Walking in Slovenia

First, some facts about Slovenia, formerly of the Yugoslav Republic.  It has a population of about 2 million, so Ljubljana (the capital) is fairly small.  Living in Scotland, one has to admire the courage of the Slovenians in deciding to become independent in 1991 and staring down the Yugoslav army.

Ljubljana

The good thing is that (presumably because it was too small a region to bother with) the Yugoslav regime didn’t rip down the capital and replace it with “lovely modern” high-rise towers for everyone to live in.  Ljubljana is a very pleasant city, on warm evenings the place was abuzz with people sitting outside at cafes and restaurants.  People were very friendly, without trying to sell you crap at every turn (like in some other countries where the locals are renowned for their “friendliness”).

In fact, judging from the number of Mercs, Beemers and Audis around, the Slovenians are doing alright thank you very much.  The city is clean and well-kept, cycle paths everywhere (doesn’t stop cyclists riding on the footpath though), and a long time since we’ve seen so many roller-bladers.

Sat 12 May

We flew with Air France which meant a changeover in Paris C. de Gaulle, almost as unpleasant an airport as Heathrow.  Our hotel in Ljubljana was Hotel Lev, a big glass fronted 5-star characterless monolith, but cheap when booked through Flight Centre in Edinburgh! By the time we arrived there it was time for an afternoon nap (6am flights are killers) then a 15 minute walk into the old town where we found a fairly traditional restaurant for dinner.  Of the 8 people in the restaurant when we arrived, 6 of them were Aussies and the other 2 Americans.  So much for being in an exotic location.
Food was good, this was the first of many gargantuan meat-fests. As the bottled wine was pretty expensive and Slovenia is not renowned for its wines, we ordered a jug of cab-sav, which took your breath away at first taste.  Dessert? Not a chance.

Sun 13 May

Quite a sunny day, there was a good bric-a-brac market in the old town on the banks of the river Ljubljanica.  We strode manfully past the bric-a-brac on our mission to get to the top of the hill the castle sits on, this is where it starts to get hot.

Not a great deal to see at the castle, the main thing to do is climb (again!) the ornate metal spiral staircase to get to the top of the tower, with wonderful views over the city.  I’m sure there is a technical term for a spiral staircase containing two sets of steps, so that those going up don’t meet those coming down, but I don’t know what it is.

After the castle visit we wandered downhill and sat in the shade eating some most welcome ice-creams.  There is a small square next to the river with an art installation, false rocks hanging in the air, one big (real) rock on the ground and pinned under it you can see the sign warning of falling rocks.  Ha ha.

It was a nice warm evening, just right for sitting outside to eat and having a stroll afterwards.

Mon 14 May

Really hot today (well, compared to what we’re used to), high 20s.  Did some organising of travel and then had a slow wander round the outdoor fruit and veg market (with loads of seasonal cherries & strawberries), admired the old building by the riverside, sat in the shade and ate ice-creams, had another meat-fest in the evening at a Bosnian restaurant.

Photos from Ljubljana.

Kranjska Gora

Tue 15 May

Time to travel to the starting point of the walk – Kranjska Gora.  This is an alpine village in the winter but people are beginning to realise there’s good walking here too.  Our train left Ljubljana at midday just as it began to rain a bit.  We had to change to a local bus at Jessenice, so just as we were getting on the bus the light rain became a downpour.  Still raining when we got off the bus at Kranjska Gora, so we decided on a cab ride to the hotel, which was 1 km out of town.  That 5-min cab ride cost nearly as much as the train and bus journeys beforehand, but it was a Benz, and well worth it in the rain.

As the hotel was a little way out of town (and didn’t have a restaurant), we had to don our wet weather gear for a walk in the rain to town for eats, decided on a pizza place with nice warm oven where our gear would dry off quickly.  Good pizzas and another jug of red – yeah!  Stopped raining by the time we headed home, so we could appreciate the stroll through the woods back to the hotel – the Vila Triglav.

Wed 16 May

This was the first official day of the Inntravel walk, The Lakes & Julian Alps and being the first day of course it was raining.  We sat through a pleasant breakfast at the hotel watching the rain. At about 11am we decided we had to start walking in the hope it would dry up later, so we donned the wet weather gear, grabbed the walking notes and map, headed out and got lost within 20 mins.

