Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Slovenia, Ljubljana

Wednesday October 12 - our last day in Slovenia. Tomorrow morning back to Chicago over Zurich.
Another perfect day exploring the city - but no more to see. Lucky we did not get hit by a bicycle.

Arrived today by bus from Bled in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. A few cold days but now it is sunny and in the high 60s or low 70s. Happy to spent a few days alone (without guides) and roam around the city. Slovenia is a small country 2 million, Ljubljana has around 200,000 and 50,00 of them students.
A beautiful, clean city with a lot of bicycles and young people moving around. Smoking is a problem - not allowed inside restaurants so all restaurants have plenty of outside seats and tables. Prices just like in Germany not very high but you need Euros!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Slovenia Lake Bled Vitnar Gorge

Arrived on Friday afternoon (in rain) in Lake Bled, Slovenia

In the morning we stopped at the Postonja Caves in Slovenia. 20 km of the cave are accessible by a small train and walking.

Saturday we went for a walk around Lake Bled (7km) and walked the Vintnar Gorge, Slovenia (another 7 km). Weather changed, mid 60's and no rain now.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Opatija, Moscenicka Draga

Thursday, today was a rest day for us, we did not take the optional tour.
Since our arrival in Croatia we had sun shine and temperatures in the low 80's not a drop of rain.
Spent morning in the Hotel, swimming pool and on a boat trip (3 hours) along the coastline from Opatija to Mosceicka Draga.

 Friday we are leaving Opatija for Bled Slovania. A stop will be made at the largest cave of Europe
Postojna Cave
The caves were created by the Pivka River.
The cave was first described in the 17th century by Johann Weichard Valvasor[2] (Slovene: Janez Vajkard Valvasor), and a new area of the cave was discovered accidentally in 1818 by local Luka Čeč, when he was preparing the hitherto known parts of the cave for a visit by Francis I, the first Emperor of Austria. In 1819, the caves were opened to the public, and Čeč went on to become the first official tourist guide for the caves. Electric lighting was added in 1884, preceding even Ljubljana, the capital of Carniola, the Austro-Hungarian province the cave was part of at the time, and further enhancing the cave system's popularity. In 1872 rails were laid in the cave along with first cave train for tourists. At first, these were pushed along by the guides themselves, later at the beginning of the 20th century a gas locomotive was introduced. After 1945, the gas locomotive was replaced by an electric one. 5.3 km of the caves are open to the public, the longest publicly accessible depth of any cave system in the world.
Natural environment
The caves are also home to the endemic olm, the largest trogloditic amphibian in the world. The tour through the caves includes an aquarium with some olms in it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Istrian Pininsula Rovinj, Pula

Wednesday - Day trip with Tour group to the Istrian Pininsula 
Istrian Pininsula
Formerly part of the Venetian Empire, this region has seen many empires such as Byzantine, Roman, Austro-Hungarian, and Yugoslavian (Communist). The cultural legacy of Istria is thus very rich and diverse.

After defeating the Illyrian Histri tribe, the Romans settled in the peninsula and left a large heritage, turning Pula into an important administrative centre and building villas, amphiteatres and temples. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the inner land remained a feudal territory occupied by Slavs, Frankish, Byzantines and finally Austrian Habsburgs, while the coast fell under control of the Republic of Venice in the 13th century. Intermittent combats were held between both powers until the fall of Venice in 1797. Since that date, the Croatian population of Istria struggled for autonomy and were severely repressed both by Austrians and Fascist Italy (after World War I), eventually ending with a revenge from Yugoslav partisans after the World War II, forcing most autochtonous ethnic Italians to leave. A small ethnic Italian community still lives in the coastal towns. Relatively spared from the Yugoslav Wars, Istria is now a prosperous region. Latter years have seen a growing regional sentiment and a reconciliation with its previously conflictive Italian identity.
The peninsula offers stark contrasts: the interior is very unspoiled and mountainous with ancient walled cities atop hills with surrounding fertile fields, whilst the coast has numerous beaches -do not expect any sand in them, though- and stunning scenery of rocky walls plummeting into the sea. The Istrian coast is arguably the most developed tourist destination in Croatia. Hordes of Italian, German and French tourists enjoy package tourism during the crowded high season.
Although Pula is the main town, according to population and culture, relatively rural Pazin is the administrative centre of the peninsula.

