What is it about the rain that gets my writing juices flowing?
It's 11 pm here at Lake Bled and even though I should be exhausted, I'm excited. No, not THAT kind of excited. You see, I haven't been to the lake or the woods or a cabin in a very long time. So here I am, in a 'glamping' hut in the forest with the smell of singed campfire wafting over me as it's just begun to softly rain. After a fabulous, but noisy week in Ljubljana, where we slept facing a busy street, it's so quiet here I may shed one silent tear of joy.
It is the biggest highlight of the trip thus far and the slowed down pace at the lake has given me time to think about some of the other 'best bits', so I've created a...drum roll... Top Ten list.
NUMBER TEN: Helsinki Street Food
Helsinki isn't as pretty as her cousins Oslo and Stockholm, but what she lacks in conventional beauty, she makes up for with kick-ass street food. Tents on the waterfront Market Square serve up hefty platters of salmon and reindeer at low (for Scandinavia) prices, but the highlight for me was the utterly delectable salmon soup which rivals Captain Newick's clam chowder for best soup of all time. That's right, shots have been FIRED!
NUMBER NINE: Gellert Spa & Thermal Baths in Budapest
I'm jumping the gun here since I haven't done a write up on Budapest yet, but must include it. The hours of relaxing in the five baths (of varying temperatures) and two pools after a steamy, early morning climb up Gellert Hill are among the most memorable of our three months thus far on the road.
NUMBER EIGHT: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Another gun jumper- I'm a bit behind on my blogging, apologies!
Knowing nothing going in, Ljubljana really blew me away. At the crossroads between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, this pretty-as-a-postcard Slovenian capital city combines large helpings of Adriatic and Alpine romance with a dash of Eastern European sensibility, creating a unique culture all its own.
We spent a week here and could have easily stayed longer. While it doesn't have tons of traditional tourist activities, the quality of life is so fantastic, it was a pleasure just to slow down and live there. From strolls through beautiful Old Town with the sounds of classical music spilling through open windows at the Academy of Music, to robust hikes in massive Tivoli Park where we encountered old women playing Bocce with pieces of concrete (they are ringers!), to long, three course gourmet lunches with locals at Hisa Pod Gradom (for the unbelievable price of 8 euro) and finally, having the best ice cream on earth at Vigo, I never wanted to leave!
NUMBER SEVEN: Cat Cafes (Tallinn, Budapest, Bratislava, Ljubljana)
I wrote an article about my experiences at various cat cafes across Europe and collectively, they stand out as a memorable trip highlight. Something about the relaxing atmosphere of cuddly kitties mixed with coffee or wine is a 'little bit of me.' (Shout out to Ms. Alison for that one!)
NUMBER SIX: DFS Cruise Copenhagen-Oslo
We have had several overnight cruises during our travels thus far, but this one was really special. It was our first of four and it set a very high bar that none of the other ships could touch. From the nicer-than-you-would-expect budget cabins to the smorgasbord dinner to the spectacular scenery of Norway as we approached Oslo, this was a great moment in our year of travel.
NUMBER FIVE: Lunch With New Friends at Rataskaevu 16 in Tallinn, Estonia
Another story I've spun for you previously, this wonderfully delicious meal stands out not just for the food, but because we enjoyed it over great conversation with three local Estonians, who went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
If you go, be sure and leave your low carb diet at home so you can try the pumpkin soup and homemade bread that you will find impossible to put down.
NUMBER FOUR: Kirov Ballet, St. Petersburg
A bucket list item with an afterglow slightly marred by a paranoia-induced meltdown on the way back to our hotel, visiting the Mariinsky Theatre to see Spartacus performed by the world-famous Kirov Ballet was simply breathtaking. St. Petersburg, Russia? Not so much.
NUMBER THREE: First Night in Budapest
Our first night in Budapest, Hungary was filled with electricity- literally! We encountered a magical atmosphere while strolling down the Danube near sunset- hand holding couples, seductive cafes and alluring music were framed by the backdrop of the art nouveau buildings of Pest, the lush, green hills of Buda and the pedestrian-filled bridges that link the two sides over the Danube. Adding to ambience, a storm was brewing in the distance and as we returned to our apartment, a gorgeous rain began to fall as we stood on our balcony facing the venerable Central Market.
Impossibly romantic, even this non-romantic girl couldn't help but fall head-over-heels in love with Budapest.
NUMBER TWO: Eagle's Nest Tour with the Clark's, Berchtesgaden, Germany
Simply spectacular, I wrote a lengthier description of this experience in a recent blog post. In spite of Perry's mild acrophobia, he also considers this one a 'top ten' highlight, and it's way up there (pun intended) for me. How so? Take fun friends you haven't seen in a while, add a foreign location and a touch of adventure. Et voila!
NUMBER ONE: Glamping at Lake Bled, Slovenia
Slovenia is officially in my heart forever with two places I would set up shop and live permanently. Lake Bled, for all the moaning we heard about how overcrowded and touristy it is, delivered a first class experience with relative peace and calm. To start, we stayed in luxury for a pittance while 'glamping' at Camping Bled. For 65 euro per night, you can experience camping, yet sleep in a real bed in a beyond-adorable alpine hut with a private bathroom that was one of the nicest we've had during our entire trip. For real. On top of that, they deliver a basket to your front door at 8 am, filled with enough meat, cheese, bread, fruit and yogurt to cover not only your breakfast, but lunch too. Ok, so the thermos of coffee wasn't super hot, but for these budget travelers, the whole experience delivered luxury and value all in one.
Top Tip! Stay on the less crowded west side of the lake and walk into town to burn off your wine while gazing upon the hard-to-believe views of the lake's turquoise waters and Bled Castle.
Next Time on Gobsmacked: Four Ways to Experience Romantic Budapest