Could not find the path talked about in the notes, luckily it was obvious that we could walk along the road for a while and pick up the trail further on, so we did that.  It’s not much fun walking in the rain, so we plodded on, the trail took us off the road onto the river bed – the river is very wide to cope with spring snow melt, but now the river was a stream so we walked on the river bed for quite a way, steadily upward. Then off the rocky river bed into forest, still raining as we reached the aim of the walk, a small mountain chalet (Koca v Krinci) where we could get a cuppa and put our gear next to the fire to dry a bit – well be warm and wet instead of cold and wet.

Only as we left this building, into the light sleet that had replaced the rain, did we realise that it was at the foot of serious mountains rising vertically out of the mist.  It was a beautiful sight, the mist and snow on the mountains making it appear as if the mountains where just a mirage, but they were there alright.

As it was only 6C we didn’t hang round to admire the view for too long. As we headed back it slowly began to stop raining, which was good because the trail back was along old loggers tracks, often covered in logs and with a steep slope on one side, so you had to be careful.

That evening it was beautiful blue sky.  We went to a nice restaurant – actually a “gostilna”, for another meat-fest. To celebrate Morag’s birthday we bought a real bottle of wine rather than a jug.  In fact we had to ask for a “doggy-bag” which we had seen other people do, for half of our starters to go into – when we saw the size of other people’s dinner.  What is a gostilna? I hear you ask, apparently gostilnas are more like Inns, serving traditional food in big portions – for the peasants.  Restaurants on the other hand, serve smaller portions of less-traditional food. This gostilna opened every day at 10 to serve a hearty mid-morning meal to the local workers and tradesmen.  They just cooked one meal, and that was what they got!

Thu 17 May

Nice warm sunny day, and we made ourselves a picnic lunch from our doggy-bag and some extra rolls from breakfast.  Today’s walk is to a waterfall near the next village.  First we headed through Kranjska Gora and out the other side into woods, walking along the river for a while, then crossed the river and through the village we started heading upstream – once again on the riverbed itself.  Eventually we reached a point where the gorge narrowed and progress was on small wooden bridges and up wooden steps until we were half-way up the wall of the gorge and could see the waterfall.

To be honest, the walk into the gorge to see it was more interesting than the cascade itself.  On the way back we stopped and ate our picnic at a spot where they have preserved a few charcoal burners huts, apparently these are used once a year just to preserve the craft, the rest of the year they try to preserve the forest.

From there we walked back to Kranjska Gora along a bike path – this was the direct route but also the one in the direct sun and it was starting to get hot.  So we were pleased to get back to the hotel, which we now had to ourselves, and have a swim in the pool.

Dinner that night was another meat-fest in a restaurant, hmmm, hard to tell the difference between a restaurant and a gostilna, except for the presence of tablecloths.

Lake Bohinj

Fri 18 May

The day started with a 50 minutes car journey into the mountains, very fresh when we got out of the car, which then took our bags onto the next hotel.  From there we walked downward on a pleasant mountain trail with good views, then we went into forest and sometimes the downward walking was very difficult – steep and rocky, with a covering of leaves so you couldn’t see what rock you were putting your foot on.

Eventually we got to a good spot for lunch, perched on an old bench on the edge of a bramble-covered cliff overlooking a town and views over fields and hills.  Getting hot now so carried on looking down into the town, through the local cemetery (beautifully tended) and on toward Lake Bohinj where we walked along the northern shore of this beautiful lake.

Thankfully this part of the walk was in the shade, as it was pretty hot by now (mid-afternoon – we were over an hour behind the Inntravel estimated time because the descent on those rocky paths had taken so long).

The Hotel Zlatorog is what the Slovenions call an eco hotel, in so far as that everything they offer to eat is organic, and – crucially – there is a pyramid installed in the hotel to protect the guests from harmful cosmic radiation, so we could sleep soundly at night.   It’s a dated place, very 1970’s, but comfortable enough.  We ate in the hotel restaurant that evening, limited menu so we both had beefsteak, which was a very nice fillet.  There was a table of loud Americans with their local guide… and we were to run into them a few more times over the next 10 days!  In fact 2 of them had been at our hotel in Ljubljana already.

Sat 19 May

After a disappointing breakfast (the worst coffee on the planet!) we headed off to see a local cascade, Slap Savica (Slap being the local word for waterfall). We seemed to go uphill and up steps forever, actually 1.5 hours, until we reached the viewpoint for the waterfall.  This was a much higher waterfall than the previous one, but the best bit was the panoramic view over the lake and mountains.

