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Sibiu and the Transfagarasan Highway, Romania

From a colorful city center to old world Romania

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Before I start recounting our last few days, I have to describe where I am as I write this. We are staying at a little pension in a tiny village along the southern part of the Transfagarasan Highway. A carriage pulled by a horse and a foal just drove by. There are chickens and roosters by the bus stop. Free range dogs cross the street. The tiny mini market across the street is the social hub of the town. Locals are visiting outside while tourists like me and others pass through. Tractors pass by with multiple passengers and equipment. I am 100% fascinated sitting outside on my little patio table watching the action. And here I thought this would be the most boring night of the trip!
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Day 19 - Corvins' Castle & Sibiu, Romania

We left Timisoara as late as possible taking advantage of the 11am check out time. We all wished we had one more night in this very real Romanian city. We have several one night stays during our time in Romania. I never enjoy just one night but it seemed the best way to experience as much as Romania as possible given we have to come home eventually. Romania is pretty far out of the way and realistically, we might not make it here again.

Our first stop today was Corvins' Castle located in a small town between Timisoara and Sibiu. The castle had a long bridge over the old moat to its grand entrance. The exterior was what many people would call the perfect castle. We enjoyed the many staircases, rooms, and passages to other parts of the castle. We were allowed to explore most parts of the castle. There were so many stairs up and down to the various levels. What a great stop!
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We traveled another hour or so to the cute town of Sibiu. This town is known for its many building with "eyes". The eye windows provided ventilation back in the day. I had fun taking pictures of the many "eyes" around town.
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This time, our apartment was two bedrooms with a giant kitchen and living room. Here is what just over $60 gets you in Sibiu. Good air conditioning too!
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We wandered the town, took loads of pictures, had some gelato, and climbed a couple of old watch towers along a portion of a remaining city wall.
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Dinner was at a cute place right outside of our apartment. We enjoyed drinks, a couple pasta dishes and a curry dish. Very yummy!
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I went for another walk around the town as the sun set and admired the architecture and the busy crowds who always seem to come out to wander during the cool nights.
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Day 20 - Sibiu, Balea Lake, and the Transfagarasan Highway

We had a fancy breakfast in the main part of Sibiu. Yummy poached eggs on toast with various toppings. We are really enjoying how affordable the restaurants are in eastern Europe.
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I climbed the Council Tower and had our last looks at this cute town.
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We hit the road and made it to the famous Transfagarasan Highway. This road is known for being one of the top driving roads in the world and was a big bucket list destination for DH. The curves were incredible as we made our way to Balea Lake at the top.
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Balea Lake was beautiful in a very unique way. We spent about an hour hiking around and taking pictures.
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Local cheese and meats being sold all along the highway.
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The fog cleared on the other side of the mountain and we were still pleased with the 70 degree temperatures. Felt so good to be relatively cool! The drive became more rough and bumpy and we traveled down the mountain. The landscape looked an awful lot like Oregon! We stopped again at an impressive dam.
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The kids still manage to sleep even in the most curvy and rough road conditions.
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Our last stop was our pension near the end of the highway. This was a nicely appointed family room for just over $60.
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We drove a couple of minutes to a nice restaurant where we shared a Bulgarian salad, some spicy pork, bean and smoked ham soup, and fried cheese. Serious stick-to-your-ribs kind of food!
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My favorite part of the day was sitting at the table outside of the pension and watching the action on the Transfagarasan Highway in our small village. I was completely entertained watching horse-drawn trailers hauling hay, tractors, cows crossing the highway lead by locals with sticks, and folks chatting across the highway at the convenience store. Romania is such a mix of old and new. I watched a teenage girl helping move her cows home. She had a stick to guide them in one hand and was staring at her smart phone in the other hand. Amazing!
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Day 21 - Curtea de Argos, Bran Castle, and Brasov

