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Why traveling to Slovenia is a rewarding discovery

David Hill
David Hill

Keen traveller and a frequent visitor to Indonesia

Fremantle, Western Australia | Mon, October 3, 2016 | 03:48 pm
Why traveling to Slovenia is a rewarding discovery

Predjama Castle in Postojna Cave, Slovenia. (Shutterstock/File)

In his latest documentary about what America should learn from the world, Where to Invade Next?, Michael Moore heaps praise on the little-known democracy of Slovenia.

People know so little about Slovenia, he adds, that much of its international mail is misdirected to nearby Slovakia. Yet this nation of only 2 million is one of about two dozen countries that provide free tertiary education. It produces highly-trained graduates fluent in both Slovenian and English (along with various other world languages).

Several Americans studying in Slovenian universities tell Moore they are attracted by the high quality tuition without the debt that shackles their counterparts in the US (and elsewhere). For me too, Slovenia was a rewarding discovery. Until I spent four days there at the tail-end of a three month backpacking trip in western Europe, I knew nothing of the country or its history.

But what a discovery!

Castle atop Ljubljana city.(JP/D Hill)

English was widely spoken. The scenery was stunning, from the tidy rural hamlets, the slopes of grand snow-topped mountains in extensive national parks, to the neatly ordered capital of Ljubljana. The food was a great combination of quality and affordability.

It was a relief for our budget. On our way to the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana we had spent a night in Geneva, where our spartan Ibis Budget hotel room had cost us nearly $A250 (US$191). In Slovenia, four nights’ accommodation, in two spacious, fully appointed and equipped apartments for two people, was less than $A350.

It was easy to find suitably priced accommodation within about 10 minutes cycling distance from the central train station in the heart of Ljubljana. The city-wide bicycle hire system Bicike (LJ), with 300 bicycles at 30 docking stations, was very easy to use. It took only about 10 minutes and one euro to register online. The first hour of any rental is completely free. So we explored the city by bike.

At Friday's weekly “open kitchen” in one of the main squares, restaurants and individuals cooked up a storm of local and internationals dishes throughout the day and well into the evening. The atmosphere was warm and friendly. As one vendor explained when I noted the extensive use of English, “When we started the open kitchen about five years ago, everyone mainly spoken Slovene, but now we usually go straight to English, as the number of tourists keeps on growing”.

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Open kitchen street stalls.(JP/D Hill)

Garbage bins around the square were color-coded for separate refuse and a council worker was at hand to explain politely which of the half dozen bins was the appropriate one.

Nearby I discovered one of my favorite innovations in Slovenia: a fresh milk dispensing machine, which provided ice cold local milk in amounts from 100 ml to 3 liters, at one euro per liter. To reduce waste, customers were encouraged to bring their own containers, but could buy plastic liter bottles too if necessary.

I refilled my bottle several times. I had to try the range of steamed dumplings with pear, apple or meat inside, topped with a sprinkling of pork crackling to balance the fruit’s sweetness. The home-made ice cream packed with chopped local berries, shaved into paper-thin curls and piled into our cups, was a real treat.

After a funicular ride up the hill to explore the town's restored castle with its museum of Slovenian history, we were ready to try the local hearty mushroom soup served inside a bowl-shaped loaf of bread.

Mushroom soup served in a bread bowl.(JP/D Hill)

Then we cycled off to see a performance at a local squat, where artists had occupied a disused ROG bicycle factory a decade ago and had converted the vast concrete tomb into a vibrant creative space. The local council that owns the building had attempted to oust the squatters recently, but was rebuffed by a public show of strength.

The evening's theatre in the factory yard was part of a city-wide arts festival over the summer months. Refugees sold food at a make-shift community kitchen to generate income. Musicians, sculptors, painters, actors, circus performers and artists of all kinds contributed to the convivial atmosphere.

Nestled near the Triglav National Park, just 90 minutes from the capital, is the gorgeous Lake Bled, overseen by its famous mountain-top castle. Growing numbers of tourists love it.

(Read also: Things to do in southern Spain: Wine tasting, explore picturesque village of Mijas)

Lake Bled.(JP/D Hill)

We chose the less populated but equally beautiful Lake Bohinj, a further half hour's bus ride, for our stay. We hired bikes to cycle the length of this, the largest lake in Slovenia, to visit the thunderous Savica waterfall, which has inspired Slovenian poets for generations. The national park is criss-crossed by walking and cycling paths. The information office staff, like everyone with whom we came in contact, were articulate and helpful.

Alpine lakes are beautiful to view from a distance, but my dip in Bohinj's misty lake was as brief as it was memorable, the chilly waters a stark contrast to the warmth of the people we met throughout the journey.

Michael Moore – and I -- might not have known much about Slovenia, but the secret is out. The international students studying there, and the tourists and backpackers now pouring in, know they are onto a good thing.  

 

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David Hill is a keen traveller and a frequent visitor to Indonesia. He enjoys backpacking and has undertaken several extended walks, most recently more than 650 kilometers from Lisbon (Portugal) to Santiago (Spain), taking six weeks.

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