travel: Split, Croatia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

Croatia is the place to vacation in Europe these days.

 It is gaining popularity because…

  1. It is beautiful/amazing/warm/ and full of history 
  2. Affordable alternative to Italy: the Adriatic Sea, islands + strong exchange rate
  3. For all of you fans, Game of Thrones is filmed here  
  4. The list goes on and on 

The train ride into Split was very scenic. I spent time reading about the 1991 Yugoslavia War and independence of Croatia. Evidence of the war still lingers in the tiny villages along the train tracks but it is easy to see how resilient the people are here, how communities have been restored and that the area is thriving. The landscape was absolutely breathtaking in parts- rivers that we could see from the train going through Plitvice Lakes National Park  were absolutely crystal clear and bright turquoise. Green, lush, jungly trees. White cliffs. Stone bridges. Rolling hills. Tree covered mountains.

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Arriving into Split, we were ready to explore and indulge. Old town is full of romantic outdoor cafes. We found a beautiful garden restaurant in an old white building, with ivy growing up the walls, garden lights and green shutters on the windows. The currency exchange is almost 9:1 [Croatian Kuna to British Pound]. This made it affordable for us to eat out and treat ourselves to wines, seafood, and I even splurged on trying mussels for the first time!

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Our first morning in Split, we woke up extra early and went for a walk along the promenade (the ‘Riva’) curious to check out a hill on the other side of old town. We walked to the top of Marajan Hill  where we stood in awe for quite some time. What struck me was the change of scenery from the dear UK. The leaves of the palm trees, looking up and seeing them on a backdrop of clear blue, bright skies. Not a cloud to be seen.

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The morning sun was shining on the Roman ruins walking back through Old Town. Split is lovely with all its alleyways, hidden courtyards and ivy covered walls. It was early yet, so the streets were quiet. On our way back to the flat, we picked up coffees (note: coffee and cream is coffee and ice-cream, fun little surprise) and fresh juices. Ryan picked up a delicious smelling apple-baklava-filo-pastry goodie from a street vendor called, strudel od jakuba. Most places in this region have their own variation of a strudel, and Ryan was happy to try each one in search of ‘the best.’

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We enjoyed our goodies on the steps of Diocletian’s Palace, definitely the number one thing to see in Split. The ruins of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, date back to the late 3rd to early 4th century A.D. I love history and this was making my head spin a little because I think it is the oldest place that I have physically been in. There is a sphinx here that Diocletian himself had built and is part of the original palace, 2,000 years old! 
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The outdoor open market was another highlight for me – it was full of fruit, cheese, antiques, dried fruits, nuts, fresh lavender and flower vendors. Such a cultural experience! We bought some fresh goat cheese, dried apricots, almonds and juicy peaches. 
We finished our day in good style – enjoying life’s simple pleasures (gelato and coffee) in a city that does such a wonder job of  weaving the past and present.
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If we had a bit more time it would have been fun to swim at the beach or take a boat trip out to one of the nearby islands. Our time was lovely in Split and we eagerly boarded our bus for the our next stop, Dubrovnik!

Currently, there is also no train line between Split and Dubrovnik so this meant the end of our Eurail pass. This might change as Dubrovnik is becoming such a popular travel destination. For now, buses are the best way to get there. The journey to Dubrovnik is 4 hours with some fun along the way. We saw an incredible place called Fortress of Klis, baby donkeys (yes, baby donkeys!), more turquoise rivers and even made a rest stop in Bosnia – one of my favourite stamps in the passport because it is so random.

 

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 Up next: Dubrovnik, Croatia 

 

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travel: Zagreb, Croatia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

 

The landlocked capital of Croatia is, quite possibly, the country’s most underrated destination.

According to Rick Steves, you cannot get a complete picture of modern Croatia without a visit here. Zagreb is away from the coastal villages and touristy resorts. Off the map a bit but a great way to experience some culture, in the “lively and livable” city that is home to one out of every six Croatians.