A few observations about Romania. The difference between the cute, touristy city centers and the rural villages is vast. In the countryside there are tons of old disused factories (such as old nuclear plants), old abandoned cars, exposed water pipes and electrical wiring, wandering dogs and livestock, and people farming without modern equipment. This is in stark contrast to the trendy city center restaurants, boutique stores, bakeries, and bars. Folks in the country don't seem to have much. Road conditions are poor and people are working hard. The outskirts of the cities are a bit rough too. Buildings are often concrete apartment blocks from communist times and everything seems to need a coat of paint. I haven't been bored for a minute as I try to wrap my mind around all that I am seeing.
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We checked out of our pension and drove about 25 minutes to the town of Curtea de Argos. We found a fancy-ish place for breakfast where we had six drinks (DH and I had two coffees each) and 4 omelettes. It was around $20. We were fueled for the day.
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We stopped at the beautiful monastery in the town. The Romanian people seem deeply religious. Many were lighting candles, praying, and kissing the famous relic in the church.
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The drive ahead was long, curvy, and rough. We bumped along and saw more horse-drawn farm equipment and sheep and cows in the road. The scenery was gorgeous! We traveled up and down significant mountains and everything was so green and dramatic. A beautiful drive!
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We stopped at the very touristy Bran Castle made famous by the Dracula legend. The castle was stunning set up on a rocky hilltop but mobbed with tourists. It was most claustrophobic and touristy thing we have done so far. A bit overrated, in my opinion. I'm sure it would have been a different experience outside of the busy summer months.
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After a grocery store stop, we found our home in Brasov for the next three nights. This two bedroom apartment costs just over $50 per night.
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We found a Transylvanian place for dinner, wandered the old town, and looked forward to three nights in Brasov, Romania.
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More from Brasov next time!

Posted by familyineurope 15:21 Archived in Romania Tagged castle de sibiu bran transfăgărăşan curtea arges Comments (0)

Lovely Ljubljana

Loads of biking, high temps, shopping, eating, and swimming in this very livable city

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Day 14, continued - Arriving in Ljubljana

We had an easy drive to our apartment from Lake Bled. The apartment has so much character! It's in the top attic floor of a building and has exposed dark wood beams, a cute doorway, and much needed air conditioning. The washing machine was in English and easy to use. I ended up doing 4 loads of laundry during our three night stay. All caught up! This is what about $85 a night can get you in Ljubljana.
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The best thing about Ljubljana is their easy to use bicycle share program. You pay one Euro to subscribe and can ride as many bikes as you want for FREE for a week, as long as they are returned within an hour. There are places to park the bikes all over the city and a bike stand right by our apartment. I have ridden over a dozen bikes during our stay. It's so easy and a fun and efficient way to see the city. The kids are especially appreciative after all the walking we have been doing.
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We settled in and found a burger place for dinner. Kind of fun to have easy burgers and chicken sandwiches with fries for dinner. There are a ton of burger places in this town.

DD#2 and I rode bikes to the old town and walked around to get a glimpse of the city. So many beautiful buildings, bridges, and happy people enjoying this great town. We even did a little shopping this evening. We walked by one bar and a bunch of people were gathered around the big screen watching the World Athletic Championships - IN OUR HOMETOWN! So cool to see our town on TV in the middle of Ljubljana.
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It was getting dark, so we rode our bikes back and were eager to explore the town tomorrow. So many bikes in this town!
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Day 15 - Ljubljana Castle, the old town, and some breweries

DH and I started the day at a local coffee shop. His first cold brew of the trip. I drink hot coffee even when it is scorching outside. We grabbed pastries at Mlinar, one of our favorite bakery chains that we remembered from Croatia. DH and I headed up to explore the town's castle while the girls went shopping.
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On the way, we walked past some pretty interesting vending machines. Fresh milk and eggs!
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The castle was a mix of old and new. They created spaces for art within the castle and built modern walk-ways along the exposed castle walls. We hiked up all the stairs to the top of the castle tower for a nice view of the town. There were lots of stairs and areas to explore around the castle. It was well worth the sweaty trek up hill and entertained us for over an hour.
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Lunch was at a local Slovenian place called Klobsarna. We had delicious sausages and horseradish and mustard along with a "sour" soup. All were specialties of the region and we polished it off easily. Yum!
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A few pics around an artistic enclave just outside of the center. Such interesting street art!
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It was getting very hot so the family biked home while I wandered around a bit more and popped into some shops here and there. I was getting hot and thirsty so I decided to get an Aperol Spritz on the rooftop of the Skyscraper building. It was only on the 12th floor but also had nice views of the town.
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We regrouped and cooled off before heading out for a little brewery tour. Why not? It gave us an excuse to ride bikes through the nearby Tivoli Park and see a different part of the city. We started at Godec Pub which had a nice selection of local microbrews.
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Then we moved on to my favorite stop, Tektonik Brewing. It was one of those perfect breweries. Nice atmosphere, cute logo, and delicious varieties of beer.
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Lastly, we finished off at Ljubljana's most famous brewery, Union Pub. We had a giant meat and veggie plate for dinner.
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The girls and I went out on the town to see what Ljubljana is like on a weekend night. The town is "bopping" is all I can say. (The girls are really irritated when I say bopping so I have to keep doing it!) Loads of people were out enjoying the beautiful downtown. We had gelato, watched people, and took more pictures. Such a fun day!
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Day 16

