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Highlights from the Croatia-Slovenia trip

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” -Ibn Battuta

I came to Europe about 8 months ago for my masters at the Delft University of Technology. While studying was at the forefront of my ambitions, I also wanted to travel across Europe in my limited time as a student to try to understand first hand the beauty of this continent. In the first few months, I travelled to Belgium, Germany and saw some cities in the Netherlands. Then, after an exhausting semester of studies, I decided to visit Croatia and Slovenia via a tour organized by pm2am student trips.

The departure date was the 28th of April. Arriving at Amsterdam Sloterdijk station, I was happy to see the bus that would be taking us to the destination was already waiting at the bus stop. Loading my luggage,  I sat down for what would be a long journey to Lake Bled in Slovenia.

About 16 hours after departing from Amsterdam, we arrived in Lake Bled. Located about 55 kms from the capital city of Ljubljana, the lake is a major tourist attraction and a must visit for anyone who visits the region. A church sits on a small island in the middle of the lake and Bled Castle sits atop a hill just beside. The church features prominently in the most viewed photographs of Bled. After soaking in the view and clicking lots of pictures for the next 3 hours, we proceeded to the city of Zagreb in Croatia.

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

Croatia is not a part of the Schengen agreement, so visitors (even with a EU residence permit) need to stop at the border control. Now, if you are travelling in a bus (like I did), this process can take anywhere from 1 hour to 3-4 hours depending on how many buses are before you at the checkpoint as each member’s passport and residence permit are checked and the details logged. So the best way to avoid the long lines is to reach the border early and no later than 11 am, otherwise be prepared for a long wait. After crossing the checkpoint, we reached Zagreb where we checked into the Chillout hostel  and went for a city tour with a professional tour guide.

The city of Zagreb is divided into two parts-the old and the new-by a tram line. While the old part sits atop a hill, the new lies on a plain. Compared to the new part, the old city is worth visiting. Some of the major attractions include the Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Marks Square and the Croatian Parliament. All these are very close to each other and can be visited in a short time. Also many locals dress up in different styles and this offers visitors a chance to take some pictures with them.

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Locals dressed in different attires in Zagreb

After a tour of the old city, we came back to the hostels to freshen up and start the pub crawl. Zagreb is home to some of the best clubs in that part of Europe which was evident as we bar hopped from one place to the next, having tons of fun along the way.

The next morning was the highlight of our trip. We were going to visit the Plitvice Lake National Park. After a sumptuous breakfast, we began the two hour journey to the park and arrived there around noon. One note to those reading this blog and who want to visit the park is to arrive there early-preferably 9-10 to avoid the long lines and have a chance to visit most of the park. The park has different routes marked- A, B, C, K etc. with A being the shortest and K the longest. Since we had arrived a bit late, we took the B route.

You get a different feel as soon as you enter the park. One of the first sounds you hear is that of the waterfalls, and that is also the first site you see. The large waterfall is one of the highlights of this park. Another less known location is the place from which the national park can be viewed from the highest point. To get there, take the stairs upwards from the waterfall viewpoint. After a climb of about 5-10 minutes, you will see a wooden cabin. Ahead of the cabin is a road. Take the road until you see a wooden bridge. Turn right at the bridge and take the small trail on the side of the road. By now you should be hearing the unmistakable sound of waterfalls. Keep walking until you reach a stony viewpoint and then marvel at the view that you see (the view is the cover image of this blog). Visitors at the National park also have the option of hiring a tour guide and camping at the site. Also, don’t forget to take the boat ride when going from P3 to P2. I think it is better than walking the whole way around the hills.

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Waterfall at the Plitvice Lake National Park

Our last stop was Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. We started a bit earlier from Zagreb to avoid the long lines at the border control and arrived at 2 pm. We then began a guided tour which took us into the heart of the city. Home to about 260,000 Slovenians, Ljubljana is not a big city and every major attraction is just a few minutes away. The Ljubljana castle overlooks the city. This is where we started. Visitors can either take the Funicular or walk the way to the castle. We took the first approach to save the time. The castle is home to a museum and offers a fine view of the city. One cannot help but stop and marvel at the city nestled between the mountains. After spending some time at the castle and visiting the detention center for the POWs of the First World War, we came down to visit the rest of the city.

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One of the bridges in Ljubljana

One of the famous attractions is the Dragon Bridge as the city is often called the city of dragons. Four dragons are placed on four corners of the bridge and they are believed to act as guardians. A short distance Near the Dragon bridge is the open market where farmers come to sell their wares. A short distance from the bridge is the Butcher’s Bridge. This bridge features a glass bottom along the sides through which the strong hearted can see  the river below. Crossing the bridge one can see the St. Nicholas Church and the market where every friday there is an open kitchen selling different cuisines.

For the food and drink lovers, Ljubljana has plenty to offer-from good wine to great burgers. Don’t forget to eat the ice cream there which according to Lonely Planet is the best in the world. After spending about 9 hours in the city (which I believe are more than enough), we proceeded back to Amsterdam and after a journey of about 20 hours, I finally reached home. As I lay in bed that night, all I could think about was the lakes and the waterfalls in the Plitvice Lake National Park and the amazing time that I had in the trip.