The family managed to secure promotional air tickets to Munich on Singapore Airlines. After some discussions, we decided to focus on Croatia and Slovenia for this December 2016 vacation. There was so much to see and do and yet so little time. How to choose? To ensure that this 2-week long holiday was an enjoyable one, we had to be selective on the places that we wanted to visit, taking into consideration the train schedules, driving options available to us and the geographic proximity.
From Munich to Slovenia, we decided to trot via Innsbruck and Salzburg in Austria. The temperatures of both these places hovered around – 8 ⁰C when we were there. As such, I cannot overly emphasize the importance of packing the right attire for your children. Both Innsbruck and Salzburg were beautiful places. Innsbruck, in particular, located in the broad valley between high mountains, the so-called North Chain in the Karwendel Alps to the north, and the Patscherkofel and Serles to the south, was breathtaking.
We had the unfortunate luck of losing the husband’s Ipad while in Innsbruck. Although it was a mere 10 minutes from the time we left the MacDonald’s joint to when the husband realized that he had left his Ipad behind, we were not able to locate the missing device. We could not resort to “Find My Iphone” as well, since the data was turned off because we had not subscribed to a roaming data plan. The experience however, taught us all about making claims for lost items via our travel insurance. The most important thing for a successful insurance claim, in such cases, is that documentations/evidence to prove the lost is absolutely necessary. To get this evidence, it is essential to either make a police report or a report at the nearest Lost & Found Office in the place of travel.
We arrived at Ljubljana via train from Salzburg. Ljubljana is a charming city full of artists, museums, and galleries. With a population of 300,000, it is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe. Unlike most other European capitals, Ljubljana was not jam-packed with people at all corners, making the sightseeing activities stress-free and enjoyable. I really loved a Serbian restaurant that we stumbled into during one of our walks. The Sarajevo ’84 restaurant served fantastic foods (meat-based) at extremely affordable prices. If I ever visit again, I am going to get 2 servings of the Bosnian bread with grilled chicken!
At Ljubljana, we picked up a car from Sixt Rental to transverse from Slovenia through Croatia. One important note for people intending to drive to Dubrovnik is to pay attention to whether the car rental allows the car (dependent on car make, as well) to be brought into Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is extremely important because part of the driving route from Zagreb to Dubrovnik requires passage through Bosnia.
Zagreb is the capital and largest city in Croatia. Because the traffic around the town center was horrendous, we parked the car in our apartment hotel and walked to most of the sights. Both the kids loved the Zagreb Christmas market because there were small stores with free children games in the market. The Upper and Lower Town are both worth visiting and I would suggest that families plan at least half a day each to explore the respective portions on foot.
Plitvice Lakes National Park was a bit of a detour from Zagreb to Dubrovnik. Due to a number of screw-ups, I did not really enjoy Plitvice Lakes. Mistake Number 1: We did not check the operation hours of the National Park. As such, we arrived at the park around 5 PM in the evening and were not allowed entry into the park. Mistake Number 2: We did not plan for snow when we returned the next morning. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The moment we entered the park, it started to snow. Because the children’s outercoats were not waterproof and did not have a hood, I had to rush both the screaming kids back to the car, snow falling all over us, halfway through our lake hike. In the end, we covered barely a quarter of the place.
The drive to Dubrovnik was very long and we basically drove from Croatia to Bosnia then back to Croatia again. The main draw of this magnificent walled city lies in its charming pedestrian-only old town, packed with aristocratic palazzi and elegant Baroque churches. In recent years, it has become a popular filming location for a number of large scale productions such as The Game of Thrones, to name a few. For us, Dubrovnik will forever be craved in our minds as the place where the son almost got killed by a stray dog.
That day, we were exploring the Old Town on foot where we noticed two stray dogs wondering about. Our approach to strays has always been to ignore them and hope that they will go away. In this instance, we pursued our usual approach and continued our photo-taking activities, doing our best to ignore the dogs. Unfortunately, one of the strays went insane and decided to chase the smallest target (the son). The son got a shock and fell on the ground. The stray then jumped on top of him. We were scared speechless. Luckily, for us, a quick-thinking old man hit the stray with his walking stick. It was only at this point that the stray dog ran away. So, parents, remember to keep a close eye on your children when you see wild animals around. You never know what will happen.
Trieste is one of Italy’s most unique cities and Mediterranean resorts. The city of Trieste lies at the very edge of North-East Italy and is sandwiched by both Slovenia and also the Adriatic Sea. Much of its former grandeur remains in the form of imposing buildings with elaborate Neo-classical facades.
The Postojna Cave Park is one of the gems that we uncovered in this trip. Located near Postojna, southwestern Slovenia, it has the second longest cave system in the country, created by the Pivka River. Of all the caves that I have visited around the world, I would say that the Postojna Cave is by far, the most family friendly caves that you can probably find. Of the 5 km cave tour, 3.5 km is actually covered by train (We were told that this train has been carrying passengers for the past 140 years already!) in the cave. The remaining 1.5 km hike is a relatively easy walk, without steep climbs or many steps. During our visit, we stayed at Hotel Jama, which is a mere 100 m from the cave. It proved to be an excellent choice and the hotel even offered a discount for tickets to the cave. The good thing about staying so close was that you could venture around the area before and after the tour buses have left for the day.
Zadar was a bit of an afterthought for us and the only reason why we visited the place was because the drive from Postojna to Lake Bled would be too tiring if there was no rest stop in between. We were pleasantly surprised by Zadar when we arrived. The reception at our apartment informed us that the old town was a few thousand years old (There was a beautiful Roman forum dating back to the first century AD) and that it served as the capital of Dalmatia for many centuries. The children were very impressed by the sounds made by the Sea Organ and we spent an evening there, listening to music and enjoying the sunset.
Lake Bled was formed from the waters released when the Bohinj glacier melted and filled the natural basin that was formed by the glacier. Slovenia’s only island (The Blejski Otok) can be found in Lake Bled and reached by gondola-style boats called “pletnas”. To ferry the 4 of us from the mainland to Blejski Otok, we hired a private pletnas from the dock outside our hotel (The historic Vila Bled – We did not like this place because it felt very much like one of those haunted hotels in horror movies. The suite that we were assigned was amazingly huge, so much so that if you were standing at one end of the suite, you would not be able to have a visual of the other end. The long dining table in this suite could sit 12 people, reminding me very much of the Harry Potter movies. All furnishings were dated and the floor creaked whenever we walked) to the island. The small Christian baroque church on the island was charming and the children got to interact with the swans hovering around the island jetty.
To avoid any surcharges incurred when one returns the rental car in a country different from where it was picked up, we arranged for the rental vehicle to be picked up in Lake Bled. From Lake Bled, we made our way back to Munich by train, bringing our 2016 winter vacation to an end.