Eastern Europe Trip – Day 2 – Plitvice Lake & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Today I drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Plitvice Lakes, about a two hour drive away. On the way I attempted to stop at The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, however the road was closed off for the season to prevent continued degradation of the site by looters during the off-season. The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija is a World War 2 monument designed by Vojin Bakić, and built by Veliki Petrovac on the highest peak of the Petrova Gora mountain range. The monument celebrates the uprising and resistance movement of the people of Kordun and Banija against Nazi-fascism, as well as commemorates the victims of the Nazi-fascism. The monument took ten years to build and was finished in 1981. At the time the monument was finished it was the largest postmodern sculpture in the world. After 1991, antifascist monuments and memorial complexes were neglected. This continues to this day as local people continue stealing the stainless-steel plates off the monument. I snagged a few photos from Google Maps (credit given to the photographers) so you can see what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Bara Fai – 2021
Photo Credit: Arwen Swan – 2021
Photo Credit: Uldis Strauss – 2019

Next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The park was founded in 1949 and is very well known for its beautiful lakes, pathways, and waterfalls. Entrance cost to the park is about $16 CDN, however expect to pay double when its not off season.

After visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park I drove about 3.5 hours towards Ljubljana, Slovenia. The border crossing took about an hour because they were checking everyone’s COVID vaccine passports. Before I dive into the rest of my day in Slovenia let’s talk about Slovenia’s history, which has a lot of overlap with Croatia.

Slovenia’s History

Slovenia is a relatively young country; being formed on June 25 1991. The history of Slovenia is very similar to that of Croatia; having been its neighboring country. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states dating back to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, the Illyrian Provinces of the First French Empire of Napoleon I, the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until it broke up in October 1918.

As mentioned back in my brief history of Croatia; in December 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was renamed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In April 1990 elections were held and in December 1990 a referendum was held, with the majority of people in favor. On June 25 1991 the Slovene parliament declared Slovenia independent. This irritated the Yugoslavian army, so they tried to invade Slovenia a few days later on June 27 1991. They were held back by the Slovenian Territorial Defense forces and the police, and on July 7 1991 the Yugoslavians agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union.

In December 1991 a new constitution was written, and on January 15 1992 Slovenian independence was recognized by the European Union. As was the case for many of the eastern European countries, Slovenia faced a long painful transition from Communism to Capitalism during the 1990’s. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.

Exploring Ljubljana, Slovenia

When I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovakia my first stop was exploring Ljubljana Castle, a castle complex standing on Castle Hill, which overlooks the entire city. It was originally a medieval fortress constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt again in the 12th and 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is depicted on the city’s coat of arms, along with a dragon on the top. The castle just finished a major restoration project that lasted from 2000 to 2019. There was also a puppet museum inside the castle, which was pretty neat.

After visiting the castle I drove to my hotel; BIT Center Hotel, to check-in, and do a few hours of work, which included a few meetings. After working I drove back to the castle to haver dinner at the renowned Strelec Restaurant. A reservation is a requirement here, however being off-season I just booked it in the morning and they were able to accommodate me. This is a michelin star quality restaurant, however it is not a michelin star restaurant. I was served a 5 course dinner, however it was more like 8 courses… I wish I had taken better notes as to what I ate, however I had a few favorites. My first favorite was the ravioli with truffles, cheese, and home made sour cream. My second favorite was venison with beet-root. Third runner up was beef tartar. The meal was finished off with chocolate ganache, ice cream, a sweet puree of some sort, hazelnuts, and gold foil. The meal cost me a total of $115 CDN, however it was absolutely worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners that I’ve ever had.

Be sure to check back tomorrow while I explore more of Ljubljana, before driving back to Zagreb, Croatia to catch a flight to Belgrade, Serbia late in the evening.

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Kain Hut Hike

A few weeks ago I hiked to Kain Hut in British Columbia’s Bugaboos, and I can’t even describe with words of how beautiful of a hike this was. This was one of the most stunning hikes that I’ve had the chance to complete in my life. The drive from Calgary is about 6-6.5 hours, regardless of what Google Maps says; so I recommend staying overnight in Radium. You can take the time to even soak in the hot springs when you arrive in Radium. The drive from Calgary to Radium is about 3-3.25 hours. The drive from Radium to the trailhead is still honestly 3ish hours despite the distance not being too far, because you have about 50km down a fairly poor gravel road, with the last 10km barely being able to keep a crawling speed. I was the only sedan here, as the other vehicles were SUV’s or trucks. When you’re about 2km from the trailhead you start to see the magnificent view of the glacier that you’ll be hiking towards.