Rovinj (Italian: Rovigno) is a city in Istria. The city is officially bilingual (Croatian and Italian).

Pula (Italian Pola, Slovene Pulj) is a nice town at the tip of the Istrian peninsula, Croatia. Its history started about 3000 years ago when it was built by Illyrians. Romans occupied Istria in 177 B.C. After destruction of Western Roman empire, Istrian peninsula was devastated by Ostrogoths. Slavs came in Istria during migration period in 7th century but mostly lived on countryside. At that time Pula was still inhabited mostly by Italians. Landlords in Pula changed quite frequently in middle ages from republic of Venice to Genoa to Illyrian Provinces to Austria–Hungary and many others. After second world war it has been part of Croatia. In that time Italians fled to mother Italy and Pula was inhabited by Croats. Although most of the population still consists of Croats there are lots of quite big minorities in Pula such as Serbs, Italians, Bosniaks and Slovenes.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Split, Opatija

Sunday  we spent traveling by land from Dubrovnik to Split along the coast.
One night in Split after arriving around noon and a city tour which included a tour of the Palace of Diocletian.

Monday from Split to Opatija along the coast and then inland through the mountains and back to the coast to our hotel, for 4 nights.

Opatija is a city in the Istrian Peninsula in western Croatia. It is situated a few kilometres southwest of Rijeka, one of Croatia's largest cities. It has a population of 7,850.

The foundations of this city lie with St. Jacob's abbey, which soon evolved into Opatija (Opatija means 'abbey'). St Jacob, the patron saint of travellers, tanners and fruit-growers, is celebrated every year on July 25th, which is also celebrated in the town as the Day of the City of Opatija. In recent history, however, the city of Opatija (Italian: Abbazia) remained in the clutch of the wealthy Austro-Hungarian families who built their exclusive resort-city with opulence in mind. Their stunning mansions line Opatija's coast and fine examples of architecture from the time fill the town with a certain atmosphere of grandeur. Beautiful parks, postcard-promenades and luxurious hotels are all a result of the 'high society' that occupied this town for over a hundred years.
Notably, this city is built upon a hill which stretches right back from the coast. While this does offer breathtaking views from houses, hotels and apartments, the walk back will prove tiring at the least!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Montenegro - Budva, Kotor

Spent today (Saturday) in Montenegro. A 90 minute drive from Dubrovnik by bus. Visited two towns and made some sightseeing stops in between. Both towns had old, walled, town centers. Montenegro is one of the latest free, independent, countries. Population about 600,000, very mountainous so only the coastal areas are touristy and very populated, again much of the property has been bought by Russians who have a good relationship with this country.

Budva is a coastal tourist resort in Montenegro. It is often called "Montenegrin Miami", because it is the most crowded and most popular tourist resort in Montenegro, with beaches and vibrant nightlife.
Budva [1] is on the central part of Montenegrin coast, called "Budvanska Rivijera". It has developed around a small peninsula, on which the old town is situated. It is by far most visited destination in Montenegro, attracting mostly domestic, Russian, Serbian and other Eastern European tourists with an old town, bars and nightclubs, and beaches mostly consisting of small rocks. It is base for mass tourism, while in it's near vicinity there are luxury resorts such as Sveti Stefan orMiločer.
There are as many as 35 beaches in the greater area, mostly rock and a little sand (8 beaches are marked with blue flags).
During the summer in particular, the day and night-life offers opportunities to enjoy theatre plays and performances, music events and entertainment programs.
Many nightclubs use go-go dancers to attract customers, and families might be offended by the open display of almost naked girls in the street. There is mainly one street, the main promenade, where all the action happens.
Budva appears to be undergoing poorly planned, unchecked growth with towering unattractive apartment buildings and hotels being built wherever there is open space - which unfortunately includes building directly on the seaside. As of the summer of 2009, the most notable of such developments includes a multi-storey building under construction directly outside the walls of old town that blocks what was once a stunning view of the beach, sea and sky from the stone paved area around old town, and greatly detracts from the beauty of the old town area.
Some tourists may find Budva disappointing and cheesy because of the over-crowded beaches filled with chairs, umbrellas and constantly thumping house music, the carnival atmosphere, the litter on the streets, beaches and inside of old town, and the excessively high prices in relation to quality for accommodation, drinks, food and taxi service.

