For the last week of our 11 week road trip across the Balkans we returned to two countries we visited earlier on in the trip: Croatia and Slovenia. In Croatia we paid a 1,5 day visit to the capital Zagreb. The road from Belgrade to Zagreb was almost one straight line punctuated by a tediously slow border crossing.
Going to Zagreb
Once in Zagreb we first drove to the Mirogoj Cemetery on the outskirts of the city. People of all religions are buried here, among them many famous Croatians. The 140 year old cemetery is huge and is specifically noteworthy for its beautiful arcades with grand monuments. At some of them several generations of one family were buried.
Driving into the city center of Zagreb, however, we had again a little misfortune with our car. After the flat tire a week ago on our first day in Serbia, we now had two flat tires (both our right tires blew out) at the same time. We got stranded just a few hundred meters from the apartment we’d booked. To add insult to injury it started to rain. The apartment owners helped us arrange for a tow truck that could take us to the nearest garage for a ‘new’ set of used tires. We only have one of the original tires we left home with under our car….
After having the tires changed we still had some time to explore the city. We were surprised by how quiet it was in the streets, especially after the liveliness of Belgrade. Apparently many locals had left the city for the holidays. Even the festivities organized on the cities’ central square to honor the men’s water-polo team that had won the world champion title the night before in Hungary didn’t draw the crowds you’d expect.
We walked a lot trying to find some of the awesome pieces of street art that can be found here, sightseeing the usual touristic sights along the way, like St Stephen’s Cathedral with one of its spires seemingly always under construction, and St Mark’s Church. Below are some more pics to give you an impression.
From Zagreb it was just a 1,5 hour drive to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia where we had two days to explore this colorful city at a leisurely pace. This was a good thing as the city was covered under a blanket of oppressive heat, temperatures reaching more than 35 degrees Celsius. Luckily there were enough shady benches to rest and many points where we could refill our bottles with fresh tap water.
Just like in Zagreb the locals seem to have escaped the city in August. Without the tourists it would probably be almost empty during the day. In the evening, however, the city got alive again. Of the three capital cities we visited in last week, we found Ljubljana the most green and colorful. To our surprise we were less impressed by the street art in Ljubljana than in the other two cities, despite visiting the artist colonies of Metelkova and the old ROG factory.
Below are some pictures of Ljubljana.
Touristy Lake Bled
We ended our Balkan adventures at most of the famous spots: Lake Bled, Slovenia. We decided on camping on a campsite between Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled the last three nights because it was impossible to find affordable accommodation in the region. Still it was more expensive than 95 percent of the places we stayed at the weeks before. In return we got a cramped campsite, waiting lines for toilets and (cold) showers, zero privacy and the weakest wifi of our entire trip. We seriously wonder why people choose voluntarily to spend their holidays this way.
The region around Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj is beautiful, but summer definitely is not the best time to go unless you like your tranquil lakes crowded with people and your natural valleys choked by traffic. Because we didn’t have much time left and were tired after three cities in a row we did less here than planned. The tourist circus also put us off a little bit. But we are sure to return in the future at a more quiet time to really enjoy this part of Slovenia.
We did hike around the lake though and visited three lookouts that needed some serious climbing to reach for some great views over Lake Bled.
At the end we also squeezed in the walk through the scenic Vintgar Gorge. As we entered at the end of the day we avoided the biggest tourist crowds which was great.
The long ride home
The ride home through Germany was even more of a drama than the day we left for the Balkans. It started with a monster traffic jam to cross the Austrian-German border. It took us 1,5 hours to pass, the slowest border crossing of our trip. So much for the open EU borders.
Then we had two hours of horrendous rainfall. Adding road works, random traffic jams on all highways caused by holiday traffic, several near accidents (and getting stuck behind one in the middle of the night) and you’ll understand that I was happy to park the car after more than 15 hours of driving. Next stop: China.
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