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  • mcneiljune2

Slovenia: May 5th - 31st, 2024

Updated: Jun 15

It was all because of Buttons our rescue cat! She arrived on our doorstep with two kittens; we had been chosen. Wanting to travel and keep our home and cats safe, we found Trustedhouse Sitters. Through this organisation we found animal lovers to care for Buttons, Hookie and Eye. One couple became good friends and sat regularly for us over the years. Milena and Milan were from Slovenia and talked enthusiastically about their country which "had it all". We decided to go and see for ourselves.

May 5th - 7th Choosing the car ferry crossing from Barcelona to Genoa in Italy, we arrived at our first stop at Malcesine on Lake Garda. I'd arranged to meet with my photographer friend Eva, who lives in Innsbruck and had driven to overnight in the area as well. All went well until we decided to take a ferry across Lake Garda to reach our destination; the ferry had been cancelled we found when arriving at the departure point. A drive around the top of the lake ensued, adding an hour to our arrival time. Eventually arriving at Malcesine using a combination of navigation aids, we met with Eva who'd patiently waited outside our hotel for a couple of hours longer than anticipated!

May 7th - 9th We may have arrived later than anticipated, however more than made up for the slow start. Eva and I started to explore and familiarise ourselves with the area in anticipation of some night photography. It was a beautiful area in which to watch the sun go down and then enjoy the reflections in the lake as darkness fell. The following day we took the ski lift up to the top of Monte Baldo. The wind was strong and cold which meant we didn't venture too far away from the area adjacent to the ski lift. We found shelter out of the wind and could fully appreciate the breathtaking views as we looked down and across the mountain ranges. After saying goodbye to Eva late afternoon, a last walk along the lake saw us somehow caught up in a religious procession. We weren't able to pass so wandered along for a while behind the procession. Eventually we witnessed a cross being dipped into the water a few times. Continuing with our walk we went to the furthest point on the lake where we could look back and admire the village lights and those of other settlements on the opposite side; we'd chosen a great first place to stop en route to Slovenia.

May 9th - 11th

Eva had warned of a huge influx of Germans the day we were leaving as there was a long weekend holiday in Germany. She wasn't wrong! We left Malcesine heading north and on the opposite side of the carriageway, queues of vehicles just went on for mile after mile. I'd never seen a traffic jam like it, however it apparently happens each year. Italian roads and drivers leave a lot to be desired, however after an intense four hour drive, we turned away from Italy and into Slovenia. Immediately the atmosphere felt different. There was a calmness, fewer cars and people, well maintained roads and breathtaking scenery.

We stayed at Kransja Gora, a ski resort which would be busy in the winter, however it was perfect for us even though many of the shops and services were closed. We hired electric bikes to explore the area. All went well until we decided to go off road. The bikes were heavy and we often couldn't maintain momentum; it meant we often finished up pushing them; not what we'd anticipated!

May 11th - 13th

I took some last photos of Kransja Gora during the night and early morning and then we were on our way heading towards Lake Bled. We hadn't gone very far however, before a stop was needed to take photos! It was slow progress because of the absolute beauty of the area although as we neared Bled, our progress was slowed because of traffic jams! We'd booked a B&B for a few nights and it turned out, our host was a celebrity! He had once played ice hockey for the Yugoslav National team and then after stints in Canada and the USA, he returned to Slovenia and was a hockey coach for the country. We met him before we left; Rudi Hiti, a really lovely guy. Our accommodation was within walking distance of Lake Bled. We parked the car and didn't get in it again until we were ready to leave; did wonders for our fitness and also enabled us to really get a feel for the area. We tried the local Bled cream cake - Kremna Rezina at the establishment where it apparently originated. It comes as a block with a fine layered biscuit top and bottom - eating it is an art in itself and both we and our plates looked a complete mess when we'd finished; it was delicious though! Climbing up to the imposing castle overlooking the lake, it was possible to appreciate the unblelievable colour of the water; it looked unreal. As water activity of the lake was controlled, there were a few electric boats plying their trade to and from the island on which one of the most photographed churches used as a tv screen saver, sits. Otherwise, the water remained glass-like and full of reflections. There were many toursists in Bled, including ourselves of course, however a walk to the far end of the lake brought us to the former Olympic rowing base where fewer people had ventured. Our last afternoon was spent enjoying the relative solitude of this area before we caught the "emmet train" back to the main tourist area.

May 13th - 17th

And so, on to Maribor where our friends live. The day was overcast and drizzly, however not enough to deter me from trying to find a spot from which to photograph a bridge and church at Lake Bohinj. This location really appealed to me as there seemed to be fewer people about and it had a different character from the hussle and bussle at Lake Bled. I wandered taking photos and came across a collie type dog trying to work up the courage to go into the water after a ball. His name was Odil and I was told by his owner that it was the first time he'd seen water. I spent time taking photos in the hope of a successful outcome. It wasn't to be, however his owner and I swopped email addresses so at least there's a record of Odil's first retrieve attempts! We'd seen a sign to a waterfall further inland and higher than the lake. Following the road to a dead end, we pulled into a parking area. I went to look for the waterfall and as I followed a track upwards, took photos of the water rushing downhill. I'd walked for about 20mins and found myself faced with a toll booth and no way to progress other than to pay. I really object to being charged to look at a natural creation and was helped in my decision to turn around, by the rain which steadily began to fall! Continuing our journey towards Maribor, we drove through mountain villages, enjoying the ride and views from on high. One village caught our attention and we stopped to explore. The attraction was initially due to a beautiful waterfall and river running through the centre. However, as we walked around we came across a restaurant from which was emanating delicious smells. We investigated further and found to our delight, typical Slovenia food being served by a lady who spoke some English! The place was called Kropa and was a former iron forging centre. With full stomachs we continued and in one mountainous area, I saw a church high on a hill, seemingly isolated yet providing such a wonderful scene with a backdrop of cloud and mountains. As it was raining, I made do with a view from afar. Eventually arriving at our hotel which was only a 10 minute walk from where Milena and Milan lived, we were able to meet together and enjoy a reunion in their home.

