As I finished planning this trip (not long before I left), I realized how few “highlights” there were compared to my earlier trips to Paris, Rome, Venice, etc. I would stop in Venice on this trip but only a few hours. Ditto Munich. Who’s even heard of Ljubljana when people don’t even know where Slovenia is? I wondered if I’d have any great or interesting pictures afterward.
But as I started going through the thousands of pictures (I shot about 8,000 pictures in total!), I realized I had some gems, even if most of them were in places people had never heard of. I visited a LOT of places on this trip, far more than on any previous trip. Lots of small towns. There were few really stunning pictures on their own but taken together they make a nice collection of images.
Slovenia is a really nice country – a bit remote in some ways but also very accessible to Americans. I didn’t know five words of the language, and the locals didn’t seem to care. Most of them spoke at least some English if not a lot, and even when they didn’t, it was easy to get by. People were friendly. Several locals asked me where I was from – and then I realized they meant what COUNTRY was I from? I’m sure the US was a first guess, but in Italy, no one would ever ask a tourist that; everyone seems to have a Rick Steves book, and there are mobs of people. It’s just a nice change from the “Disneyland” feeling of so many European cites that are full of Americans.
Austria was really pretty. I had feared Salzburg would be too touristy for me, but in September it really wasn’t that crowded, and it turned out to be a much nicer town than I imagined. Too bad the weather wasn’t nicer! The train rides from Munich to Salzburg and Salzburg to Graz were beautiful. I’d love to rent a car and drive around Bavaria and to a few of the lake towns in Austria like Hallstatt someday – maybe in better weather…
Italy was as busy as ever, even in late September, still kind of the tourist zoo I’d remembered from previous trips. Venice was kind of obnoxious for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon; I was reminded how much nicer it is at nights and in the morning. Pisa was much more interesting (and less touristy) away from the Field of Miracles and the Tower, and I’m glad I visited again – I think I was much better able to appreciate the town in 2011 than I would have been able to on my first visit in 2007.
The Cinque Terre, just before the devastating floods, was absolutely mobbed with tour groups in late September – crowds everywhere. English (American) is by far the most common language you hear wandering around. Shooting sunset on my last evening (in Vernazza), there were several of us with Canon cameras all shooting it, and we were talking about our cameras – and I realized we were all Americans.
And yet, it was a thrill to be back in the Cinque Terre – for some reason, it didn’t feel obnoxious like Venice did that Sunday afternoon, even though both are beautiful places. The Five Villages are unique – I hope they recover soon from their troubles.
At the same time, I think I’m done with Italy except for a few destinations. I’d love to go “off season” sometime if there actually is one in Italy anymore, even if the weather isn’t great, just to see it away from the tourist mobs.
What would I have done differently, knowing what I know afterward? I might have rented the car in Maribor instead of Ljubljana and driven more. I am glad I did my last few days in Italy, but a few more days in western Slovenian to explore a few more of the towns would have been nice – something to go back to. I’d also loved to have seen Istria in Croatia – but I also have limits to how long I can go on one of these trips before I go stir crazy and get homesick…
I think I’d like to go back to the Balkans again – see even more of Slovenia (small as it is, there’s always more to see!) plus return to Bosnia and Herzegovina (brief visit to Mostar in 2009) and even Serbia and beyond.