Kotor Bay

Kotor is a coastal town in Montenegro with a population of 23,500. It is well-known for its stunning architecture and amazing natural setting.   Kotor is situated in a most secluded part of Boka Kotorska bay, in the northern part of the Montenegro coast. It has developed around Stari Grad(Montenegrian for "old town"), the city's old town and best known landmark, which is listed with UNESCO World heritage sites. The bay is the deepest natural fjord in the Mediterranean Sea, and the scenery around it (including the steep mountains which come almost to the waterfront) is spectacular.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bosnia Herzegovina, Mostar

On Friday we toke a day trip to Mostar.

Mostar is a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, formerly one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country, and today suffering geographical division of ethnic groups. The city was the most heavily bombed of any Bosnian city during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the break up of then-Yugoslavia. At the beginning of the war, the city lost many important buildings and structures through air strikes; later, once the formerly-aligned forces turned into enemies, a thorough destruction of this old city began, including the destruction of Mostar's architectural (as well as cultural and spiritual) heart: The Old Bridge (Stari Most). Mostar has been most famous for this beautiful historic Ottoman-style bridge, which spanned the Neretva river in what is considered the historic center of the city. Through combined efforts with the international community, The Old Bridge has been rebuilt (completed in 2004, almost 11 years after its destruction), using some of its original pieces recovered from the Neretva river. A significant portion of the city has been rebuilt and visitors might be suprised to see that this formerly war-torn city is a lively and beautiful destination once again, particularly the area within and around the old town. Still, many visible signs of Mostar's troubled recent history remain. WIKI Travel

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Spent two more days exploring the old town and surroundings with our tour group. On Thursday we had a great home visit, including dinner, home made wine and brandy and finished with music.

Arrived here on Monday evening, thanks for the late flight Lufthanse (10:30PM from Chicago) then over Frankfurt to Dubrovnik. So we spent most of Monday in the air.
Tuesday a full day walking from our hotel to the old city - walked the city wall and all over the city. Will do more sightseeing with the tour group on Thursday. Today, Wednesday, moved to our GCT Hotel and spent day around the pool. Tonight welcome drink and dinner.

From Wiki Travel
Dubrovnik is an old city on the Adriatic Sea coast in the extreme south of Croatia. It is one of the most prominent tourist resorts of the Mediterranean, a seaport and the center of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County. Its population is about 43,000 in 2011. Dubrovnik is nicknamed "Pearl of the Adriatic" and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
DubrovnikThe city of Dubrovnik (Latin: Ragusa) was built on maritime trade. In the Middle Ages it became the only city-state in the Adriatic to rivalVenice. Supported by its wealth and skilled diplomacy, the city achieved a remarkable level of development during the 15th and 16th centuries. Furthermore, Dubrovnik was one of the centers of the development of the Croatian language and literature, home to many notable poets, playwrights, painters, mathematicians, physicists and other scholars.
Today Dubrovnik is the proudest feather in Croatia's tourist cap, an elite destination and one of the most beautiful towns in the Mediterranean. Dubrovnik used to be an independent republic, surviving mostly on trade. It managed to survive many centuries, with constant threats to its territory, particularly from the mighty Ottoman Empire and Venice. As early as 19th century, it was discovered by celebrities as a place to be seen. George Bernard Shaw once said that "those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it". Royalty, presidents and diplomats have all favored the city. The late Pope John Paul II was a fan of Dubrovnik and was even made an honorary citizen. Out of the 23 top luxury hotels in Croatia in 2010, 13 were located in Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik is steeped in stunning architecture and sculptural detail, and boasts spectacular churches, monasteries, museums, and fountains. A multitude of typical towns and excursions include: The Elaphiti Islands, the attractive town of Cavtat,the Konavle valley, Mljet IslandKorčula Island,Ston and Peljesac Peninsula. The neighbouring towns of Kotor and Perast in Montenegro or Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina also make for intriguing day trips.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Grand Circle Guide

