I am a dramatic person, there is no doubt about that. Hyperbole is my language. But when I say that this trip was shocking, I mean it. It was so elaborate, so unique, so tiring, so eye-opening. I almost didn't make my first flight... that's when you know adventure's about to begin. I hadn't slept – at all. The RER train broke down with 30 minutes to takeoff. But all clearly worked out, you see.
So anyway, I got asked this question multiple times: Why did you choose these countries? Plain and simple, I had never been to 3 out of 4 of these places before. The 4th one, Prague, I had actually been to, but so long ago that my only memory of it is a tween-sized me sitting in some unknown pub watching my teenage brother take a sip of his first beer, served in a heaping bucket-sized mug.
So I'll break them down by photos and then write a little blurb, I suppose. The whole trip took about 10 days, so naturally not a whole lot of time in each destination. It was tons of traveling, like taking a plane to a bus to a train...etc. Not the most efficient and streamlined travel experience but a good one, nonetheless.
Dubrovnik and Zagreb, Croatia
Dubrovnik: This tiny, walled town is so quaint. The weather was perfection. We had cheap Dalmatian sandwiches, delectable pizza and fresh feta cheese, gelato... In the morning we wandered through the trails of a nearby forest and ended up finding some random path down to the water. What are the odds, we both had brought our swimsuits?! We jumped into the water and it was seriously one of those surreal moments. The water was crystal clear, the kind where you can see the bottom and you can't tell if it's 5 feet deep or 35. After swimming, we took the cable car up to the top of the mountain to get an aerial view, then we went to a stunning war photo museum, and then kayaking around the nearest island. I'm pretty sure I said from the beginning that kayaking and I do not mix well, but we did it anyway, and we ended up having to get towed by the kayak-man tour guide. Oops.
Zagreb was an interesting architectural experience. Fits the bill for my idea of Eastern architecture and vibes. We only had a few hours so we had coffee and walked around markets. I may or may not have been swindled into buying some Croatian embroidery?
Weirdest town I've ever been to. Greasy, tired and disgruntled, we rolled up at nearly 4 PM, when the sun started setting (whyyyyy). It was a ghost town, as it was a Sunday. The old town is largely pedestrian. They have the world's tiniest curbs (I'm talking a near imperceptible inch high), but the sidewalks and "streets" are the same cobblestones so it really just all blends into a pedestrian zone. We went to some cafe for dinner that had bizarre music playing, and everyone around us was too hipster for words. They like, don't look at you. We weren't sure if they were robots, or perhaps talking flowers in our very own rabbit-hole wonderland. We went up to the castle overlooking the city in the pitch dark and that was a MISTAKE. The whole thing was super weird and eery. Weird art displays that gave me the wiggins. Needless to say, Ljubljana freaked us out. But our day trip to Lake Bled, Predjama castle and Postojna salt caves blew us away. It was recommended by Lonely Planet and it was incroyable. I don't even know how to describe it. Lake Bled is that off-the-beaten-path location you see in Instagrams, but the ones that make you sigh, because going there is a pipe dream. The waters were pristine, with changing leaves on all the surrounding mountains. A crisp, still air that fell like wispy clouds around the island and hugged the colorful boats.
My FAVORITE stop. This town has a total of like, zero tourists. Therefore, there are little to no tourist shops. Few people speak english. The first thing we did was wander through the Old Town streets, where we stopped at a book cafe. I saw one of my favorite quotes scribbled on the wall: "Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why". Which is ironic, because I got the impression that Bratislava is trapped in the amber of time. Graffiti covers everything, and the fashion and aesthetics of the shops seems to have not changed much with the mode of the times. Window displays look like vintage ads we see in textbooks. Other than the preservation of its own interesting character and culture, my favorite part was the life at night (Halloween, no less). We went to a bar recommended to us by our waiter, which was an underground bar filled with smoke, hazy red lighting and curious Slovakian stares. They played alt rock, alternative and classic tunes. We befriended a group of Slovakian guys who reminded me of the University of Vermont freestyle ski team. I was in love. After hanging with them (they barely spoke english), they brought us to this weird club in a World War 2 bunker underneath the castle. Music was subpar, location was a birdie. We stayed out with them until nearly 7 AM, so naturally the next day felt like death, but I will forever cherish getting to know the city with locals. Was slightly cured by a local breakfast-all-day joint. Had some scrambled eggs. Not Slovakian cuisine unfortunately but it was a necessary sacrifice :^)
Prague, Czech Republic
This city is huge. But also walkable. Everything is beautiful and untouched. Apparently it's been cleaned up and more commercialized as time has gone on. I liked most things about it, except how many tourists there were, and therefore, how everything was a tourist trap. It was quite overwhelming. But aside from those things, the food was amazing, and I actually tasted the best beer I've ever had. Which is not saying much, considering I don't like beer, but honestly this tasted like dessert. It's the strongest beer in the Czech Republic, ringing in at a little over 11%. The brewery is from 1466 I believe. It was incredible. Other things I liked: Franciscan monastery library (holy moly), stained glass in the church by the palace, National Gallery (extensive and stunning painting collection, also free for students!), stellar antique shops, and THE BEST cafe called Muj Salek Kavvy in Prague 3 - Karlin. Hidden off the beaten path for sure, but that's where our AirBnb was, kind of. Such good food, friendly atmosphere, and reminded me of Boston and Minneapolis. We also tried gingerbread by the Kafka museum. Stellar. We went into the Kafka museum and was it ever morbid and weird. I don't know, really got to me. I haven't gotten around to reading any Kafka but now I'm unsure, left a bit spooked.