We all slept very well after all the heat yesterday. Our AC is working hard and doing a great job in our little apartment. DH got up earliest and had a nice cool walk. DD#2 and I weren't far behind and biked to a cute coffee shop where I even bought a t-shirt. R&B Cafe is highly recommended!
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We all met up around the Saturday produce market where we bought figs, peaches, and fresh yogurt drink. Everything was so fresh. However, the bees were really drawn to all the watermelon. Crazy!
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We hopped on bikes yet again and went out to the suburbs where the girls and I enjoyed swimming at Atlantis Waterpark. It was a pretty low-key place with a lazy river, two slides, and more outdoor & indoor pools. We spend over two hours cooling off and enjoying the water.
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The suburbs were also home to lots of air-conditioned shopping and gelato. We spent nearly 2 more hours enjoying delicious gelato at Cacao and shopping at Zara and Stradivarius. The kids love these European stores and found some great deals.
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We had a challenging 40 minute bike ride back to the apartment in 100 degree heat. It was rough! We hydrated and regrouped. Phew!
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DH and I went out for happy hour at Lajbah Craft Beer Bar. So many choices from all over Eastern Europe. We were so surprised to see a "Beervana" poster on the door from Portland, Oregon. So cool!

We met the kids for dinner at an Asian Fusion place. We were feeling done with meats and enjoyed a lighter dinner. We ended the night with more gelato, a night bike ride home, and showers after enduring this 100 degree beat. On to Hungary tomorrow!
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Posted by familyineurope 06:13 Archived in Slovenia Tagged bikes castle ljubljana Comments (1)

The Slovenian Countryside

A castle, a cave, a beach, and one famous lake!

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Day 11

We visited the same Venice cafe once again for yummy croissants and coffee. After packing up our things, we backtracked and took the vaporetto and the bus back to our parking spot on the mainland. It was much cooler doing this in the morning and it all went as planned. The car was waiting for our next adventure.

We drove a short distance to a mall, of all things. Teenagers still seem to like these things so we made it a lunch stop as well. Both kids scored a new shirt or two. We actually ate lunch at IKEA. Ha! They had different things at Italian IKEA such as calamari, pasta, and beer and wine. Nothing too special but it did the trick. We grabbed a few groceries at a giant hyper market because we would have a kitchen again for the next two nights.
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The next stop was the beautiful Predjama castle in a new country to us, Slovenia! This is the largest cave castle in the world. The audio tour was really interesting and we were able to climb around the many levels of the castle. You could easily see where the natural cave and the manmade castle joined together. A really unique place to visit!
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Finally, we checked into EkoTurizem Hudicevec. This place was fabulous! There was a huge play area with trampolines, a soccer and volleyball area, lots of animals, and we had a giant 2 bedroom apartment. We enjoyed playing frisbee, some foosball, soccer, and went for a short hike in the hills.
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We ate a delicious and very unique dinner at the restaurant on the property. I actually ordered horse and it was yummy! Felt a little weird eating horse but it ended up tasting a lot like beef. DH couldn't get himself to try it and I completely understand. It was a nice way to end our first day in Slovenia.
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Day 12 - Skojan Caves and Koper Beach

DH and I started the day with breakfast at the property. We enjoyed lots of local ingredients. Breakfast time ended at 8:30 which is just too early for teenagers on most days.