Once you park your vehicle make sure to use the provided wood, barbed wire, and rocks to surround your vehicle, as there are porcupines in the area that will chew your brake lines and electrical wires, leaving your vehicle useless.

The first kilometre of the hike is fairly flat and easy, however you’re quickly presented with a series of switchbacks, a ladder, and some chains on your way up to the hut. The return trip to Kain Hut, including Applebee Campground, is 9km and 991 metres of gain. This one will leave you sore for a few days afterwards.

At the hut I had some leftover home made pizza for lunch and watch this little guy eating his lunch.

After lunch I continued up to Applebee Campground, which is essentially a scramble up loose rocks. You’ll pass a waterfall, and the campground, before arriving at a very cold lake.

After enjoying some time at the top it was time to head back to Calgary. I didn’t arrive back in town until nearly 10pm at night.

Be sure to stay tuned for my next adventure. I’ll be hiking to Eiffel Lake on Sunday, and then I’m off to Alaska for a week.

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Rowe Lake Hike

Two Weekends ago I completed a 13.5 km hike to Rowe Lakes in Waterton Lakes National Park. The hike starts off with a bunch of switchbacks through an area struck by the 2017 forest fires, before emerging to an area with a bit of shrubs, where you can look back at the mountains behind you.

Continuing on the trail you eventually come across a forested area that was untouched by the 2017 forest fire. The fall colours are starting to settle in, and become more prevalent the higher you climb.

You’ll come to a T intersection about 2/3 of the way through the hike; go left to Lower Rowe lake. The beauty of the mirror reflection on the lower lake is absolutely stunning! After enjoying the view head back to the T and go left to continue along the hike.

You’ll come to a valley surrounded by mountains. To your North you’ll see Mount Lineham. Carry along the trail to Upper Rowe Lake. This part is the steepest on the trail, with plenty of switchbacks.

At last you’ll arrive at Upper Rowe Lake, which seems like a little oasis in the mountains. The clouds were absolutely perfect and I imagine it would look stunning in the 3rd and 4th weeks of September with all the larches changing colour.

After appreciating the view of Upper Rowe Lake I headed back to my car, and drove into Waterton to have some poutine at Wieners of Waterton, which I highly recommend. Besides it was only $7!

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Lake of the Hanging Glacier Hike

A few weeks ago I drove out to Lake of the Hanging Glacier in Kootenay National Park. The drive took about 5 hours, and included 2 hours of driving down a gravel road, which was clearly intended for high clearance vehicles, not a Toyota Prius. Despite that I made the trip, albeit much slower as I had to carefully pick my path. Something to note is that there are two bridge crossings along the hike, and the bridges are removed sometime in October through sometime in July, so make sure to pay attention to the Summit Trail Maker Society facebook page and website, otherwise you’ll show up and be dissapointed.

The hike is 15.9 kilometres long, and has 947 metres of elevation gain. You start off from the parking lot and bush whack through the trees for a few hundred metres, before emerging into some tall grasses, and then back into the trees. There are berries all along the way so be sure to bring your bear spray, as this is prime grizzly bear country. The first bridge is a few kilometres in, with the second about half way through the hike. You also encounter a waterfall about half way through the hike.

The majority of the hike is through a thick forested area, and the blowing wind creates a really eerie feeling when you can hear the trees creaking in the wind. Continue up the switchbacks until you emerge on an alpine meadow with willows and flowers. You’ll eventually come to another waterfall, this time quite a wide one.

After passing the waterfall you’ll see tons of glaciers, and their associated waterfalls draining into the lake below. This was one of the most unique hikes that I’ve ever completed and has been on my list for years.

After taking in the absolute beauty of the lake and surrounding glaciers it was time to head back to the car. The hike took me about 4.5 hours to complete. It was a long day for me with being away from home for 14.5 hours in total.

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Crypt Lake Hike

A few weeks ago I hiked one of Canada’s top 10 hikes, if not one of the best in the world. Crypt Lake, located in Waterton Lakes National Park, is a difficult 20.4 km hike with an elevation gain of 936 metres. To access the hiking trail you’ll need to take the Shoreline Ferry across Waterton Lake, about a 15 minute journey, which costs $30 per person.

After exiting the ferry the hike starts off right away with a bunch of switchbacks in a forested area. Grizzly bears frequent this area so this is a very critical hike to have bear spray on.

