A Short Tour of the North Adriatic

We spent about 10 days touring parts of Slovenia and Croatia, with a side trip one day into Austria. Here's a map showing the route. We actually landed in Italy — in Venice. Places we stayed included Bled, Rovinj, Plitvicka Jezera and Split, where we ended up.

We took a lot of pictures. I only picked a few to put here to give an idea what these places look like.

We spent part of a day in Venice — along with a million other tourists. The locals are greatly outnumbered by the tourists now but depend on them for incomes, so it's a love-hate relationship. It must be like trying to live in Disneyland. They told us that only 150,000 people live in Venice at this point, but they get 30 million visitors a year.

First thing in the morning it's pretty quiet — at least in mid-May.

That tower off in the distance below really is leaning. The whole city sits on stone block on pilings driven into silt that sink over time. The whole area was once a swamp.

Venice waterfront first thing in the morning. It's just starting to wake up.

Clock tower in St Marks square. It includes a moon cycle indicator that people need to pay attention to because some high tides actually flood the city — no kidding: lower levels of buildings can get a couple feet of water sometimes. With sewage, since some of the oldest buildings dump directly into the canals. Yuck. The locals keep waders for these occasions.

Masks. People wore them back in Casanova's time so they could drink, gamble, whore around, and generally do stuff the Catholic Church frowned upon in the time of the Inquisition. Plausible deniability.

The Rialto Bridge midday with crowds of tourists so thick it's almost impossible to move more than a step or two at a time without stopping. Getting whacked by someone's selfie-stick is a serious hazard.

From Venice we drove up to Bled in Slovenia. This route crosses the Julian Alps — very beautiful. Bled is pronounced somewhere between "Blet" and "Blit" by the locals. It's a beautiful little resort area with a castle on a big rampart overlooking a lake and a tiny monastery on an island at the other end. You take a boat to get to the monastery. Here's a picture of the castle from across the lake in front of our hotel.

Here's a better view from it. They are rehabbing the exterior, hence the scaffolding (and the crane you can't see because I photoshopped it out)

One day we drove up to Lake Bajer—near Bohinj. The forests are very green and beautiful - all beech trees. The build with it and it looks a bit like cedar but I think it's' harder. We were going to hike up to a waterfall but it started raining pretty hard so we sat in a cafe and drank beer and ate goulash instead.

We also drove north to Klagenfurt , in Austria. There is a faster way to get there going through a tunnel under the mountain, but we took the old highway up over a pass. Very scenic.

Klagenfurt is a very old city close to Lake Worth (which is a big resort area). Lake Worth is the site of Gustav Mahler's summer house, which has become a museum. He wrote a lot of his music in a hut in the woods near that house. I wanted to visit it but we didn't have time. The old part of Klagenfurt used to have 25 foot high stone walls around it until Napoleon blew the walls up. Must have pissed him off trying to take the town. Killed a dozen or so of his men because the miscalculated the amount of black powder it would take.

Square in Klagenfurt, Austria

There's another square famous for it's dragon statute. Klagenfurt has a dragon on it's coat of arms, or town seal or whatever that's called. There are about a dozen of these districts banded together, another is Dachau, of WW2 infamy.

Guy about to bash dragon with mace

There are all kinds of interesting pieces of artwork and a lot of beautiful stone in this town.

Walking around Klagenfurt - the place is littered with these quiet little court yards you can walk into. Some have little cafes, other's seem to be private but no one cares if you check them out. Or maybe they do but don't say anything.

We drove to the Postojna cave and then around the other side of the same mountain to the Predjama Castle. Here's the entrance to Postojna cave. It doesn't look like much from the outside. Inside it's one of the biggest cave systems in the world — quite spectacular. You walk in side and take a 2km train to the point where you can walk another couple km.

One of the bigger cave chambers. It's hard to tell from this picture but that's probably 200 feet across. If you look close you can see a handrail down near the bottom. There are dozens and dozens of these things. And I took many more dozens of pictures but they all look pretty similar without the 3d effect you get in person.

