Slovenia: the good, the bad and the ugly

The truth is that I didn’t even know where Slovenia was until a few months ago. I mean, I would see these beautiful pictures on my Instagram feed of castles and lakes but I used to just think… “Somewhere in Europe”. At that time, Europe obviously felt very inaccessible to me. But once I got that Schengen visa in my hands, I went back to look at those photos and realised, “Hey! I can go there too”.

instagram-using-reflections-to-enhance-composition-copy

Don’t judge me. I often go to places just because I want to see if they look as good as they do online. I can’t be the only one? I have no plan… I just go to see and explore without any itinerary. This is exactly what I did in Slovenia. I rented a car and just winged it.

To understand what makes Slovenia so special, you first need to find it on a map so lets begin Panda’s Progressive Geography lesson.

slovenia-map

As you can see, the country sits at the very top of the Adriatic sea, shoulder to shoulder with Italy and Croatia, with its back to the Alps. As such, it’s situated exactly at the crossroads of Europe’s most iconic destinations: Austria’s mountain villages, Italy’s Venetian wine country, the Adriatic’s sun-swept coast, and central Europe’s distinguished Renaissance cities. Though Slovenia’s total area is roughly equal to the size of Kuwait, it manages to embody all of those settings in one country.

Like Serbia, it was once part of Yugoslavia, but it was one of the most prosperous and successful areas of the former republic due to their high standard of living. The country, like many in the area, has struggled, been fought over, taken over and suffered under communist rule for many years. Today, the independent country enjoys a successful economy, is part of the European Union, the Schengen Area and uses the Euro as their currency.

panda-map-with-legs1

The good:

Nature

I’ve never seen so much of natural beauty in one small place. As soon as you hit the motorway, you’re surrounded by mountains, forests and all round general beauty. Gosh it’s gorgeous. If I was a passenger you would have a lovely photo of the road and accompanying scenery. But since I was driving, my hands were otherwise occupied trying to adjust to driving a non-automatic car on the side of the road that I still find odd (why did you do this to us damn British imperialists?).

Let’s look at a couple of my photos to illustrate the natural beauty shall we?

First up, sunset view from Bled Castle.

576C83F7-199D-433D-BA58-F60DC0AFEA13

Just look at those colours… Magical. Bled castle is a CLIMB. I’m relatively fit and it took me longer than it should have because the stairs are endless and oh-so-steep. (When I reached the top, I saw a parking lot and realised that it’s possible to drive there. That’s better if you have a child in a pram or mobility issues).

548551AF-D47B-4483-830B-201429BC2E708F102D6A-4D2A-43F0-B581-6B78BBDF7D74

Sunrise view over Lake Bled.

IMG_3664

It was a 6km trek from where I was staying (at 6am) but this view was 100% worth the effort. Tip: the best sunrise view is found near the camping site on the northwestern side of the lake. Wish someone had told me that before I started trekking aimlessly. The good thing about this though is that if the sunrise time is 6am, you still have an hour before the sun peeks out from over the mountains so pack a sandwich and take your time.

D38557C2-F2FD-4461-BC45-244E6E3523B8790D3AD1-5F20-4703-8F4A-E347A1FC1A8FDCIM102GOPROGOPR3711.DCIM102GOPROG1123734.

Lake Bohinj which is a 30-35 minute drive from Lake Bled.

9CCD97F9-C3BD-449A-BDC3-FCFA1662FD8D

Yes you can swim in Lake Bled but the water is dark and ominous. Also there are these huge fish that jump up when you’re trying to look for the prefect sunrise shot. I wouldn’t put my body into this water. Lake Bohinj is another story. Look at the colour of this water!

C12F361E-E243-4ABA-82FA-15FC537BFF80F48C4A1C-15AB-456E-99DE-D867B314D2040733D53F-26AF-4010-BB0A-79B9D6DD36E0

It’s popular with the locals for swimming and other water-sports. Tip: parking is limited so go early if you can and oh, remember to pay for your parking at the machines!

Vintgar Gorge is known for its steep depths, vertical walls, rapid river beneath and lush vegetation.

5C5808FF-5B0D-43F1-8457-9AC97D2A25CBE9CA7A81-760A-451C-8325-35513C4C52B70E06A9B8-AC60-406B-ACEA-2CC0AC3B782C

Its not a relaxing stroll but neither is it a strenuous trek. Tips: Do allocate half a day to explore this in its entirety and DON’T go at 11am (which is what I mistakenly did). It is ridiculously crowded around midday. Earlier is far better!

DCIM102GOPROGOPR3697.8D3FD57F-AF39-408F-BFB4-0F94EF35F16A

Head to Mount Vogel for your view of the Alps and where you certainly feel on top of the world and get great views of the area including Triglav (which is the mountain on the Slovenian flag). For €15 you will catch the cable car up the mountain and you can enjoy these spectacular views:

B117E013-325B-4CB2-896E-C3837C923257A91F066C-B6FC-4EBB-BF71-B62D5ED63B46

It comes close to Hallstatt in Austria… close but not quite. You can also go on a few long hikes once you hit the top of the mountain but lazy pandas prefer to enjoy a slice of cream cake and leave the strenuous activities to the other folks.

