SLOVENIA, JUNE 10-18, 2011
Slovenia undoubtedly proved to be an excellent travel destination. The country’s cities offered culture and sophistication, and the countryside provided numerous thrills and rushes of adrenaline. I realized the majority of my plans as originally intended, but was forced to tweak some slightly, mainly due to a decreased budget.
The greatest of these changes was the accompaniment of my German girlfriend. With her joining me, we were able to take advantage of her sister’s car, which precluded spending money on a plane ticket from Germany to Slovenia and on a rental car. Additionally, I was able to save more money by occasionally splitting costs, such as that of food purchased in super markets.
The order of my itinerary changed, but the individual items remained essentially intact (Ptuj was not visited). I also was unable to stay on at the farm near Ljubjlana, a member of the World Wide Organization of Organic Farmers, because of scheduling conflicts. As you will see, however, these lost possibilities were more than recovered with other opportunities on the trip.
As I had planned, I arrived in Germany on May 25 and traveled around Bavaria visiting with old friends from my year spent studying abroad in Germany. I departed with Maria, my girlfriend, for Slovenia on June 10 and we arrived in Ljubljana in mid-afternoon.
As evening approached we headed to a restaurant that our hostel owner had recommended to us (we were some of his first guests, even his mother greeted us). The restaurant, Pri Škofu, lived up to its reputation. Serving truly fresh food daily, there was no menu, only a waiter to describe the day’s dishes. The delicious food and secluded location made for an excellent meal.
This Saturday was our main day for seeing the sights of Ljubljana.
We took in a sprawling open-air market in the city center where dense stands of produce, flowers, clothing, and other goods crowded the squares and river promenade. Ljubljana Castle provided some splendid views of the city and surrounding landscape. The City Museum told the interesting story of Ljubljana from Roman outpost to modern capital of an independent Slovenia. Formal gardens, lush settings, and a carnival were waiting for us at Tivoli Park.
In the evening we once again enjoyed the night life exploding along the Ljubljanica River promenade. We also tried some Slovenian dishes, such as štruklji and žganci. The prior was translated to us as “cooked mush” and was as appetizing as it sounds.
On Sunday the highway led us to the coast and stops on the way.
The first detour brought us to Predjama Castle. Appearing as an outgrowth of the mountain on whose side it rests, the impressive structure also sits at the mouth of a cave. Predjama’s greatest legend stems from Erasmus Luger, a murderer who was on the lam with his band of criminals several centuries ago and resisted an army’s year-long siege by taking up residence in the castle. Luger’s key to success was use of the secret caves that led to other openings and fresh food.
Farther down the road from Ljubljana was Škocjan Caves, an absolutely magnificent wonder of nature and one of the world’s largest known underground canyons. The canyon, formed by a torrential river that still flows through the caves and eventually surfaces in Italy, reaches such heights that a thirty-story high-rise could easily fit inside.
We reached the city of Piran early in the evening. Once a Venetian stronghold, the historic city captivates visitors with Venetian architecture and a labyrinth of narrow, car-free alleys.
Most of this day was spent roaming Piran and taking a dip at a beach next to the city.
The highlight of the day, though, took place in the evening. To our surprise, at the end of a Catholic Mass the congregation began dispersing fresh flowers among them and headed through a side doorway. Curious, we followed suit and walked into a cloister’s courtyard that had minutes before become the setting of a party. With locals gathered around platters of home-cooked food and filling glass after glass of wine, we quickly joined the festivities, apparently a local tradition. A few women we met that evening in the courtyard provided us with some valuable tips.
Following the advice of the women from the previous night, we drove to the nearby village of Strujan. Here, we ignored the resort beaches, as advised, and took a lonely cobblestone path up from the village. As promised, this led us to a small and deserted chapel with a beautiful interior. Farther on, the now-dirt path ended at the top of a cliff and, though they couldn’t hear us, we thanked the three women out loud.
Stretched out below us were the tranquil Bay of St. Cross and the glistening blue waters of the Adriatic. After finding a trail that led down the cliff, the rest of the day was spent snorkeling in the clear water and laying out on the flat boulders along the secluded beach.
We pushed on from the coast to the last region of the country we planned to visit, the mountainous northwest. That night we slept in Bovec, a small town and an adventure sports mecca near Triglav National Park, which is a protected portion of the majestic Julian Alps.
Before dinner we visited a small village to the north of Bovec named Log pod Mangartom, the site of a somber World War I military cemetery as well as a devastating landslide that occurred in 2001.
After dining on Bovec’s central square, we walked a road leading up the side of the valley and found a quiet bar with a large outdoor terrace. Together with the befriended bartender, we sat outside and watched a full lunar eclipse, which became an improved experience once a couple of the bartender’s friends arrived with a telescope.
In the morning we undertook the activity that had been my most anticipated for the whole trip: canyoning. A hired local guide took us out of Bovec and to the nearby Sušec stream that came cascading down a mountain. A steep hike took us upstream, all the way paralleling the deep gorge through which the stream flowed. Eventually, wearing helmets and neoprene suits, we waded into the stream itself. Passage back to the trailhead involved exhilarating slides, sometimes headfirst, down waterfalls and, at the steeper cataracts, jumps into the chilling snowmelt water several feet below. Each fall grew slightly more challenging after that, culminating in a final descent down a twenty foot waterfall by abseil.
In the afternoon, Maria remained in town, but I joined the same guide again and five Czech bikers on a rafting trip down the Soça River, some of Europe’s premier whitewater. Afterwards, we departed Bovec for Lake Bohinj.
We spent this, the last full day of the trip, roaming around beautiful and clear Lake Bohinj, situated on the edge of Triglav National Park. Hikes brought us to the lofty Savica Waterfall, the twisting and curvy Mostnica Gorge, and a peaceful valley between jagged mountains. We also drove to three nearby villages to get a better taste of rural Slovenian life.
For the final day, we drove to Lake Bled. Likely the most famous of Slovenia’s tourist attractions, Bled offered a fantastic setting. We rented a row boat and headed out to the church-topped island in the middle of the lake.
After returning to the car, we drove towards the highway and back to Germany.
As planned, I diligently took notes of nearly every aspect of the trip. I am happy to report that I have finished an article covering my adventure and will soon begin submitting it to publications for their consideration. I hope that this article can be the break that I intended it to be to open the door for me into travel writing.
As for Slovenia and the trip themselves, both exceeded my expectations. Slovenia was a beautiful destination rich with friendly people, cultural experiences, and recreational opportunities. I have already started recommending it to my friends, and, given the chance, I would certainly return. The interaction with locals—from the conversations with waiters and bartenders to the impromptu celebrations—was also exactly as I had hoped for.
Incidentally, I was only able to learn key Slovenian phrases and words beforehand, and some I picked up while in the country. Thankfully, many Slovenes spoke English or German.
In conclusion, I would like to once again express my gratitude to the Globetrotter Grant for this valuable opportunity. Thank you for your financial support and, even more so, for your faith in me and my goals. Rest assured that when, not if, my article is published I will give due credit to the Globetrotter Grant.