Ljubljana, Slovenia :: I never think of our trips as grandiose or extravagant. If anything, I think we both take a certain amount of pride out of how much we get for how little we spend. When we tell people what our trip actually cost, they’re often amazed by our luck … but it’s not luck at all. It takes planning, deliberating, Googling, and weighing the values of everything we want to do beforehand. The key is, “good planning is worth more then a big budget.” Plus (and this is a big thing), our trips aren’t what most people would qualify as a vacation! We travel light, pack lunches, catch the Metro or a city bus instead of hiring shuttles, paying for transfers, or following the tourists. But, in life, “one persons discomfort is another’s tranquility”.

We departed Seattle with a quick layover in Paris before continuing on to Ljubljana. The view from my frustratingly small window of the gigantic Dolomite mountain range below us was spectacular, offering us a small preview of the type of terrain we’d be encountering a week later.

A view of the Dolomites from our airplane window

After our bus ride into town and getting squared away at our little AirBnB loft, there wasn’t much time left to walk to the city center before dark, but Ljubljana is one of those places where it seems charming and beautiful no matter when you visit. Besides we had the following day to explore as well.

Ljubljana's Rooftop view from the Castle Ljubljana has Go Vegan grafiti Ljubljana's main square viewed from the river Ljubljana city center at sunset The Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana

We chose to take a bus to Venice instead of the train which turned out to be an awesome alternative. Flixbus was faster and cheaper, had a cool app for the phone, and dropped us off right at the Venice cruise terminal too. (We were so impressed with Flixbus, we used them for our return from Trieste later in the trip.)

Leaving Ljubljana on a Flixbus for Venice Sonia getting off the Flixbus in Venice

No matter how much planning you do, it’s inevitable that some things won’t go as planned, and MSC Cruises certainly did not function the way we’d expected. (This is the perfect example of why “not” to go with the cheapest cruise you can find.)

Our decision to go with MSC was because of the stops and dates that matched our other plans already, and sure, I was delighted at how affordable it was initially too, but trust me, there’s a good reason why! (Now don’t start thinking we’re cruise snobs or anything like that, because either one of us will wholeheartedly admit, “a bad day on a cruise is still an awesome day”.)

A view of the MSC Musica's top deck Looking out to sea from our balcony

Originally our first port was to be Kotor, Montenegro, but after a very late departure from Venice, the route was changed to Dubrovnik, Croatia instead. Dubrovnik is a gorgeous medieval fortress city famous (mostly to the modern world) for its landmarks and architecture featured in the wildly popular Game of Thrones series.

Debrovnik's port side wall Debrovnik's city gateLooking at Debrovnik's tile roofs Debrovnik's main gate entry is swamped by tourists Stephen enjoying the Debrovnik weather Debrovnik's port in the evening

Corfu, Greece was our second port. We could view the old part of town from up on the top deck of our ship, and it was exciting to see what looks like the entire city all in the viewfinder. However, it’s quite an intricate maze of tiny streets, doorway shops, restaurants, and tucked away treasures… oh, and a Starbucks and McDonalds too!

Seeing Corfu from our top deck of the ship Looking down one of Corfu's many tiny alleywaysA small residential street in Corfu Stephen and Sonia on the streets of Corfu, Greece The busy markets of Corfu, Greece

In Naples we had the opportunity to visit the ancient ruins of the city of Pompeii, buried under 15-20ft of volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted back in AD 79. Taking in the highlights of the city (170 acres) would be impossible in one day, but just wandering the streets and seeing the resemblance of what life was like for the residents left us with an extraordinary sense of how blessed we are… and how fragile too.

View of Naples from our balcony as we arrived A view down the main avenue in Pompei One of the nicer homes in Pompei Entering through a side gate to PompeiOne of the many plaster casts of a resident from Pompei Just some of the artifacts salvaged from PompeiDown the street to Pompei Colosseum

Livorno, Italy is basically a port where tour groups get off the ship and go somewhere else; like Pisa or Florence. You can tell (if you actually explore the city a bit) that it’s almost ignored by the cruisers completely. Everyone’s a local and seems almost oblivious that a ship is even in the port.

This wasn’t our first time in Livorno, so we split our day and went to a local (all vegan) cafe’ that we found online and loved it! (You’d understand if you were struggling to find anything even resembling a healthy option on the ship!) …And then, we dashed off to the train station for a quick roundtrip into Pisa to see the leaning tower… again.