8C831A23-B871-4182-A62E-9DFA22C2193E

That brings me to my next point about good things in Slovenia:

Dreamy Cream cake… This cream cake is a mixture of cream, custard, goodness, greatness and pastry. If you have a sweet tooth like me, it’s a must try. It’s dense so one slice is enough for two people but hey I was alone so… I figure I deserved it all.

F63C174A-9C0F-4CBA-92CC-D13BBF67408D

Ljubljana, the most darling city! It’s rare for someone to include a capital city as part of their good things in a list about a country. I mean I spent 90% of my time outdoors in Slovenia and yet I still think Ljubljana is one of the best bits of Slovenia. Ljubljana is completely unreal.  As in, it literally does not seem like a real place. It’s too clean, too pastel and too nice- kind of like if Disney decided to build a European capital and give it a whimsical unpronounceable name. Just have a look:

34A1DEB6-A5B9-41F4-BD5C-0C682B7CF398EBE7487A-4057-43B9-86F5-0B65152E8BA46DABFEC8-2E91-4F14-AAE4-A82CEA2275A7

0C741B5B-5467-4765-BF85-BE3B6506BBB0
Ljubljana Castle- a true medieval castle dating back to the twelfth century. Perched on top of a large hill in the center of town, it’s visible from basically anywhere. It’s a steep hike up the hill but there are great views of the orange roofed city.

Hold on, I’m not saying it’s better than Prague- oh no Prague has my heart from now until eternity. But Ljubljana is perfect if you want to avoid the Prague crowds but absorb all of that special European charm! Tip: There is an amazing Bosnian restuarant called Sarajevo ’84. GO!

8DF0457F-8DC9-421B-A897-1B798C4A1671

(And for the record it’s pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah.)

The not so good stuff

Poor signage and not so well-maintained roads

Germany, Austria and Czech Republic set my bar pretty high for the quality of roads. Slovenia still needs some work in this area. If you’re driving around the countryside in Slovenia be aware that your average speed will be 40km/h. So if Google Maps says that your destination is 10 minutes away, give yourself 20. You’ll be slowing down on the tiniest of roads to give way to massive hurtling buses that come screeching around every corner.

C3EFA2DA-5FD4-4DE4-BAC7-4335A8CB700A
Maybe you should just travel by boat?

And as for the signage. Look I’m not an ignorant fool who believes that signs should be in English. I know the name of my destination in the local language and I’m quite happy to follow the signs leading to it. But how about more signs? Especially to actual landmarks like waterfalls (Didn’t make it to Savica waterfall because I got lost twice and subsequently, annoyed) and lakes. Instead of tiny signs that you can literally blink and miss, let’s try something a little more larger for ignorant foreigners like myself. Please?

2B6336EB-6D9D-4F8E-AB77-16A3C5157AE1

Food

I ate one local dish that I enjoyed in Slovenia and that was this trout dish served with risotto. I had it at this rustic restaurant in the valley after exploring Vintgar Gorge. I don’t remember the name, it wasn’t recommended by any website and I literally only stopped there because I was starving. It turned out to be the best thing I ate in Slovenia!

158E3041-0280-4FD6-94C9-256A90B1C373

The next day I asked for a recommendation of where the locals eat and what to order. I was sent to a cosy little place where people were ordering this:

8F53FB77-CF04-41EC-A076-B3D41F904FC8 (1)

It’s a black risotto served with cuttlefish. Apparently a must-try in the region, popular with local Slovenians. I’m glad I’m not that fussy of an eater because not only did it look like shoe polish, it had no flavour. Everything else I ate in Slovenia had the taste of raw onions which this panda doesn’t really care for. How about using some spices Slovenia?

The ugly:

Slovenians don’t seem accustomed to people that aren’t from the EU countries. When I landed at Ljubljana airport, the passport control officer called his colleagues to see my South African passport. They then all got involved in a discussion with me about my holiday plans and didn’t even bother to check the details on my Schengen visa! Occasions like this was where I felt special and happy that I was representing my continent (yeah my ego is huge, I have to go big or go home), on this tiny slice of Europe.

A25C6247-74CB-4A38-B091-AD8B79E3B42A

But other times where I was asked if I speak English, wrongfully accused of stealing a lady’s money (it was located in her friends handbag), spoken to in Spanish (and consequently, received exasperated looks when they realised I don’t speak a word of Spanish) and given plenty of unfriendly looks made me see that Slovenia isn’t at all like their friendly neighbours the Czechs or the Serbs. They’re wary of people that look or sound different to them.

F58A3E52-315F-4A0D-8E1D-A5C9797D58FC

Smile a little Slovenians! You’re part of the EU, the Schengen zone, you use the euro for your overpriced entrance fees and your country is gorgeous. Smiling, returning a greeting and acting less suspicious is going to help more people from my part of the world- or those that look like me but are from another part of the world- visit your delightful country! (Perhaps this is why Melania Trump is never smiling? Must be a Slovenian thing).

