Slovenia: An Uphill Battle

Just a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to point out Slovenia on a map. But at the end of last summer, a few of my good friends took a road trip around the country and their stunning photos put it on my radar. 

Slovenia is located to the right of Italy, below Austria and above Croatia. It’s most well-known landmark is Lake Bled, and even that isn’t really that well-known. 

Louis and I decided to rent a car and do a road trip around Slovenia for three days this summer. I was really anxious for the trip because, being Europe, the only option was to rent a manual transmission. I have had exactly two driving lessons ever with a manual, both of which occurred in a parking lot. But I was (perhaps foolishly) game for a challenge, so I went for it. 

Day Zero

We arrived to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia, on a Saturday. We rented a room through Air Bnb for $28 on the outskirts of the city. Our host was a lovely young girl and her dog Lily. We arrived a bit late after having trouble figuring out the bus system (you have to buy a public transport card for €2 at a kiosk and then top it up before trying to get on a bus), and set out again straight away after dropping off our bags. 

I found Ljubljana to be a very cool city. It is not very populated and has a clean appearance, unlike many of the other Eastern European cities I have been to. Sprinkled all around the city are art displays, like the dragons adorning one of the bridges. 

At the top of a hill at the center of the city is an old castle called Ljubljanski Grad. The castle was built in the 11th Century and definitely looks the part. We climbed to the top just in time for sunset. I somehow forgot to take a single photo of the castle itself, but here is what the view looking out is like. 

Day One

Day one was time to pick up our rental car. I had been both dreading this day and looking forward to it for months. I knew Slovenia would be great to see by car, so I just kept telling myself it would be fine. 

The bus from the center of Ljubljana cost €4.10 and brought us to the airport, where we picked up our car from Hertz. I quickly signed the papers and they put a €1800 hold on Louis’s credit card (thanks Louis <3) and, simple as that, I was given the keys to a cute little white hatchback. 

I somehow pulled the car out of the lot without stalling. I was shaking so badly, I could barely push in the clutch, but I managed and got out of town and onto the motorway. With Louis navigating (and probably reveling in the fact that he doesn’t have a license), we made it the 45 minute drive to Lake Bled. 

Traffic slowed wayyyyy down when we got off the exit for the lake. It was 10 am on a Sunday, in August. I should have expected this. Things were going okay until the cars ahead of me came to a stop, on a hill. When they started moving again, I just kept rolling backwards and stalling. 

I’m sure everyone who has driven a manual has had this traumatic hill start experience, so I will spare the gory details. In the end, I caused such a traffic backup that the local police came to investigate. They were lovely and one offered to drive my car the rest of the way while I sat in the back. He backed into a spot at the station and told us we were lucky and now had free parking for the day. So the result was actually quite positive. 

Lake Bled is huge and stunning. The water is an emerald color and is absolutely clear. I was still too shaken to feel like swimming, but Louis got in the water and said it was a perfect temperature. When the sun went down, we heard some music and went to investigate. As it turned out, there was a Slovenian singing competition happening and we stayed for a couple of hours listening to some very talented 13-year-old Slovenian girls make Christina Aguilera sound like a fool. Oh, and I cornrowed Louis’s hair. 

We waited for the traffic to die way down before I attempted to drive again. I stalled my way across the street and out of the police station before finding a dirt parking lot and turning the car off. We decided to sleep it off and try again in the morning. 

Day Two

Recharged by a bit of sleep, I decided to give driving another shot. Thankfully, a little rest seemed to have cured my PTSD and I was able to make it out of Bled without a hitch. Louis did some research and found a little town halfway between Bled and Ljubljana called Kranj. We made it there and parked the car in the parking lot of a Lidl for the day. 

Kranj is an adorable little town full of museums and churches. Unfortunately, we visited on a Monday, when pretty much everything was closed. We were most upset about not being able to visit the tunnels. During World War II, tunnels were constructed under Kranj to house citizens in case of air raids. They opened the tunnels in recent years to tourists and hold events like wine tastings and Halloween mazes inside. 

We stumbled upon a Bosnian restaurant by the river called Das Ist Walter which was very highly rated online and decided to have some food. For €3.90, I had a feast of ćevapčići, traditional sausages, and bread. It was delicious, but heavy, and we needed a nap afterwards, so we headed down to the riverside and lay down in the shade. Four hours later, we woke up to the sun setting. It was time to head back to the car and find somewhere to park for the night. 

I had a theory that if we found an apartment complex to park in, no one would suspect we were dirty gypsies sleeping in our car and we could have a peaceful night. And it turns out I was correct! I found a dark corner of the parking lot and we settled in for another night of leg cramps and mid-night shivers. 

