Pete's Log: Slovenija!

Entry #1399, (Travel)
(posted when I was 28 years old.)

Last weekend found me in Ljubljana, Slovenia, visiting Donna and Richard (my aunt and uncle) who were there on a trip to discover Richard's heritage.

Saturday morning I rented a car in Munich, packed up a few things, and headed out of town. The drive was ridiculously beautiful. From Munich to Salzburg through the Bavarian Alps, then South through the Austrian Alps to Slovenia, and then through the Slovenian Alps to Ljubljana. The only time I didn't have a great view was when I was in tunnels.

And let me tell you, the Austrians like to tunnel. They don't seem to buy into building passes or letting the landscape dictate the direction of their roads. I drove through one 8 km tunnel (the Austria/Slovenia border was actually in this tunnel, called the Karawankentunnel), two 6 km tunnels, and a dozen or two shorter ones.

The drive took about four and a half hours. Had I not gotten lost in Ljubljana and had there been less construction, I could easily have done it in four. Total distance was right around 400 km. And I honestly might have to include this one in my top five favorite drives I've taken. At least in terms of scenery.

In Ljubljana, we stayed at the Hotel Emonec, which had an unbeatable location in the city center. It was by no means a fancy hotel, but it was clean and cheap(ish) with friendly service. I found Donna and Richard, checked in, and we were off.

We grabbed a quick snack at a café on Prešernov trg (Prešeren Square -- yes, the Slovene word for Square has no vowels) and then toured the old city center. It's a neat little city. It has a great old European feel to it, although the neglect of the communist era is still apparent on many buildings. Construction seems to be booming, as independence, capitalism, and membership in the European Union seem to have done good things for Slovenia.

Speaking of the European Union, I did have to show my passport at the border, but since I used my Belgian EU passport, they barely even glanced at it.

The currency is the Slovenian Tolar (abbreviated SIT), but the Euro is taking over that role next January. Already the prices everywhere are listed both in Euros and in SIT, and I was able to pay with Euro everywhere. All but one place even gave me change in Euro, but thanks to that one place, I now have a Slovenian 100 Tolar bill as a souvenir (worth about half a dollar).

It's been a while since I've been in a country where I didn't know the language, but in Slovenia this was not a problem. Not a single person I talked to didn't know English, and most of them spoke it fairly well. I picked up the phrase "Dobre Dan" (not sure of the spelling), which means "good day." It sounds similar to the Russian. I also noticed I could understand the Slovenian numbers because they were also similar to the Russian numbers. I did find it convenient that they use the Latin alphabet instead of Cyrillic. But they put little inverted hats on their letters -- š č Ž -- I even figured out how those affect the pronunciation. My only failure is I didn't learn the word for "thank you," which I feel is a good one to know.

We ate dinner at a restaurant called Sokol, which was supposed to be authentic Slovenian food. Richard recognized some of the food from the Slovenian recipes his family still uses. The restaurant also brewed its own beer, so I had one of those. It reminded me a lot in taste of the Cream Ale at Growlers (Summit Station). After dinner we returned to the café on Prešernov trg for dessert. Live music was playing and the square was full of life. It was a great night.

Donna and Richard filled me in on their adventures, and it sounds like they had an amazing trip. Slovenians who were complete strangers offered them help in finding the sites they were looking for, and through complete luck they even found a living relative of Richard's and the house in which his great grandfather had grown up in. Amazing.

Sunday we hiked up to the castle that overlooks the city and climbed its large tower. The view from there was stunning. You could see most of Ljubljana and then mountains in every direction. To the North I think you could even see Austrian Alps, though I'm not positive.

We found a flea market along the river and looked at the offerings there. Finally, after some more wandering we had a late lunch at another café. I left at about 17:30 and drove back to Munich. It got dark pretty early, so the drive back wasn't nearly as pretty as the drive there had been. But it was a great trip and I definitely would like to go back. I especially want to check out Northern Slovenia and Bled, which are supposed to be stunning.

This, by the way, is my new favorite highway sign:
Image of German "Ende Aller Streckenverbote" street sign, meaning all traffic restrictions are lifted and there is no speed limit