In conclusion,

Certain landscapes appear on almost every world traveler’s bucket list: medieval cities traversed by ancient rivers and dotted with streetside cafes, highland meadows of vivid green framed by snowcapped alpine peaks, hillsides draped in terraced grape arbors climbing towards a rustic winery. While globe trekkers may disagree about the particular destinations best suited for each of these vistas, I think it’s safe to say that few would put Slovenia at the top of their list. Which is a shame, because they should. Slovenia is all of those landscapes rolled up into one tiny country.

42AC522C-879D-4ED5-A07A-49E5EAD95567

You could comfortably explore this tiny country in 4-5 days which makes it a perfect addition to any European itinerary.

75207424-6A00-4821-8678-49E500FF9E29

Even in today’s well-traveled world, Europe has managed to keep some of its hidden charms. And Slovenia, tucked away where Germanic, Mediterranean, and Slavic worlds meet, is one of Europe’s most fascinating, yet least visited corners.

AFE75E55-0D24-4312-89DA-D3FF94D5598A
Sunset over Ljulbljana from Ljubljana Castle

Have you been to Slovenia? What did you love and/or hate? Let me know in the comments below!

Peace out pandas car

18 thoughts on “Slovenia: the good, the bad and the ugly

  1. Beautiful photos as usual! Perhaps the “unfriendliness” comes from so many years of being under someone else’s rule and not knowing how to be “open” now that they are part of the greater world of easier borders. I don’t know..it’s too bad, but maybe with more tourists and outsiders just appreciating the country, people will open up more. Thanks for being the diplomat going forward.

    Like

    1. Actually I recently read an article about Slovenians being fed up with the influx of refugees from Syria and Africa who are crossing over their borders through Hungary and Croatia. Sooooo maybe they thought that I was one of them??!! I really don’t know.

      Like

  2. Haha, I also get my inspiration to go on the trips I want because of pictures. Your photos are beautiful, and I like how you’ve also mentioned the difficulties of your trip there. Some travellers forget that while a place may be beautiful and the feeling of a new place overwhelming, there are still things to look out for. Perhaps there are not many tourists in Slovenia? Which can be a good and bad thing, as stated from your post.

    Anyways, great read and will definitely consider Slovenia! 🙂

    Like

    1. Oh yes not many tourist there at all which is another reason I adored Slovenia! I am hoping that I just misread the situation and that the Slovenians are actually friendly people 🙂 As a blogger I always feel compelled to share my unfiltered experiences both good and bad!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A fabulous read, reading your blog posts always makes me feel like I am hearing you talk! Slovenia has been on the top of my list especially Lake Bled, but you photos have also convinced me to explore Ljubljana as well. I do have to admit I am a bit wary about the unfriendliness I may encounter as well being Chinese Canadian, but that never stops me from travelling!

    Like

    1. Sharon I love that you said that because all my friends and family say that treading my blog makes them think that I am in the room, just chatting to them! I think you will be ok in Slovenia since you, unlike me, don’t have the colouring of *ahem* a Middle Eastern refugee. But hey, just like you, I never let anything hold me back from traveling!

      Like

  4. I absolutely loved your pictures and the TRUTH you spoke about the people. We oftentimes get the beautiful pictures without the whole experience included. I just love all your posts and can finally read them more regularly (VPN issues).

    Like

    1. Don’t even worry, I also have VPN issues here in the UAE although blogs aren’t blocked thankfully. I think that perhaps other bloggers simply don’t experience the things I do otherwise they would share it. This is simply because of their nationality and appearance… it inevitably comes back to these two annoying things doesn’t it?! Grrr. But you know that never holds me back and I will ALWAYS share the truth as I see and experience it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have to freaking meet. You, me, and ExpatUAE. I see a girls trip in our future. 😏 And I didn’t know the UAE had blocks! WordPress, YouTube, Instagram…blocked. And my VPN has been struggling these days. It’s definitely effecting what I’m trying to get accomplished. 🙄 I just absolutely loooooove how you travel your butt off. Super inspiring. I’m planning trips next month and the month after because of you. 😘

        Like

      2. Girl we HAVE TO MEET. The Middle East is ready for you with all sort of halal treats!! I feel a bit emotional reading that you’re traveling because of me and I can’t wait to see where you adventures take you 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This post reminded me of a holiday on the istrian coast in Croatia, a place I went with no preconceptions and which I think was maybe the most beautiful place I have ever been in Europe. Thanks for the photos x

    Like

  6. I am enjoying reading your posts during my toddler’s naptime, it’s a very relaxing way to vicariously experience a bit of the far-flung world from my couch. I’m a ranch wife living on an isolated cattle ranch in America, so these pictures and descriptions are very culturally enriching for me. Thanks for sharing your adventures!

    Like

    1. Wow I am so flattered by your comment! It is any bloggers dream to share their lives with people in all corners of the world and I am so happy you found me in your corner of the world 🙂 Thank you for your feedback 😀

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s