These mountains are made of limestone - shot full of caves etched out from the acidity of the rain water seeping down through the soil. On the other side of this mountain is Prodjama castle, which started out as a small fortress built into a cave opening high up in the face of a clif. The fortress grew into a small castle that withstood many seiges. Here's our hero shot in front of the castle, taken by an Indian couple for us after we toook theirs.

Top of the castle has a drawbridge over to the oldest, original fortress which is very primative. It was built in 1011. There's a back way up to the top of the mountain through the cave that they used to get supplies when under seige.

Back to the coast we stayed in at the Eden hotel in Ravinj. It's a very nice place. Here's the beach below the hotel. This is about 7:30 in the morning. Note the intrepid sunbather waiting for the temperatures to come up (it wasn't cold, but wasn't warm either).

Across the bay at the Eden hotel

Ravinj is famous for the Basilica of St. Euphemia. There's a story involving Romans, a Christian woman, lions and a miracle... The stained glass work is impressive. Actually, everything about it is impressive. Took lots of pictures.

View of bay at Ravinj from front of Basilica

Doors can be really interesting in Ravinj. this is one of many I took pictures of.

Ravinj waterfront

From Ravinj we went to Pula . There are olive trees everywhere in this part of the country. We stopped in the town of Vodnjan along the way to visit an olive oil tasting room. It was way more interesting than I thought it would be. I had no idea what good olive oil tasted like before this. We also stopped at a truffle tasting but it's a little subtle for my sensibilities. Others disagreed.

This old building was in Vodnjan. This landscape is littered with old building like this.

There's a pretty much intact Roman colleseum at Pula—one of the only ones outside Itally. This city goes back 3000 years. It's still used for some events (Sting had a concert there last year). It holds something like 40,000 people.

View from the inside. You should see the basement.

We next drove to Opatija, our route took us through the longest mountain tunnel in Croatia (about 5km as I recall) up near the top of their highest range of mountains. On the other side we took a heavily switch-backed road down to the coastal town of Opatija. Opatija is a mixture of both Mediterrainian and Austrian architecture—another popular resort area, but also a thriving town for other reasons.

Statue along the waterfront at Opatija.

Another statue along waterfront. This guy was a poet who apparently leaned to the left.

We continued inland across north-central Croatia This region is seriously beautiful, largely rural, but a lot of buildings are still blown and shot up from the war between 1991-1995. This one got off easy. Many of the shot up buildings appear to be abandoned. Apparently, their owners have decided they don't want to return to the area. Or they're dead. I took some pictures of a number of buildings in far worse shape but was moving at the time and they tend to be blurry. We stopped in front of this one to buy some honey at a roadside stand.

Plitvicka Jezera is a national park containing a whole series of lakes at different elevations, cascading from one to the next in close succession. Some are large and many very small, all wedged into a valley cut through limestone moutains. It is absolutely stunning. There's a system of trails that go all around them with sections suspended above water and falls by boardwalks. We did a loop of several kilometers and included a ferry across one of the lakes. The first fatalities of the war with Serbia in '91 occurred in a confrontation in this park.

The last leg of our trip was to Split. Diocletian's retirement palace is in Split. It seems like it's in the heart of the city - it's built up all around it and has a phenomenal nightlife. But at the time he built it, it was out in the suburbs — the main town at the time was about 4km away. It has four gates, called the "gold" gate, the "silver" gate, the "iron" and I forget what the last one is - "wood" maybe? Or "copper". This is one of the gates from the inside.

This started out as a pantheon-style temple (12 gods) but was later turned into a Christian baptismal.

They don't build things like they used to.

A guide showed us several passageways that were used in filming "Game of Thrones" episodes, including a stone secret door in the side of a wall that was pretty cool.

Just outside the palace - this part of town was built when the French were involved, probably post Napoleon owned the area. There is a lot of the city that is big ugly blocky building built during the Soviet era (by Yugoslavia, but same idea). Power to the people right on and all that, but butt-ugly architecture. Looks grim. Things are recovering though. The people here seem optimistic to me.

The waterfront next to the palace area