Into Slovenia where our friends in Ljubliana, Peter and Alenka, had asked us to come at around 7pm to allow them to get home from work before we arrived. We didn’t really know how long it would take us to get to the city from the border, stopping for fuel on the way. How easy would it be to find their flat in a suburb? None of us could believe it when we rang their bell at 6.59pm. They couldn’t believe we’d actually found them – taxi-drivers have problems. What a warm welcome – a lovely flat, Alenka’s sister Tjaši and Panda, their black and white cat also greeted us.
The welcome was shortly followed up by a huge meal kicked off with generous plates of hams and cheeses, and then the roast marinaded pork and vegetables came out. Magnificently tasty. It’s only been a few weeks but it was really great to see our friends again and to see their home.
The plan was to show us some of the gems of Slovenia in day trips from Ljubliana and they had taken time off work to do so. It turned out that some of the places were new to them too, so it was a journey of discovery for all of us. It was lovely for us to be on a guided tour for once!
Our first outing was to Velika Planina – Big Mountain – north of Ljubliana towards the Austrian border. You take the cable car up the mountain. From here you can take a chair lift further up, but we walked slowly up, enjoying the welcome cool breeze after the clammy city. After a while we came out on a plateau of green pastures stretching into the distance and views out across to the city and beyond far below us.
These pastures are filled with the sound of cow bells and mooing – home to a herd of cows who amble their way around the undulating grasslands – wooden houses dotted around and a small church higher up. Echoes of a fast disappearing traditional life.
http://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=kropa&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gl=ukBreathing pure air got us talking about the joy of this simpler life on top of a mountain – the tranquility of cattle chewing continuously, their long eyelashes and huge eyes enchanted us.
We walked on past the village to a restaurant where we tasted honest to goodness mountain food. Simple dishes of kislo mleko, which translates as sour milk but is actually much better than it sounds in English, and buckwheat porridge, followed by a shared sirovi štruklji (see image below) for dessert.
We could hardly tear ourselves away from our mountain top – dreaming of renting one of the cottages some time in the future. We had to go though – the last cable car was looming, so we took a chair lift ride down to meet it – seeing a pine marten with its dinner in its mouth below us as we glided smoothly down.
On the way back in to Ljubliana we stopped off for a drink in Metelkovo, a bohemian clubby part of town, wandered around the buildings covered in artwork and ended up having a drink in the bar of the city’s trendy youth hostel.
We managed to fit in some watching of the Olympics inbetween , marvelling at the success of Team GB, but considering their population in comparison (two million), Slovenia wasn’t doing badly.
We also played with Panda the cat, who loves bags and at any given opportunity hopped into our day back or bags for life and lay in wait to catch us unawares and draw blood and screams of fright. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth though!
Next morning we headed for Lake Bled, one of Slovenia’s must-do sights. Unfortunately, it being the weekend, everyone else was off there too. Traffic jams. We decided to take a circuitous route to Lake Bohinj first as it was likely to be quieter there. It was a superbly beautiful road through lush green hills and mountains, with churches seemingly on every hill top. We stopped in the small town of Kropa, which was a one time producer of nails – the kind you bang into wood – since ancient times. It was an idyllic spot, but a few years ago suffered from a desvastating flash flood.
I visited Slovenia 17 years ago and was really looking forward to returning to both these lakes. There is always a risk in returning to places you have loved. It’s hard to say never go back to them because you want to see them again, but they will never be the same as you remembered them. Bohinj was still beautiful – a serene stretch of water surrounded by mountains, and not over touristy as such, but still so many more people than I remembered. We planned to relax and swim here and it took a fair walk around the lake to find a spot for ourselves as everyone else was there too. I had, in my naivety, pictured us having it to ourselves like I did when I visited before. But where better to go on a sweltering August weekend than to a cool deep lake? We had fun though – a few beers and a swim.
Bled has a fairtale setting. Another beautiful lake with an island in the middle of it with a church on it, overlooked by a castle on a rocky outcrop . The town was so much more built up than I remembered it and the traffic as busy as you can imagine in high season. I think we were all a bit disappointed with the over commercialisation of this otherwise stunning area and didn’t linger very long. We had some good views of the lake and tasted the local pastry – a Kremšnita. Yes, it was very like the one we tried in Samobor!
A full day, but we followed it with a visit to see Ljubliana by night. That was after eating a huge goulash with specially prepared tasty bread dumplings to accompany it. It was a fabulous meal – like the pork on the first night we were with them, Peter and Alenka had prepared some of the best meals we have eaten on our entire trip. Our friends are determined that we taste the very best of Slovenian food. The city is even more beautiful than I remembered for a change – I had only visited for a few hours last time. We had a guided wander through the main streets of the old town and then out to a quarter where there were a lot of bars and also an alternative music festival going on. A real buzz in the air, but all of us were rather tired so we didn’t stay long.
Our last full day out together was to the Soča river region in the north west corner of the country. First to Idrija for a delicious early lunch to taste the famous local speciality – Idrijski žlikrofi – pasta stuffed with a potato filling. This really was turning out to be a gastronomic visit. Then out via Tolmin and the Tolminska Korita – a gorge, with a scenic walk along the river and a toe-test of the impossibly bone-achingly cold water. The rickety bridges scaring us when they started rocking around us (helped along by certain members of the group).
It is a breath-taking region centred on the clear emerald coloured river surrounded by green meadows, forested hills and the austere grey mountains rising above them. There were a lot of people wearing black t-shirts and leather – it was the week of Metalcamp. A heavy metal music festival held in fields on the edge of Tolmin. It was baking, and we couldn’t help but think that they must have been suffering in their black. We couldn’t wait to get into the water though. Our guides chose a river for us to dip in that wasn’t too cold and although the river shores were busy with families, we enjoyed the cool water – which also served to cool our beers.
We crossed over the dramatic mountain pass past Triglav – Slovenia’s highest peak, counting down the numbered hairpins (around 50 in all). We stopped for the views as the sun disappeared behind the mountains – spying the ‘pagan girl’s’ face on the rock (see image below), and even spotting the window, a gap close to the top of the mountain where the sky shows through.
In the valley on the other side of the pass we stopped for a pizza, and some sleepy people dozed off on the way home to the city again.
Thanks again to Peter, Alenka, Tjaši and Panda for a wonderful few days .