Day Three 

We woke up early on our last full day to the sound of a family just outside the car. They were giving us side glances but overall were pretending not to notice us. After realizing that they could still see us, even if we sat with our heads under our blankets, I decided we should make moves. We found a McDonald’s a few minutes away and headed there for breakfast. 

One of the great things about Slovenia is the McDonald’s. All around Europe, McDonald’s restaurants are pretty fancy and charge about €9 for a meal. Slovenia was having none of that. A Big Mac here cost €2.20, and they had table service. Like, actual table service. This is what our coffees looked like. 

About fifteen minutes away from the McDonald’s was a tiny town called Skofja Loka. It is a tiny medieval town with cute bridges and a river flowing through. I was now feeling confident in my driving and we parked at another Lidl for the day. It was a holiday, so much of the town was closed, but we stumbled upon a cute waterfall at the river that seemed the place to be for the locals. We got in for a much needed bath, despite the water being fairly icy. 

After a few splishes and splashes, we headed back to our car and back to the apartment complex for one more night as gypsies. 

Day Four

WE MADE IT! I woke up feeling very pleased with how far we’d come. All that was left to do was fill up the tank and return the car to the airport. I could finally put driving a manual under the “skills” section of my mental resume. 

Turns out, we had only used about two liters of gas the whole trip. €7 later and the car was safely back at the rental lot. 

Next time, I’d like the venture further in the country. I know Slovenia has a lot to offer and the little bit I saw was stunning. As an added bonus, the people in Slovenia were incredibly lovely. From our Air Bnb host to the police to the service people we encountered along the way, everyone made us feel welcome. I know I’ll be back again someday, and I’ll be dragging a few of you along with me. 


Down the Coast of Spain

For a variety of reasons, I left my job at Stoke Travel a week early during the Running of the Bulls. It was a tearful goodbye, but I did what was best for my situation. I am forever grateful for the past three years of fun and friendship that Stoke has given me. 

My boyfriend Louis and I caught a bus from Pamplona to Barcelona with no idea what we were going to do for the next few weeks. On the way, we formulated a skeleton plan to head down the Spanish east coast, ending in Lagos, Portugal by the 21st of July (the date then was 10th July). The four main stops would be: Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, and Granada. Each stop had something different and great to offer. 

Barcelona – Great Food and Magic Fountains

Going to Barcelona is always like returning to home base. It is where Stoke Travel is based and where many current and former Stokies live. Our friend kindly offered us a couch to sleep on for the few days we were spending in Barcelona. 

Louis and I had both been to Barcelona many times, but had somehow evaded doing most of the tourist activities in the city. So on our first day, we made a plan and set out to do a couple new things a day. But first, we had to get dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world, La Malandrina. 

After dinner, we hiked up to Gaudi’s Park Guell for the sunset. Park Guell is inside a large park that you can enter for free, but to enter the actual Gaudi compound costs €7 and has to be booked online. There is a house and a gift shop, designed by Gaudi, and some other beautiful little features around the grounds.

Louis’s birthday fell while we were in Barcelona, and on the word of my friend the head chef at Stoke, we went to Quimet y Quimet, a tiny tapas bar off the beaten path. We had a huge variety of gourmet tapas, like goat cheese with truffle and mussels with caviar. 

After dinner, we headed to the “Magic Fountain” of Montjüc. From 9:30 to 10:30, it performs a light show to music, like the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas. It is free to the public and one of the coolest things in Barcelona. 

After four days in Barca, it was time to head down a few hours south, to Valencia. Buses were expensive so we booked our ride on Blablacar, an app where people offer seats in their car for a pretty cheap fee. It has become one of our preferred methods of getting around in Spain. 

Valencia – Home of Paella

Valencia is a small town near the beach about five hours south of Barcelona. It is the third largest city in Spain and, as I later found out, home to a branch of Berkelee College of Music. We headed to Valencia on the rumor that you could get a pint of beer for €1 (we never did find it). We booked a room on Air Bnb that turned out to be huge and air conditioned, with a balcony. Oh, and they had a beautiful dog named Canela. We did not deserve such luxury. 

Paella, the traditional Spanish rice dish, was apparently invented in Valencia. The most traditional paella is made with chicken and rabbit (fittingly called “Valencian paella”). We figured it would be a crime not to try Valencian paella in Valencia, so we found the highest-rated-without-being-bank-breaking paella around and had two bowls with sangria. It was the best paella I’ve ever had. 

One of the perks of staying in an Air Bnb is getting to ask a local what the best things to do are. Our host gave us a long list, which included trying a horchata, which is a cold milky drink made from hazelnuts (I think). She pointed us in the direction of this horchateria, which served up cheap and authentic horchata. The place was nice, but the drink was pretty gross and didn’t leave us feeling too good afterwards. 

