Accidental adventures in the Austrian Empire

Earlier this year, on a bit of a whim, I decided to go to Slovenia. The flights were easy: I could fly into Zagreb, travel through Slovenia and then fly out of Klagenfurt in Austria, just over the border from Bled.

The trip was intended to be another foray into Yugoslav history and the wars that erupted in the early 90s, but due to a lack of museums on the topics and a reluctance from many to dwell on the topic, it instead became an accidental adventure in Austro-Hungary history. Many of the cities I visited flourished under Austrian rule and it seems that these historic ties benefit tourism more than the brutal Yugoslav wars (funnily enough).

I really enjoyed the short trip and found plenty to write bout over the coming weeks, but here is a quick glance of the places I visited.

The route

I flew into Zagreb with Eurowings, then travelled on to Ljubljana after two days. There I spent one day in Ljubljana and did a day trip to Trieste, before spending my last full day in Bled. I flew home from Klagenfurt, also with Eurowings.

For practical advice on transport, see below.

Zagreb

Zagreb landmark

Zagreb isn’t a city you hear about often. Thoroughly upstaged by its coastal rivals, Croatia’s capital sees far fewer visitors. But the city is well worth taking the time to visit and would be a perfect stop for interrailing.

Zagreb has a compact centre, made up of the upper and lower towns, which were separate cities (named Kaptol and Gradec) up until 1850. Today the city is spruced-up, green and very metropolitan, but still with a distinct Mitteleuropa air. In fact, if you ignored the Croatian flags on every corner, you could literally be anywhere in Central European.

Most guidebooks (and one very annoying American in my hostel) wax lyrical about the city’s café culture, but I found the most interesting sight to be the Museum of Broken Relationships – a must for anyone.

How to get from Zagreb to Ljubljana

Buses leave several times a day for Ljubljana. The journey takes around two hours. My ticket cost 87 Kuna, including an extra charge (of 3 Kuna) for “reservation charge” (see below).

Ljubljana

Ljubljana

Yes, Ljubljana really is that small. But it is also really that nice. My day in the city was easily the best weather I’ve experienced so far this year (my sunburn was proof enough alone) and strolling around the city’s pretty streets was the definitely the best way to enjoy it.

Ljubljana has a compact, walkable centre, located on both sides of the Ljubljanica River. On a sunny day, the cafes and bars spill out onto the pavements and you can easily find a seat in the sun next to the water. I also took the short, steep walk up to the castle for a spot of history and great views over the hills and spent an hour or two in the City Museum.

I spent two nights at the welcoming Celica Hostel, which is practically a destination in itself. A former-prison-turned-cultural-centre, Celica offers accommodation in the form of artistically renovated cells – but more on that to come.

Travelling from Ljubljana to Trieste

Buses leave several times a day from Ljubljana Avtobusna Postaja (main bus station). The journey lasts around 1 hour 44 minutes. Prices vary depending on the service, starting at €6.60, including “reservation charge” (see below). For the best views over the Gulf of Trieste on the approach to the city, sit on the right-hand side.

Buses leave at: 04:43, 05:00, 06:35, 07:10, 07:50, 11:30, 14:47, 16:10.

How to get from Ljubljana to Bled

Buses leave from Ljubljana Bus Station hourly from 10am onwards, with the journey taking just over an hour. A single ticket cost me €7.80, including “reservation charge” (see below). For the best views of historic Kranj en-route, sit on the right-hand side of the bus.

Trieste

Trieste

Trieste was a last-minute addition to my trip (it won in a toss-up against Slovenia’s Piran), but the city had been on my radar since it was named the most underrated destination in the World by Lonely Planet back in 2012. And though it might be clichéd, I can really see why.

Trieste has all the appeal of classic Italian cities – Roman ruins, wide piazzas, neoclassical architecture – but with an added ‘layer’ of history: the city has Greek Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox and Lutheran churches, Viennese-style palaces on every corner and its karst hinterland boasts a Slovene majority and is officially bilingual.

The cherry on the top of this coastal beauty is the stunning Miramare Castle, which juts out into the Adriatic Sea just thirty minutes down the coast.

Travelling from Trieste to Ljubljana

Buses leave from the main bus station several times a day. The journey lasts around 1 hour 44 minutes. Prices vary depending on the service, but start at €6.60, including “reservation charge” (see below).

Buses leave at: 08:45, 10:25, 12:30, 14:00, 17:00, 17:45, 18:20, 22:30.

Bled

Bled island

Bled is the ultimate poster boy. Who by now hasn’t seen photos of the beautiful church rising out of the crystal clear waters before a stunning Alpine backdrop?

I spent a happy day in Bled cycling around the lake, hiking to the impressive Ojstrica viewpoint, before cycling through Slovenian countryside and admiring the Vintgar Gorge.

How to get from Bled to Klagenfurt

DON’T. If you are travelling on to Klagenfurt Airport, make sure to travel back to Ljubljana first. I ended up stranded at Lesce-Bled station due to a complete lack of trains (or information) and ended up shelling out €90 for a taxi over the border to the airport. I repeat: DO NOT TRY TO TRAVEL FROM BLED TO KLAGENFURT AIRPORT.

