Travel Tuesday: Slovenia

If you had never heard of Slovenia, your introduction to it may have come within the last year, since it is the homeland of the current First Lady.

We didn't know much about it either. But on a holiday in Italy a few years ago, we found ourselves with a couple of extra days in Venice. What to do? Since Slovenia is right next door - only about an hour's drive away - we decided to be spontaneous, rent a car, and go.

A quick look at Rick Steves' recommendations, and we were off!

With the river running through the city center of the capital, Ljubljana, it reminded me a bit of Salzburg. It is a compact, walkable city with beautiful bridges and architecture. It even has a medieval castle high above the city. Walk up the steep hill, or cheat by taking the funicular. This is very much a university town, with lively streets and cafés filled with students.

The river bank through the downtown is lined with outdoor cafés. In the chilly weather, every seat had included a warm, cozy blanket for you to use - a practice I could totally get on board with in other cities. Because the country has heavy Slavic, German, and Italian influences (most people seem to speak at least three or four languages), you can find just about any kind of cuisine here.

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Every single picture of me in Slovenia has me wearing this jacket and scarf. When our trip started in Rome a week earlier, temps were more than 90 degrees, and I had brought clothes for warm weather. But temps in Slovenia plummeted into the 20s, creating a fashion emergency that required a stop at the center city Ljubljana H&M for a coat. Scott bought the warm, cozy scarf from a street vendor in Venice, and I still wear it multiple times each week during the fall and winter.

As lovely and vibrant as the capital is, you'll want to get out of town and head north to gorgeous Lake Bled. It is less than an hour's drive from Ljubljana, and the scenery is worth every minute of that trip.

During holidays, it is a busy resort. But when we arrived in early October - off-season for tourists - we found a peaceful, uncrowded village. We enjoyed the stunning fall foliage during a walk around the serene lake. You can also go out to the small island in the middle of the lake that hosts the beautiful Church of the Assumption of Mary.

Head up to the cliff-hanging Bled Castle, which dates back to 1011 (the road is a steep climb, or you can take a tram) to visit the castle and take in the breathtaking views of the Julian Alps.

The views are definitely worth the climb.

I was freezing, but clearly having a great time.

You can stay locally in Bled, but you can easily take in the sites and views on a day trip from the capital.

Slovenia was an unexpected treat for us - definitely a hidden gem in Eastern Europe. Where is the most interesting place you have visited that is off the beaten path?

Paris Eats

During our visit to Paris last fall, the city was in the midst of an unusual heat wave with 90-plus degree temps.  So, with cold weather all around us this month, it seemed a good time to bask in the sunshine from those pics - and review a few of yummy meals we had along the way.

Paris is not all coffee and croissants, although we very quickly got used to starting the days with them, lingering over breakfast at Le Recrutement Café, a corner café down the block from our hotel. 

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Yes, there is French onion soup in Paris - and it is amazing!  I have been trying to recreate the delicious-ness of this green bean salad from La Terrasse du 7eme ever since we got back. 

Escargots at one of our favorite spots, Brasserie Balzar.  Sure, they're snails - but with a savory sauce of garlic, butter and fresh herbs, how can you possibly go wrong?

I'm the weird person who actually prefers the profiteroles (also at Brasserie Balzar) without chocolate sauce.  Maybe this is not the most photogenic dish, but if you're into chocolate, this is your place.  Scott caught this shot mid-pour as our server poured an entire pitcher of chocolate onto that plate. 

Happily, Brasserie Balzar was a couple of miles from our hotel, which was ideal for a long stroll back after this meal.

A Sunday morning stroll was a feast for the eyes, with the fruitiers meticulously arranging this mouthwatering produce for Sunday shoppers (more colorful sightings here).

Finally, we had a great time actually cooking our dinner on our final evening, taking a poultry class at La Cuisine Paris. Scott snapped this pic of me channeling my inner Julia Child.   You can see more about that amazing experience - including recipes - here.  

Bon appetit!  What are you cooking tonight?