Ghent, Belgium

Ghent had so much more to offer than I was expecting. I thought it would be a sleepy, little town where I would get bored after a few days. But that definitely was not the case. After five days, I kept finding more places I wanted to check out and I couldn’t fit everything in. I also found that the tourism website was very helpful, more so than I expected. I recommend visiting it for practical information as well as recommendations around town.  

For the first two days, I was on my own and stayed at the Kaba Hostel. While I had a great stay there, it was further from the city center than I would have liked. But it also gave me a chance to check out the Southeast side of town before I moved to an Airbnb with a friend on the North side of town. 

While in town, I took advantage of the good weather and wandered and meandered everywhere. I also took a boat tour, a free walking tour, and even rented a kayak from Hostel Uppelink.

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Kayaking the calm canals of Ghent. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

I also took a free night walking tour. The guide, Ben, had a lot of very interesting history and knowledge about the city. And he timed the tour to end just at midnight.

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I visited all of the churches in town and, of course, the Ghent Alterpiece (Adoration of the Mystic Lamb). For art lovers, this is essential. For everyone else, it’s also essential. Pay the €4, listen to the audio guide (offered in a bunch of languages), and learn about the incredibly interesting history of this artwork. 

I also visited the Museum voor Schone Kunsten for an exhibition called Women of the Baroque. The entrance fee for both the permanent exhibit and the temporary exhibits was €14. All of the exhibits were wonderfully curated. I was also able to see the panels from the Ghent Alterpiece that were being restored. 

But more than anything, I enjoyed the food in Ghent. The city has fully embraced the local and organic food movements. There are food co-ops, farm to table restaurants, and vegetarian options galore. My favorites where Lokaal, Soep Plus, and Le Botaniste. Note that Le Botaniste looks really fancy from the outside but is actually very casual.  All three of these restaurants were affordable, healthy, and delicious. 

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I ordered a trio of hummuses at Le Botaniste. Yum!

I also checked out a few of the organic markets. My favorite was the Beo Markt. They do have a restaurant thought I didn’t eat there, I did buy delicious fruit and vegetables.

For drinks, I found a great little wine bar called Baravins. I liked the place so much I stopped by a second time during my visit. The bartender was friendly, helpful, and generous with the snacks.

I also ate some delicious Italian food while in Ghent. My friend and I had dinner at Shazanna after grabbing drinks at Baravins. Our pizzas were amazing and filling. My dinner and a glass of wine cost €22. I ate more Italian food a few days later when I visited Firenze for lunch. It is a cozy restaurant with a great family feel. If you are in the area, check it out.

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Firenze was a delicious place to pop into after a visit to the art museum. The olives and wine tided me over until my pasta arrived.

On my way into town, I didn’t use public transportation when leaving the train station and hoofed it all the way to my hostel with my backpack in tow. But on my way out of town, I decided to take the tram to the train station. The cost for one ticket on the Lijnwinkel tram was €1.60. Later, I found out that this same transit system is in Antwerp, and possibly other cities in Belguim. 

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Ghent, Belgium

Kobarid, Slovenia

We didn’t originally plan on visiting the small town of Kobarid but I am so happy that we did. We rented an apartment in the city center which included a parking spot, wifi, and a washing machine. For $65USD per night, the three bedroom apartment was more than we needed but was the same price as some of the hotels in town. We took advantage of having a kitchen and a grocery store across the street to save some money.

We explored the surrounding area as well as the town itself. We walked and then hiked  to Slap Kozjak. This is one time that I was happy to have other hikers on the path as finding the waterfall was a little confusing.

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The closer you get to the waterfall, the narrower the path becomes.

We also visited the Tolmin Gorges. The visit to this gorge involved a lot more climbing and hiking than the Vintgar Gorge but was just as stunning. Sadly, due to the climbing, I did not take any photos to share. But once again, the €5 entrance fee was worth the chance to explore this stunning area of Slovenia.

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The Soca River runs just outside of Kobarid.

While in town, we visited the Kobarid Museum, (Kobariski Muzej). The place is packed with photographs and mementos from battles fought nearby during World War I. There is a short video presentation which is offered in multiple languages. I am glad we stopped by and learned more about this incredible area and it’s history.

Also while in town, we did what we do best; eat. We visited a few of the local restaurants but none stood out like Hisa Polonka. We actually ate here twice in three days. The dishes vary in size so beware of ordering to little or too much. The food was delicious and the service was friendly and inviting. Both times we ate there, our bill averaged around €45. This included drinks, appetizers, and entrees.