Our afternoon layover in Zagreb was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs, take in the city and get a bite to eat. We were sure to see the Zagreb Cathedral, Jelačić Square and Tkalciceva Road, such a thriving cafe culture and streets lined with rows and rows of places to sip and eat.

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We had a delicious lunch at ‘Trattoria Leonardo’s’. There is a big Italian influence in the cuisine here, which is good for Ryan because pizza is his favorite food group.  Oma and Ryan also indulged in their favorite beer, Radler lemon (lemon beer) and I had plenty of chilled white wine!

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There were not many tourist here which was a nice way to see the local culture and artistic enthusiasm of residents. The central park, located across from the train station, was hosting a large festival. There were food vendors, games for kids, live music and street artists that were covering the sidewalks in beautiful-vibrant chalk murals.

Ryan found some Croatian-donut ball-treasures, Najbolje Fritule, drizzled with Nutella and powdered sugar! I talk about gluten-envy a lot but that was over the top. So, before getting on the train,  I bought a small crate of strawberries from a sweet vendor outside of the train station and imagined they were donut balls. A girl can dream.

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We feel like we made the most of our afternoon in Zagreb and would definitely recommend putting it on your Croatia itinerary. If we had more time I would have liked to check out some of their museums and art galleries.
Up next: Split, Croatia
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travel : Ljubljana, Slovenia

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

We got off our train in Slovenia and did not have access to wifi.

I thought this might happen. We had to go old-school and use the travel books that I checked out from the library in Edinburgh. We played the tourist part well. Picture us and our huge fold out map trying to read street signs and all three of us pointing in different directions. ☝🏼👇🏼👉🏼

Ljubljana (pronounce it how you wish, here is some assistance… [ljuˈbljàːna]…. ) is a very walkable city and I was confident that we would find our listing.  With the help of a sweet old woman, she looked at our address and led us to our straight to our apartment. We dedicated a couple of days to Ljubljana and I am so grateful that we did. Slovenia, and it’s capital city, is a gem. After arriving, we walked along the Ljubljanica River, a river that winds through the middle of old town. The clouds were radiant. All different colours and it was the first sign of warmer weather since leaving the UK.  The bridges were lit up at sunset and people sipped on their drinks or licked their gelato along the waterfront.

One of my favorite activites in Ljubljana was walking the central open-air market. Row after row of of vendors selling fruit, vegetables, street food and flowers. The berries and cherries were so sweet and juicy and there was table after table of bright flowers and fresh herbs. 

 

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Ryan, excited to get some street food, found a HUGE sausage pita meal. It was honestly the most sausage I have seen in one sitting. I lucked out as the market was closing and scored a huge bag of… sauerkraut! A very kind lady insisted that I take it at no cost as she was getting ready to leave. So delicious. So obviously, we paired with the huge sausage platter.

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One of the many unique architectural wonders in Ljubljana is ‘Triple Bridge’, it connects new town with the old and is quite the feat for being constructed in 1931. Another bridge worth seeing a few blocks down is called the ‘Cobblers Bridge’, the oldest bridge in Ljubljana.

We spent the afternoon strolling through the old town as there are so many cool cafes with outdoor tables and shops. Keep your eye out for dragons. I had too much fun counting them and laughing at all the random nooks and crannies they hide in. True story, Ljubljana has a long history of dragons (read more here).

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Want to read more about this diamond city? Read 11 reasons to visit LjubljanaWhat cities have you been to that exceeded your expectations? 

Up next: Zagreb, Croatia 

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travel: Salzburg, Austria

budget trips, lifestyle, travel

The Sound of Music soundtrack was stuck in my head.  🎶   On repeat.

Our first morning in Salzburg, started with a huge Austrian breakfast – hardboiled eggs, picked carrots, cabbage and pickles, a variety of traditional meats and cheeses, coffee cake, yogurt and of course, muesli! Stuffed to the brim, we made our way to the Salzburg Castle and rode a funicular rail up the castle mount. Again, we were greeted with some unseasonably cool temperatures and scattered rain, but it was no match for our sunny dispositions. We were in Salzburg!

