In the interest of keeping up with holiday posts (and possibly procrastinating my paper for just a little while longer…), I visited Slovenia last week! This was my first time in Eastern Europe, and I actually didn’t know where Slovenia was until the night before I left. I got it confused with Slovakia… whoops.
Anyways, Slovenia is a small, rooster-shaped country just north of the Balkan Peninsula, sandwiched between Austria to the north and Croatia to the south, bordering Italy and Hungary and having a nominal coastline on the Adriatic Sea. Because of the location, most Slovenians speak multiple languages, usually at least Italian or Hungarian depending on which region you’re in. It’s got a really long history, going back to Neanderthal settlements that archaeologists continue to explore, and through the Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire, Yugoslavia, Socialist Yugoslavia, and the EU. But through it all, you kind of get the feeling that the Slovenes really won the Eastern European country lottery. Slovenia has been through wars, invasions, communism, and still seems unravaged, safe, and economically sound.
Perhaps because of this, Slovenia isn’t the most exciting country. Ljubljana (LOVE this name) is the capital and largest city at around 280,000 inhabitants. As its Wikipedia page says, Ljubljana is a “large town,” and the only one in Slovenia. If you google Slovenia, you’ll see some gorgeous photos, but it was cloudy/raining every day we were there, and what with the late spring that hasn’t quite arrived yet, it just didn’t look quite as spectacular as one would hope.
But anyways… Presernov Trg is the central square in Ljubljana, named after the Slovene national poet France Preseren. It has a statue of Preseren and his muse, and the most prominent building is the pink Franciscan church.
We saw some kids doing the Harlem Shake, so maybe we’ll appear in the corner of some YouTube video or something.
As is true of many European capitals, Ljubljana is built around a river, called the Ljubljanica.
As a result, there are many bridges. The Triple Bridge (so named because it is in fact three bridges) is probably the main one, since it connects Preseren Square and the Town Hall.
Possibly my favorite thing about this city is that they love dragons. The Ljubljana dragon appears just about everywhere, from the heavily photographed Dragon Bridge to the manhole covers.
The story goes that Jason and the Argonauts defeated the dragon who lived in a lake near Ljubljana. Or that St. George defeated the dragon, as he is the patron saint of Ljubljana. Unsure.
The friend I was traveling with pretty much only wanted to come to Slovenia for one reason, and that was the town of Bled. It’s a popular tourist attraction as it is a picturesque mountain town and home to the only island in Slovenia–and also one of the 1,000 castles in the country. It is also famous for the Bled cream cake, but we’ll come to that later. We took a bus from Ljubljana that took around 1h20m, and then headed straight to the castle.
On our way up to the castle, we saw these fellas.
After a roughly 15 min climb up the mountain, we saw this.
The castle was still all decked out for Easter, so there were little ornaments hanging on the… shrubs?
The castle was pretty small but well maintained and obviously ready for tourists. The best part was the view from the old bathroom window:
And again from the courtyard outside:
The castle was also home to a Gutenberg press replica, and the guy there showed us how to use it. Really cool!
By the afternoon, the sun had burned through some of the clouds, so it got a bit brighter. We headed down to the town to try and get a boat to take us to the island.
The pletna (traditional boat) captains wouldn’t take us because we didn’t have enough people, so we took a motorboat instead. The clouds cleared up a little bit so that we could see the Alps behind the castle and town.
And then our last stop before leaving Bled was going to the Park Hotel to get the cream cake. So simple and delicious!
When we got back to Ljubljana, we took the furnicular up to the Ljubljana Castle, which was redesigned to be a cultural center for the city.
As you might expect, it offered spectacular views of the city.
The next day, we had booked a Viator tour to the Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle. Postojna is part of the largest cave system in Europe, and Predjama is actually built into a cave/cliff face. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside of the caves, so here’s a shot of the entrance:
The castle was just… crazy looking.
They really lived in the cave and took advantage of “natural windows”
And lastly, the food! (You didn’t think I had forgotten, did you?) Apparently there isn’t much that is traditional Slovenian food, but we did our best to find it. They like their sausages
And eat some meat that we tend not to, like horse:
We met some of my friend’s friends for dinner one night, and they had a good laugh about the horsemeat scare in the UK.
There are a lot of stews
And pastas (this one is filled with potato)
And also this barley dish that I cannot remember the name of
Pretty much the one vegetarian thing is these cheese pasta rolls (on the left in the picture)
And they like walnuts a lot. Especially in their desserts.
The one thing I don’t have a photo of is the schnapps. Slovenians like their schnapps, which are around 40% ABV (whereas I think schnapps in the States tend to be around 20%), and they are often flavored with honey, pears, or tarragon. I didn’t love the tarragon, but they use it fairly often in other things too, so maybe that’s a distinctive Slovenian thing as well.
And lastly, photo from the plane window! If you look through the clouds, you can see the Alps!