While not indulging on infinite Spanish snacks, we went for a very long walk around the city. One of the most notable things to see is the Center of Art and Science. It is a huge compound with an art museum, a science museum, an aquarium, an opera house, and a cinema. Surrounding the buildings are pools of very blue water, where you can actually rent kayaks and stand up paddleboards and ride around. For €15 for ten minutes, we chose to save our money.  

From Valencia, we caught a train down a couple of hours to Alicante. 

Alicante – Beautiful Beach and an Old Castle

Alicante is a tiny coastal town just outside of Murcia. We came across it in our research because it has a beautiful beach without the intense tourism of places like Barcelona. We rented another Air Bnb just outside the city center and close to the old castle. 

The Castell de la Santa Barbara is an old fortress at the top of a huge hill. The hike to the top was hot and a bit treacherous (but if you have a car, there is a road to drive up), but the views from the top were stunning. 

The ocean in Alicante was warm and lovely. For the first time in Spain, we were able to leave our things on the beach and go swimming without worrying that someone would steal them. 

Possibly our favorite discovery in Alicante was a Taco Bell on the Main Street. Louis had never been, and we felt we deserved a little unhealthy snack. We ordered off the dollar menu, and on the way out, we found a sign saying “three beers and a quesadilla for €4, 5-7 happy hour.” At that moment, it was 4:58. So we went back in, and enjoyed a little Taco Bell happy hour. 

From Alicante, we got a ride in another Blablacar to Granada. Our driver was an older man who spoke no English and had a bit of a lead foot. We made the 4 hour drive in 3 hours…

Granada – FREE TAPAS 

Before we headed to Granada, Louis had posted in Facebook looking for recommendations on what to do during our trip down the coast. Several different people all said the same thing: Go to Granada, they give you free tapas with every drink. 

We decided to stay in a hostel in Granada because we found a room for €9 a night, right in the center of town. As soon as we checked in, we headed out on the hunt for these mythical free tapas. 
As it turns out, our friends were right. We found the first open bar (it was siesta so most places were closed) and ordered two beers. There was a tapas menu on the table, and when the bartender brought the beers he asked which tapas we wanted. They ranged from cheeseburger to grilled octopus, and we dipped a toe trying a few different ones. When we went to pay, it was only €8- €2 per beer, for four beers. 

Riding the high of free tapas, we spent our first night bar hopping all the “best tapas bars,” according to Google. We spent less than €20 all day and were full of delicious food and drink. 

On day two, we took a bus out of town in search of a waterfall our friend recommended to us. Unfortunately, the directions were vague and we spent two hours wandering around a mountainside looking for a “dirt path.” Eventually, we found the right path, but took a wrong turn and ended up walking down river and back to where we started. We never found the waterfall, but the river walk was still nice. We decided to stick to what we are good at: eating tapas. 

Granada was by far the cheapest city we had been to on the journey. What was really cool was how obviously influenced by North African culture the city was. Our street was lined with little Moroccan shops and eateries. I got a cute leather wallet for €4 and we got a new mandala blanket for the beach. 

On our last morning, we went to a lookout point to view the Alhambra, a very old castle once again on a hill. We couldn’t get tickets to go inside the grounds, so we just had a look from afar. The castle was the home of Ferdinand and Isabella after they retook the city from the Moors. Annnnd that’s the extent of my Spanish history knowledge. 

From Granada, we caught a bus to Lagos, Portugal, with a short pit stop in Seville. In just 11 days, we had opened our eyes to a whole new side of Spain. I highly recommend paying a visit to all of these cities in your travels, and I can’t wait to explore Spain more in the future. 



This year, I decided to take on the challenge that is Oktoberfest with Stoke Travel. For six weeks, from the start of September to the middle of October, I would be camping in sunny, warm Munich (please note the sarcasm here), turning a patch of forest into the mythical land that we affectionately call Stoketoberfest. Continue reading “Stoketoberfest”

Thirty (?) Hours of Layovers

My gang of hooligans at Grandio, when I finally arrived!

Ahhh, the sweet price we pay to travel on the cheap.

My flight from Bali to Budapest took me to Jakarta, Singapore, and London first. On paper, it seemed reasonable. I leave on Wednesday night and arrive Friday afternoon. That’s not so bad, is it? Continue reading “Thirty (?) Hours of Layovers”

Bali, so Bintang-y


“Don’t you get sick of the instability?”

I’m sitting on the balcony of my hostel in Ubud, Bali, sipping a Bintang and watching the sunset over a rice patty with my newly acquired Dutch friend. She’s a teacher, on summer holidays for a few weeks. This is the one time a year that she leaves the comfort of home and goes to explore the world, and already she’s itching to get back.

“I love the thrill of living each day one at a time.” Continue reading “Bali, so Bintang-y”