Europe in winter doesn’t conjure up too exciting an image. Cold, foggy and gray days, a lack of sunshine and empty towns come to mind instead. But for me, Slovenia was quite perfect in winter. It was freezing for sure, but manageable as long as you keep on walking. The lack of crowds definitely made me happy, and some of the natural attractions were unmanned at their entry points so you could go in for free. Compared to its neighbours, Switzerland, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is often missed out on tourists’ Europe trip. Many of the Europeans I’ve met also skip it, probably coz its small. In fact, on google maps, I often have to zoom in just for the country’s name to appear. But small was good, especially for me and C. We didn’t have a lot of time, and since we couldn’t drive, the shorter distances between attractions and cities allowed us to explore as much of its natural beauty as 5 days would allow. We only visited Ljubljana and Bled, both of which were amazing. Some of the highlights for me were:
- Walking through the old town in Ljubljana. The Christmas markets were in full force, and we ate our way through them, with huge-ass burgers, crepes and falafel, while drinking mulled wine. It definitely helped to keep us warm. Although the sun set early at 5pm, the night lights were really pretty and added to the Christmas atmosphere. At the side of the market, there was a vending machine dispensing fresh milk and you could fill your own water bottle for 1 EUR for 1L of milk. Being the city mice we were, C and I were really intrigued by that. Don’t know if it was because we were in extra high spirits, but the milk tasted really good. Other than that, catching sunset and watching boats go down the river, chasing the dragon statues littered around the bridges and trying to make sense of the triple bridge concept the town boasted of occupied us.
- Metalkova. This was MY PLACE. I’m a huge graffiti fan, and the whole area was covered with awesome graffiti. At night, it turns into a clubbing district, and we ventured out at midnight only to discover that most of the clubs weren’t in full force yet. Torn between nursing a couple of drinks for an hour or two til the crowds came in, or snuggling back to bed, we chose the latter after taking a few quick photos and feeling like losers. We came back the next day during the day, at my insistence, as the graffiti was too pretty to miss.
- Walking around Bled and up the hill next to the lake. Lake Bled was really perfect in winter, with no one around at all. We stayed at a really nice hostel where the owner, a kindly old man, was hardly around. As there were two other Koreans who were snoring loudly in our room, we had three other rooms to choose from as no one else around. The hostel was next to a bakery which sold the famous Bled cake and while I’m not a huge foodie, especially when traveling, the cake was soooo good. Fresh cream that was super light, extremely flaky puff pastry and just the right amount of sweetness. We had it twice in a row for breakfast. Because cake is the only breakfast item that makes sense when you’re on holiday. It was a great start to the our walk around the huge lake. Famous for the island with a church in the middle of it, one could rent boats to paddle around the lake. As it was winter, only one shop was renting the boats and on the owner’s advice, one hour was more than enough to get to and from the island. But we were so uncoordinated that it took us one hour just to get their. Lots of laughs and rowing-but-not-moving occurred. I’ve gotta thank C for doing all the work, as the boat just refused to move when i rowed. You can probably sense a pattern here – I’m quite useless with modes of transportation. There was apparently a famous hill which had a panoramic view of the lake, so we knew we had to go there. It was a hike through a relatively unmarked forest, with only the lake as our compass. C kept scaring me with lame ass horror stories, and we both left our mark with pee at the sacred spot at the top of the hill. Good times.
- Walking around Vintgar Gorge and the surrounding forest. Having seen photos of the crazy clear turquoise waters at the gorge, we knew we had to go there. The hostel owner at Bled kindly drove us to the start of the gorge, and there was a huge CLOSED sign there with the entrance was was unmanned. It was easy enough to crawl under the barrier and we pretty much had the whole trail to ourselves. Stopped numerous times for photos, while marveling at the first icicles I’ve ever seen in my entire life. They had formed on the side of the rocks and were slowly dripping down back into the river. Along the way, we saw a guy a few meters ahead frantically signally to us, and decided to ignore him. Turns out that part of the trail had collapsed due to the weight of a fallen tree. We turned back, but decided that since we were probably not going to come back here ever again, we had to see the gorge. So we took a long loop, through a few scenic villages in the meadows and through a forest, where we almost got lost. It was a rather long walk, but everything was so pretty that we got distracted. When we finally got to the gorge, I realised that pictures did not do it justice. I wanted to camp there for a night, stare at the water and mountains for a bit and just chill. When we made our way back to the entrance, we saw the collapsed part of the bridge, which in reality, wasn’t very broken at all. However, that dude was still there, and when he saw us, he was swearing at us for stubbornly going the long way. We were afraid he was going to make us pay a fine and made a dash for it, while laughing hysterically. On the last 3km back to bled, we passed a bit of the Julian Alps in the background, the mountain range between Slovenia and Austria. I’d love to come back again to climb them.
- The Skocjan caves. A short train ride out of Ljubljana, the caves were linked on the outside by a very tempting looking trail. I would have liked to walked that path but we settled for the guided tour in the end, which went inside the cave. It was the biggest cave I had ever been to, with a waterfall inside of it and lots of stalagmites and stalactites.
I’d definitely want to go back to Slovenia again, to climb the Julian Alps and see the other cities which we had to skip this time round. After traveling to Sri Lanka with C, where we almost fought, I gave in to him and compromised quite a bit this trip, which made for smooth traveling. It’s different when you’re traveling with a stranger whom you’ve just met and an old friend. With long time friends, you tend to be less forgiving, have more expectations and be less patient, but of course, the conversations are deeper, the memories have more context to them. Although I probably won’t be traveling with him again, this was one of my favourite trips with him.