Plitvice Lakes National Park – Croatia’s Crown Jewel

Plitvice Lakes National Park – Croatia’s Crown Jewel

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe.

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It is also the largest national park in Croatia.

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The Park is a giant chain of sixteen lakes connected by cascading waterfalls.

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Plitvice’s lakes are separated into an upper and lower cluster formed by runoff from the mountains.

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The runoff descends from an altitude of 636 to 503 m over a distance of some eight km, aligned in a south-north direction.

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It is impressive that 16 lakes can help to form hundreds of little waterfalls with a difference of only 150 meters between the highest and lowest lake.

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The highest waterfall is the “Large Waterfall”, Veliki Slap (“Slap” means waterfall in Croatian) at the end of the Lower Lakes.

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There are hundreds of waterfalls to get your pic with besides Veliki though.

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My only knock on the Park is that at times it can feel a bit like “Disneyworld” with hundreds of people walking in front of and behind you.

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Plitvice attracts over 1,000,000 visitors a year and the “Disneyworld” problem is exacerbated by the fact that all the visitors in the park must stay on the narrow plank walkways that lead through the Lake System.

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Then you throw in the fact that everyone and their brother is stopping to take pictures and you have one giant cluster.  So at times it can feel a bit like you are cattle being herded into the Slaughterhouse.

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But these moments are offset by the nice moments you have to yourself.

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Plitvice has a series of “Routes” available to visitors.

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Each route offers a different perspective of the many lakes and some take longer than others.

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Many of the routes are connected or enabled by electric buses or boats to cross waterways.

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We did the popular Route H, which takes 4-6 hours.

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We had stayed in the nearby Hotel Plivitce and were able to get an early enough start to avoid most of the crowds but some backlog is simply inevitable.

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The clarity of the lakes is stunning.  Fish would have a difficult time hiding from airborne predators here, if there were any.

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Water-based life is abundant, from dragonflies to salamanders.

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The views from the cliffs above the lakes made for some of the best pictures I took in Croatia.

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On one of the days we spent in Plitvice we decided to hike the much-less-hiked Corcova Uvala trail, which is a nice hiking contrast compared to the Routes leading by the lakes.

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The 21km Corcova Uvala trail leads though dense forests…

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…. remote fields….

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….and trickling streams.

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The best part about the Corcova Uvala trail?

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Hiking for six hours without seeing another soul, especially after we had spent the previous day engulfed by fellow visitors on the boardwalks that lead through the Lake systems.

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I know that when most people think Croatia, they think of the incredible coastal cities, such as Dubrovnik, bordering the Adriatic.  But in this traveler’s opinion, even with the crowds, Plitvice is the true crown jewel of Croatia.

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Zadar – The weirdest instrument you’ll never play

Zadar – The weirdest instrument you’ll never play

Tourists come to Zadar like bees to honey.  Large yachts dock right near Zadar’s “Old City” port and drop off hundreds of curious vacationers.

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The fastest way to get from Pula to Zadar, both cities being on Croatia’s coast, is a boat ride on the Adriatic Sea.  It is far from a luxury ride but at least they have their boat rules in order of importance.

Rule Number One for boat safety...

Rule Number 1.

Zadar’s Old City still looks almost the same as it did in the 15th Century.

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With the addition of a few shopping malls and gelaterias.

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The Cold Stone Creamery of gelaterias

The Cold Stone Creamery of gelaterias

During the 16th century, the Venetian inhabitants of the city built a large water cistern with five wells so they would have enough water to withstand a Turkish siege.

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The cistern and wells remain in Zadar’s aptly named “Five Wells Square.”

5 Wells Square

The massive gate to the Old City also remains intact.

Old City Gate

We arrived in Zadar in June, the high season, so prices and temperatures were high.

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We eventually bartered our way into getting this closet for 50 Euro/night ($67).  It was incredibly hot in the room and we had to empty the standing air conditioner every four hours during the night when the water tray would fill up.  The things I’ll do to save a buck…

50 euro closet per night

Shockingly, I found one of Zadar’s main attractions on Tripadvisor.com to be its Glass Museum (this is no joke).

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The museum itself was less than inspiring ( I do NOT recommend it ) but we had good enough timing to catch a guest lecturer delivering a brilliant speech.

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Zadar’s two best attractions are its “pipes” and its “greeting to the sun”.

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Zadar’s Sea Organ is a series of pipes located along Zadar’s boardwalk.  A system of tubes coupled with a resonating cavity turns the site into a large musical instrument, played by waves and the wind to create what no one would call a harmonic sound.

The sounds coming from the Sea Organ sounded a lot like a strangling goose to me

The sounds coming from the Sea Organ sounded a lot like a strangling goose to me

I heard rumors that since architect Nikola Bašić finished the Sea Organ in 2005, sea shells have gotten stuck in some of the pipes in the water, which may account for the unharmonious honking that the Organ was producing when I was there in June 2013.