We stand before The Leaning Tower of Pisa Sonia orders the WORST Bubble tea imaginable Never been done before at the Leaning Tower of PisaGetting off the train from Pisa in Livorno Got caught in the rain in Livorno

Disembarkation at Genoa was bitter sweet. Despite the annoying quirks of our ship, we’d adjusted to life onboard and nestled into our happy place rather nicely… and now we had to get off. Still, the road was calling me and I couldn’t wait to get started with the road-trip part of the trip.

From the cruise terminal we jumped on a crowded (understatement) city bus into the heart of the city where we’d rented a car. It started raining the night before and although our drive out of Genoa was beautiful, the rain dampened it a lot. :) It kept raining the entire way to Lake Como and during our entire stay there, and although dismal weather wasn’t part of our “perfect” plan, but it was part of our “contingency” plan. Our AirBnB apartment in Dervio was perfectly suited for squandering a few drizzly days with a train station at our doorstep, a supermarket around the corner, a fully functional kitchen, and cable TV with tons of english channels. Shop, cook, eat, TV, sleep, repeat.

Sonia leaving the ship in GenoaStephen leaving the ship in Genoa The Basilica of San Gaudenzio in Novara Walking the trail from Castello di Corenno PlinioWalking the wet back streets of Dervio The train station in Dervio was within steps of our apartment Looking out over a rainy Lake Como

The biggest inspiration for our planning of this trip was to hike in the Dolomite mountains. There are so many spectacular peaks and trails to choose from in this mountain range that hardly matters which ones you choose, but we selected Santa Christina as our base of operations because it was the best of everything; peaks, trails, lifts, a nice town too. Everywhere you look, the staggeringly beautiful peaks loom over small little villages below, making this place unique to anywhere else in the world. (Thankfully, UNESCO stepped in and declared the Dolomites as a World Heritage Site in 2009 to keep it that way.)

We planned for 2 big hikes with a day of rest in between. The first hike was 12 miles long, up to the Langkofelhütte hut (between the Plattkofel and Langkofel peaks), which was a relatively trouble-free hike for the most part, but the views were otherworldly.

Taking the Seiser Alm lift to our starting point A view of the Plattkofel and Langkofel peaks in the distance Sonia eating her lunch on our hike to Plattkofel and Langkofel Stunning views when we were almost to the base of Plattkofel The 527 trail at the base of PlattkofelTrail 527 nearing Langkofel Hutt The top for us was the Langkofel Hutt Looking up at the towering peaks of Plattkofel and Langkofel looming over Sonia

The second hike; what we pretty much came here for, did not let us down. Our roundtrip hike from our car at Vallunga, up trail 14, 16, and 2 to Puez Hütte, and to the pass of Forcella Cier, before heading back down trail 12 to our car, was epic and unforgettable! So epic in fact that we wrote a entire blog just for it because of the shear scope of all that we encountered and all the pictures we took!

The beautiful alpine village of Selva-Wolkenstein where the hike begins Stating up trail 14 into the Vallunga valley Trail 14 up and out of the Vallunga valleySonia climbing up trail 14 out of the Vallunga valley Looking back down trail 14 into the Vallunga valley Stopping for lunch along trail 14 Stephen nears the top of trail 14 with awesome view into the Vallunga valley Sonia overlooks the entire Vallunga valley from the ledge I think Sonia contracted some disease while hking The terrain at the top is like another planet Sonia at the pass Trail 2 up to the topGarmin says we've reached 8124 feet at the pass A spectacular and dramatic view from the pass overlooking both sides

Leaving the Dolomites, I couldn’t help facing the fact that this was the beginning of our return home. There were still a few days left to enjoy and new places to see, but now our route would be leading us ever closer to our flight home. Happily we were heading to Trieste, the lovely port city that lies at far east end of Italy, bordered by Slovenia and Croatia.

We arrived at sunset and were pretty tired too, but “wow”, what a seriously georgous city.

Stephen and Sonia pose like awesome people at sunset Trieste Sundown over Trieste's city center from the harbor

My favorite way to schedule a flight home is to get a really long layover in the middle. (It’s first class for part of the way back; lay-flat bed, great food, elbow room, and about a hundred times cheaper then on the plane!) We landed in Paris with a 22 hour layover, catching our connection to Seattle the following day around noon. This left us the entire evening to take the Metro into Paris, see a few sights, hit a few restaurants, and get a great night sleep before saying, “au revoir“.

Catching a metro into Paris Coming up to street level and seeing the Paris metro sign We're here in front of the Eiffel Tower, againThe CitizenM at CDG is a crazy awesome hotel Our flight home arrives at our gate

Check out our full online album of all our favorite pictures from this trip.

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