Slovenia, A Sweet Surprise

(Slovenia – 6 May 2014) I wish we had an amazing story for how/why we ended up visiting Slovenia. It still strikes me as a pretty obscure place for us to go. Neither Jessica nor I had ever heard of Slovenia until we read an article about it in a travel magazine some nine months prior to the start of our trip. I probably only skimmed the article, too, but I sure remember the gist of it: Go to Slovenia. You’ll love it. Good enough for me. On that alone I made sure Slovenia was included when we put together the list of countries we wanted to visit during our trip .

20140611-190721.jpg Slovenia is located just to the east of (the top part of) Italy and south of Austria. It was the first country to declare its independence after the break up of Yugoslavia. The slightly better known former Yugoslavia countries- Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia -cascade down the map from Slovenia’s southern border.

I assume it was by random accident that the country is shaped like a chicken on the run.

Slovenia Is Beautiful

What a favored spot of Earth Slovenia happened upon. Green, green everywhere. Fertile farmland in the valleys turns to forest as it rises up the mountain slopes. Only above the tree line does greenery finally give way to the white of snow. Streams and rivers spread their fingers throughout the landscape and keep the lakes filled and pretty for the many photos that will be taken of them.

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The capital of Slovenia is Ljubljana. (Pronouncing it loob’-lee-yana will get you close enough. Their J technically carries the same sound as our Y (as in Yellow); however, attempting the Y sound immediately after an L is just asking for trouble.)

As soon as we took our first walk through the city’s center it was as though we’d just stumbled out the other side of the wardrobe closet. Ljubljana has a fairytale quality to it. The streets are paved with tightly knitted square bricks, photo-ready bridges cross a narrow river slithering through town’s center, and high atop a nearby hill sits a protective castle. Churches and Cathedrals punctuate the scene with their high domes and even higher steeples.

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Lovely pedestrian-only streets.
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First wooden bikes we’d ever seen.
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Views from the Ljubljana Castle.

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Right near our hostel was the very cool Dragon Bridge.
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Dragons were an ever-present theme throughout Ljubljana. One legend says Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) allegedly slew a dragon that lived in a swamp at the mouth of the Ljubljana River. A more reality-based explanation for the dragon says that the earliest city’s coat-of-arms contained a small lizard somewhere on it. That small lizard grew into a dragon over the ensuing centuries.

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Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj

The featured image from that travel magazine story on Slovenia was of Lake Bled. It’s a small lake encircled by a hiking trail, green forested hills, and the town of the same name. Standing above and behind the hills are the higher mountains showing their snow. The circumference of the lake can be walked in less than 2 hours (which we did). Within the lake there is a tiny island. Built on that island is a not-so-tiny church. Get the picture?
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Another angle. Notice the steps that lead up to the church entrance.
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To get to Lake Bled we rented a car in Ljubljana and drove northwest a little more than an hour. This gave us further chance to experience Slovenia’s countryside. We observed that gardening is a national obsession, both flower and vegetable. Brilliant tulips were in bloom at the time we were there (early May) and decorated many of the simple yet beautifully appointed homes.

An additional 10 km drive past Lake Bled and we came upon a quaint farming village called Bohinjska Bistrica. There we stayed for three quiet nights in a two bedroom apartment that occupied the upper third of a three story house. Well, not too quiet; Jessica was fighting a severe cold at that time and experienced coughing fits that just wouldn’t quit. The family that lived in the main part of the house even offered Jessica some medicine, presumably after they heard her coughing throughout the night.

Best Run Ever?

Lake Bled was cool, but Slovenia has many scenic lakes that are equally as worthy….like Lake Bohinj- a glacier-carved lake at the pivot-point connecting two valleys. Streams entered the lake from the valley to the north and then exited the lake as a river heading down another valley to the east. Follow that river as it winds through the valley for 7 km and you will arrive to Bohinjska Bistrica. Along one side of that river is a simple two-lane road for cars and tractors. On the other is a bike path (also sometimes used by tractors).

I’ve been trying to keep up with my running (since I plan to do a marathon next year). One of our mornings I got up early-ish and ran the 7 km length of the bike path to the lake. It’s hard to imagine I will ever have the pleasure of running in such a spectacular setting again in my life. Running to the lake and back totaled 14 km or (8 1/2 miles), a good-sized run, but truly… I didn’t want it to end.

Later that day, I repeated the route with Jessica on a pair of rented bikes so that she could experience the same awe and wonder this valley so effortlessly delivered.
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Why not kayak?

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We kayaked in the lake and (on another day) went for a pleasant stroll around it. In the video below, Jessica catches me blowing a dandelion flower with humorous results.

Slovenia for Everyone

A few final thoughts on sweet Slovenia. We were only in Slovenia a week. It’s a small country and that might seem like plenty, but after becoming so enchanted with the two places we visited (Ljubljana and the lakes), we were left hungry for an even bigger bite. Slovenia has beaches to its south. I wonder if they’re as nice as every other place we saw. And, there are many more cities than just Ljubljana. We passed through some of them on our train ride north to Austria; they all looked terribly inviting.

The language spoken in Slovenia (categorized as South Slavic) was quite a departure for our ears. In some ways it reminded me of baby-talk. Not quite “goo-goo ga-ga,” but close enough to give me that impression. Fortunately for us, very few Slovenians didn’t speak English.

Another consideration that favors Slovenia is that it isn’t super expensive when compared to the rest of Europe. Small gelatos that were 3 euros in Italy were half that price and twice as big in Slovenia. Yay!

People form their impressions of countries and travel desires over time. Italy, France, Spain often top people’s list of European countries they’d like to visit. Now that we’ve been to Slovenia, we believe it deserves to be ranked far higher in people’s minds. It’s just so damn nice! Go to Slovenia. You’ll love it.

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