Our ITINERARY September 25 - October 13
We will be two days before the trip in Dubrovnik.
Day 1 September 25 depart home, flying from Chicago to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Day 2 - 3 September 26 - 27 on own in Dubrovnik.
Grand Circle Travel Itinerary
September 28 join Grand Circle in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Day 4 Grand Circle representative will meet you, and you'll transfer to your hotel.
Day 5  Dubrovnik/City Tour/Croatian Language Lesson/Home-Hosted Dinner
After breakfast, join us for an orientation briefing where our Program Director will go over the details of your Escorted Tour.
Day 6  Dubrovnik/Optional Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina Tour
You have a full day to relax, have lunch on your own, and explore at your own pace.
Day 7  Dubrovnik/Optional Montenegro Tour
You have the day to make your own discoveries at your own pace.
Day 8  Overland to Split/City Tour
Today, you ride north to Split in the Croatian province of Dalmatia.
Day 9  Overland to Opatija
After breakfast, transfer to Opatija, a city whose lush green scenery and pleasant climate have made it a popular European vacation destination for two centuries.
Day 10  Opatija City Tour/Croatia Today Discussion
Your discoveries will begin with an included tour of Opatija, where you’ll view the city’s Austro-Hungarian architectural presence in its beautiful villas and stroll along its famous seaside promenade, the Lungomare.
Day 11  Opatija/Optional Istrian Peninsula Tour
You have today free for your own explorations. Admire the views of 4,580-foot Mount Ucka, the high point of the Istrian Peninsula, which blocks the north winds, keeping Opatija’s climate warm.
Day 12  Opatija/Optional Island of Krk Tour
You have this morning to savor the delights of this area on your own.
Day 13  Overland to Bled, Slovenia/Postojna Caves
After breakfast this morning, check out of your Opatija hotel and begin the transfer to Bled.
Day 14  Bled/Slovenia Today Discussion/Optional A Taste of Medieval Slovenia Tour
After breakfast, you are invited to join us in a Discovery Series discussion aboutSlovenia Today.
Day 15  Bled/Ljubljana/City Tour
This morning, we’ll visit Ljubljana for a tour of this city of about 300,000 people. Because much of the city was rebuilt after an 1895 earthquake, Slovenia’s capital has a unique architectural style that has integrated surviving historic structures with more modern designs.
Day 16  Explore Lake Bled/Visit to Kropa Village/Farewell Dinner
Today we explore the area surrounding Lake Bled and enjoy the dramatic vistas for which the area is well known.
Day 17  By Bus Bled to Ljubljana (on our own), explore city on own.
Day 18 Ljubljana, explore city on own.
Day 19 Ljubljana to Chicago.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hotels and Links

Hotels in Croatia and Slovania
Here are some useful web sites
www.croatia.hr/en-GB/Homepage   /The official Croatian Tourist Board site with, among many things, 7 days weather forecast/
www.tzdubrovnik.hr/eng/index.php  /about Dubrovnik, Croatia/
www.tzdubrovnik.hr/eng/index.php    /about Dubrovnik, Croatia/
www.tokotor.me/en.html     /about Kotor, Montenegro/
www.visitsplit.com/15663/en/    /about Split, Croatia/
http://zagreb.usembassy.gov/  /about Zagreb, Croatia
www.slovenia.si/ /about Slovenia/
http://www.visitljubljana.si/en/  /about Ljubljana; Slovenia/
http://www.bled.si/en/   /about Bled, Slovenia/
www.gct.com  Grand Circle Travel


Introducing: Slovenia
(from Grand Circle Travel)