It didn’t take long to walk back to the hotel so we sat on our balcony and had some fruit for lunch, then Morag caught the local bus into the village at the other end of the lake – Ribcev Laz.

Highlight of the village was the statue of the 4 fellas who first climbed Mount Triglav (1788), in their wooden clogs. Caught the ferry back, this was powered by an electric motor as only electric motors are allowed on the lake – otherwise you row or sail.  Some lake facts: there are 5 types of fish in the lake, all the water comes from Slap Savica and is replaced about 5 times per year (by inflow/outflow, not a bloke with a bucket), the water flows out at Ribcev Laz to become the second shortest river in Slovenia.  So there!

That evening we ate at a small local restaurant (outside, big mistake, mozzies), Morag had an excellent local trout (from the lake) and Mal had another yummy steak.

Lake Bled

Sun 10 May

Another ordinary breakfast, they have a machine that makes the worst coffee ever.  This day we walk to Lake Bled, starting with a 30 minute drive to Bohinska Bela, a pretty little village nestled under a cliff.

From there we walked through farmland and walked up a very steep hill to a ridge on the other side of the valley for views of Bohinska Bela and the entire valley.  From there it was through more farmland, then through some forest that took us over a ridge until we emerged near a wee chapel where there was a handy seat to take in the most spectacular panorama of the entire holiday.  Beautiful view of a valley hemmed in by mountains and just a wee glimpse of Lake Bled at the end of the valley.

Down the hill we went, near midday it was getting pretty hot now, and we were out in the open in farming land.  I keep going on about it being hot, well high-20s to 30 is just too hot when you’re hiking, especially as there was little or no breeze.  According to the locals, this was unseasonably hot, they would normally expect temperatures up to 20 at this time of year.

Anyway, through the farmland we trooped, watching local villagers doing back-breaking work tilling small patches of land while others drove by in huge tractors.  Our route took us along a river in which there were plenty of anglers, and through fields waist high with wildflowers – millions of wildflowers about.  In fact, we’re just missing out on the Wildflower festival due to happen at the end of May in the area!

We stopped for lunch in an odd place, a bus stop in a village, just across the road from a smelly barn.   It was the only place we could find any shade.   After lunch we carried on and were very glad we had upgraded to the 4* Hotel Vila Bled because although it meant we had to walk an extra half-hour in the heat just now, we realised now that the cheaper hotel option offered by Inntravel is about half-hour walk from Lake Bled.

Eventually we arrived at the lake shore and it’s just a short distance round the lake until you get to the gate leading to the hotel, where you trudge in on the red carpet all sweaty in your hiking gear, pass the plush sofas and marble staircase, and plonk your hat and sunglasses down on the counter while the fellow in smart suit and tie organises your room key.

Our room has a nice wee balcony with a beautiful view of the lake and the wee island in the middle with the church on it.   Now we’re really glad we upgraded.

The upgrade includes dinner in the very swish restaurant, the kind of place where you do not pour your own wine, and to make sure you don’t they put the bottle on a separate table.  All a bit fussy for our liking but the food was excellent, and with the advice of the waiter we found that Slovenia does produce some nice Riesling and some excellent Pinot Noir.

Mon 21 May

We had heard that Vintgar Gorge was very nice and Inntravel supplied walking notes to get there via Bled Castle, so we set off that way after a hearty breakfast.  If you wished, you could’ve had champagne for breakfast… along with a selection of 8 juices — orange, apple, beetroot, melon, redcurrant.. and I’ve forgotten the rest!

The castle was worth the hefty climb, with great views over the lake. Could easily have stayed up there for quite a while longer, but we had more walking to do yet.  The Inntravel route would have been good on a cooler day, as they had designed in detours that took you to places with good views, but it was just too hot to appreciate all that walking uphill.

Eventually we arrived at Vintgar Gorge, some would say it has been spoiled by the addition (in late 19th C) of wooden walkways, however this does make the place accessible to those who would not otherwise be able to enjoy a lovely walk through the gorge.  A steam runs through it and like all the other rivers and streams we’ve seen in Slovenia, the water is crystal clear.  You can see every pebble at the bottom of the river, and see all the fish (maybe the water is clear because the bottom of each stream is pebbles, rather than mud?).

It was worth the walk in the heat to get there and back, and on the return we more or less completed a circuit of Lake Bled that we had begun the day before.

Another excellent meal that evening with the wine-nurse and other waiters…. and the pianist in the corner.

Photos from the walk.

