Split Summary

Five nights: Wednesday, May 23 to Monday, May 28

For some reason, my internal idea of Split was that of a small, ocean-side town. In reality, it’s the largest city on the Dalmatian coast and the second largest city in Croatia, after Zagreb. That said, we still treated it as a place to hang out and relax for five nights, which is pretty much what we did.

Our apartment was near the old-town area of Diocletian’s Palace. This is a pretty amazing UNESCO World Heritage site, the fairly intact remains of a Roman palace being used as a part of the living city. It is also located next to the Riva, a café-lined promenade that hugs the waterfront. The Riva was a great location for carrying out our lounging plans. Plus, we were there over the weekend and caught a few acts of live music, though they skewed towards 80’s covers (Scorpions, Billy Idol, The Cure).

 

For getting out and about, we spent one afternoon hiking west up Marjan hill. It was a pretty scenic track through a Mediterranean pine forest (with cacti), plus there were the occasional hermitages built into the sheer rock walls. The loop back to town runs along the coast and takes you by the villa of Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović. The gallery was very interesting, plus he also has an impressive sculpture outside the Split city walls of bishop Gregory of Nin.

 

Being on the water, we had to take a spin by a local beach. It was an easy walk down to Bačvice beach, which was quite scenic and looked like yet another great place to hang out and do nothing. And speaking of the water, our culinary focus has shifted to seafood (with the occasional ćevapčići thrown in). So far, we haven’t been disappointed and look forward to more great seafood as we head up the coast to Zadar.

 

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia – where
Lunch in a Roman palace
Can be had by you

Diocletian's palace

The ruins of Roman emperor Diocletian's palace are now filled with shops and cafés.

Street with shops

A street inside the palace


Hiking Marjan hill –
Pine trees and hermitages,
Adriatic views

Marjan hill

Looking towards the islands from Marjan hill

Hermitage

Hermitage towards the end of the peninsula


Waterfront at night
Cafés, promenade, and boats
80’s cover bands

Split at night

You can hear the Dire Straits and Bon Jovi perfectly clearly from way over here

Catamaran

Catamaran pulling up to the dock

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia
Cafés, grilled food, awesome art
My kind of city!

Zagreb Lunch

Lunch near the Dolac market.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Broken Relationships

The sometimes poignant, sometimes funny Museum of Broken Relationships


Last day in Zagreb?
Scavenger hunt for planets
Yes we are nerdy

Grounded Sun

Grounded Sun sculpture

Venus

Found the scaled model of Venus near the Dolac market.

Jupiter

Gazing at Jupiter

Zagreb Summary

Four nights: Saturday, May 19 to Wednesday, May 23

As we crossed from Slovenia into Croatia on our way to Zagreb, we officially entered the seventh eighth country of our trip (if we include Monaco). It was also the first time we crossed a Shengen border since our arrival, so it was kind of exciting to experience Slovenian and Croatian border controls. Yes, we are easily entertained.

Zagreb was a comfortable city – it’s not overly dense and the urban plan includes a lot of green-space, which made it nice to explore. We’ve been relaxing a bit more on the trip at this point, so we didn’t plan too busy of a schedule. For museums, we went to the Natural History Museum, which was fairly quaint and hodgepodge. It seemed a bit more like an old naturalist’s dusty attic than anything else. More interesting was the Museum of Broken Relationships, which included donated artifacts from people’s failed or otherwise broken personal relationships. Finally, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, which had some really interesting installations as well as a focus on Croatian artists through the turmoil of the 20th century.

  

We continued exploring the city by checking out a couple of pieces of installation art: The Grounded Sun and Nine Views. It’s basically a scale model of the solar system spread throughout the city! The sun itself and the first three planets were pretty easy to locate in the heart of the city. From Mars onward, it got a little trickier. Since Neptune and Pluto were kinda off the map, the last planet we tried to locate was Uranus. However, after taking a tram to the outskirts of town and probing around the supposed location, we never actually found it.