We also enjoyed a local food and art festival while in town. The food options (mussels, pastas, stews, etc.) were all tasty and flavorful though not as affordable as one would expect in such a small town. We ate lunch and grabbed a few local beers and glasses of wine and spent a total of €42. There were local musicians and singers performing for the crowds which we really enjoyed. We had a wonderful time in Kobarid and I would recommend a visit to this charming town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kobarid, Slovenia

Laghi di Fusine, Italy

We took a small detour from Slovenia for an afternoon to visit the Lakes of Fusine (Laghi di Fusine). These lakes are picturesque and were definitely a highlight of our roadtrip. We lucked out with warmer than expected weather and took full advantage of the sunshine. We hiked around the smaller of the two lakes (Lago Inferiore di Fusine) for awhile and then stopped by a cafe on the other lake. It’s a great place to explore nature’s beauty.
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There are boat rentals on the larger of the two lakes near the cafe we visited.

Laghi di Fusine, Italy

Roadtrip in Slovenia

We rented a car at the Venice airport and drove around Slovenia for 12 days. We visited so many amazing places on our roadtrip and found the roads to be in good condition. Slovenia no long has active toll booths on their highways. Instead, you purchase a sticker for your car, called a vignette. There are no tolls to pay anymore but if you do not buy the sticker, and you get caught, the penalty is high. We purchased the monthly vignette for €30 at a gas station just after crossing the Italy/Slovenia board.
 
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We stayed the night in a small hotel located in a picturesque valley near the Logar Valley. The hotel room was spacious and comfortable. And though the temperatures were dropping outside, we took full advantage of the balcony facing the mountains. We opted for dinner at the hotel as it is somewhat secluded (though signs are posted to help you find your way). Dinner consisted of three hearty courses though no menu was provided and our choices were limited. Dinner, with a drink each, cost €34. While we had a bumpy check-in process (our room wasn’t ready even though it was late in the afternoon), the hotel and farm itself were a wonderful treat. I wish we could have stayed longer.
 
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Enjoying a glass of wine and the view from the balcony.

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On the afternoon of our arrival in the area, we drove to the Logar Valley, walked around a bit, and enjoyed the scenery. We returned the next morning in hopes of taking more photos (the sun rises and therefore shines on the mountains in the morning and sets behind them in the evening) but discovered a man charging €7 to enter the valley. We did not think it was worth it  as we had visited the day before (a Sunday) for free. So on we went along on our adventure with a little more money in our pockets.
 
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Logar Valley in the late afternoon light.
We decided to visit Lake Bled but stay at Lake Bohinj and were very happy with our choice. We spent the day hiking above Lake Bled then drove to Lake Bohinj. 
 
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A panorama of Lake Bled and Slovenia’s only island.
When we drove the length of Lake Bohinj, we realized that none of the accommodations actually have a solid view of the lake. Knowing this, we decided to rent a small apartment at one end of the lake as it was cheaper than most of the other options. After checking in, we walked across the street, settled onto a bench and enjoyed the view (and our mugs of wine). At €56 per night, we couldn’t have asked for a better location.
 
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For dinner, we wandered down the path on the East side of the lake to get to Restavracija Kramar. We grabbed a few drinks as the sun was setting and finished off the visit with a small salad and cevapi, lamb and beef sausages. Our dinner and drinks ended up costing €25. We also visited a restaurant in town specializing in burgers. Foksner, was bustling when we arrived and the recommendations from locals did not disappoint. Two burgers, fries, and two drinks, again, cost €25. The burger options could be more diverse but the food and the service were great.
 
While in the area, we visited the Vintgar Gorge. We arrived early to miss the tour buses and crowds. There is a boardwalk stretching along the one mile walk through nature. The visit was a highlight of our trip and was well worth the €5 ticket price per person.
 
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We also visited the Savica waterfall near Lake Bohinj. The hike is short and the waterfall is a magnificent sight. The cost to access the waterfall was only a few euros.
 
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Slap Savica in all of its glory.
After the waterfall, we tried hiking to Cero jezero, a lake high up in the mountains above the waterfall but the climb became too extreme for us. When we came upon chains dangling from boulders, we knew we were out of our element and turned back. Next, we drove through the mountains above Lake Bohinj and made out way to Planina Blato. The huts were deserted and we enjoyed our time alone in nature. We did pay €10 per car at the base of the mountain road but it was worth the views and the experience.
 
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One of many huts in this valley surrounded by mountains and trees.
While in Triglav National Park we wandered through Kranska Gora, Bovec, and many other beautiful towns. We also drove the Vrsic Pass which has a total of fifty switchbacks. We were lucky enough to make the drive before the snow fell as I believe the pass is closed during the snowy months.
 
We also drove along the Soca River as it winds through the park. Along the river, there are many hanging bridges as well as hiking paths to explore.
 