Portoroz

Tue 22 May

This was the end of our Inntravel holiday.  At this point we wished we had added some extra days at each location as there was plenty more to do at each place, especially at Lake Bled where it would have been nice to spend a day relaxing – maybe a boat trip to the island, or take one of the Vila Bled rowing boats and row out there ourselves!

But today we have a long trip to Portoroz on the coast, southwest of Ljubljana.  However, with the late checkout time at Hotel Vila Bled and because we’re catching a bus at noon, we had time to do the tourist train round the lake, which mainly consisted of us being rattled about and almost thrown out of the “train” as it hurtled round the road. The receptionist had said it would take about 40 minutes to trundle around… but we were back where we got on, in 20 minutes.

Our bus to Ljubljana seemed a long trip, about 2 hours, then it was a 3 hour bus trip down to Portoroz.  From the bus station it was a 10 minute walk to Hotel Grand Palace.

After settling in on the 7th (top) floor, we walked in the direction of the next town – Piran, on the hunt for dinner.  We soon realised it was further to Piran than we realised and by 8pm we were getting hungry, so we settled on a place where we could sit outside next to the shore and had a nice meal.  Lots of fish on offer here, naturally, including calamari (nice tender small bits, not the huge tough rings) and sea-bass.

Wed 23 May

Portoroz is much hotter than where we were up north, I guess we were a bit higher in altitude there, and there is no sea breeze in Portoroz to cool us down.  Our main purpose for visiting here was  to visit the old town of Piran.

Having found it’s a longer walk to Piran than expected, we decided to spend a Euro each and catch the local bus. Piran is a lovely old place, especially Tartini Square (named after a local violinist) and the views over the town and Adriatic from the hill that runs on one side of the town.  Because Slovenia’s coastline is so short, you can see Croatia in one direction and Italy in the other.

At the top of the hill there are some good old battlements to climb, which kept Morag happy, and a shady tree to wait under, which kept Malcolm happy.

We found a nice gostilna by the side of a small square and sat in the shade and had a fishy lunch.  This was our first long relaxed lunch of the holiday and it was a welcome change.

After lunch we headed back to the air conditioning of the hotel for a nap, after which we walked down to the Portoroz marina to check out the floating money, but there was no entrance for plebs like us, so we headed back and had dinner at a Greek restaurant near the hotel where the service was as incompetent as we’ve ever experienced (well, apart from the time a restaurant in North Fitzroy served Malcolm a dish with pieces of glass in it).

Thu 24 May

The other thing we’d planned to do from Portoroz was a trip to some caves, about 1.5 hours away by bus, but after the long bus journey in the heat the other day, and feeling slightly queasy after the Greek food the night before, we ruled it out.

Instead we relaxed, Morag did some shopping and had a swim.  She headed down to the pools -only to arrive just in time for the early evening aqua-aerobics.  There were about 40 women (aged up to 75!) just waiting for the dashing instructor to come and tell them how to jump about in the pool.  I figured I may as well join in – had no idea what the songs were, but I could follow the actions of everyone else.  The jumping up & down was a bit of a problem for the 50 year old next to me (wearing a bandeau-top bikini) as her boobies just flipped out at every jump!!  In the evening we went back to Piran for a stroll around when it was cooler, then had an excellent meal in a really nice small restaurant (more fish and steak).  Most dinners now accompanied by a nice bottle of local Pinot Noir.

Ljubljana

Fri 25 May

Headed back to Ljubljana today, but instead of taking the bus the whole way we caught the bus to Koper (20 mins), then the train from there.  The trains are very comfortable (first class mind) but a bit slow.  Very good scenery on this trip, little villages, some hills and some misty gorges.

Back to familiar territory at the Hotel Lev to find we’ve been upgraded to a suite, which is very civilised.  Headed down to the old town and found a restaurant with tables outside next to the river, had a very pleasant meal on our final night in Slovenia.

Sat 26 May

In the morning Morag zipped out and did some shopping as she had spotted a fabric shop near the hotel.  We caught a local bus from town to the airport, unfortunately it had no air-con so was like an oven.  It also did the milk-run to get there and took about 45 minutes!  We had a couple of hours wait at the airport before flying out, and the shopping area was being renovated so there was only a tiny shop available.  Arrived back in Edinburgh about 10pm, back to proper weather, 10C.

Photos from after the walk.

All-in-all it was an excellent holiday, busy, so we both completely forgot about work, which is the point of it all.  Lots of good scenery, nice people and good food.

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