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Jewels of the Adriatic Fall 2013

While in Turkey I happened to find a brochure about Croatia/Slovenia. The photos enthralled me. Back home, I investigated, finally booking a tour with SmarTours.

First stop: Zagreb.
Zagreb has its share of beautiful medieval concrete and marble buildings, narrow winding roads, outdoor cafes, parks and markets. We immediately notice the large amount of graffiti on the buildings. The guide explains that the crime rate is so low they don't have police officers on duty during the night hours. Upon leaving the bars, the patrons have a bit of fun with spray paint. But since that is the biggest crime, the city is only too happy to simply remove the graffiti rather than put police on patrol.

Next stop on the tour is Slovenia. Ljubljana, with riverside promenades, many bridges, two universities, street musicians and dancing tourists, cobbled streets, delicious food all contributing to Slovenia's slogan "I FEEL SLOVENIA".

Heading north into the stunning scenery of the Alps, we arrive at the resort town of Lake Bled. Built on a small round lake (a walk around it takes about an hour), it boasts a castle, an island church and its own cream cake.
Included in our package: a day trip through old Slovenian villages and dense woods to Lake Bohinj in the Julian Alps, an area of rappelling, sailing, hiking and biking.

Our last stop in Slovenia: the mysterious Postojna Caves, the second largest in Europe. A 15 minute train ride into the interior of the caves followed by a 5 km walking tour allows us time to marvel at the magnificent stalagmites and stalactites.

Re-entering Croatia, we arrive at the Riviera town of Opatija, reminiscent of Cannes. The Adriatic was rough with huge waves, so no swimming until tomorrow.

Time on the bus is used to learn something about the conflicts and wars that plagued the region from 1991 to 2008. We learn about the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, Milosovic, Kosovo, and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Evidence of the wars is often visible and maintained as a reminder.

Excursions to some small towns of the Istria Peninsula, directly across from Venice, result in a delicious meal of the most tender calamari in Rovinj and in Pula, a visit to an ancient Coliseum that rivals Rome.

Plitvice National Park, a UNESCO heritage site composed of sixteen lakes of azure and turquoise water linked by ninety-two waterfalls, leaves us speechless.

Our next destination is the old Roman town of Split, nestled between the mountains and the sea. A visit to an ancient Roman palace dating back to the 3rd century brings history to life. We take a day trip to Montenegro and the Bay of Kotor, the longest and deepest fjord in Southern Europe. This is a land of rocky hills and hotels and apartments snuggled into picturesque bays.

A breathtakingly beautiful drive along the Dalmatian coast, dotted with palm trees views of olive groves and fishing villages brings us to Dubrovnik. This ancient walled city is enchanting! Its winding cobblestone streets, red-tiled roof houses, medieval buildings and walkable outer wall all captivate me.

As we walk the wall, with the old city on one side and the Adriatic on the other, we witness a proposal, several weddings and a photo shoot and smell the delicious aromas of grilling from the restaurants below.

Wandering the narrow streets of the old city, I discover quaint restaurants, tiny pensions and B&B's beckoning me to return.

TIPS for this type of trip:

1. If you visit a destination frequented by cruise ships, wait until their excursions are finished for the day before venturing out. The crowds will be enormous otherwise.

2. Life is short. Take that trip you've always dreamed of (or never even considered before). Don't be afraid of 'off the beaten path' destinations. They can be jewels!