How many of you know where Ljubljana is? Did you have to Google it? Well let me tell you this could be one of my favorites and is definitely on the list of my “got to return to” places. This trip is turning out to be a sampler that is whetting my appetite for more European travel. So how am I going to fit in the rest of the world?
My train from Budapest arrived about 9:00 pm. During the Hungarian part of the trip we were behind schedule and I was worried about arriving late to find my room had been given away (needless worry it turned out). When we crossed into Slovenia the train got back on time and each stop was to the minute of the printed schedule. Still it was dark by the time I got off the train so I was glad that I had taken time prior to leaving Budapest to find the hotel on my map application on the iPad and familiarize myself with the route to my hostel. I was only a 10 minute walk and the streets had enough passing cars and people that I felt safe. Actually, everywhere has seemed pretty safe.
The hostel was actually two floors of a twelve story hotel and I had a shared room with two other girls on the twelfth floor. The normal room had two bunk beds crammed into it and they left the sheets for you to make up the bed yourself. These were kids bunk beds so the lower bunk was too short to sit up while you were in bed. I have to say that they were the worst beds so far. The good news about the room was that the two Spanish girls who were in the room only stayed one night and I had the room to myself for the next two nights. The first night there were several young people having a party in the hall until 3am so it was pretty loud and hard to sleep.
My first full day was a Sunday and in Ljubljana most of the stores were closed. I did a walk round the old city center on my own, taking lots of pictures and getting the lay of the land. There is a river running through the main part of town and Ljubljana has some interesting bridges crossing it. There is the Dragon Bridge with 4 bronze dragons. The 3 bridges which are grouped together in the center of town. There is a middle bridge that was for traffic and when cars started being used they added pedestrian bridges to either side of the old bridge rather than widening it to allow both people and cars to cross safely. Then there is the Butchers Bridge which has glass floors on each side and boys used to sit in boats under the water to watch for girls in skirts going by.
I took the free walking tour that morning as per my routine to get oriented. On the tour we went into the St. Nicholas church and stood at the back briefly during a mass. Wow! The inside was phenomenal. Completely covered in painted frescoes and gilded cornices and flourishes. It was inspiring as well to hear part of the service. The pews were filled with locals so I was a bit awed and only stayed a short minute or two. Our guide told us about the entrance doors which were cast bronze with a relief of the story of the Slovenian people from pagan times up to when they were visited by Pope John Paul.
Most of the downtown is closed to vehicles, so there is almost an air of a theme park as you walk around. I found a nice small restaurant for my main meal, a selection of grilled meats and fresh green salad. As I was walking back to my hostel, the waitress ran after me to bring my camera which I had left behind by accident. Close call and I was so thankful that she came after me.
I have found the Slovenian people so very friendly and helpful. It seems they all speak excellent English…more on that..
I visited the castle high on the hill above the old city, taking the funicular up to the top. There is a museum there which had some fun information along with some replicas of old finds. The thing I like was that since they were replicas they encouraged you to touch them. One of the items was a bone flute, supposedly the oldest musical instrument found in Europe. I also climbed a double spiral staircase (one spiral for going up and one spiral for going down) up the tower to the highest point of the castle and where this giant flag of Ljubljana was whipping in the breeze. It was a clear day so I got some good shots of the city.
They also had a photo exhibition of Steve McCurry, the photographer who shot the Afghan Girl. It was well worth the 10 Euro price to walk though his pictures. He is one of my favorite photographers and when I got to his 9/11 photos I got a bit choked up.
Later that afternoon, I got help from the desk at the hotel to rent a car. They had a special of 31 Euros for a Swatch car. What a fun car to drive! I picked up the car about 4pm and decided to run up north of the city to Bled, a pictures town next to a lake with a small island that has a church on it. The church is famous for weddings and grooms are supposed to carry their new bridge up all 99 steps from the boat dock to the church.
I had heard about Bled and also there was a famous waterfall near Bled. There were several tours listing visits to Bled, however I decided that for about the same cost, I could drive myself and have a little more freedom to explore. I decided to run up quickly on Monday afternoon to find the place and look around…and to be perfectly honest, I was eager to try the famous Bled cream cake. Google it. I will post a picture here when I get home.
So I had a fun ride up to Bled. Getting to the highway turned out to be easy and then I came to a toll booth. I got in to a lane that was automatic, like a Fastrack lane and it looked unsafe to try to switch to one of the lanes that had an attendant, so I drove on through and started worrying about getting a fine for avoiding the toll. On the way back from Bled I used a manned lane to go through and was pulling out my change for the toll. The attendant leaned out and informed me that the car had a sticker on it good for the year and so it was free for me. She spoke perfect English….this is why I say the whole country seems to speak English. Amazing and humbling to me. In the US so few people have more than one language at our command. This reinforces my goal to be fluent in at least one other language. I just need to pick one to focus on. I have dabbled in German, French, Spanish and Turkish so far and I want to learn at least some Russian.
So back to Bled. I found the town and drove around the lake just enjoying the scenery. Green hills with alpine style houses and farms. I stopped in Bled at the tourist information office for a map and a recommendation for a spot to get the cream cake. The lady there directed me across the street to the Park Hotel, which is where the cream cake was invented. I sat in the hotel bar/lounge and had the best ham sandwich, yum and the famous cream cake, triple yum yum yum.
I returned to my hostel, got packed up and ready for an early start and return to Bled. I got to the castle above the town just at 8am when the museum opened. I practically had the place to myself. It was a clear cool morning and I got some great photos of the lake and town. I had fun walking around the castle museum where they had some recreations of people and their dress of the different times. They had a little printing exhibit with a hand press. It was like a Gutenberg press. For a small fee you could choose a sheet of hand made paper, a wood cut scene of the area and have you name added to the printing plate and press a souvenir page on the press. The printer, in middle age costume, set up the press and inked it up, put in the paper and then let me pull the handle of the press. It takes a lot of force to pull that handle. It was a geat souvenier and the printer was pretty cute to boot.
I then drove about an hour east of Bled to the waterfall of Slap Savica, near the Bohinji Lake. It was a pretty drive and there are lots lof little villages and small hotels. I think this area is kind of like a holiday area for summers for Sovenians. Closer to the falls the road got narrow and I drove through forests of beech trees and lots of white karst bolders. You eventually get to the end of the road and where you have to get out of the car and climb. It supposedly takes about twenty minutes to climb up the steep rocky hills. I took 30 minutes and was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the observation hut. The waterfall was beautiful and I got lots of photos. You could only get within 50 feet for the pool/falls. So my 30 minute hike up resulted in a 15 minute rest and photo op and then a 20 minute return trip down the rocky steep hills. Was it worth the long drive and steep climb? You bet! Not only did I see a cool waterfall, pictures of which I will add as soon as I can, but I burned enough calories climbing to enjoy another piece of Bled cream cake guilt free. And so I did.
I returned to Bled, had another delicious ham sandwich and cream cake sitting ouside next to the beautiful clear picture perfect lake and got a little sun along with enjoying some free wifi to check train schedules and email. I took a little time to mail a package home with some of the brochures, ticket stubs, receipts and small souveniers, which lightened my luggage by a couple of pounds and cubic inches.
I turned in my rental car and got a lift to the train station in time for my train to Zagreb. It was only a couple of hours to Zagreb where I was able to book a sleeper seat on to Split. It was about $50 for the sleeping compartment and I wound up with a compartment to myself. We left Zabreb just before midnight and arrived in Split at 8am the next day.
And Split is a story for another day. Spoiler alert….I sleep within the walls of an old Roman palace.