A Quick Trip to Slovenia because the price was right, and of course there is war between Russia and Ukraine out that way which might improve the odds for an unforgettable blog post.
I was to spend a week with a rental car checking out the hiking trails on the West side of the country. I had a 15 minute connection in Munich on the way over. I assumed I would miss it and be forced to spend the day enjoying Oktoberfest. When I got off the plan in Germany I did everything I could to slow roll it over to my next gate. I hit the bathroom, checked out the duty free, even stopped for a snack. Unfortunately, I got to the gate in time. I considered just missing the flight all together, rushing the gate just after they closed the doors, but airlines frown on that behavior and might not book me on next flight, or even cancel the rest of my round trip ticket.
So, after packing my Lederhosen back in my bag I boarded for Slovenia and the capital city of Ljubljana (lube-lee-anna). I arrived around noon and caught a shuttle into the center of the city and slept for the next 8 hours in my hotel. I woke up and it was dark out and raining intensely. I decided to walk around anyway, stopped in an Irish bar for a burger because it was one of the only places with a pulse. Got adopted by some local welders and shared a few pints. I am not much of a beer drinker, but they are not too excited about liquor in these parts. The local drunks regaled me with stories about their experience with America and how it was the best place on Earth, a sort of Disneyland for adults. I tried to explain that America is not that great, have you not watched the news? I mean we have this guy Donald Trump who was actually elected president. But they would not hear of it. I begin to think, maybe they were right. Compared to Slovenia, constantly being taken over and thrown into war, maybe America is pretty great, but you won’t convince me of it.
Now is a good time to visit the history of Slovenia in the 20th century. They are a small country in the Balkan region of Europe. They got overrun by the Austrian-Hungarian army in WW1 and had to defend their homeland against Italy and the allies. Yes, we actually were on the same side as Italy in a war, at least once Italy realized they backed the wrong horse. Slovenia emerged from the war to find itself a part of the newly formed Yugoslavia. WW2 was pretty much a repeat performance with the same outcome. Eventually, in the 1990s they achieved independence and since then, have done pretty well for themselves within the European Union. It still tends to feel like a middle-class Eastern Bloc member of the neighborhood, with a lot of aging buildings and rough-looking characters. What it does have going for it is being on the tail end of the Alps, and a much cheaper option than Austria or Switzerland. Which is obviously why I am here.
Back to the night in question. After drinking with these tough locals, I headed back towards the hotel and popped into one last spot for a nightcap. There I ran into some more guys wanting to adopt me and buy me drinks, and I was not one to refuse. We drank until about midnight then they mentioned another party. I thought, perfect, I can get some local color, and see what happens behind closed doors here. We ended up in some underground art district, with a pseudo-bar setup (read no liquor license, in a basement). Then some Arabic Somalians came in and started an actual fistfight with some of the patrons. I mean these guys were straight out of Captain Phillips. Emaciated, weighing 100lbs each. Time for me to retire to the hotel. I thanked all for the drinks (slinked out the back door) and was in bed soon thereafter.
I checked out of my hotel, caught a cab back to the airport, and picked up my rental car. From there I drove to Lake Bled, the most famous tourist spot in the country. I was able to procure a room in an old monastery and so became my indoctrination to the church bells of Slovenia. I use the tail end of a title of a Hemmingway novel, along with a line from a poem, for this blog entry. It would be perfect if Ernest in fact wrote the book while in this area, but in fact, he wrote it about my last European trip to Catalonia. Actually, Hemmingway did write a book while in this area, “A Farewell to Arms”, but we will get to that later. Back to the bells. In these old towns, the church rings the bells every hour. Striking the bell once for each hour of the day and then also doing the quarter hours as well. Throughout the trip, I would become acutely aware of this as it seemed the bells were being rung directly outside my windows, which in most cases was true. But, there was this weird anomaly I did not comprehend. At weird times, like 17:50 or 11:20, the bells would be rung about 100 times in a row for no apparent reason. I looked it up on Reddit and people refer to the incessant random rings as “Bell-gasms” Whatever they are, the rope needs to be taken away from the hunchback in the tower after a few gongs.
It was still raining so I took a nap and emerged around what I considered to be dinner time and went about looking for a feeding. I took a stroll along the lake and on into the small town.
I found a local restaurant and plowed through a bottle of wine and a superb Gnocchi/Ham dish.
I then walked around a bit more before stopping at a local ice rink to catch the Bled All-Stars in action
The next morning I did a proper loop of the lake
The lake is the site of the Slovenian Olympic rowing team, so was able to watch them practice a bit. I then walked up to the castle on top of a hill that was in a few of the earlier pictures, but did not go in as 3 Euro was too steep for this tourist
I packed up and drove to the next lake on the list, Bohinj. Random Slovenian tidbit: Apparently they do not count floors the same way we do in the US. The main floor of a hotel is the 0 floor and the next one up is the 1st floor. This obviously caused some confusion when searching for my room each afternoon upon check-in. When you think about it, it actually makes sense. Why don’t we do it like that? I am sure they don’t call the main floor the ”zero floor” where we would say “1st Floor” They probably have some fancy term, like “Main Floor”.
I walked a mile outside of Bohinj, to a canyon hike in a nearby village. I like the sign below. One of those Lost in Translation moments. “Canyons Most Nice!” It felt like something Borat would say.
When checking into the hotel I saw this miniature golf course
This is what I am talking about when I say the country still has some that Eastern Bloc feel. They are so tough they play their golf on concrete!
After checking in I had lunch at an open-air bar/restaurant next to the water. The rain was gone and I had perfect weather the rest of the week despite the forecast predicting otherwise.
For dinner, I walked a mile or so to a nearby town and had Venison Goulash with Poutine.
Below was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. It was almost dark, but the sun was still shining on a sliver of trees high on an opposite mountain range. It took me a few seconds to determine what in fact was going on.
Final tidbit. They use commas here whereas we would use periods. So if they want to advertise a beer size on a menu, it will say 0,5L. Which at first made absolutely no sense to me. Eventually realizing it was a half-liter.