Carolina: Cruising Past 70: 10 Gems of Largely Undiscovered Slovenia, Courtesy of Our Friends

Thursday, November 8, 2018

10 Gems of Largely Undiscovered Slovenia, Courtesy of Our Friends


beautiful Lake Bled

Please see the end of the post for discounts on Slovenian apartments and day trips.

We had such low expectations of Slovenia. It is not exactly off-the-beaten-path but neither is it top of mind when you think of going to Europe. But we had had not seen our long-time Slovenian friends for six years and our new American First Lady comes from Slovenia. When we got to Washington DC for our flight to London where we had a connecting flight to its capital, Ljubljana, we were told that Primera Air had just declared bankruptcy and was no longer flying as of that day. Tough luck! We had to shell out $3,500+ for new tickets. Our Slovenian visit just became very expensive!

But as soon as our Easy Jet flight made the approach, we saw how lovely it is: verdant green with purple mountains streaked with white. I was fascinated by the spruce trees of near whitebark I saw as our shuttle made its way. They looked like evergreen brothers of birches or aspens. We started to feel good!


the Central Market


Imagine our surprise when we found out that the apartment our friend Katarina was letting us use from her stable of units is right in front of the massive Central Market whose stall come alive every day at 7 am with all the goodies farmers and other vendors have to offer. Just to the left of her building is the funicular that led to the Ljubljana Grad (Castle) from where you can get the best aerial view of the city. At the Castle grounds, we found an exhibit of Slovenian mythology, front, and center of which is the dragon. To the right of her building is the walking path to the castle, right after her office where she offers day trips. It was good to know that all of Slovenia is reachable in a day.

view of Ljubljana from the Tower of the  Castle
the Fountaiin and St. Nicholas Church at the background
Just a few steps after her building and the Market you will get to the pedestrian, cobble-stoned Old Historic Center. Little electric shuttle cars are available for those who are tired from walking. Just half a block and you get to the yellow St. Nicholas Church and its massive unique doors. The Fountain is not far from the church. If you turn right you will immediately get to the Ljubljana River with the Three Bridges that lead to the Pink Church. The river is punctuated by other bridges, most notably the Dragon Bridge to the right and the Shoemakers’ Bridge to the left.  

To the left of the Pink Church are the shopping areas. Mustering the strength not to buy too much, we found the city’s green oasis, the Tivoli Park, at the end. There are two art galleries at its entrance and the long promenade, lined with Slovenia’s classic paintings, leads to a former castle that had also been turned into a beautiful art gallery up the hill.

the mystery at Tivoli Park

Katarina customized, per my request, a combination of two-day trips to be done in one day, setting aside the tour of the Lippizans which we have seen in Florida. Luckily, an Australian couple loved the idea and joined us in a small van with a guide to visit three unforgettable destinations south of Ljubljana.

Our first stop was the Postojna Jama (Cave). I almost wanted to remove it from the itinerary, too, since we have seen so many caves around the world. OMG, I am glad we did not! All of its 24 kilometers of viewable areas were accessible by trains and short walks and are all very well-lighted. We climbed the highest point, descended to the lowest, of the whole hill inside the cave! We explored the Dance and Concert Halls and were fascinated by gleaming pure calcite pillars, the colorful iron oxide curtains, and white spaghetti sprouts. They were grand formations we have never seen before.

beautiful curtains of Postojna Jama 

Part of the Park and just about fifteen minutes away, is what is called Predjama Grad, a unique castle built onto a smaller cave. We saw the older portions of the castle carved into the cave and the newer parts at the cave’s opening that were built to make the castle more comfortable for the owners. There is a fireplace in the bedroom, a kitchen, a dining room, a cellar, a water collection cistern, a chapel, and servants’ quarters. But it is the defense structures that were unique: a solid entrance with a drawbridge, an armory, shooting holes, and narrow openings for the guns and cannons. What an interesting castle built, not primarily for the luxury like others, but for maximum defense.  

unique Predjama Grad

And we continued south to the 43 kilometers of Slovenian coastline In the city of Piran where the finest sea salt in the world is produced. After a sumptuous seafood lunch, we descended into the spit where the red rooftops made for a beautiful scene, very much like in Croatia. To the left one can see Croatia’s coast, to right Italy’s, and up the hill stands a Catholic Church and a monastery from the 1600s.

ice cream at the tip of the coastline in Piran with  a view of the Italian coast 

That night Katarina drove us to Bled and, on the way, we relished the burgers at the only MacDonalds in Slovenia. Then she brought us to one of the rental apartments of another friend, Jure, for our next tour day. Imagine our thrill when we found out it was right on Lake Bled. We could see the lights of the other castle on the hill but it was In the morning when we were left awestruck by all the beauty around.  

Jure picked us up the next day and the three of us began our slow walk around the six-kilometer perimeter of the lake. We stopped several times so we can take many photos at different angles of the famous church on the island in the middle of Lake Bled Colorful boats regularly brought tourists to and from the castle. We also stopped for coffee and to admire the work of a painter which were different perspectives of the famous scene. Jure bought me a small one and the painter proceeded to paint the three of us at the back of the painting, signed it, making permanent our “moment in time.”

the twin falls at the end of Vintgar Gorge
After lunch at the oldest local dishes restaurant in town, Jure took us to Vintgar Gorge, a 1.6-kilometer gorge created by the Radovna River. The stream is so clear you can see the fish, logs, and rocks in the not-so-deep waters. As we walked the long, narrow boardwalk, we saw the boulders that punctuated the waters, creating gushing little waterfalls. Towards the end, you will find the larger twin falls, crowned by a tall arch bridge where trains ran. It was such a pretty scene.

By that time we had walked 9.2 miles and were tired but Jure wanted us to see the largely unexplored, more pristine, and the bigger lake known as Lake Bohinj. On the way and back, he happily told us about the Slovenian countryside and rural life: the identical little churches in every village, the unique kozolecs or hayracks for drying hay and corn or even store wood, and the small garden each Slovenian home nurtured from where the family gets their own favorite vegetables. 
   
Lake Bohinj

We saw so much more in three days than we had ever planned. Having Slovenian friends host us was our definite advantage. As a matter of fact, we were also able to sample many local dishes. My next post is a deeper look into Slovenian cuisine and why they are so delicious and healthy. There is a reason obesity is nonexistent in the country. But for now, $3,500 seems so small compared to the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual satisfaction we found on this short but comprehensive trip of the largely undiscovered gem that Slovenia is!

IMPORTANT NOTE

For those who want great rates on Katrina's centrally-located  Ljubljana apartments featured in Airbnb, please click CENTRALLY-LOCATED LJUBLJANA APARTMENTS. For discounts on the day trips she organizes, please go to her website TRIP YOUR DAY. Mention “Carol Colborn Blog” in your inquiry for both apartments and day trips and get the 10% discount for any booking(s) you make.

For those who want to rent any of the six sought-after lake view apartment units of Jure on Lake Bled, please click LAKEVIEW APARTMENTS ON LAKE BLED


pinnable image