We had two plans for the day. A cave and the beach! We had tickets to tour Skojan caves, one of the largest caves in the world. We didn't know much about the cave and were in for an amazing experience. The cave was massive! The tour involved hundreds of stairs. One part of the cave had the largest underground chamber in Europe. It was enormous! The stalagmites were were so old and incredible. Half of the cave was "dry" and the other half had a river running through it. At one point, we crossed an incredibly high bridge above the river below. The tour was interesting and we ended up hiking 3-4 miles. It wasn't cheap to tour the cave but totally worth it for this experience. Best cave we have ever seen! I wish we were able to take pictures.
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After the cave, we drove another 20 minutes or so to the beach town of Koper. Kids were hungry so we found a Bosnian place for lunch. Yum!
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We found the recommended beach easily and had a great time swimming and chilling out in our little spot of shade. It felt so great to swim in the Adriatic Sea again. It was a really relaxing afternoon despite being in the upper 90s.
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We found gelato in the little town before heading to another grocery store for dinner supplies. We even bought a new soccer ball for DD#2 so she could practice a bit on the trip. I made easy pasta and salad for dinner and we enjoyed more games and sports at the farm. My poor body was still sore from my dramatic Venice fall so it felt good to have a slow and relaxing evening.
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Day 13 - Triglav Gorge Hike and Radovljica

We ate an easy breakfast in our room and enjoyed a last slow morning on the farm. We had a short one hour drive to our next destination, Triglav Gorge near Lake Bled.

First we found a nearby pizza place for a hearty lunch. Delicious pizzas!
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We paid 5 Euros to park and another 30 Euros to walk the famous Triglav Gorge. There were timed entries and loads of people waiting to see the rushing river. I had to laugh part way through the walk because it reminded me so much of the McKenzie River in Oregon. Oregon is such a beautiful part of the world. The hike ended up being close to 5 miles and it was hot. Still, we got some beautiful pictures and enjoyed the exercise.
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We checked into our first and only hostel of the trip in Radovljica, just a few kilometers from Lake Bled. The hostel was more like a hotel and very comfortable. It had air conditioning which made us very happy!
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DH and I wandered around the very small old town and had happy hour. We found a traditional Slovenian place for dinner. We tried a mixed meat plate, strukli (a cheesy pasta kind of thing), Greek salad and potato croquettes. Very filling!
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We ended the evening with another walk around the little town. We could hear a live music concert from the small music school in the town. There were some amazing college-aged musicians performing. All and all, this was a relaxing day without a lot of action, except for our Oregon-esque hike.
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Day 14 - Glorious Lake Bled!

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Wow oh wow! Lake Bled exceeded expectations. We started with an intense hike with a solid 30 minutes of steep vertical climbing where we discovered this view.
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It was about 10am and the heat was still bearable but we were still a sweaty bunch. We made it down the mountain and started walking along the stunning lake shore.
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After a quick beverage break, we headed up again to our 5th luge ride of the trip! This luge had a single rickety track that was not nearly as stable as the German ones. We took a chair lift to the top, loaded ourselves into some old looking cars and zoomed down the mountain. It was so steep and jerky! I usually never apply the brakes but had to on this luge. Fun but a little scary!
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Next we rewarded ourselves with dessert for lunch. First time on this trip! Lake Bled is known for inventing the kremsnita cream cake so we had to try it. I especially liked the gibanica cake with poppy seeds, apples, raisins, and walnuts. So yummy!
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Cute photo op along the lake.
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We walked back around the lake again, got more water to drink, and finally found a shady spot where we would hang out for the next 90 minutes or so. The water felt amazing and it was one of the best swims ever. DD#1 and I made it about halfway to the island in the middle.
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Goofy kids enjoying a hot day.
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Lake Bled was even more beautiful than all of the pictures I had admired for years. I'm so glad we saw it from so many angles and even from in the water at the end of a special day. On to Ljubljana!

Posted by familyineurope 06:22 Archived in Slovenia Tagged beach caves lake castle bled predjama koper skojan Comments (0)

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