Slovenia: An amazing weekend from Ljubljana to Lake Bled
After a week in Zagreb, we decided to take a detour through Slovenia before continuing down the coast of Croatia. Turns out, that was a great idea, because Slovenia is amazing! Just less than two hours away, getting to the capital city of Ljubljana was an easy drive. We really didn't know what to expect, so when we walked into the old town we couldn't believe how lucky we were - there was so much going on.
Turns out there was an international festival in the center of the old town, with countries far and wide hosting stalls to promote their food and culture. There were dancers and singers and the whole place was bustling with activity. We'd come to enjoy Slovenia and instead we got the entire world!
But first things first, we needed some lunch. We found a traditional restaurant and did what we've discovered most Europeans do...eat outside, no matter what the weather. So, we parked ourselves at a table under the cool autumn sun and enjoyed some very hearty local chicken soup, fresh baked bread, and big mugs of Slovenian beer.
After lunch we walked around and enjoyed the old town of Ljubljana, which is gorgeous! It's filled with Baroque and Vienna Secession buildings, landscaped tree-lined riverside promenades, and crisscrossed by bridges over the Ljubljanica River, including the famous Triple Bridge. Why is it called the Triple Bridge? Because when architect Jože Plečnik designed it in 1929 he designed an extension to the original bridge from 1842 (designed by an Italian) adding two footbridges at right angles on each side of it to add more room for pedestrians instead of destroying the original. It looks very Venetian, and because Ljubljana is midway between Venice and Vienna, it's a symbol of the bridge between the Italian and Germanic worlds.
As we strolled the old town it was filled with the sounds of local musicians and activity, but we wanted to visit Ljubljana Castle, so we got on the funicular and took the short trip up Castle Hill, which is right in the center of the city. The views of the town below were amazing, they have lovely outdoor cafes and restaurants on the castle grounds, and neat little attractions as well. We popped into the dungeon and, of course, the puppet museum - boy, do the Europeans love their puppets!
After the castle we followed the sound of live music to an outdoor bar. When we saw the sign, VSAK DAN SVEZE OSTRIGE, we couldn't believe our luck. "Check it out, we can meet Dan the Ostrich!" Joe exclaimed, and I was like, "Yea! We get a meet and greet with Dan the Ostrich!" Beers while hanging out with an ostrich and listening to local music in Slovenia, does it get any cooler than that?
It sort of begs the question why we thought we'd be hanging out with a live ostrich in an outdoor bar in Slovenia, because that's really weird (except that the Slovenian word ostrige looks an awful lot like ostrich). Only it wasn't weird! Because at the international festival we'd actually come across a real live ostrich walking the streets. And just minutes before we arrived at the bar, we saw the ostrich again with his owner/handler at a nearby sidewalk cafe where they were enjoying a coffee. So why wouldn't his name be Dan and why wouldn't he join us at the bar for a beer?
Well, because ostrige doesn't mean ostrich in Slovenian for one thing. It means oysters. And so, when Joe decided to Google translate the sign after Dan wasn't showing up to join us, we discovered that the sign actually read: OYSTER BREEDS EVERY DAY, which is basically fresh oysters daily. So much for sharing a beer with Dan!
After our beers we walked along the river and discovered...a chocolate festival!! Could this place get any better? Stall after stall of chocolate was there for the tasting, and apparently Ljubljana could get better because they also served wine at the festival!! So, we promptly ordered ourselves a few glasses and then went on a chocolate binge. Day one was in the books!
The next day, we took a drive up to Lake Bled in the Julian Alps. The whole area is a vacation destination and quite beautiful. We took a traditional plentna (wooden boat) to Bled Island, where there is a pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, as well as a little cafe to sit at, enjoy a drink and gelato, and gaze at the gorgeous scenery.
Pletnas are still made by hand and powered by an oarsman, which reminded us of being in a gondola in Venice. Our oarsman was the owner of our new boat, named Vesna. What a great guy! We learned so much about the area and Slovenia in general, and he shared all of this insight into skiing in the Julian Alps, which we promptly stored in our memories for a future trip. In fact, the whole ride was so much fun because we also met a great couple from Spain and left the island with two new friends and an invitation to visit them at their summer home in Spain. We exchanged numbers and hugs goodbye for all. Such great people!
Of course, while there we had to try the renowned kremšnita, a square-shaped cream pastry that became a protected dish of designated origin by the Slovene government in 2016. Our restaurant had them lined up on the bar and they were flying to tables as fast as they could get them on plates. It was quite yummy! Full of kremšnita, we then hiked up to Bled Castle, which is the oldest castle in Slovenia and looks down upon Lake Bled. The castle dates back to 1004, when the German King Henry II conferred the estate of Bled on Bishop Albuin of Brixen. The views were spectacular, and we could hear the sounds of a violinist playing way down by the lake's shore, which provided the perfect background music.
As we finished our six kilometer walk around the lake we passed by the Olympic Rowing Center, where you can learn how to row with members of the Slovenian rowing team. That sounded like fun! All in all, Bled is a beautiful place to spend the day, take in the nature of Slovenia...and go into a cream cake coma.
Our time in Slovenia was coming to an end, but we got to experience the rest of the country the next day as we drove toward Trieste, Italy for one night before continuing our Croatian journey. The countryside was beautiful, with one view more spectacular than the next. It was eye candy the entire drive (it actually reminded us alot of Switzerland with rolling green hills and mountains).
We fell in love with Slovenia and have decided that we'll spend more than just a few days there in the future (especially after hearing about the great skiing from our plentna oarsman). It was just the greatest surprise.
Slovenia goes to the top of our list, and it should go to the top of yours, too, if you're looking for an off-the-beaten path experience unlike any other. This country is a rock star, and we are huge fans.