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.
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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

Ljubljana, Slovenia

We spent a long weekend in Ljubljana and really enjoyed our time in this small European capital. We rented an Airbnb apartment near the city center which was quaint and well-equipped. At $72USD per night, the apartment was not as affordable as I would have liked but we enjoyed our time there nonetheless. Parking the rental car was a little confusing but we figured it out. There seem to be a few different parking zones. We were able to find parking near the river for Friday afternoon and then didn’t need to pay over the weekend as it is free.

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Street parking must only be paid for Monday through Friday, 7am until 5pm.

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We strolled though the car-free city center enjoying the architecture. Later, we took a free walking tour and learned a lot about the history of Ljubljana. We also took a relaxing boat ride on the river. We picked one at random and had a lovely time for €10 per person.

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We ate some delicious food while in Ljubljana though most of it was enjoyed at two outdoor food festivals; the Beer & Burger fest and the Open Kitchen food festival which happens on most Fridays. However, when we dined out, we visited Gostilnica 5-6 kg and the food was excellent, though not budget friendly. For two drinks and two entrees our bill was €55.

We also found some great little bars. We stopped by the Sax Hostel & Sax pub twice for drinks. The bar’s vibe was very laid back, the prices were reasonable, and the service was friendly. Ljubljana has so many great bars, restaurants, and shops to return for; too many to fit into just a few days.

Ljubljana, 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

Venice, Italy

We visited Venice in late September and were lucky to have warmer than average weather for the few days we were there. We stayed at Ca’ San Vio for two nights and spent our days wandering the city and enjoying the scenery with a glass of wine in hand. Our room was very small but breakfast was served in our room. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. 
 
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We found a few delicious places for biccari but found out the hard way that they tend to close around 9pm. 
Our favorites were Osteria Al Squero and Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi.

We also ate at Trattoria Bar Pontini for lunch one day. We arrived just in time to grab the last available table outside. The seafood dishes were delicious and fresh. Our total for two entrees and two glasses of wine came to about $46USD. Also, I was able to ask for (and receive) free tap water, acqua del rubinetto.

 

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To get to and from the airport, we took the airport shuttle (€15 roundtrip) and then walked from the bus depot into the heart of Venice. Later in our trip, we returned to Venice with a rental car and stayed in the town of Mestre for the night at the Camping Village Jolly. While the accommodations were sparse and dated, the location and amenities (free parking, a pool, and a shuttle to Venice) were very well priced at $24USD a night. If you want to visit Venice of a tight budget, this is my recommendation instead of staying on the islands.
Venice, Italy

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

El Castillo, Costa Rica

We drove from San Jose to the small town of El Castillo near La Fortuna and stayed a few nights. It is definitely a lot easier to visit this area with a rental car. The town of La Fortuna is a good base for doing activities in the area but I am really happy we stayed further out in El Castillo; La Fortuna definitely felt very touristy and more like a little city. Where we stayed was much more comfortable and closer to nature. We stayed at a small hotel and farm called Essence Arenal. For the three of us, the cost came out to about $25USD per person per night. The hotel is part of a working farm so you can tour the land on your own or with someone from the hotel. Also, most of the food that is served at the hotel is from the farm. They offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner at $6USD, $7.50USD, and $12.50USD respectively and all meals are vegetarian. We really enjoyed the views and the hospitality.

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The view of Arenal from our hotel in El Castillo.

There’s also a small restaurant just up the road called Comidas rapidas la pequeña that was more affordable and very delicious; some of the best food we had while in the area. Definitely get the fried chicken and the patacones. We also drove down into the town of El Castillo for lunch one day and ate at Restaurante Amigos and Pizza John’s. At Restaurante Amigos, the food was very delicious, though the portions were small. Pizza John’s was surprisingly good. Three of us ordered two pizza’s and had more than enough to share. The owner makes the dough (and the mojitos!) from scratch every day. It’s a lovely place to sit upstairs and take in the view.

While in the area we, rented kayaks on Lake Arenal. Our hotel arranged it with someone in town and we drove down to one of the two boat launches. We paid $20USD per person for the day and were gone about 3 hours.

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We also hiked Cerro Chato from the El Castillo side. When doing research, some websites and blogs said that this hike to the volcano lake at the top had been closed, but we did not find that to be true. We drove towards the Volcano Arenal Observatory but right before the entrance to the observatory is another parking lot with a sign that says “Hike Cerro Chato.” We asked a lot of questions at the entrance as we had heard this could be the wrong trail, but, in fact, it was the correct trail. It cost about $10USD per person and we were given a map which was not very helpful. We were also told that the hike would take about 2 hours up and 2 hours down but it definitely took us closer to 3 each way. I am definitely a slow hiker and this was by far the most difficult hike I have ever done but it was very invigorating and getting to the lake in the crater was pretty amazing. There are definitely spots on the hike where you are climbing over large rocks. I am only 5’3″ and do not have a lot of upper body strength so this was definitely difficult for me and I would have had a very hard time if I would have been by myself. I would also note that when we hiked Cerro Chato, it was the end of the dry season (early April) and it had not rained in at least four or five days. This definitely made it easier as I cannot imagine being able to complete the hike if it had rained recently as everything would be so slick and muddy.

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Here we are scrabbling down of the many hills on our way up Cerro Chato.

We also drove down to the river that runs just east of El Castillo. This is technically a road crossing when the river is low and we watched a handful of SUVs cross the river, but we were just there to bask in its cold water to help out our sore muscles. We read that there are some free hot springs in one of the rivers nearby but due to sunburn we did not partake.

Overall I really enjoyed our time in El Castillo. It was very relaxing but there are lots of options of things to do nearby including hiking trails that you can do on your own or with a guide. This area was definitely much easier to visit with a rental car. The roads are very bumpy and it would be very strenuous to walk to and from the town of El Castillo from where we stayed, and the public transportation was spotty at best.

El Castillo, Costa Rica