The next stop on my great journey across the globe was that of Slovenia — which, incidentally, may have just become my new favorite country. Sometimes referred to as Europe’s playground, it is certainly a dream destination for the free-spirited and outdoorsy-types, as the cities are bright, vibrant, and youthful, and the countryside is filled with gorgeous mountains, vast caves, beautiful rivers, and endless forests. And as such, this has become a mecca for trekking, white water rafting, canyoning, kayaking, skiing, climbing and virtually any other outdoor activity that you can think of.
As a home base for exploring the country, I choose the charming captial of Ljubljana (pronounced Loo-blah-nah), which combines the quaint and rustic feel of rural Europe with a vibrant nightlife — and it even has a few historical goodies sprinkled therein. As legend has it, Ljubljana was founded when the mythological Jason, with his Argonauts in tow, happened upon this spot and found themselves face to face with a gigantic dragon. After a fierce battle, Jason emerged victorioius — though if you ask me, he still got the fuzzy end of the lolipop, as the vanquished dragon went on to become the symbol of the city anyway (see the “Dragon Bridge” photo above). The city itself is built along the Ljubljanica River, with the Ljubljana Castle looming over the city at the top of a hill. Most of the cities many cafes and restaurants sit alongside the river on streets carved into the side of the hill, creating a peaceful place to enjoy an espresso during the day or a dynamic spot for bar-hopping at night.
You can’t go anywhere in Slovenia without being reminded that your are much closer to nature than in many other cities, and as such, Ljubljana has a gorgeous park in which you can simply contemplate life by the side of one of the lakes, take a stroll with your sweetheart, or choose to hike the trains that crisscross the entire park (personally, I opted for the latter):
And if a market is set up somewhere within the city limits, leave it to me to sniff it out like a bloodhound (though this one was pretty easy to find, as it was actually located right in the heart of the city):
Another very intriguing site within Ljubljana that shows an entirely different face of the city is that of the legendary Metelkova — which, by random chance, happened to also contain the hostel in which I was staying. The site was originally soldiers’ barracks back in the late 19th century, but after a few artists began squatting in the empty buildings roughly 20 years ago, the entire area is now covered in graffitti murals and art installations and has been devoted to artists’ studios, clubs, bars, and simply a general meeting point for the open-minded. The only similar place to which I can compare Metelkova is that of Christiana (or Freetown) in Copenhagen – if you need a refresher, you find that post here. Unfortunately the pictures I took of the area at night didn’t turn out, but rest assured, it was the place to be in the city that night, as the 8-9 clubs and bars of Metelkova were packed to the brim, with the crowds spilling out to mingle in the night air.
From a cuisine perspective, there are a few nice treats to sample while in Slovenia (though I wasn’t able to complete my personal mission of trying Potica, a walnut cake/bread that draws as much rivalry and competition as Barbeque does in the Southern US, as most folks would only sell an entire loaf, not the lonely slice for which I was looking).
Another unique aspect to Slovenia is that the lowlands to the Southwest of Ljubljana are riddled with spectacular cave systems, several of which are open to the public. Being a huge fan of Ohio Caverns back home (near Urbana), I couldn’t resist the temptation to don a few extra layers and head into the abyss underground. The two most popular caves to visit are the Skokjan caves and the Postojna caves — though it draws a few more tourists than the former, I choose to visit the Postojna caves, as I was swayed by the fact that that particular cave system is the only home on the planet to a cute little eyeless albino salamander (of which I saw, but unfortunately wasn’t able to get a good picture):
I try not to say this much for fear of overuse, but an absolute must-see day trip is to the small town of Bled, Slovenia (a little over an hour by bus from Ljubljana), which is home to 5,000 lucky souls. Juxtasposed together, you’ll find a castle built on the edge of a sheer cliff face overlooking a glacial lake, which also houses its own fairly-tale-like church delicately placed on its own private island in the middle, all set against the background of the mountains that form the beginning of the Triglav National Park. Not to steal a few words from my guidebook, but it is as if this was custom-designed for the sake of postcards.
Besides simply the lake itself, another great attraction to check out is the Vintgar Gorge a few kilometers outside of town:
And once your day in Bled is coming to an end, the best way to finish it off is to…
It is always a bit difficult to leave each country, but leaving Slovenia was particularly tough for me as I really grew to love the place and — more than anywhere else I’ve been so far – it was starting to feel like home. I’m making it a point to return on a future trip, however, so hopefully the weather will be a bit warmer and I’ll be able to indulge in a few of the more adventurous activites (i.e. – rafting, canyoning, etc.). But for now, I’m heading off to my next country: Croatia — specifically, I’m headed to the captial of Zagreb. Until next time, Na Zdravje from Slovenia!