The Sun

Mercury

Jupiter

And of course, there was food to be eaten. Croatia is not letting me down – our first meal was at a brewpub, where we shared a large plate of grilled meats and veggies! Subsequent lunches and dinners were equally impressive, though I wonder if I’ll get tired of delicious grilled foods. I will definitely test that hypothesis! Also, there was one bar I meant to try but never quite got around to. It’s called Tolkien’s House and apparently features a heavily themed LOTR interior plus a huge beer list. Since we’ll be staying in Zagreb one more time on our way out of Croatia, I think I’ll be paying it a visit.

At the brewpub

Pork stuffed with ham and cheese!

Ginormous grilled meat plate, topped with bacon!!

Lake Bled Summary

Three nights: Wednesday, May 16 to Saturday, May 19

Lake Bled was our one stop in Slovenia on our way south to Croatia. Bled itself is a little resort town on the shore of a scenic alpine lake, but it was a nice introduction to Slovenia. There wasn’t a lot to do per-se (see the lake, island, castle), but it was nice to relax for three nights in such a beautiful locale.

Our apartment was located one third of the way around the lake from the town itself (though the train station we used was near the apartment). There was a nice walking trail that went around the entire lake. On our first night, we went the short way to the town, passing under the shadow of the castle. The next day, we took the long way around, passing Villa Bled, which used to be a resort villa for the Yugoslavian-era ruler Tito. Also, we had good views of the small island in the center of the lake with it’s quaint church (though we never actually visited). While completing the loop, we popped up to the 12th century castle for some nice views.

  

Beyond the scenery, another nice local attraction was the food. My first taste of regional cuisine was ćevapčići (a.k.a Serbian meat stick), which was a tasty, garlicky concoction of formed ground beef. It came with an interesting pepper spread (ajvar), a creamy cheese spread (kajmakom) and grilled flatbread. NOM! It looks like Croatian cooking will continue this trend, so I’m especially looking forward to the next couple of weeks.

  

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Bled, Slovenia
About the size of Greenlake
But with a castle

Lake Bled

View of the castle from across the lake

View from castle

View from the castle


Jeff’s lunch today?
It’s the Serbian meat stick –
Obscenely tasty!

Ćevapčiči

Ćevapčiči (a.k.a. Serbian meat sticks)

Vienna, Austria

Vienna buildings:
Start ornate, add some statues,
Then spackle with gold

Parliament

The Parliament building

Otto Wagner Building

Art Nouveau buildings follow the same formula


Four Vienna days
Is barely enough time for
Scratching the surface

St. Stephen's Cathedral

Inside St. Stephen's Cathedral

Boat Tour on the Danube

Boat Tour on the Danube


Two awesome mascots
In a fight, which one would win?
The one that breathes fire.

Eni Logo

Awesome Eni gas station logo that we first spotted in Italy

Avanti Gas Logo

This Avanti logo appears to be a challenger, but is clearly destined to lose since Eni can breathe fire and has SIX LEGS!

Vienna Summary

Four nights: Saturday, May 12 to Wednesday, May 16

Vienna: it puts the ‘wiener’ in “wiener schnitzel”! I’ve been enjoying the food quite bit since we’ve been in Austria. Beyond sausages (which are everywhere), Austria is the home of schnitzel and Vienna (i.e. Wien) is the source of wiener schnitzel. In fact, other than one lunch at the 1516 Brewpub, I think all my meals here have been wiener schnitzel! I also think this is becoming a concern of Donna’s.

A nice Danube river cruise wiener schnitzel

Even the wiener schnitzel on the train was tasty!

Shifting from food, Vienna is a pretty huge city (~2 million people) with a lot of history and potential stuff to do. Rather than kill ourselves trying to see too much, we took it easy and limited the number of sights we planned on seeing. We spent the first couple of days doing our usual orientation strolls, including some adventuresome tram rides. Speaking of trams, Vienna has quite a variety, both old and new. I also found it interesting that all the trams were flying both the Austrian and Rainbow flags while we were there.

We took in the Albertina, the graphic arts museum. The Klimt collection they had was a little disappointing (primarily sketches), but they had a nice Impressionist and and early 20th century collection. Also, the museum was housed in one of the many buildings making up the Hapsburg Palaces. We took a detour from the main museum and checked out parts of the palace as well – man, it must have been good to be the emperor!

