Reaching a next level of driving
They say that the Julian Alps in Slovenia offer some of the most impressive Alpine landscapes. Why take a plane when you can drive half way through Europe to visit them? Quite obvious, we think. We load the car with a tent, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and a sufficient amount of coffee and we - Jenthe (the pilot), me (the singing co-pilot) and our navigator Ednorozhka (a white unicorn) - head from Belgium to Slovenia around 22:00h on a beautiful Friday evening.
We drive through Germany - Cologne, Frankfurt, Munich and meet the morning in Austria. The landscapes start expanding around us, but we realize our estimated driving time is expanding, too. Mountains are growing, hours are growing, too. Many of the main roads are closed, so we need to take some mountain roads. These deviations turn our estimated 12-hourish road trip to something like a beautiful 19-hourish road trip (including a 2-hour nap in the car).
|Driving through the Austrian Alps|
We let go of the idea that we will have the day in Ljubljana as planned and simply immerse in the breathtaking landscapes of the Austrian Alps, still covered and still accepting new snow. By early afternoon we are finally in Slovenia but as we are late anyway, we decide to enjoy the journey and drive off the main road (this time deliberately) to find a nice spot for an improvised picnic. We see a little sharp-roofed church in the distance and we randomly head to find it. As we take our well-deserved final break underneath the church on top of a grassy hill, we take some photos and it is only then that I see in the photos that my pilot's eyes are all red and he is actually barely half-awake...the perils of a road trip.
|Perils of roadtripping|
Experiencing Ljubljana - somewhere under the rainfall
We finally make it to Ljubljana and head to catch a sunset from the city castle. The view over the Baroque-style neat old town is welcoming underneath the pink skies.
Two buildings, though, stand right in the middle of the Square of the Republic and take more attention than necessary. They seem to me as the ultimate mistake of giving "creative" power in the hands of nationally-favorable architects during the communist times. It is clearly a failed and superficial attempt to create an urbanized space in the middle of an ancient city - basically with no mercy for the neighboring existing landscape. I feel even more empathic, as I relate these architectural crimes to some buildings that have happened in my native Bulgaria, too, and that will forever remind us of those times, during which the country was above human identity.
|Sunset from Ljubljana castle|
P.S. Today these ugly Ljubljana buildings ironically serve as a "National Center for Innovative Entrepreneurship"
|Seriously... who does that?|
On the positive side, there are plenty of beautiful colorful churches in green, yellow and red colors, which bring us back to the charm of the city. They are quietly sitting along the river Ljubljanica, enriched by beautiful bridges, guarded by dragons. The dragons are the symbol of the city and supposedly they must be everywhere. We even try to play a game of "dragon spotting", but to be fair - the most frequent encounters with dragons, which we have, are with those on the souvenir shop windows.
The weather is not our best bet during the days in Ljubljana, as our schedule is mostly dictated by the never-stopping rain. We take it as an opportunity to not let it impact our mood and we get creative in what activities we can do in pouring rain. That basically comes down to: eating, drinking, taking a boat, drinking, visiting museums, drinking, eating. Food in Ljubljana can be extraordinary and strange - (some of us) get to try paste from pork intestines for breakfast, and apple strudel in a foam form for dinner. (And no, we are obviously not the most eloquent food photographers, but we are most definitely food lovers.) We cannot say that people in the service sector in Ljubljana are the friendliest folks, but those that happen to be, are sweet and welcoming.
|Me, looking like a mushroom in the rain |
Bottom line is - if experienced with the right attitude, Ljubljana can be an ultimately romantic, charming and hospitable little city, and it will remain sentimental to us. What we really crave for, though, is to head to the mountains.
Betting on nature
"Vintgar Gorge" and "Postojna Cave" - how to marry people and nature?
The Vintgar Gorge is the first attraction in Slovenia, which allows tourists to safely stroll up and down the rocks along the turquoise Radovna river and to view the grand waterfall at the end. In theory, it is a lovely walk - suited for kids, elderly, dogs, good shoes, not good shoes - it is well arranged to make the gorge accessible to people and still to not interfere too much with the surroundings. In practice, however, Jenthe and I prefer our exploration without too much crowd and while it is a gift for the eyes, it is not the ultimate experience of nature for us.
|Vintgar Gorge |
One of those following rainy days we hit the Postojna Cave - apparently, the biggest cave in Europe. There we see the renown "baby dragon" a.k.a. an olm - "the queen of the subterranean world". It is a creature - a form of life evolved in the cave systems with no eyes, no pigmentation or breathing system, and it can survive 10 years with no food and reach over a hundred years of life?!... (ok, I find them very interesting!) The cave is long over 22km and in fact, it has its own train system inside, in order for visitors to be able to reach some of the far ends. Again, it is impressive that they have made the cave accessible for people to witness this beautiful underworld. However, I feel it is a bit too commercialized - usually over 100 people are visiting the cave at the same time on an open train, barely able to speak to the guides, and being led to a souvenir shop in one of the cave chambers. As much as we like the baby dragons, we conclude we would like something more untamed.
|A train ride in the cave|
The second part of our true Julian Alps exploration is here.
|An Olm / A baby Dragon|