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Zadar’s “Greeting to the Sun” is a bit of a misnomer because the photovoltaic tiles only really come on at night. During the day the tiles soak up the sun’s light energy and at night, they release the energy in a flashy way.

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The “Greeting to the Sun” attracts lots of tourists at sunset and we were no exception.

Enjoying an Ojusko during sunset

Enjoying an Ojusko during sunset

Rt. Kamenjak – A quintessential rocky Croatian “beach” (and park)

Rt. Kamenjak – A quintessential rocky Croatian “beach” (and park)

Rt. Kamenjak, a national park near Pula, came highly recommended by hostel employees and fellow backpackers alike.

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It is a big park, made bigger depending on the type of vehicle you have to get around.

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If you are someone with money the best way to get around is by boat, whereby you can hop from cove to cove without having to sweat yourself to death peddling up a gravel road.

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We had rented mountain bikes, which I strongly, strongly, do not recommend.

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The roads are gravel and hilly and the temperature can be a scorching 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) in the summer.

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It took at least 45 minutes from the rental location to finally arrive at the Croatian coastline and by then we were ready for the water.

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The Croatian coastline, particularly in Rt. Kamenjak where you can find a secluded spot for yourself, is fantastic.

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The water is blue and clear and refreshing.

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Worth it?  Perhaps.  I would recommend spending another day in Rovinj instead.  And if there is a next time for me, I’m renting a car.

Rovinj – How to spend a perfect day in a Croatian harbor town

Rovinj – How to spend a perfect day in a Croatian harbor town

I did not enjoy Croatia as a country to backpack in except for two places, Plitvice Lakes National Park and Rovinj.  If you are staying in Pula and looking for a good day trip, Rovinj takes the cake.

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It is a smaller, more charming coastal town than Pula and the fresh fish is legit.

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Before

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After

After a tasty lunch fresh from the sea you can rent a bike a take a ride through Park šuma Zlatni.

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Along the edge of the park there are rocky outcrops where you can take a nap or a dip, with or without clothing.

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Before you get too excited about the romantic idea of a nude beach, let me pop that bubble right quick.

Most of the swimmers that elect to forego a swimsuit in favor of their birthday suit are well over the age of 50 and are no longer in top physical condition.

If you can ignore these occasional “mid-50s-flashes” the bike ride is well worth it.

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Rovinj has a very artsy hill winding up its old town on the western peninsula.  The steep, diagonal streets act as a permanent art bazaar, with hundreds of local studios to choose from.

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Its not my thing – I’m not an art guy, nor a souvenir guy – but it might be yours.  Plus, it would be mighty difficult to tote a painting around in a backpack for three months.  If I buy any gifts at all while abroad, it is usually in the city I fly home from.

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At the end of the art hike and at the top of the hill in Rovinj’s old town is Saint Euphemia’s basilica, a baroque church, which you can see in the upper left in the above photo.

At the end of the day while waiting for the bus and watching old men play chess in the central square I realized I would have rather stayed in Rovinj than Pula.  If you’re thinking about making a trip to Croatia I would recommend you do the same.

Pula – A little bit o’ Rome in Croatia

Pula – A little bit o’ Rome in Croatia

Pula is a big town on Croatia’s northwestern coast with Roman architectural influence.

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Pula’s coliseum, or “Arena” as it is called today, is modeled after the one in Rome and though it is not as impressive, it boasts a similar gladiatorial history.

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Rome does not have a “China Town”, though admittedly (and oddly) Pula’s China Town is limited to one store.

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But the white architecture in Pula is far more memorable than its China town.

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The Temple of Augustus in Pula

And this is part of what makes Pula is a wonderful place to just sit and drink a glass of wine or an espresso.

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Under Emperor Vespasian, Pula’s amphitheater (6th largest in the world) was built  to seat 23,000 spectators. Back then it was the site of gladiator fights and other brutal amusements for the masses. Nowadays it satisfies a far less bloody purpose, operating as a venue for summer film and opera festivals.

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We stayed in a lovely hostel in Pula called Riva Hostel where we met two very cool French girls and the standard eclectic cast of “usual suspects” that you always seem to find in hostels.

Pula also has an industrious port.

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And nearby a spot to park your yacht if you are that lucky.

My yacht is the one on the left

My yacht is the one on the left

Maybe someday…

Overall I enjoyed Pula but one of the day trips we took from Pula ended up being more enjoyable.  Stay tuned for the next post!

Ljubljana and the hipster of world travelers, Alma Karlin

Ljubljana and the hipster of world travelers, Alma Karlin

Ljubljana (lyoob-lya-na) wins the award for most fun capital city to pronounce.