About 1/4 way through the hike you’ll finally emerge from the trees for a bit, where you’ll spot a waterfall off to your right. It’s quite pretty so be sure to snap a photo.

Continuing along the trail you’ll encounter numerous more switchbacks, with the treeline thinning out around 1/2 way along the hike. You’ll then see the second waterfall off into the distance.

About 3/4 of the way through the hike you come across a narrow ledge, about 300 metres long, which you must carefully traverse. After traversing the ledge you’ll find a small ladder, which you ascend, and then have a ~100 metre long tunnel which you must crawl through. Be careful to not smack your head like I did.

After emerging from the tunnel you’ll have a fairly technical 300 metres section with a bunch of chains. Just take your time as any mistake could result in a plunge to your death many hundreds of metres below. It’s not hard physically, but it is a bit nerve wracking.

After the chained section its a mostly flat hike to the lake. At Crypt Lake I changed into my bathing suit and carefully stepped into the freezing cold water. The water here was much colder than that of Carnarvon Lake the previous week.

After enjoying my time at the lake it was time to head back to catch the ferry back. There are two times the return ferry sails at. Make sure you get back in time, because it’s a tremendously long hike back (6+ hours) if you miss it. The times vary from season to season so be sure to check on their website. The hike took me just over 5 hours to complete.

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Carnarvon Lake Hike

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hiking one of Alberta’s premier hikes, if not one of the top hikes in Canada. Carnarvon Lake, located in the Kananaskis area, is a difficult 20.4 km hike with an elevation gain of 857 metres. The hike starts off flat, going through a pasture area, where I saw a bunch of cows grazing.

About 2 kilometres later you’ll come across one of two river crossings. You’ll want a pair of water shoes here so you don’t soak your hiking boots. Even in mid-July the water was up to my waist, and somewhat strong so make sure to follow proper river crossing techniques. If you’re travelling with a partner, put the stronger person upstream, unclip your backpack, and gently cross the river. Hiking poles may also be useful here, however I don’t hike with them.

After the first river crossing you’ll walk about another 0.5 kilometers to the second river crossing, which is only about 1 foot deep, but you’ll still want water shoes for that one.

After crossing the second river you’ll enter a forested area that has a somewhat gentle incline for the next 2/3rd’s of the hike. After the forested area you’ll emerge to a steep scree (loose shale over a slope), with a bunch of switchbacks containing a few chains, and even a ladder, before emerging at the freezing cold turquoise blue lake.

I soaked in the freezing cold lake for a while to cool off, as it was 32°C out the day I went hiking. After cooling off it was time to head back to the car. The descent is a bit more difficult than the ascent, so make sure to just take your time and be careful. The hike took me about 7.5 hours return, but I was taking my time.

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Iceland 2021 – Krysuivik Geothermal Loop & Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption

Today marks the second day of my trip. I slept pretty well and wasn’t really suffering from too much jet lag. I did wakeup at about 2am for a brief period of time before going back to bed.

For breakfast I attempted to go to a few bakeries however it was too early and they didn’t have anything besides donuts available, so I went to Subway. First stop of the day was Krysuivik Geothermal Loop, about an hours drive away. Along the way I decided to stop by the side of the road to take some drone shots of the volcanic scenery around me to realize that my memory card had failed… but don’t worry I had a second one… sitting in my work laptop back at the hotel. I drove all the way back to the hotel, picked up the second card and tried again. By now it was already nearly noon! In the distance on this drone shot you can see Fagradalsfjall Volcano’s smoke from it’s ongoing eruption. I’ll be hiking that later today.

Krysuivik Geothermal Loop is a 7.7 kilometer loop in Southwest Iceland the features a lake, and a geothermally active area. It is situated above Seltun, a very colourful Geothermal area below that I had a chance to visit with my father in 2014 when we went to Iceland. The hike starts off right away up a fairly steep hill, gaining 314 metres. Make sure to look backwards so you can see Seltun.

After the large climb you slightly descend to Amarvatn Lake, a very colourful lake, which I suspect is a volcanic crater lake due to the way it looks, however I can’t mind much information on it. A volcanic crate lake is a lake in a crater that was formed from explosive activity or collapse during a volcanic eruption. Dad an I visited one such lake in 2014, called Kerið.

The trail continues around in a big loop, as you can see from above. It offers beautiful views of the mountainous area surrounding it. Along the way I came to the geothermal area, before continuing the loop around the lake.