On travelling solo

Bled

One novelty for me on this trip was that I travelled alone. This is something I’ve only done a handful of occasions and mostly out of necessity, rather than choice. This time I decided to jump straight in and do a mini-trip with just me, myself and I.

The verdict? As much as I’d love to say that I absolutely loved it, that it was a journey of self-discovery, or that I came away with a new sense of self, I honestly just felt like I spent an inordinate amount of time on my phone chatting to friends I wished were with me. I’ll write more on the topic soon but could it be possible solo travel isn’t for everyone…?

Practical information

When buying tickets at the bus station in Slovenia and Croatia, you will have to pay an additional charge for the ‘seat reservation’. You can avoid this by buying directly on the bus, though this might be riskier in high season.

Border information (correct as of 24 April 2016): Due to the ongoing migrant crisis, there are currently boarder checks between Austria and Slovenia. There are also border checks between Croatia and Slovenia, as Croatia is not yet in the Schengen Zone. There are currently no border checks between Italy and Slovenia.


Which of these four destinations would you most like to visit?
Comment below!


12 thoughts on “Accidental adventures in the Austrian Empire

  1. Ohh man, I really need to go to Slovenia! Planning to go in September and do a bit of hiking combined with sightseeing and overphotographed lakes, but it’s not sure yet. (and I’m actually scared that we’ll end up not going).
    Looking forward to more photos! 🙂
    PS I agreed with myself that solo travel isn’t at all for me.. I am that kind of really annoying person who in a new place goes to my parents/boyfriend/friends and ask them a million times “Wooow, do you see that?? Can you believe that?? Isn’t it awesome??”. So nope, that really wouldn’t work on a solo trip…

    1. I think you would LOVE Slovenia – it’s just so green and even Ljubljana is more like a big town than a city. From what I hear, Bled in summer is quite over crowded so maybe September is a good idea.

      And I know what you mean about talking – I was constantly thinking of funny jokes with no-one to tell!

    1. I would really recommend it Adrian! But I think I would spend two days there at most – the majority of sights can be done in a (very busy) day.

  2. Jealous of your trip and looking forward to reading more from probably my favourite corner of Europe. I actually prefer solo travelling for upto 5 days, but any longer than that I get lonely. And I feel your expensive taxi pain – I once had to shell out £100 for a return taxi from Katowice airport to my hotel in Kraków when I realised I’d left my passport in the hotel.

    1. Ouch! At time’s like that, you just have no choice. I was at least lucky with my taxi driver because he was really friendly and we chatted the whole way about what life in Slovenia was like.

      I’ll be posting quite a bit on my trip in the next couple of days, so stay tuned 🙂

  3. I’ve fancied Ljubljana for ages – I like the idea of compact cities that are really walkable and have plenty of pavement cafe options. Whenever I price up flights from Manchester though, they never seem very cheap (and I’d prefer to go direct now, I can’t be bothered making connections with a little’un to contend with). Trieste hasn’t really been on my radar though – but I think it might be now. From what you’ve said, it basically has everything I like in a long weekend going for it.

    As for the solo thing – I’ve only travelled solo when I’ve gone to blogging conferences. But in the free time I’ve had on my own to explore, I’ve done just what you have – been on the phone to people (my mum, my husband, my sister) going on about how they’d love it. I don’t think solo travel is my thing either. Although I have to confess – when I was recently in Cardiff I did enjoy having a hotel room to myself – my nights aren’t my own since I had my son and that element of solo travel is something I could definitely get more involved with every now and again!

    1. Direct flights to Ljubljana really don’t seem cheap actually, but you can easily get there from Austria, Italy, Croatia or Hungary, which is why it seems so perfect for interrailing.

      I did really enjoy some parts of solo travel – waking up and not waiting for anyone, only going to the museums I wanted to, reading a lot – but then things like dining alone or enjoying a glass of wine just didn’t seem half as fun as they would be with a friend or too.

      Oh and I can’t recommend Trieste enough! They used to have Ryanair flights from Birmingham if I recall…

  4. Your photos are way-way too pretty! <3 I especially like the last one, did you ask someone to take it for you? I need to go visit Slovenia asap, I've seen a lot of posts about Ljubljana lately that made me want to go. Sad there are no cheap flights from Bucharest 🙁 Maybe I'll hide in Adri's suitcase, haha.

    1. THANK YOU VLAD! Honestly compliments on photos from you mean a lot because I am always so jealous of yours! I think I am getting a lot better now on cloudy overcast days 🙂 🙂 🙂

      Slovenia is really nice but I think it’s a good country to pass through because its neighbours are so well-connected. Maybe Vienna-Venice or Venice-Belgrade?

  5. I really want to go to Bled – I have no problem with cliche destinations, and I dont think I’ve ever seen a bad picture of the place.
    I was in Zagreb a year and a half ago – mostly I enjoyed the spicy pizza, but the cocktails were cr@p >.<

    1. I wold definitely recommend Bled – it’s a really great place to spend a day. As for crap cocktails, I can’t say I tried many in Zagreb but the beer was great!

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