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With just over 200,000 people it is also the smallest, most relaxed capital city I’ve been to in the world.

The Cooperative Business Bank Building (the “Pink Bank”), designed in traditional Slovenian styles by architect Ivan Vurnik and his wife Helena Vurnik.  The Pink Bank has been called the “most beautiful building” in Ljubljana.

The Cooperative Business Bank Building (the “Pink Bank”), designed in traditional Slovenian styles by architect Ivan Vurnik and his wife Helena Vurnik.  The Pink Bank has been called the “most beautiful building” in Ljubljana.

Ljubljana was originally the Roman city of Emona and Roman remnants, including remains of a stronghold on top of the hill, can still be seen around the city.

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Ljubljana Castle is at the top of a small forested hill on the east side of the Ljubljanica River.

Ljubljana Castle’s now modern courtyard

Ljubljana Castle’s now-modern courtyard

The castle’s old funicular was closed when we visited but the 15 minute walk up to the castle is no problem.

My favorite exhibit in Ljubljana Castle was not about the castle itself, but about a woman born in Celje named Alma N. Karlin.

Karlin was the hipster of world travelers.  She did it WAY before everyone else thought it was cool.

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“I am a lone traveler, much like a hermit crab . . . I imagine that I know how to write.  A person should have at least one illusion!  And this illusion has led to my journey around the world.”

I imagine that I share Karlin’s illusion, though my writing is a result of, rather than a cause for, my decision to journey around the world.

Outside the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Ljubljana

Outside the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Ljubljana

In the early 1900s, Karlin began a journey around the world that makes my travels look elementary by comparison.

To boot, Karlin was a woman, and to travel alone back then as a woman was unheard of.

Inside the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Ljubljana

Inside the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Ljubljana

Karlin was born in Celje (now part of Slovenia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) in 1889 and as a young girl, spoke German with her Austrian family.  In her teens she learned French and English and in 1908, moved to London, where she took her language studies to the next level.

Shoes hanging on a wire in Ljubljana’s old city

Shoes hanging on a wire in Ljubljana’s old city

Karlin was relentless about learning new languages, using the days of the week to dictate her study schedule.

Karlin would study Norwegian on Mondays, French on Tuesdays, English and Latin on Wednesdays, Danish on Thursdays, Italian on Friday mornings, and Swedish on Friday nights.

A look over the Ljubljana River

A look over the Ljubljanica River

And Karlin didn’t take a break on the weekends. On Saturday Karlin would kick it with her Asian friends and practice basic phrases.  On Sunday mornings she would do the same, this time with her Spanish friends, and on Sunday nights, Karlin would dive headfirst into Russian lessons.

On Monday mornings Karlin would start the week all over again by studying Sanskrit.  Every morning of the week, Karlin would commit to learning at least one song in the language (or languages) she was studying that day.

After the start of World War I, Austrian citizens were no longer welcome in England so Karlin migrated to Scandinavia, where she continued her studies in Norway and Sweden, adding books on the Inca culture to her ever expanding knowledge of different cultures.   It was in Scandinavia where Karlin first decided she would embark on a journey to visit the places she had read so much about.

In 1918 Karlin returned to Celje and founded a language school, now beginning intensive preparations for her journey, studying history, geography and natural history of the countries she was planning to visit, basically a reverse of how I’ve done my travels.  I learn as much as I can about the place I’m at while I’m there, but end up doing most of my research for my blog posts after the fact.

In 1919 Karlin began her journey, bringing with her only 130 dollars, 950 Duetsche Mark, and a portable Erika typewriter.  Karlin was banking heavily on the fact that her foreign language skill would allow her to earn money, perhaps through teaching, as she traveled.

Karlin spent her first four years traveling through southern and central America, Hawaii, Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and down on to Australia and New Zealand.  At the end of these four years Karlin was physically and emotionally exhausted.  Even more so then,  than now, backpacking was (and is) no vacation, no picnic, no walk in the park.

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But she continued on through Southeast Asia, up on into Myanmar, Calcutta, New Delhi, and in 1927 ended up in Karachi, then part of India, now in Pakistan.  In Karachi she received a letter from her sick mother saying she wanted to see Alma before she died.  Alma, deeply depressed and sick herself, returned home after eight years of Globe-trotting.

I can relate to this feeling.  Even though traveling leads one to meet hundreds of new people around the world, the inherently transient nature of these relationships makes them far less fulfilling than the meaningful relationships that can be developed at home or while living in one place.

Even the most robust of souls can begin to feel lonely and a bit depressed.  On each of my four big trips, I have always felt a tinge of this feeling, usually about three months in, when the long bus rides and hostels start to wear on you.

