Dober dan everyone. That is a Slovenian greeting that means roughly “good day” (it also works in Croatia). Here is an update covering my short time in Slovenia, which consisted of two days in the capital of Ljubljana, (pronounced kind of like “loo-blee-yana”)one of which was spent doing a day trip to Lake Bled.
Before we get to Ljubljana, I must recount my misadventure in traveling from Venice to Ljubljana (if you read the Venice post you’ll remember my foreboding). There is no direct line between Venice and Ljubljana, so I had to connect regional trains to make the journey. The first train went off without a hitch, and when I arrived in the first intermediate town I caught a bus to the other side of the town to get on train number two (the second train left from a different station than the one I arrived in). The train stations up in the small mountain towns between Venice and Ljubljana are not well labeled, so when a train arrived at exactly the right time for the one I wanted, I got on. Unfortunately, thirty minutes into the ride I realized I was in fact on the wrong train, heading the wrong direction. I got off at the next stop, which was a small town/village up in the mountains, overlooking the Soča River. The schedule of the wall of the run down station showed that there would be no train going back for two hours, so I decided to make the most of it and looked around. The area is actually quite beautiful, so it wasn’t such a bad place to be temporarily stranded. While walking around, I met an elderly Italian (they might have been Slovenian, but they spoke Italian) couple. They didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak much Italian, so I did my best to explain my situation to them and they actually invited me into their home and gave me some juice and cookies. I spent about an hour with them and showed them some photos from my journey so far. When it was time, I said goodbye and returned to the little train station and caught the train back to the previous train station, where I had to wait another two hours for the next train to the correct place; a town called Sezana. When I reached Sezana the last train of the day was about to leave for Ljubljana, so I had to run and got on board just before the doors closed. From this point everything went fine, and I arrived in Ljubljana at about 10:00pm. Welcome to Slovenia.
Slovenia only has just under two million people in the whole country, and I’m guessing about one fourth are in the greater Ljubljana area. It’s not a nation you visit for great cities or grand architecture, (try western Europe for that) but it strikes me as a place you would love if you like backpacking the mountains and other outdoor activities. The country has expansive forests, mountain ranges, and even a small stretch of coastline. But if there’s one thing I really like about Slovenia, it was that everything there costs less than in Western Europe, and after the money hole that was Venice my wallet was much relieved. Anyways, let’s get started with my time in Slovenia. Day one in Ljubljana consisted of just looking around town and seeing the sights of the city, which aren’t too many. You can see the whole city in a day, or half a day if you just do the highlights. After making reservations at the train station for my future trip to Split, (which will be covered by the next post) I got lunch at the nearby McDonalds. Maybe because I hadn’t had a full meal since breakfast the day before, but this was the best tasting McDonalds I’ve ever had. After that I went down to the so called Dragon Bridge that crosses the river that runs through Ljubljana. The reason it is called that is because on each corner of the bridge there is a dragon sculpture. Dragons are part of the local folklore and the city coat of arms has a dragon on top of a castle on a hill. On the other side of the river I spent some time looking around Ljubljana’s outdoor market, which meets in the morning and sells mostly food, but also flowers, furniture, crafts and other stuff. While there I spotted some people from Coca Cola passing out free cans of Coke Zero, which I’m guessing is new to Slovenia, and I helped myself to a can. Near the market is the city’s main square and triple bridge, called such because it is three bridges right along side each other over the river. Although not very big, the square does feel like the center of the city and the area around it is the closest thing you can find to a downtown section of the city. After checking out the area, I hiked up Ljubljana’s hill to its castle. Although the castle goes back to Roman times, it’s modern form was created in the 1800s after major renovations. The castle has changed appearance several times, and inside the castle there’s a small exhibit showing how it used to look in each period. Although the castle is kind of sparse on the inside, the looking tower has good views of the city and there’s a decent museum in the castle too. There was actually a wedding finishing up when I got there, so there was a bride, groom and the various wedding guests were posing for photos at various places along the castle. Before coming down I paid a short visit to the park that’s next to the castle and has some panoramic views of the surrounding area. When I came down from the hill my day was more or less done, and I got bought some food and worked on the Rome entry of the blog.
Day two in Slovenia was all about a day trip out to Lake Bled. There’s no trains to the town of Bled, so I got on a bus and the ride took about 1.2 hours. I traveled there with an Israeli guy named Ami who I had met at the hostel in Ljubljana. He was staying the night in Bled so we both rode the bus into town and then parted ways some time later at the lake. Lake Bled is a very beautiful place; one of those photogenic spots that always appears on tourism materials. I walked the whole way around the lake, and on the way met a guy and girl from Michigan who were on their own journey across Europe. They had arrived at the lake very early in the morning and were looking for a place to stay in town, and Ami (who was still with me at the time) offered to walk with them back into town to try to find a place. We parted ways and I spent some more time at the lake before bleeding my wallet by taking a boat across the lake to the island in the middle of it. The boat ride is actually a bit expensive at twelve euros for a round trip, and there’s not too much on the island so it may not be worth it for everyone. If you do take the trip, be sure to get one of the old paddle boats for the full experience, and not get stuck with a motorboat like me. Anyways, on the island is an old church, a few smaller buildings and a staircase leading from where the boat landing is to the courtyard where the church is. A local tradition says that a man is not fit to marry unless he can carry his fiance up all 98 steps to the top. Just like at the castle in Ljubljana, there was a wedding wrapping up on the island while I was there, so everyone was posing for photos (do I see a trend here?). As a tourist, you’re only supposed to stay on the island for about half an hour, and when my time was up I returned to the lake shore and spent the rest of the time looking around the town of Bled before my bus back to Ljubljana arrived. While exploring, I went to an ice cream place whose name I can’t pronounce. I had seen it earlier while walking from the bus stop to the lake, and there had been a long line of locals (including a priest, which officially makes the place legit) at the door. After buying some myself, I can see why, as the ice cream was very good. After ice cream I went back to the bus stop and waited for the bus that took me back to Ljubljana. That was all for day two.
I am typing this update from Split, in Croatia. I’m thinking I will do all of Croatia (Split and Zagreb) as a single entry in the blog, so I probably won’t have the next update published for a few days. I have another day here in Split before returning to Zagreb for a single night. Then, it is off to Budapest.