Venice, Plitvice & Bled

Trip Review; Venice, Plitvice, & Bled We have completed our first week of a 5-week trip to Italy and nearby. The following is a trip report for three nights in Venice, one night at the Plitvice National Park, Croatia, and three nights in Bled, Slovenia. We are a family of five with children age 16, 13, and 9. This is our 5th trip to Europe as a family, but our first trip to any of these locations. Our next destinations are; 3 nights in the Dolomites 1 night in the Cinque Terre 7 nights in Tuscany 5 nights Massa Lubrense (near Sorrento) 7 nights in Rome
3 nights in Paris If you would like to follow along with our blog for any of these locations (including a much more detailed description of the locations reviewed here and a few favorite photos), send me a PM and I will send you the address. (see posts below...)

Posted by Marilyn
Mentor on the Lake, OH, USA
251 posts

Randy, I've been following your blog as well. Your photographs are wonderful . Glad you are having such a great time. I don't envy you those hairpin curves!
Marilyn

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1508 posts

Venice; To say Venice is unique is an understatement. We stayed in an apartment rental for the three nights which was essentially a one-bedroom apartment with room for two fold-out couches in addition to the queen bed. With the couches turned into beds, the space was pretty tight, but workable. We made the most of our small kitchen to make most of our meals. The location was fantastic - on a festive alley just a short walk to the markets (2 minutes) the Rialto (4 min) and St. Marks (10 min). Except for the outlying islands, we could walk to everything, and we did. But we did get a 12-hour vaporetto pass for the day that we went to Murano, Burano, and San Giorgio. We had about four hours left on the pass after visiting those islands and used it to take numerous vaporetto runs around parts of Venice we had already seen. It looks different from the water. This was an efficient use of the (expensive) pass. Murano is worth about 90 minutes unless you are really into glass, then two hours should do it. Burano is more visually appealing and more pleasant to linger in, but two hours is plenty here, too. The tower at San Giorgio does indeed provide nice views, but overall wasn't very interesting itself. That was pretty much it for the guide book destinations we sought. The rest of the time we were in Venice, the only thing we were drawn to seeing was Venice, itself - the myriad of alleys and squares. I cannot stress this enough; Venice is not crowded if you just move away from the main tourist path. We spent hours wandering and usually had fewer than a dozen other people in sight at any one moment. Yes, the Rialto and St Marks and the path in between were busy at mid-day. But even then it was manageable. We had a fantastic time and in even three short days, found ourselves becoming very familiar with our "home" neighborhood.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1508 posts

Plitvice National Park, Croatia Although seemingly far out of the way for a 1-day visit, Plitvice can be reached in just over four hours from Venice by rental car and is just over four hours from our next destination; Bled, Slovenia. The extra hours of driving were worth it. In fact, the drive, itself, was interesting in the rural areas closer to Plitvice, with signs both of past war, and of remarkable recovery. Be warned that you will have a passport check at the border between Slovenia and Croatia, and that you really do need to buy a highway vignette for your vehicle in Slovenia. Go to a gas station ASAP whether you need gas or not. Also be warned that Croatia is not credit-card friendly, and while many places will take euros, Plitvice does not. You must have Kuna to enter the park. The park itself is a wonderful stroll. If you Google photos, you can see what it looks like, but being there in real life gave me a "Garden of Eden" vibe that was priceless. We were in a bit of a time crunch while there and only had four hours, but that was enough to see about 80% of the highlights. I thought our approach was pretty efficient; Use entrance 2 and take the tourist train up to the top (#4), then walk downhill all the way to the main lake and the boats. We took the boat the length of the lake and then continued walking to the big falls. At that point we headed for the tourist train stop (#1) and used it to return to our point of origin. You will pay about $1.25/hr to park your car. If you are coming from the north, I would strongly advise you to drive on highway 1 strait south from the Rijeka/Zagreb motorway rather than on the A1 and smaller road #42 that cuts southeast. You will find that smaller road to be insanely curvy and slow.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1508 posts

Lake Bled and nearby; Slovenia is a gem. Everywhere we went, the thing that stood out to me most was how neat and tidy everything was - as if making a good impression was a high priority. Everything is set up well for tourism, but hardly anything is crowded and prices are a bit lower than parts of Europe farther west - or even next door in Italy. Our first stop was at the Skocjan caves just across the border from Italy. The tour started out only mildly interesting, but the last part - the giant cavern was definitely worth seeing - like the Mines of Moria staircase scene from the Lord Of The Rings movie, only better. After coming back into Slovenia from Plitvice, we went directly to our 3-night rental in an apartment in Bled. Bled itself is essentially a resort with many buildings erected in the 1950's-1980's and as such, isn't really that charming. But everything else nearby makes up for it. Certainly, having that cute-as-a-button little church on an island in the middle of the lake helps, too. We spent the first day doing the stuff nearby including the island (rented a rowboat) and the castle (most disappointing one I ever saw - skip it) and driving a bit out to lake Bohinj and hiking to the waterfall there (excellent). On our second day we drove through mountain passes to get to the Logarska Dolina valley. The driving was arduous, but also exciting. The scenery was breath-taking and we hardly saw more than a dozen other hikers or drivers the whole time we were there. This is definitely the place to get away from it all. On our departure day we drove over the Julian Alps and into the Soca valley on our way into the Dolomites in Italy. Overall, I found Slovenia charming. There isn't a great deal to distinguish it from Austria, Bavaria, or parts of Switzerland. But the fact that it is quiet and (except for Bled, itself) un-touristy, makes it charming.

Posted by Teresa
Seattle
463 posts

Randy, I've been following your blog, and it looks like you're having a fantastic time (and learning a few lessons too). Can't wait to read more!