Blessed with stunning scenery and more history than its small size would suggest, Slovenia is such a lovely country that in 2007 more people came to visit than live in this nation of 2 million. Its landscape features fantastic, rugged mountains, lovely green rivers and silver lakes, subterranean caves, and the kinds of medieval castles that seem to suggest fairy tales to even the most jaded eye. Both town and country escaped the 10-day war of independence in 1991 with little damage, and the nation has since worked conscientiously to solidify the calm and serenity—and to promote its idyllic beauty.
That calm belies a thousand year history of rule by outsiders. Throughout the ages Slovenia has been visited and subjected by the Romans, Attila the Hun, Slavic tribes (ancestors of the today’s Slovenes), Franks, Habsburgs, Turks, the Venetian empire … up to more modern invaders like Italy, in World War II, Germany. After the war Slovenia became one of the six states in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with Marshal Josip Bros Tito as party leader. Yugoslavia had an open relationship with the rest of the world, and suffered less than other under the dominations of the Eastern bloc. As you’d expect with so much history, the Slovenes have a cosmopolitan air after assimilating so many influences. The cities of Slovenians are modern and thriving but you can still find communities with traditional agricultural lifestyles. Slovenia is frequently compared to Switzerland – but as a still developing nation the atmosphere is a bit more exuberant and youthful than you’ll find in Switzerland, as if it is still basking in the freedoms won after years of outside rule. You’ll find both history and a cosmopolitan feel in the cities, and even on the darkest days there’s little to remind you of the Yugoslavian/Communist regime that ruled here from 1945 until independence. It’s as the people and land simply walked away from that history and have been savoring their charming country ever since.
Ljubljana, the capital and largest city in Slovenia, has taken advantage of it geographic position at the crossroads of Germanic, Latin and Slavic cultures throughout history. It is the economic and cultural center – home to one of Europe’s oldest Philharmonic societies – of the country, and industry, scientific and research establishments are all major elements of its position. In the historic city center you’ll find a mix of Baroque and Art Nouveau styles, and it is strongly reminiscent of Austria’s Graz and Salzburg. Ljubljana Castle, a 12th century edifice, is sited on a hill overlooking the river Ljubljanica. These days Ljubljana is a university town, vibrant with charm and a swinging alternative culture enjoyed by the students and youth, with enough buzz to attract international artists to its galleries and performing centers.


Introducing: Croatia
(from Grand Circle Travel)

Removed from war and now emerging as a key travel destination, Croatia showcases an impressive past that goes back to ancient Greek and Roman times. The third-century Palace of Diocletian in Split is the most notable remnant of Roman days. After the fall of the Roman Empire, a Mongolian people called the Avars inhabited the area until they were conquered in the seventh century by the ancestors of today’s Croats. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the Croats established an independent Croatian nation, but the area later came under Hungarian rule, which oversaw Croatia for the next 700 years. In the 19th century, there was contention between Austria and Italy for control of Croatia’s Adriatic seacoast. Opatija still shows signs of its history as a former vacation spot for Austrian military officers, while Istria reflects its past as part of Italy.
Croatia was later part of Yugoslavia, founded as a kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes in 1918, then officially named Yugoslavia in 1929. During World War II, Yugoslavia was occupied by German and Italian forces, but with the end of the war, Yugoslavia regained its sovereignty. Josip Broz Tito, a leader of anti-Nazi Yugoslav partisans, became prime minister and established a Communist regime that ruled until the end of the Cold War. Croatia gained its independence in 1991, but was the scene of conflict into the 1990s. It has now had several years of greater stability, and its Adriatic coastline is once again popular with visitors of many nationalities.

Facts & Figures: Croatia

Area: 21,829 square miles
Capital: Zagreb
Languages: Croatian is the official language; Italian, German, and English are also spoken.
Location: Croatia is bordered by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and the Adriatic Sea.
Geography: Croatia is located in Southeastern Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea, between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia. The terrain of Croatia is geographically diverse; flat plains along Hungarian border, low mountains and highlands near Adriatic coast, coastline, and islands.
Population (2007 estimate): 4,493,312
Religion: Catholic 76.5%, Orthodox 11.1%, Slavic Muslim 1.2%, Protestant 0.4%, others 10.8%
Time zone: Croatia is on Central European Time, six hours ahead of U.S. EST. When it is 6am in New York, it is noon in Zagreb. Daylight Saving Time begins the last Sunday in March and ends the last Sunday in October.