3 months ago • 11 min read
I'm not much of a vacation planner, so I skipped out on long breaks for the last years. But this year, I decided to mix things up a bit. For the past three weeks, I've been exploring Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia by train and bus with Celine using our Interrail ticket we bought in 2022.
Down below you find some notes on the journey and our favorite highlights.
Our adventure started in Paderborn where we hopped on a train that took us to Kassel, then Munich, and eventually to Bischofshofen. The journey was quite smooth, except for the fact that we brought along some extra baggage – my bike and two trusty Ortlieb bags. I needed those for a bike trip right after this one.
Bischofshofen is a cozy little town located near Salzburg and surrounded by the beautiful mountains of the Salzburger Land. We were fortunate enough to have some wonderful friends – Amro and Lea – there who kindly offered to host us.
On our first day there, we decided to split up and do the classic man-woman shuffle. Lea and the Celine headed out to a nearby lake, while Amro and I hit the road on our bikes, touring from Bischofshofen all the way to Salzburg. This ride was great to test our equipment and see how we feel on the bikes for our upcoming trip together. All went well and we had a great day touring to Salzburg.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn't cooperate for the remainder of our stay. Rain showers and chilly temperatures didn't exactly make for the ideal outdoor conditions we'd hoped for. Especially considering we packed for warmer temperatures. But when life gives you rainy days, you hit up the museums. So that's what we did. We explored the Natural History Museum in Salzburg and did a tour of the Hohenwerfen Castle. Both where fun in their own way, and we had a great time exploring the exhibits.
We hopped on an early train to Vienna on the last day in Austria. We still had bad weather, so we stuck to a shorter walk and then sought refuge in Demel Cafe – a typical café for Vienna. There, we also ordered a piece of "Sachertorte" for a ridiculous price of 7,50€ because it's one of the famous dishes in Vienna. So we thought we had to try it. But it didn't hit a mark with us and we thought the Kaiserschmarrn was much better. Vienna was nice overall but felt a bit crowded with tourists.
We boarded the train from Vienna to Budapest with high hopes. From travelers and friends we always heard great things about Hungary's capital. Budapest had always been on our list of must-see cities, so we were excited to explore it. We spent a total of four nights in the city and were not disappointed.
And Budapest surely didn't disappoint. The city alone is beautiful with historic buildings left and right throughout the city. In the evenings there are countless bars and cafes to enjoy food and drinks at very reasonable prices.
During our stay in Budapest, we made sure to see all the must-see landmarks, went dancing in the ruin bars, went swimming in the outdoor pools Margaret Island, took a leisurely stroll in the Buda neighborhood, and devoured Langos - our favorite dish/fast food in the city. Much much better than Sachertorte... Trust us, you don't want to miss it!
We took the direct train from Budapest to Ljubljana. In Slovenia the train stops at every small station and in combination with the cold I was developing, the train journey seemed to last forever. However, the view outside the train window more than made up for my discomfort. As we made our way to Ljubljana, a gorgeous lush green landscape unfolded before our eyes.
Once we arrived, we searched through the depths of our backpacks for something to eat and found our leftover tortilla warps. We chowed down on the convenient snack for dinner before taking a much-needed nap to recharge.
Unfortunately, the tortilla I had for lunch turned out to be a culinary misstep. After chowing down, my stomach did a somersault and I felt queasy. From then on, as I explored the beautiful city of Ljubljana, I always stuck close to the water - just in case my lunch decided to make an encore appearance.
But Ljubljana certainly had its charm too. The city has a nice size and is relatively calm, but still active with social life in bars and cafes. Also, the river that's flowing through the city is nice. And also comes in handy for a bit of comfort if you are in fear of throwing up, haha.
Triglav National Park, Slovenia
From Ljubljana, we took the train to Lake Bled. Armed with Celine's small watercolor kit and some postcard-shaped paper, we took a break at the lake and attempted to capture what we saw on paper. It turned out to be a great and relaxing activity, and a couple of people even stopped to watch our amateur painting skills.
But just as we were getting into the swing of things, an unexpected shower of rain poured down, prompting us to scurry to the nearest bus heading to Bohinju Lake. This was the location of our accommodation for the next two nights, right in the middle of the Triglav National Park.
Compared to what we saw in Austria, this national park felt wilder, greener, and more untouched. Due to minimal agricultural activity, the landscape was bursting with wildflower fields, natural streams and waterfalls. All surrounded by sky-high mountains.
