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So much natural beauty… almost all to ourselves…

I may live to regret titling this particular trip series as I have. At the moment, I’m having trouble coming up with a snappy name for my latest vacation blog series. It might be because my brain is still scrambled by the whirlwind of four countries Bill and I have traversed since October 26th. It could also be because the time has changed. Additionally, I’m still a bit peeved about today’s lunch, which I’ll probably bitch about on my other blog, since I like to keep the travel blog somewhat “PG-rated”.

People who regularly follow this blog may know that Bill and I finally took our 2021 vacation. It was not a small undertaking to plan this trip, or even decide where to go. Gone are the days when we could just choose a destination on a whim. These days, we have to pay attention to COVID-19 rules and regulations, which seem to change daily, as well as infection trends. I feel like I’m back at South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, working for the Bureau of Epidemiology, where it was once my job to translate the results of chronic disease trend statistics into laymen’s terms. Thanks to my current career as an “overeducated housewife”, those days are long behind me… or, at least I don’t get paid to do them anymore.

As of about an hour ago, our vacation ended, as we walked into our house and I caught a whiff of the rotting avocado and mozzarella cheese in the refrigerator. At first, I was afraid someone forgot to flush the toilet before we left town! The dogs will be picked up in a couple of hours; hopefully, they are both fine. I sure have missed them… I really mean that, even though taking them with us on trips isn’t exactly easy to do, especially now that we have big Noyzi, and Arran has become a cranky old codger.

So how did I choose a trip to Austria, Croatia, and Slovenia, then back to Austria? At first, it wasn’t in the plans. Originally, I had been looking at going to The Netherlands. I kept getting enticing ads on Facebook, particularly for a very upscale looking property in Zeeland. I must admit that the prospect of enjoying some legal weed was also somewhat appealing. But then I started thinking about how much I’d like to go to France and Belgium, too. I started trying to design an itinerary that would allow us to get the most bang for our bucks and the time Bill got off from work. I kept getting bogged down in and frustrated by minutiae, as I realized that the places I wanted to go weren’t all that convenient to each other. Accommodations were also kind of pricey. And then, I had a sudden flashback to 2015, when our return to Europe was still new and exciting…

Several years ago, when COVID-19 was a mere nightmarish fantasy in the back of a mad scientist’s or Hollywood screenplay writer’s most warped mind, I saw an enticing video on YouTube made by a user who called herself heyannalise. She made entertaining clips about traveling in Europe. Back in May 2015, she made one about her visit to the Krka National Park in Croatia. I was enchanted by the scenery in her video, which I am sharing below…

No… this is not where we went. I tried to get us tickets to the Krka National Park, but was unsuccessful. You have to buy them at least a day in advance, and all of the tickets were sold out for when we were in Croatia and had time to go… We will try to come back for an experience like Annalise had.

Somehow, even though I was enthralled by Annalise’s video, Bill and I never got around to visiting Croatia, even though we’ve now been in Europe for ages… I kept meaning to go, and we did once take a “joyride” to Pula, Croatia while we were visiting Trieste, Italy in May 2016. But we never managed to actually book a real trip there that involved staying overnight. Time moved on from 2015, and I pushed thoughts of Croatia to the back burner, even though my Croatian friend, Boris, who organizes trips to Croatia, kept wanting me to go and blog about the experience. The timing just never seemed to work out for us, or there was somewhere else I wanted to see that was more pressing or convenient.

As I was planning our most recent trip, thinking about France, Belgium, and The Netherlands, I couldn’t help noticing a nagging thought in the back of my head, reminding me how much I had been wanting to visit Croatia to see waterfalls and lakes. Since I managed to nag Bill into taking a lot of days off work, I realized that we finally had enough time to really enjoy ourselves and see a lot, and that meant it made sense to finally take the plunge and go to Croatia. I also knew I could break up the trip into manageable and affordable blocks, and that was a real plus. My days of wanting to drive eight hours straight to cram in life experiences are long done, and I don’t need much encouragement to overspend on fancy hotels. I also have no desire to fly during the age of COVID-19 unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.