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The beautiful Soca River.
Roadtrip in Slovenia

Postojna, Slovenia

We drove from the Venice airport directly to the Skocjan Cave in Slovenia. We were lucky to arrive just before the next scheduled tour started (see their website for tour times). The tickets cost €18 per person but was well worth it. The guided tour was very informative and the experience was amazing. Note that there is a lot of walking as well as stairs involved in visiting this cave. 
 
We stayed at one of the many guesthouses in Postojna. The owners of Grmek Apartments were very hospitable and the room was delightful at a cost of €48 per night. The apartment was a bit of a walk from town but close enough to walk to dinner at Štorja pod Stopnicami. This was one of my favorite meals in Slovenia. Though not budget friendly (dinner for two with drinks cost about €62), I can’t recommend it enough. The food was delicious and the service was friendly and inviting.

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Octopus over roasted carrots and pureed potatoes with a green pea sauce.

 
The following day, we visited the Postojna Cave which is more built up and fantastical than the Skocjan Cave. They have installed train tracks and small trains to take you through the cave. It was a fun experience but definitely more expensive at €28 per person. If mobility is an issue, I recommend visiting the Postojna Cave as there isn’t nearly as much walking as in Skocjan Cave.  
 
After visiting the cave, we drove back into town to get a kebap. This little restaurant has delicious, cheap, and filling kebaps for about €5 each.
 

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Kebap with all the fixins.

On our way out of town, we visited a small park which has two natural bridges. If you enjoy hiking, this is a great place to explore nature. 
 

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Kyle posing in front of the larger of the two natural bridges.

 

Postojna, Slovenia

General Notes on Costa Rica

– In general pedestrians do not have the right of way unless you have an actual green walking man symbol.

– The bus system in Costa Rica runs less frequently and is less reliable that the bus systems in other Central American countries AND the cost is higher. One would hope that if you were going to pay more you would actually get more out of the situation. Sadly, this is not the case in Costa Rica. If you’re traveling with multiple people or plan to visit several locations during your trip, especially if remote, consider a rental car as a transportation alternative just know that you will end up paying more than the advertised price (see my other blog entry regarding this issue). For a week’s rental from Nu Rental Cars, we ended up paying $231USD but were told that it would cost less than $50USD for the rental.

– Know that any transportation that you undertake will take longer than you were expecting. Plan accordingly and add about 50% to your travel time.

– Uber does operate in San Jose but under the radar of the government. Sit up front with the driver to avoid issues with police. Use caution when using Uber though as we had a 50% rate of the drivers trying to take us the long way to charge us more. This is the same complaint I have read about regarding the taxis that do not have or use a meter.

– Bring your own alcohol as it can get expensive. You can legally bring in up to 5 liters of alcohol per person if you are over 18 years old.

– There were a lot of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options in the towns I visited. Enjoy the alternative-diet friendly atmosphere.

– Most hotels and hostels that I stayed at during this trip did not have A/C so it’s prudent to consider reserving rooms that have fans.

– I visited at the tail end of the dry season, which made most of the access to trails, rivers, etc. very accessible and in some cases, even just possible. Conditions are likely much different during the wet season and in some cases we were told that some trails (and even roads) become impassable.

– If you speak Spanish and are on a budget, I would recommend going to Nicaragua instead. You will save a lot of money and can see a lot of the same natural wonders. If you do not speak Spanish, do your research and try and save yourself some money in Costa Rica.

 

General Notes on Costa Rica

Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

We said goodbye to El Castillo and headed north to Rio Celeste. The drive was smooth sailing which surprised us. The roads were in good condition and we didn’t encounter any traffic or other issues. We stopped off at a roadside soda and had some of the most delicious food including pan fried tilapia.

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If you see this sign, eat here. Do not pass up an opportunity to eat their dishes food.

We stayed two nights at Hotel Catarata Rio Celeste and visited the National Park Volcano Tenorio during the day. We booked two nights in anticipation of being muddy after the hike. With hindsight, we could have stayed only one night but it was good to have some down time after hiking.

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We definitely spent some time enjoying the hammocks at our hotel.

The following day, we drove up to the park entrance, paid about $1USD to park and $12USD per person. We arrived just after it opened to beat the crowds and to have the hiking trail to ourselves. We hiked in about 30 minutes and then took the stairs down to see the waterfall. It was very impressive and stunning. We were happy to have arrived early and have the place to ourselves for awhile.

We then ascended the staircase and continued the easy hike further into the park where two rivers meet and the water turns a celestial blue. While seeing this sight was interesting, it definitely was a let down compared to the waterfall. If you are not an avid hiker, I would recommend skipping the hike and just marvel at the waterfall.

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We crossed a few bridges on the way to where the two rivers meet.

Swimming in the park is not allowed but there are many points on the river outside the park that you can access. Just park on the side of the road and hop in the water. The water is cold but can be very refreshing after hiking.

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Rio Celeste, Costa Rica