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From the top of castle mount,  there were lovely views of old town and the foggy Alps in the distance. The castle was surrounded by a grand wall, it housed a collection of ancient gold coins and included a very unique (and quite hilarious) marionette exhibit. We wandered back down to the main market square where Ryan found more huge pretzels (gluten envy!) and we had fun checking out the different vendors and listening to live music in the market.
The city of Salzburg is very whimsical. The buildings are a clean white or some beautiful shade of pastel pink, green or yellow. Most of our time was spent walking narrow streets, admiring the pretty cafes and top-of-the-line clothing stores that line every alleyway.
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Our night in Salzburg was a rainy one but we have been properly trained living in Scotland to handle such a situation. Our Airbnb host from Belgium told us to always see a city by day and night – that most cities are a different place when the lights are on, the streets are quiet and most shops are closed. We think of his advice often and always end up staying out late and getting up early on our trips. We were determined to be out and enjoy Salzburg at night, rain or shine, it was lovely.

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Our next stretch of the train trip was one to remember. We traveled from Salzburg (top, northwestern region of Austria) through the entire country to the Slovenian (southeastern region of Austria) border.

 

Wow.

 

These were a few of my favourite things… 🎶  (theres the song again…) Forests. Every shade of green. Pines with soft tips. Every village had a church steeple. Our train pod was just for the three of us and had floor to ceiling panoramic windows. The look on Oma’s face as she got a fright every time we would pass an oncoming train was classic. And I am sure the faces I made as we crossed old bridges and emerged from tunnels to magical scenes was also classic. I loved the pockets of fog that lingered around the snow capped Alps. Like I said, it was The Sound of Music everywhere we looked.

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If you have been through Austria, I’d love to hear where you visited and some of your favourite things? What a charming charming country.
Up next:  Ljubljana, Slovenia
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travel: Munich, Germany

budget trips, lifestyle, travel
Our taxi picked us up for the airport at 4.30am.

I would usually need some caffeine pumped straight into my veins at this hour, but the adrenaline, the excitement of meeting up with Ryan and this train trip in Europe with Oma had me well jazzed.

It was Oma’s maiden voyage in a British black cabbie and the driver tried every pick up line that he could muster up (she is a thing of beauty though, let’s be honest). We laughed and quickly grabbed a coffee before the terminal. The last time we were on a plane together, I was in high-school. I was filled with giddy excitement reminiscent of my teenager years as we walked the tarmac to our plane.

We kept ourselves entertained on the flight with Rick Steve’s guide to Croatia and playing  21 Questions. Her answers made me laugh, tear up, and see her a little differently as she shared her heart and told me stories of her childhood and past. Things I had to note down that I just don’t want to forget. Side note: She once dreamed of joining a traveling circus from Peru, Indiana. It’s never too late, Oma.

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After landing in Stuttgart, Germany we met up with Ryan. Being happy to see him is an understatement. We could not stop holding hands. I held him tight. Kissed him every 3 minutes. Talked his ear off. And my joy meter was off the charts. My normal was back.

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The first train leg of our big adventure was Munich but the Scottish weather followed us. We were shocked to get off the train and be hit with wind and rain , 42F / 5C.
Munich is chic and elegant even in crummy weather. I will remember: copper and turquoise rooftops. Rathaus tower views in Munich city centre.  Strolling the main street with wind in our faces. Oma warming my hand in her pocket.  Devouring sausage + sauerkraut rolls. And of course, Ryan’s pretzel, the size of his face.

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We definitely enjoyed our unseasonably cold time in Munich but found ourselves daydreaming of our final destination along the Adriatic Sea. I would love to see more of Germany, but this quick layover was a nice connection option before boarding our next train.

We found the Eurail passes easy to order and train timetables easy to navigate with their smart app for iPhone and Android. Have you ever planned a trip with Eurail? I would love to hear your stories or suggestions for smooth train travel in Europe.

Up next: Salzburg, Austria

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