A new year brings new destinations to share. Today it’s back to Europe to share one of those proverbial hidden gems – Slovenia. A country that held no spot on my bucket list, let alone being on my radar of places I had ever heard much about. After a visit to this quaint self-contained region, it is on my ‘must revisit’ list.
I owe this find to my daughter. While she was studying abroad in Prague she came across an article in a travel magazine talking about the capital of Slovenia – Ljubljana. We had been looking for one more destination to add to our itinerary traveling back to the US after her stint in Prague. It was adventurous to pick such an unknown destination, but we were intrigued by this tongue twister city and an opportunity to travel to some place new and different.
After only a few hours of walking the streets of Ljubljana we were ready to send for our belongings and make Slovenia our new home. That may have been a bit drastic, but our stay was so magical, we delayed our departure by an extra day so we could take in as much as this little country had to offer. And little it is – about 2/3rd’s the size of Rhode Island. From atop Ljubljana Castle, that sits on a high point in the center of Old Town Ljubljana, you can see the four countries that border Slovenia – Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria.
Because our time was so limited in Slovenia and because we knew absolutely nothing about the area, we chose to use the services of a tour company.
The tour company: Exeter International – set up the perfect itinerary and had awesome communication. The tour guide: Marijan Kristovic – born and raised in the area, and went well beyond his ‘tour guide’ list of duties. We started our tour walking the streets of Ljubljana, but I will share those highlights in next week’s post. In this post I will share “How to see Slovenia in a day!”
Slovenia has only been a country since 1991, when it seceded from Yugoslavia. The Slovenian people are a proud people. They work hard at living a self-sustaining existence. Most grow their own food and make their own wine. They have one of the highest percentages of middle-class citizens in the world, with very few people who live in wealth or poverty. This is all very commendable for a country who has seen a lot of change over the years – the guide’s Grandmother has had 4 different passports in her 80+ years of life, but she has never moved.
Our first stop was at the Postojna Caves. Discovered by a farmer back in the 1800’s, there are at present three miles of the 18 miles of dark, dank, wet caves open to the public. The caves are very cool at a constant 8 degrees celsius in their natural state. There is a concerted effort to keep the influx of humans and lights to a minimum as extra heat incites the growth of harmful algae. Limestone stalactites and stalagmites, growing 1 mm every 10-30 years, line every inch of the cave. Some as thin as paper, some several stories high. It felt good to return to the warmth of the outside the caves.
Then is was onto one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen – Lake Bled. It is places like this that I think ancient fairy tales were written about. A quiet little lake town, on the opposite end of the country, about an hour away. Sitting high above Lake Bled, perched on a cliff, is another medieval castle. But in the middle of the lake is an island, called The Island, because it is the only island in Slovenia.
On The Island sits a medieval church. To get to the island you hire the services of the only boat company allowed to service the lake. The boating license has been in the same family for generations and the government has deemed that it stay in the family indefinitely. The hand-made wooden boats, piloted by a handsome young Slovenian, take you to the base of the 99-step stairway leading up to the church. Legend has it, if the groom can carry his bride up the whole 99-steps he is worthy of marrying her.
In the church is a magic wishing bell, a gift from the sitting Pope during the era of the Roman Empire, to the sitting Slovenian bishop of the time. The first bell sent sank in a bad storm enroute to the cathedral, but the second bell sent survived and so was thought to be a lucky bell. If you are strong enough to get the bell to ring, you are granted a wish. It took me three good yanks, but I did succeed in making that bell ring!
The stories of Slovenia are plentiful. The sites of Slovenia are breathtaking. The people of Slovenia are private and passionate and want to keep this country a little known gem. But they are also proud purveyors of friendly service and a desire to share with others the beauty and magic of this quaint little country.
To be continued…Next week: Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.