Germany is a beautiful country, I´ll say it time and time again. I´m a child of mixed cultures, and I may have been born in America, but deep in my heart, Germany is my home: the lush green country side, the mountains, rivers and lakes, the castles, festivals, food, beer, soccer, it´s churches, museums, chirping birds, and even the deer in the early morning fields, these things fill my heart with joy. Germany has a rich, and yes sometimes dark, history, but all of this makes Germany unique and amazing. There is plenty to do and see within this country alone, but another one of the things that I love about Germany is that it´s located right in the center of Europe. So it´s a great location to start a trip from; you won´t have to drive, or fly, too far to get to some of the most breathtaking and exciting places in the world.
If I´m going to fly within Europe, Ryanair is my goto airline. The planes may be tiny, the rules may be strict, but most of the time it´s dirt cheap. If you think traveling within Europe is too expensive, think again. Some flights can be booked for as low as 20 Euro - round trip. You can find great deals if you search for them! Even London, where the British Pound is worth double the American dollar is doable if you plan it right. The key when traveling to the more expensive locations is to cut down on the amenities for your sleeping arrangements. I mean, all you really need is to be safe, and have a nice comfy bed. Consider staying outside of the city and renting a car, or staying in a secure, highly recommended hostel. Check Booking.com, AirBnB, and a few other websites before picking a place to stay. Remember, you´re going to be out and about exploring at least 75% of the time, so don´t spring for the fancy villa if it means missing out on a great play or a fantastic dining experience. It´s also important to keep in mind that some of the countries in Europe have a monetary value that is much lower than the dollar, one such place is Croatia, where $1.00 gets you at least 6 Croatian Kuna - the average cost for a three course meal, for two people will be about 200 Croatian Kuna or 30 US Dollars. Croatia is a country not many would immediately think of visiting when stationed overseas, but it´s definitely worth the trip! Especially for anyone who loves the outdoors. It has a wonderful coastline, amazing beaches, caves, rivers, and waterfalls. Swimming, surfing, boating, fishing, hiking, biking, horse back riding, off-roading, and rafting are a few of the activities you can look forward to here. Croatia also offers you the coastal gem Dubrovnik, a stunning walled 16th century city that sits right on the edge of a cliff. The country also has a very rich history both politically and geographically. It is not the place to go if you are looking for a fast paced, high tech, city. It´s very much the "old country" and you´ll see adorable grandmothers in headscarves tending to their garden on the side of the road. This spring, we spent a total of four days in central Croatia visiting the Unesco World Heritage site - Plitvice Jezera or Plitvice Lakes National Park, as well as the countries capital city Zagreb. The park alone made the trip worthwhile, but the low price of the airline tickets, rental car, and hotel, made it even better.
We paid a total of 287 Euro for everything (not including our food and drinks - but our meals were never more than 20 euro total). Flights were around 30 a piece, the rental car for the entire trip was 34 Euro and the hotel was 188 Euro - and this time we didn´t have to settle for a cheaper hotel, because all the hotels were cheap. We had a nice, comfortable, spacious room, with a small TV, a dresser, a desk, bathroom (standing shower and toilet) and a King sized bed. In the summer the hotel has an outdoor pool but we arrived about a week before it opened. The rental car service picked us up from the tiny airport in Zadar, and took us directly to our little car for the week. It was perfect for the two of us, and even driving all the way from Zadar to the lakes (about 2 hours) and back, we only had to fill it up once.
the promise of a cheap vacation isn´t enough to lure you to Croatia, Plitvice Lakes National Park, as well as Rastoke Falls (another, smaller park nearby), should be. These were two of the most beautiful places I´d ever been in my life. We even briefly considered moving our wedding location to Rastoke Falls. It´s simply breathtaking, like stepping into a fairy tale, the flowing green, dark blue, and turquoise waters, the trees, moss, and winding wooden paths. It´s difficult to explain how beautiful it was, to walk on a path that allowed nature to grow all around you, uninterrupted. The entrance into the park was about 13 euro for the day, everyone we met in Croatia spoke perfect English. We were given a map, and hopped on a shuttle that took us to the entrance of the park. We decided to walk through the entire park in a day, neither of us are particularly fit but we managed just fine. It took us almost 4 hours to finish but we only stopped once, and if you decide to walk the whole way its about 9 KM total. However, there are shorter paths for those who can´t or don´t want to walk the whole way - this park is unfortunately not handicap accessible.
A few important tips about visiting Plitvice Jezera....
If you go, wear proper foot wear. There´s gravel, wood, and wet surfaces you´ll have to walk across. Going in the spring gave us mildly sunny weather, and we beat the summer crowds. If you do go in the summer (because as I mentioned before, Croatia is also home to some amazing white sand beaches that we didn´t get a chance to see) go early, and wear sunscreen! Bring plenty of water, but keep in mind that there aren´t too many bathrooms throughout the park, so go when you have the chance. Lastly, there is a small restaurant at the end of the hike, after you take the boat across the lake. The food here is pretty good, and like everything else, cheap. I would not recommend paying for a tour, the park is self explanatory and you´ll only be wasting your money. However, contrary to popular belief the park is not free if you chose not to use the boat or bus. It is possible to walk into the park without paying, but this is against the rules, as it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. The entrance fee is so reasonable, and it helps with park maintenance, so there is no real reason to skip out. Parking is free, and littering, or feeding the wildlife is absolutely not allowed (don´t even think about it!) If you´re looking for a cute place to get souvenirs the shops near the park entrance are great!
I mention Rastoke Falls as well, and this smaller park is located in Slunji, Croatia which is just up the road from Plitvice Jezera.
If you see signs for one, you´ll most likely see signs for the other. Near the end of this town, below the bridge, is a tiny dream like village, this is Rastoke Falls. The view from the top is nice, but the waterfalls are even more amazing if you walk down below. There´s a small restaurant and if you eat here (highly recommended, the food was delicious) the entry to the rest of Rastoke Falls is free. There´s an old mill, a "fairy hair" waterfall, a fairy garden and swing, a small history museum, plenty of great views, and even a small cave to explore. The cave was my favorite part, but it is slippery and you can get very close to the rapids so I wouldn´t recommend it for young children, but go if you can! It´s breathtaking.
We spent a full day at the park, half a day in Rastoke, half a day horse back riding in the country (this was lovely as well!), and a full day in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, where we went to the zoo; which I have to say was surprisingly lovely despite the construction. They are currently in the process of improving various animal exhibits, but the ones we were able to see where quite nice. Zagreb is also home to the worlds only Museum of Broken Relationships, which we didn´t get a chance to see, but I hear it´s quite interesting. I´m also disappointed that we didn´t spend anytime rafting (which you can do in various parts of Croatia, including Rastoke Falls) or swimming or boating along the coast. Oh well, I guess it will have to wait till next time! I hope this article has provided you with some vacation inspiration, if you´d like to see more travel trips or potential traveling itineraries let us know!
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