Monday, September 2, 2013


Slovenia is a small charming country.  You can hit the highlights in 3 days but there are enough activities to keep you busy much longer.  As previously mentioned, we visited one of their notable caves and the Lipica Stud Farm from Italy, as well as driving around the mountain region a bit. Then we spent 4 days at Lake Bled, followed by a day in Ljubljana.  (pronounced more or less as: Loo bee yah na).

Before going more into our tour, we pause for a little background on Slovenia (assuming that you, like us prior to this trip, are only vaguely aware of the country.) Slovenia became recognized as a separate country in January 1992 (after 5 years of putting the pieces in place (getting internal agreement to separate, establishing a constitution, setting up the government, elections, ….) It may be young, but it is the oldest of the countries that separated from Yugoslavia.  The people are proud to have separated quite peacefully. It may have been due to luck and timing, but they were indeed lucky to avoid the military actions in their sister states of Yugoslavia. (They had their share of military action in WW II. We toured a lovely area that has inconspicuous bunkers representative of those housing thousands of soldiers. Very small. Very basic. No heat. Many soldiers died of starvation, many others from the cold.)

Lake Bled is one of those areas where you just want to sit and absorb the beauty.  The aquamarine lake has one small island (home of a cute church) and is "guarded" physically by a castle and spiritually by a fine cathedral. The backdrop of the Julian Alps only enhances the beauty. The town is cute with an alpine look enhanced with a few stately buildings, including Hotel Bled. Hotel Bled is known for being the former summer residence of Yugoslavian President Tito, popular leader of communist Yugoslavia (those who came after Tito favored Serbia too much leading to their downfall).

You can take in the beauty of Lake Bled by walking around the lake, climbing the steps (or driving) up to the Castle ...or by sitting at a Cafe sipping coffee, mineral water, wine… as the Europeans do for hours at a time. 

Bled’s little island and Otok Church in front, with Bled Castle high above 
and Church of St Martin on the far right
In case anyone gets tired of enjoying the beauty, there are lots of alpine activities available, including .... hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, zip lining down a waterfall, ... 

The morning transfer to the Nova Gorica train station was interesting. The station is in Slovenia just across the border from Italy. However, there is no crossing at the station so the driver let's us off in Italy and we walk from Italy to the train station, at most 100 feet. The train stops in several small villages and you can see streams and mountains along the way. Quite nice.

There are two train stations in Bled, neither is convenient to the town.  We hired a driver to take us to the lodge and to later provide a full day of touring.  The driver, Grame provided a short tour of town and hints on local dining and touring enroute to the Hotel Berc. We ate three times at one of his recommended dining spot, Osteria/Cafe Peglez'n. They have excellent fish, meats and wine. They provided us a very tasty (and pretty) dessert plate to help us celebrate our 45th anniversary.

We spent one day walking around the lake. Enroute we climbed up to the Castle and explored the small museum there. They were filming (a movie? an promotional piece? Who knows…) and Pat got a shot of the key actors dressed in medieval costume coming up the stirs. By the end of our tour we found ourselves at Villa Bled. We decided to stop for a glass of wine, which became a couple glasses of wine accompanied by a trout plate (prepared three ways-pate, smoked, croquette). After lunch we toured the theater constructed during Tito's ownership. It is decorated by large murals depicting local history.

I can smile big too...with enough wine.  These are
bottles from sparkling wine made by the local monks
It took me awhile to frame this shot but...
The most amazing thing is actors can
just keep on smiling beautifully

Natural refrigeration used at a rest stop along the hike around the lake

The castle from inside
Pat's birthday tour took was a tour through the Julian Alps we took a tour with Grame in NW Slovenia with a touch of little Italy, visiting a ski jump, making a short walk to a water fall touring the bunkers enroute, lunching at a very "local" restaurant that Grame had found by chance. We enjoyed a local dish (the name?  who knows.  But it was a large flat piece of ground meat with cheese and prosciuttio all breaded and fried. It was pretty yummy. And we think they said that it had no calories. We followed this with some wine tasting. There were a couple great ones. We'd share the names and types but we'r e pretty sure you won't find them at your local wine store.

Slovenian Hay Rack ...also sometimes extended to become a shelter
for a wood pile; Julian Alps in the background
Us with a bridge over the Soca River in the background
In the wine tasting room.  Bill needed just a little more wine.
(Note nozzle in his left hand and fine wine glass in his right hand.)

To celebrate our 45th anniversary we walked to and through Vintgar Gorge and finished the day at Restaurant Peglez'n. The feast was completed by an over the top dessert arranged by our waiter. (Actually this was just the start of celebrating our 45th Anniversary.  We have allotted ourselves one very special foodie experience for each celebration…starting with our 2012 birthdays and anniversary that we failed to celebrate properly at the time.  The two restaurants in Istria got us through our 2012 birthdays. We looking forward to a few more similar experiences. We'll keep you posted.

Our seafood dinner for two at 
Restaurant Peglez'n

And the accompanying dessert
We had a significant weather change overnight prior to our move to Ljubljana, thunder showers and rain followed the three lovely days. It was a short distance to our hotel, so we opted to walk from the train station…but, bad decision!  There was a major downpour. We were a little damp (make that drenched) when we arrived at our hotel. Thankfully we were able check-in early and spent the next half-hour drying out. The weather cooperated reasonably well after that and we joined a walking tour of the city and later dined outside.  Ljubljana is a lovely, small city. It is the smallest capital in Europe.  Lots of beauty, culture, history, … The main part of the old city lies along the Ljubljanica River in an around the local castle hill.  Basically much of the architecture dates from the early 1900's as the earlier buildings were destroyed by earthquake in 1895. Hence buildings are primarily baroque with some Art Nouveau/Art Deco thrown in.  Hopefully the photos will give you a feel for the vibe.

The main square in Ljubljana
Dragon on "Dragon Bridge".  Dragons
are the legendary "protectors"
of Ljubljana
Lujbljana viewed from the Castle
Triple Bridge- If traffic is too much for one bridge
just build two more like it (actually the
two side bridges were built for pedestrians)
Inside the Cathedral
Later, at the hotel we had a snack and, duh, wine, for "dinner" at the hotel before retiring to our room to prepare for the move to Zagreb, now as veterans as Croatian travelers (do you recall  that we started our journey in Istria in NW Croatia?) 

Before leaving Slovenia, one more observation. To drive in Slovenia, you need to purchase a "vignette" for the day, a week or more. This vignette is placed on the windshield of the car and serves to cover all highway tolls. At first it was confusing in it's simplicity (it's never really stated that this covers the tolls, they just make it clear that you need one), but we really appreciated not having to think further about paying tolls.

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