth every step.

Lake Bled, their intended destination, turned out to be quaint and beautiful, but overrun by tourists. They felt by visiting early in the tourist season they would have avoided the major crowds, but, no, it was packed, which of course meant long lines to visit the sites. Regardless, they felt it was everything the guide books said.

First stop was Bled Castle, the oldest castle in Slovenia, dating from 1011. It rises 400 feet above Lake Bled. After visiting the castle, fighting the crowds and traffic, avoiding people and their pets, they finally gave up. A waiter at the curbside cafe directed them to another lake outside town that he felt was just as pretty and much more unspoiled. He said the locals go there to avoid the hassle of the town during tourist season, so off they went. The waiter was right; the countryside was maybe the prettiest they had ever seen; maybe, they felt, even prettier than Switzerland. So if you feel you’re in the wrong place, just ask about alternatives.

Bled Castle.

Bled Castle.

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is another really “must visit” town in a still relatively undiscovered country. It has it all: a university with lots of young people, charming small river bounded by endless cafes, restaurants, and bars, and terrific architecture. They took a morning walk about town, and headed to lunch at a charming outdoor cafe, loving every minute of it.

Krka (Kirk-ah) is a National Park which features waterfalls! The waterfalls are special in that they are all travertine waterfalls. What does this mean? The water contains minerals leached from the mountains that over the centuries builds up and forms ledges. With ledges, waterfalls begin, and as the buildup continues, the waterfalls become more impressive. We see them in the U.S. at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park where centuries of buildup creates pools and waterfalls. Krka has seven waterfalls, all created by the travertine buildup.

Slovenia Capital Riverfront.

Slovenia Capital Riverfront.

During this, our friends discovered that navigating your own trip can be both fun and frustrating. They actually went to Krka twice because they didn’t notice until later that their travel plans had a stop at Krka on their trip back!

You might ask why they didn’t visit Split, Croatia. Well, they will. This visit got them interested in the area, and they are now on a cruise that will take them to Split and other sites along the Adriatic Sea. More stories to follow once I get details and photos.

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