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Slovenia - Yes, that's right, Slovenia

SLOVENIA | Sunday, 15 September 2013 | Views [813]

From the Castle

From the Castle

So the general question we got while planning our trip was “Slovenia? Where is that and why are you going there?”  The honest answer before going was: It’s between Croatia and Austria, both of which we wanted to see, so we might as well spend a few days there to break up the traveling.  The only thing on the itinerary was the Karst Caves, which I saw in a travel guide and thought would be cool. Come to find out, we thought Slovenia was amazing!  As unimpressed as we were with Croatia, we were pleasantly surprised by Slovenia – it’s beautiful! Who knew?

 

Ljubljana (three days)

We expected Slovenia to be very Eastern Block in appearance and were so surprised when we arrived in Ljubljana to find a beautiful capital city, similar to any small Western European capital.  There is a rolling river separating the Old Town and the more business-oriented city center.  The river has walking promenades on both sides with cafes, restaurants and (due to us arriving during a festival), small music stages with live performers.  There are wonderful water fountains and sculptures throughout the town, and a huge daily market in Old Town with fresh fruits, veggies, purses and clothing.

Similar to other cities we have visited on our trip, the main attraction is the Castle that sits upon the dominate hill in town. The castle has been turned into a tourist attraction and events center rather than ruins, having been resurfaced in most places and having retained only a few original walls.  Slightly disappointing as castles go, but the tower allowed for a great view of the town.  We met a brother and sister from Tahoe traveling Europe for the summer, so spent some time talking with them.  A fun few hours and there was a great museum inside that provided an overall history of Slovenia. Jackson most enjoyed the funicular ride up and down the hill, and didn’t fare too well in the “mineum” where he had to be held and not be too loud. 

Culturally, Slovenians appears to identify more with Austrian than Yugoslavian culture, and do appear to be much more so than Croatians.  They actually seem to look down on Croatians a little as less European. The food is an interesting international mix of Austrian/German (bratwurst), Italian (pasta) and Hungarian (goulash).  Definitely an improvement in the food – and I haven’t even gotten to the best part (Bled Cake, to be described in detail later on). I have a general rule to try as many local dishes as possible while traveling. I kept seeing horse meat on the menus and read about it in the travel guide.  So, our last night in Ljubljana there was “foal steak” on the menu, so I had to try it.  It was much better than I thought it would be.  Very tender, only slightly different in favor than beef steak.  It was likely greatly improved by the tasty truffle sauce on it.  Overall, I liked it. We also attached a "lovers lock" to the local bridge - a custom we started noticing on the bridges in Croatia, but was fully explained to us in Slovenia.

We took our day trip out to the karst caves of Postojna on the second day. We just missed our train and opted to rent a car for the day.  This was a nice turn of luck, as we were able to see both the caves and the Predjana Castle in one day.  The Postojna Caves system is the largest cave system in the world.  It has been a tourist attraction since only a few years after it was “discovered”, over 200 years ago.  We rode a small (think cave miner’s sized) train down several kilometers into the mountain and underground, where the river once ran and carved away these caves.  Truly felt like the center of the earth, but instead of being hot it was cold and humid.  The caves contain thousands of amazing stalactites and stalagmites. 

Just 9 km up the road was the Predjama Castle.  We have seen many castles so far, but really enjoyed this one.  It is built into one of the massive caves of the area.  Set 123 meters above the ground and under an overhanging cliff, it is a small 12-16th century castle (added on over the centuries) that is plain but beautiful!  Obviously built for safety at the end of a valley and in the rock cliff, it is not lavish, but unique and possibly the most interesting castle we have seen so far.

We left the capital city to travel by train through the lovely landscape of Slovenia to the small village of Bled. Oh, a note on the trains.  We have noticed that the concept of waiting in line is non-existent in both Croatia and Slovenia.  This was most noticeable on the trains, where people push and shove and have no sense of you being the next aboard (even when carrying a child on your back and a bag in each hand). We saw one lady struggling to get off the train, only to fall and knock down three other people  Slow down people, you’ll all get there.

 

Bled (3 days) – the perfect honeymoon spot!

OK, so we’re not on honeymoon, but this village is absolutely wonderful!  We kept saying “idyllic”, “picturesque” and “beautiful”.  There is a church on a small island in the middle of the large lake, on which the town surrounds.  There is (another) castle on the rock cliff overlooking the emerald green lake.  Swans play in the lake and there are views of the Austrian Alps from up near the castle. There is just a peaceful and quaint feel to this little town.  Despite this being heralded as one of the most touristed towns in the country, we were there just at the end of high season and found it low key and rather vacant. 

We spent a day biking around the lake – Jackson’s first bike ride.  He was so comfortable that he fell asleep midway. We also rented a swan row boat and Chris (with a little help from Jackson) rowed out to the island.

We spent part of our last day hiking out to Vintgar Gorge and waterfall.  The waterfall itself wasn’t that impressive, but the hike was pretty.  We walked along a swirling river by way of a narrow suspended walkway that cantilevered out from the rock.

So a note about the dessert here.  There is plenty of pastry available in Slovenia, but we were blown away by the local specialty “Bled Cake” aka kremma rezina – a layer of vanilla custard topped with whipped cream sandwiched between two layers of flaky pastry.  We were only there three days and ate Bled Cake four times – YUM!!! Jackson liked it so much that he began to order it himself when we ordered meals: “and cake” he would tell the “waitard”, and be rather insistent the next time the waiter arrived if he hadn’t been acknowledged: “and some CAKE?”  Chris and I agreed with his choice!

 

Although Slovenia is a little out of the way, if we are again in northern Italy or southern Austria, we might return, as it is truly a beautiful country. Maybe next time we will have our good friend Gessica with us to help guide us in Italy. (Missed you Gessica!)

 

 

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