Going back to food, we also wanted to spend some time in a Viennese cafe, so we ended up finding ourselves in Café Landtmann. We had some coffee and fancy pastries –  both were good, if a bit pricy. But I suppose that’s what you get at a place with regulars such as  Sigmund Freud and Hillary Clinton (according to their website).

On our last day in Vienna, and the one with the best weather, we hopped a boat for a Danube canal and river tour. We were able to see some interesting sights (UN building, power plant, impressive locks and hydro plant). While it was nice being on the river, I have to admit it was less scenic than I was imagining. On the up-side, I had a really nice wiener schnitzel for lunch!

After the Danube tour, we went back to the center of town and checked out the cathedral. Compared to most other cathedrals we’ve seen, it was festively lit up inside with both lights and colored films along the windows. Unfortunately, the regular tour was not running that day, but we were able to get a tour of the catacombs!

Next, we’re off to Bled, Slovenia. This continues the alternating pattern of big city followed by small town that we started back with Barcelona. Curiously, we didn’t explicitly plan it that way – it just kinda happened. Also, we’re finding that we like the smaller places better, so we may start skewing that way for the remainder of the trip. Stay tuned!

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria
Beautiful architecture
Both quaint and modern

Innsbruck buildings

Hungerburgbahn station


Top of the mountain
Parasailers, awesome views,
High altitude lunch

Hafelekar Parasailer

Hafelekar station

Hafelekar station, where we had lunch


Swarovski crystals –
Basis for a surreal world
Like Disney on drugs

Masks

You are entering a dream-like world of crystals.

Enter the Crystal

Whoa - it's like we're all part of one big crystal.

Mannequins

Mind-blowing animated mannequin display which culminates in the upper mannequin opening up and revealing we are all FULL OF CRYSTALS!

Jellyfish

The color-shifting jellyfish - it's so scintillating... It's probably not a coincidence that the exit to this place has a snack bar so people can grab some munchies on their way out!

Innsbruck Summary

Three nights: Wednesday, May 9 to Saturday, May 12

It would be easy to summarize this visit by saying “Innsbruck is scenic! Go look at the photos!”. However, I guess I have a certain obligation to give it a proper summarization.

It was interesting to see the transition from Italy to Austria. The first thing I noticed was the dining selection on our Austrian train to Innsbruck: sausages, various schnitzels and beer! This would turn into a culinary theme. Also, heading up into the Alps resulted in a much more scenic backdrop than the already impressive Italian hills.

We couldn’t make an AirBnB reservation, so we ended up in a very comfortable hotel slightly on the outskirts of Innsbruck. As an unexpected bonus, there seemed to be some mixed agricultural zoning on an otherwise residential/commercial street. For example, just across the street from us was a small dairy with its own self-serve milk dispenser!

 

Our first major outing was to take a series of funiculars and trams up the mountains above town. The views were spectacular, especially once we got to the top (~2000 meters). There was also a lot of sporting activity going on, ranging from some kind of crazy skiing on short skis down the sparse remaining snow to parasailers launching themselves off the mountain directly into the sky.

The next day, we headed in the opposite direction and went up the slope to check out the Tirol Panorama as well as the the Olympic ski jump. The panorama and associated museum provided some interesting historical context from the 19th century and onward (the Tyrolean people are badasses, despite the liederhosen!). Our visit to the ski jump was also impressive – it was designed by London-based architect Zaha Hadid (who also designed the funicular stations going up the mountain) and provided another nice viewpoint of Innsbruck.

On our final day, we took a trip to the nearby town of Wattens, location of the Swarovski factory. More importantly, we were there to see the Swarovski Kristallwelten (“Crystal World”). We expected a certain amount of spectacle, but I’m happy to say our expectations were exceeded. Not only was it less corporate than it otherwise might have been, it was as if Walt Disney had designed an experiential theme park while on acid, while snorting Swarovski crystal dust as some sort of catalyst! The place was a truly freaky collection of installation art. Our photos don’t really capture it, so feel free to ask us about it sometime. Recommended!