Communing with Nature in Slovenia

One of four dragons guarding each corner of the popular Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana

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.

Ljubljanica River with the Castle visible on top of the hill to the right-hand side

Cathedral of St Nicolas

A sculpture depicting the eternal struggle between good and evil. Some choose to represent this dichotomy with black and white, ying and yang, God and the Devil, etc., but here in Ljubljana, it is the fight between Jason and the Dragon, of course

Whereas the Castle on top of the hill isn’t the most impressive thing I’ve seen, the climb up the steps still yields a great view back over the city

The streets of the city

Yet another shot of the beautiful riverside

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):

After hiking around aimlessly for a while, I actually found myself lost in the woods without a map (luckily, I had a compass along, or I may still be out there). It was tough to get frustrated, though, with this type of scenery all around

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):

Great looking Fruits and Vegetables despite the fact that we are in the heart of the Autumn season

Dried herbs and flowers for sale

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.

The exterior of my hostel, which incidentally used to house a prison (each “cell” is now a room and the bars still block the windows)

A courtyard within the Metelkova area by day

A close-up on the various layers of artistic works that adorn nearly every exterior surface

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).

Given that 70% of Slovenia’s landmass is covered in forests, it isn’t surprising to see quite a bit of game on the menus. See here is a forest trio: Deer medallions with sour cherries, Stag with porcini mushrooms, and Wild Boar with a green pepper sauce

Likely a derivative of the Turkish Borek, the stuffed pastry known as Burek has become one of the favorite fast food items for Slovenians (and the rest of the former-Yugoslavian states, for that matter). Seen here is the ground beef versoin, though other popular stuffings include feta or cottage cheese, pizza, or spinach

Disclaimer: if you are an Equestrian fan, please turn away now. Another specialty that often appears on the menus of many fancy restaurants is that of Horse flesh. I didn’t want to dole out the 30+ Euro prices that they were asking, but luckily I found a fast food joint (appropriately name “Hot Horse”) that served the likes of nachos, kebabs, hot dogs, and burgers — all made with nothing other than horse meat — so I opted for their signature Horse Burger.

Postojna, Slovenia:

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):

A picturesque lake just outside the entrance to the caves

The tour consistes of a 2-kilometer underground train ride, followed up with a 30-40 minute walk around before catching another train back out

Bled, Slovenia:

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.

Church of the Assumption on its own private island

Looking down on Lake Bled from a hilltop

The nearby mountains peeking out from between the clouds

And of course, as soon as I finished the 2+ hour hike around the lake, the clouds decided to open up and deilver a beautiful sky. Seen here is the Bled Castle on the cliff to the right with the barely discerable Church of the Assumption in the shadows of the mountains to the left

Roasted Chestnuts and Mulled Wine: the perfect way to warm back up and refuel, all while admiring the amazing vistas

Besides simply the lake itself, another great attraction to check out is the Vintgar Gorge a few kilometers outside of town:

It is about an hour walk to the Gorge, but again, the countryside makes it a worthwhile walk

The stroll along the gorge takes roughly 30 minutes one-way and only costs a few Euros

The pictures don’t do the scene justice, but the fall colors were really at their peak, with bright yellows, oranges, and reds everywhere

The eirily clear waters of the river

For almost the entire walk along the gorge, I couldn’t help but think how much I’d love to kayak the river. Then I came to this at the end, and quickly realized why they don’t allow kayaks on the water

And once your day in Bled is coming to an end, the best way to finish it off is to…

…watch the sun set slowly over the mountains…

…while enjoying a nice cup of coffee and the famous Bled Cream Cake, of course!

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!

Two self-portraits in one post? It must be your lucky day!

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

9 Responses to “Communing with Nature in Slovenia”

  1. Absolutely a wonderful post, Rew. Excellent pictures and we all love
    the ones with YOU in them. Keep them coming. Be safe.

  2. Oh man this is truly something, but reminds me of a place in Croatia a friend told me about. You need to check this place out….

    http://www.widerange.org/photo/plitvice-waterfalls-croatia/

  3. This country looks so amazing! Truly an interesting post, Andrew. I can see what made you enjoy your time there. The scenery looks beautiful and you really shot some great photographs for us. You have become quite the photographer on this journey of yours.

  4. Andrew, Thank you so much for this introduction to Slovenia!!! Your photos are wonderful, and your commentary is informative and so entertaining. I’m happy to know that you are feeling well again, and that you have had such good days in your new, most favorite country. Warm greetings to you! KH

  5. Great stuff again Rew. That place looks beautiful. I hope my mom didn’t read this post though…

  6. Great Blog Andre.

    I have been through Slovenia on my way to Croatia though I never stayed.

    Kudos’ to you.

    On another note please try to get to Slovakia as much as you liked Slovenia you would love Slovakia tons of little towns with castles everywhere, High & Low Tatras ( Mountains) with hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, there are caves that are spectacular as well as caves with frozen waterfalls in them and so many forests everywhere.
    It holds a very dear place in my heart and I love going back whenever I can.

    Try it you would love it.

  7. I am so jealous, but thank you for sharing. It is amazing how photography can convey so much! Truly amazing photos! Bon voyage 🙂 Enjoy your travels!

  8. Slovenia is the hidden gem of Europe. I think it’s Europe’s most beautiful country. Small, but diverse. Very friendly and educated population.
    Ljubljana is most beautiful for Christmas when the bridges across the river are adorned with lights.

  9. I’m swayed on your use of “swayed.” Stick with it!

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