A colorful train in Ljubljana’s train station

A colorful train in Ljubljana’s train station

But overall I would say the positives of long-term world travel (too numerous to list here, but read a few of my other blog posts and you’ll get the idea) far outweigh the feelings of loneliness and depression that can occasionally accompany a long-term vagabond.

And though the titles of Alma’s subsequent writings about her travels might indicate otherwise  – “Einsame Weltreise” (The Odyseey of a Lonely Woman) and “Im Banne der Sudsee” (The Spell of the South Sea) among them – I would venture to say she would agree with me.

Bohinj – A review of Slovenia’s only national park (Triglav) and tallest waterfall (Savica)

Bohinj – A review of Slovenia’s only national park (Triglav) and tallest waterfall (Savica)

Triglav National Park reminds me of Rocky Mountain National Park, the place where I grew to love hiking on vacations with my parents.

A difficult three hour uphill trek rewards you with this, the Doma Na Viewpoin in Triglav National Park

A difficult three hour uphill trek rewards you with this, the Doma Na Viewpoint in Triglav National Park

There is warm sun occasioned by afternoon showers and the smell of fresh pine wherever you walk.

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Triglav National Park encompasses nearly all the territory of the Julian Alps in Slovenia, helps form Slovenia’s border with Italy, and is named after Mt. Triglav (2864 meters).  We didn’t get a chance to make it to Mt. Triglav but we had great views of some of its sister peaks in the Julian Alps at the Doma Na Viewpoint.

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Protection of the pristine mountain range and its chorus of snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, glacial gorges, rivers, and lakes can be credited to Fran Jesenko, a Slovenian PhD Botanist.  Jesenko, a Slovenian national, was first a professor of botany in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, until he took the same position at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital.

Together with his students in 1924, Jesenko drew the initial boundaries that would help form the protected area that is now Triglav National Park.  Two years later Jesenko published a paper in a daily local newspaper naming the area Triglav National Park, using the article to stress how important it would be for Slovenia to preserve and protect the area.

Ironically, after devoting a significant part of his life to making sure Triglav National Park would be protected, the Park took Jesenko’s life when he fell to his death at the Komarca slope in 1932, while visiting one of his students at Triglav Lakes Valley.

Bohinj Jezero

Bohinj Jezero

Marcela and I stayed in a nice guest house a short walk east of Bohinj Jezero.

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Like Bled Jezero, Bohinj Jezero has lots of activity going on above the water.

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While I was searching for a guesthouse to stay in I had good enough timing to witness the start of a race.

My favorite spot within Triglav National Park was the Savica Waterfall ,Slovenia’s highest waterfall.

Savica Waterfall

The Savica Waterfall rises from a fault cutting into the Komarca cliff, where Fran Jesenko met his untimely end.  The waterfall slides down 38 meters at an angle of 50 degrees from a hidden cave in the cliff before it begins its freefall, 51 meters straight down.

A village near Bohinj Lake called Stara Fuzina is a good starting point for trips to the Voje Valley and the Fuzina Alps.

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A golden scarab scurries across the trail

Stara Fuzina also has some fantastic exercise equipment if hiking doesn’t do it for you.

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The Voje Valley contains Mostnice Gorge and at the head of the gorge, the Mostnice Waterfall.

Mostnice Waterfall

The Mostnice waterfall, despite its name, is not the most nice waterfall in the park.  The Savica Waterfall mentioned above most definitely is.  In other words, it is not worth it to go the full distance to the Mostnice Waterfall, which we did.  Just check out Savica Waterfall and call it a day.

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While the Mostnice Waterfall is a bit disappointing, the hike to the Mostnice Waterfall, a 4 kilometer trail along Mostnice Gorge, is worth a half day hike.

Mostnice Gorge 5

Mostnice Gorge 4

Mostnice Gorge 1

Mostnice Gorge 3

 

Mostnice Gorge 2

Before the waterfall, but after the gorge trail, there is a brilliant meadow where some very Thoreau–esque folks have chosen to live the rest of their days.

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On our way back from the waterfall we got caught in an afternoon shower and finding ourselves umbrella-less, we hid out under one of the meadow houses to wait it out.

taking a break from the rain

With the rain, the temperature dropped considerably so we made a stop in a small local restaurant that served some excellent blueberry pie.

On our hike to Mostnice Gorge we were one of the few people to ever see the rare Triglav mountain lion

On our hike to Mostnice Gorge we were one of the few people to ever see the rare Triglav mountain lion

My overall impression of Bohinj was positive but it would not be a place I return to.  Its got some great peaks but its still not as good as the Rockies and the Swiss Alps has both of those mountain ranges beat.  That said, I didn’t get a chance to do some of the longer treks (e.g. Mt. Triglav), so this critique is limited to the three treks mentioned in this post.