By the time I was ready to go to Croatia, I had forgotten where Annalise had actually gone. I went on Google and started searching… and somehow, instead of Krka National Park, I wound up finding the Plitvice Lakes. Now… there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with going to Croatia just to see the Plitvice Lakes. They are stunning and mesmerizing, and you will definitely get plenty of exercise and fill your camera with exquisite photos of magical scenery. But we were down there for four nights, and Krka National Park is only about a 90 minute drive from where we stayed. It would have been nice to combine the two experiences, although now we have a good reason to visit Croatia again and do a LOT more exploring. It really is a beautiful and easy to travel country, especially for English speakers. And… we haven’t been to the coast yet, to see all the towns that tourists flock to during the summer months. We have a good reason to go back to Croatia, now.

Anyway, once I’d decided on Croatia, it was time to plan for a visit somewhere else within proximity. I recalled that while we were visiting Trieste in 2016, we also visited Lake Bled in Slovenia. I remember being totally enchanted by beautiful Lake Bled and the other areas in Slovenia we visited on that trip. I also specifically remembered Slovenians telling Bill and me that we should visit Lake Bohinj, as it was even better than Bled is, and less touristy. Realizing that Bohinj was maybe 4 or 5 hours from the Plitvice Lakes area, I determined that it would be a great second stop on our trip. We could spend another four nights there.

The cities where we chose our visits in Austria were mostly down to being practical. We decided to stop in Wels, Austria on the way down to Croatia because it was about halfway to where our final destination would be, and Bill and I didn’t want to stay in Linz or Passau, which are cities we’ve both already visited. Ditto to our stop in Salzburg. Every time we’ve gone to Slovenia– we also went to Kranjska Gora, Slovenia last year to pick up Noyzi— we’ve stopped in Salzburg, because it’s convenient. It’s also a great town to visit, although on our other two trips, we’ve only spent a night there and neglected to properly enjoy the city.

We did take a day trip to Salzburg in May 2012, when we did our very first military hop, and we got to see the city on that trip. But we visited Salzburg from Munich instead of staying there overnight, and that sharply limited our ability to see a lot. I also remember getting caught in a sudden late spring thunderstorm that day, so we ended up ducking back into the restaurant where we had lunch (ham and asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce), and drinking lots of beer and Schnapps! I remember the proprietor was quite pleased with us giving him more business. I think that restaurant has since closed down, which is a pity. We sure enjoyed going there.

Ever since that day trip in 2012, I had been wanting to go back to Salzburg. Russian buskers had made me cry there, and I saw some beautiful Friesian horses… But every time we’ve stayed in Salzburg overnight, we’ve been rushing to or from somewhere else, so this time, I decided we’d spend two nights.

With all of the cities chosen, I went looking for places to stay. Wels, Austria, it turns out, is a very pleasant and attractive city, but it’s not particularly exciting or noteworthy. I noticed they had catfish there. There are museums to see, and the downtown area is nice. But I didn’t find any cute places to rent. Consequently, we ended up booking Hotel Ploberger for two nights, which is supposedly the best hotel in town. I was amused by their very aggressive sales tactics, right on their own Web site. For the other three stops, I booked homes privately managed by hosts I found on Booking.com. Not only was that safer in terms of COVID-19, it was also more convenient. Lake Bohinj and the Plitvice Lakes areas are both chock full of apartments and homes to rent. I would say there are more private residences for renting than hotel rooms, although they do exist. And in Salzburg, I chose to rent a place owned by a musician/music producer. That was mainly because I am myself a musician. I will write a lot more about all of the properties as the series gets underway… and as we were gone for twelve nights, it’s bound to be a long one.

We had a fantastic time on our trip, and I look forward to detailing the blow by blow, even if Bill and I are the only ones who read it. So, now that the introduction is done, on with my blog series on the trip down to Aus-Cro-Slo-Aus. Hope you enjoy the ride.

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