One of our favorite experiences at the park was when we embarked on a long hike around the Lake Bohinj. The trail offered breathtaking views of the serene lake and its surroundings. During the hike, I also took a quick dip in the crystal clear waters of the lake. As I swam, I was accompanied by trouts searching for food in the shallow water.
After our hike, we headed straight to the next best local restaurant we were able to find on Google Maps. There we ordered some traditional Strudl and a hearty bowl of "Jota", a savory sauerkraut and bean stew which was the perfect dish after a long day of trekking.
Our next stop was Most Na Soci, a small city on the side of the Soča River. When we arrived, we had to rub our eyes in disbelief. On a sunny day, the river is glowing with an emerald green hue that makes it almost look fake. It was unlike anything we'd ever seen before.
We stopped there to take in the view and also took some time to paint the scenery with our small watercolor kit.
Close to us there was also a bridge going over the river and upon researching a bit, it seemed safe for a dive into the water. So I went up there with a stone in my hand to break the water's surface before jumping. As an afterthought, this was probably unnecessary, because the bridge wasn't that high. But since this was my first jump into natural waters you are better save than sorry.
I'm glad I took the risk and made the leap. The water was ice cold but only added to the sensation of adrenaline that took over my body as soon as I stepped from the bridge. As I swam through those beautiful waters, I couldn't stop smiling and enjoying the moment.
From there we took the short train to Tolmin and checked into our apartment. Unfortunately, Celine was feeling under the weather with a cold too so we decided that I would go out alone for our day there.
So I took the opportunity to rent and try out an electric mountain bike. And let me tell you, once you experience the power and drive of an e-bike while scaling a mountain, it’s easy to see why these types of bikes have gained massive popularity.
Feeling confident from my e-bike experience, I also took on a few small mountain bike trails. However, I must admit that some of them gave me the jitters – and considering the fact that I had zero experience riding a mountain bike, I wasn't feeling too heroic. But testing the bike on a couple of sections allowed me to get a feeling for it I’m excited to do a proper tour with an instructor or a small group in the future.
Adriatic coast, Slovenia
After our Slovenia leg, we had initially planned on heading into Italy. However, once we realized Slovenia had a stunning coast as well, we decided to change our plans and spend our time there instead. Slovenia's coastline is a mere 47km in length, nestled between Italy and Croatia, with three main charming seaside namely Koper, Piran, and Izola.After spending only a few nights at other locations, we were excited to settle in for five full nights of relaxation, sea air, and sunshine. On our first day there, we rented some bikes and rode to Skale Beach. Although it takes a bit of effort to get there, including a short hike, the natural stone beach inside a protected nature area is well worth it. The stones aren't the most comfortable surface to lay on, but the stunning cliffs, panoramic view of the sea, and the crystal clear waters made up for it.
In the evening, we wrapped up our day with a vegetable pizza at Casa de Pizza in Izola. Not only was the quality top-notch, but the cost ratio was also an absolute steal. In the end, we paid €9 for the pizza and €1.50 for a glass of wine. For prices like these, you can only get some starters in our hometown Utrecht.
The next day, I somehow convinced Celine to go on another long bike ride than the day before. This time we ventured along the Parenzana, an old railway section from Trieste to Poreč, from Koper to Portorož, crossing two tunnels to get there. Once we arrived, we spent the rest of the day at Portorož Beach swimming, reading books, and snacking on the food we brought along.
The following day, we were done with cycling and returned the bikes. We then went to the closest beach to hang out and relax. Finally, on our last day, we took a bus from Koper to Piran, which is undoubtedly the most beautiful seaside town on the coast of Slovenia. We strolled through the narrow passageways of the city, climbed the old city walls, and sat beside the water to draw with our watercolor kit. Piran reminded us of Dubrovnik with its city walls and red roofs. It could have equally been a city to be featured in Game of Thrones.
Heading back and summary
On our way back, we stopped again in Ljubljana for our final day in Slovenia and to reflect on our journey. We really enjoyed our travels through Austria, Hungary, and Slovenia, and although we could have checked off a few more cities or countries with our Interrail ticket, we were happy with how we planned our trip. Rushing through everything wouldn't have been as relaxing.
Without question, Slovenia stood out as the highlight of our adventure. This hidden gem of a country is affordable to travel in and boasts a landscape and landmarks that are truly one-of-a-kind. Our favorite day hands-down was when we hiked around the breathtaking Bohinju Lake, and I will definitely remember the excitement of diving from the Most na Soci bridge and swimming in those beautiful, ice-cold waters.