After completing the hike it was time to grab some lunch. I remember from my 2014 trip with my dad that there was a restaurant called Papa’s that serves delicious pizza in the nearby town of Grindavik. I drove about half an hour to Papa’s, and wow it didn’t disappoint. I had a pizza called Papa’s Surprise, which consisted of pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, jalapenos, garlic, cream cheese, and black pepper. You could even see the volcano erupting from Grindavik!

After having lunch it was time to visit the Fagradalsfjall Volcano eruption (also known as Geldingadalsgos), which has been ongoing since March 19th 2021 at about 9:40pm. This was one of two primary reasons for me to visit Iceland, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s a few dedicated places to park your car for 1000 ISK ($10 CDN). The 3km one-way hike to the volcano takes about 45 minutes and is flat for 2/3 of the way, before entering a series of switchbacks. The view was certainly overwhelming, and was nothing like what I had imagined in my head. You can also view a video I took of the volcano on my YouTube channel here. You’ll also notice that there was a helicopter there, because you can pay some companies to drop you right off at the base of the volcano!

After visiting the volcano I was going to visit the Blue Lagoon, however when I arrived I found out that the tickets were sold out for the day. I booked a 9am ticket for the next day. It was time to drive back to Reykjavik for dinner, about an hour away. I had some beef soup at 101 Reykjavik Street Food, which was recommended to me on one of the travel series I watched a while back. While the presentation wasn’t the best, the soup was delicious, and the beef was so tender.

After dinner I walked around for a bit and took some pictures of one of my favourite churches in the entire world, Hallgrimskirkja. The church is one of Reykjavik’s best-known landmarks, and is the tallest church in Iceland, standing 74.5 metres (244 feet) tall. The church took 41 years to build; starting in 1945, and completed in 1986. The church is a mixture of different architectural styles but is predominantly that of expressionist neo-gothic. I can definitely see some brutalism and art deco mixed in there as well. During it’s construction it was criticized for being too old-fashioned and a blend of too many different architecture types. Inside the church there is a large pipe organ built by German organ builder Johannes Klais from Bonn. There are 5275 pipes arranged in 102 ranks and 72 stop, and they weight approximately 25 tons!

I continued exploring around downtown Reykjavik for a bit before heading back to my hotel to go to bed. Be sure to check back soon for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment I explore the Blue Lagoon, see some waterfalls, see Iceland’s fourth largest glacier, the town of Vik, the basalt formations at Reynisfjara Beach, and hike to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck.

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Lake O’Hara Hike

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of exploring one of Canada’s most amazing places to visit; Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. Lake O’Hara is a protected area because its a sensitive alpine environment, so the Canadian government has a reservation system to limit the amount of people visiting. Less than 50 people per day are eligible to visit this park between mid-June and early October. I’ve been bidding on this reservation system for over 5 years, and was very surprised to wake up one morning to an email notifying me that I was successful. My successful day was June 20th, which was a work day, so I took the day off of work.

I drove out on the night of June 19th and stayed at Deer Lodge hotel in Lake Louise. I arrived around 8pm at night, checked in, and spent some time in the hot-tub while looking at the beautiful sunset. The sky was quite red due to forest fires in the area. I met a gentleman visiting from Montreal with his daughter, so we chatted for a while.

The next morning I woke up around 630am, packed up, dropped off the key, and drove down to the small stripmall at the bottom of the hill at Lake Louise. For breakfast I purchased a wrap and a coffee from Trailhead Cafe. After eating my breakfast I drove about 15 minutes to the trailhead for the Lake O’Hara bus and waited until it was time to board the bus at 815am. Just an FYI if you are not successful on the reservation system to get to Lake O’Hara you can walk the 11km (one-way) road up to the top, but it will add 6 hours to your day (3 hours each way). You’ll likely be too tired to complete many of the hikes available to you at the top.

The bus ride to the top took about 15-20 minutes. Upon arrival you’re able to get water at the nearby campsite, buy food from the store, and use the restroom facilities before starting your hiking adventures. Today I chose to complete the premier hike called the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit, which is one of the more difficult hikes, however it gives you a taste of everything that the area has to offer. All of my photos on this trip were taken with my iPhone 12 Pro Max, because sadly my Tamron 15-30mm lens for my Canon EOS R decided to stop working. I later found out that it was because the screws for the front element had become loose, which I was able to fix on a later day. I still think the photos turned out fairly nicely all things considered.

The 10.6km hike starts off at Lake O’Hara. You start walking clock-wise around the lake about 1/4 of the way before proceeding up some grueling switchbacks, gaining nearly 900 metres in only a few kilometers. On the way up the view of Lake O’Hara continues to get better and better!

At the top of the switchbacks you arrive at Wiwaxy Gap, where you can see Wiwaxy Peaks, Mount Huber, Lake O’Hara, the valley on the other side, and even Lake Oesa, which is where you head to next.

To get to Lake Oesa you continue along a narrow ledge losing a few hundred metres of altitude gradually, but it’s not too scary. There’s also some beautiful alpine flowers I saw along the way.

Lake Oesa was a stunning turquoise blue and was surrounded completely by mountains. From here some people choose to hike to Abbot Pass Hut, however I was limited on time, so perhaps another day.

Departing Lake Oesa you’re presented with a beautiful waterfall, and bunch of smaller, yet still beautiful lakes (Lefroy Lake, Victoria Lake, and Yukness Lake). The journey from here is slightly upwards over somewhat loose shale, so be careful.

After passing Lefroy Lake it starts to become a bit more technical with some slight scrambling, before levelling off again, presenting you with yet another beautiful view of Lake O’Hara.

After the scrambling section you follow along the cliff edge before descending towards a group of lakes; Moor Lakes and Hungabee Lake.

The general area around Hungabee Lake and Moor Lakes is another alpine meadow area, with water runoff going every direction. This is some of the most vivid coloured water that I’ve ever seen in my entire life!

The rest of the hike gives other nice perspectives of Lake O’Hara, however can be skipped if you’re feeling tired. You can skip it by taking the West Opabin Trail back to Lake O’Hara instead of continuing along the route and gaining another couple hundred metres on loose shale. This was one of the most spectacular hikes that I’ve completed in my entire life, and it was an absolute privilege to see this protected area. Buses back to the parking lot run at 230pm, 430pm, and 630pm. I was able to grab the 230pm bus back to the parking lot.

Be sure to check back soon as I explore more hikes; Carnavon Lake, and Crypt Lake. I also have an upcoming trip to Iceland, which I’m really looking forward to sharing with you.

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Helen Lake & Katherine Lake Hike

Recently I hiked to Helen Lake and Katherine Lake with Mariah. The hike is considered a moderate hike, and is 16.6 kilometres return, with about 840 metres of elevation gain. The hike starts off in a forested area for for few steep kilometres, before emerging in a beautiful alpine meadow. The meadow continues steadily upwards until you emerge at Helen Lake, and are also presented with the beautiful Dolomite Mountains creatively named Dolomite Peak.

Upon arriving at Helen Lake we were presented with a plethora of bugs which incessantly tried to eat us while we had our lunch.

After having our lunch there was some grueling switchbacks and some minor scrambling before arriving in a flat area overlooking Cirque Peak and Katherine Lake. The views were stunning and we took it all in before heading back to the trailhead.

Dinner was had at 514 Poutine in Canmore. We both had a small Montreal smoked meat poutine, which was exactly what I was craving. This place has been closed the entirety of COVID-19, and is one of my favourite places for poutine. I was missing the delicious flavours!

Be sure to stay tuned for more hiking adventures!

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Picklejar Lakes Hike

A few weeks ago I completed a solo hike to Picklejar Lakes. The hike is 11.6km long, and has 706 metres of elevation gain. The trailhead starts across the Highway 40 and there is only a small sign, so sometimes it can be easy to miss. The trail starts out in the trees, and then eventually opens up a bit, giving a great view of the mountains across from highway 40.

The tough part then begins as you enter through some more trees, and take some switchbacks to the top of a hill, where you emerge looking at the first of four lakes, which was my favorite of the four.

After stopping for a quick bite to eat I continued through some trees, briefly passing a small waterfall to emerge at the second lake, which was my least favourite. There was also a tremendous amount of bugs there. A few people had camped overnight there from the previous day.

Continuing onto the third lake you’re presented with the most vivid blue colour, and the edge of Lineham Ridge. This lake was absolutely stunning. There were people at the far end jumping in from a rock ledge and swimming in the icy cold water.

After relaxing by the lake for a bit I completed the return journey to my car. The hike took me about 2.75 hours to complete and I would rate it as moderate.

Be sure to check back soon as I explore Helen Lake & Katherine Lake in my next adventure. Following that I’ll have a writeup on must eat food in Kelowna!

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