Our next day saw us getting to the top of the highest mountain in the area. We'd intended to travel in the cable car, however when we found it closed, Milan decided we would get to the his car! We made it and had some glorious views over Maribor, Slovenia's second city. Although the cable car wasn't running, there were still sufficient people about for the restaurant to be open. We enjoyed a delicious Slovenian soup; beef and noodles for me! Later we went for a walk alongside the river where we were introduced to a 400 year old vine as well as having a taster session of local wines. We had some fun trying to explain to Milena and Milan the difference between "wine" and "vine"; both words sound the same to them! Swans provided some entertainment at the riverside and in one scrap, a swan was injured and struggled to get away quickly.

I went out to explore the other side of the river in the morning as we'd made arrangements to meet with Milena & Milan at mid-day. Instead of focusing solely on landscapes, I searched for different things and was quite surprised with what I was able to capture. We went with Milena and Milan to an area which they said saved their sanity during lockdown. It's a forested island area where beavers also live. Although we didn't see any, we certainly saw evidence of their handiwork. After our walk, we relaxed beside the river with beers and enjoyed the sunshine. We started to chat about life in this part of Europe; it was a fascinating conversation. It really brought it home to us how growing up and living on an island, really does give a different perspective compared to Europe where countries live side by side and there are many manoeuverings for power. Later, we stopped at a restaurant close to when our friends live and ate a traditional Slovenian meal which involved an adapted Serbian recipe for a type of sausage within pitta bread. I found it really tasty and not too heavy at all! In the evening I walked the river area again and watched as the sun went down, lights came on and darkness descended.

After a morning walk around the river we met with Milena and Milan for our last day with them on this trip.

We arrived at their home where Milena had prepared a delicious Goulash and Apple Strudel for us to share. Shared times with them will be precious memories to enjoy once we're back home.

Milan wanted us to meet a local wine producer next door to where his daughter lives. Whilst Chris had a visit to the cellar and wine tasting, I went with Milena to her daughter's house hidden in the woods where hens really are ranging freely!

At the vineyard, a platter of all home grown produce was placed on the table together with wine. Milena & Milan's daughter and family joined us, with much laughter and hesitant English from some of the grandchildren.

After we had been well and truly fed, our last event together was at one of Maribor's theatres to listen to the local choir perform. They were outstanding and would give any Welsh choir a run for their money!

We said goodbye to our friends just as the heavens opened, however our hotel was nearby.

Goodbye Maribor, Milena, Milan, family and friends, we have loved our time with you all.

May 17th - 19th

We took our time driving towards Ljubljana as it wasn't a great distance; nothing is in Slovenia as it's a small country!

Leaving the motorway often, we passed through some lovely villages. One of them had an impressive church high on a hill so, up we found the way to walk up for closer inspection. The graveyard was interesting with well tended family graves squeezed in right at the base of the church building as if vying for the right to be in first place! Eventually arriving in Ljubljana and finding our accommodation for the next three nights, we were a bit disconcerted to find that the street parking only allowed purchase of tickets up to four hours (something not detailed in the property description). We decided to work with the situation as it was the weekend and Sunday would be no problem. It meant a return to purchase new tickets between 7am and 7pm, however as much of what we'd want to explore was reasonably close by, we simply clock watched!

Rivers in the city were in full flood after the terrific downpour in the night and we caught sight of a number of birds taking rides on the abundant flotsam!

Having a drink at one of the numerous street cafes, we noticed a traffic mirror which was more like a painting! Zooming in I could see that the angle showed the cafe where we were relaxing!

Slovenia is just full of surprises. Making our way up to the castle to get an overall view of the city, I was amazed to see snow covered mountains in the distance! I hoped we'd be visiting them before we left this lovely country. There was a Medieval show being staged in the upper patio. We watched for a while, and explored what was open in the Castle, before making our way back down to wander through a large street market.

The city has architectural heritage although no real iconic locations. However, it does have an ambience of calmness, colour and relaxation. We wandered around moving from the older part where we were staying and towards the newer, more modern area to have a break from crowds of people and a quieter area in which to eat.

A large central area bridged the old and new and was where people congregated. Performers of various types interacted with onlookers and we enjoyed mixing with the locals and enjoying their way of life both during the day and in the evening; the city was growing on me!

Our last day in Ljubljana and it was the best; I have enjoyed discovering the city and all that we have uncovered during miles of walking and exploration; it was well worth a visit. Water always draws me and I spent time in the morning walking on both sides of the river exploring a variety of adjacent areas. I decided to look for the unusual and found some lovely examples to photograph.

In the evening we found a tall table and chairs next to the river where we could sit and watch the sun set and darkness begin to fall. A very good English singer/musician in an open air restaurant where we were sitting, played our kind of music. There was plenty of space for people to get up and dance and it was lovely to watch the joy felt by many around.

It was a fitting end to an enjoyable few days in a more southern part of this beautiful country.

May 19th - 21st

We'd now arrived at the most southerly point in our Slovenian journey; Postojna. It seemed like a fairly undeveloped area according to the information I'd read and provided a different environment compared to the built up areas where we'd been staying for the past week or so.

After finding our accommodation we had a drive around as it was raining. It was definitely undeveloped apart from the interesting historic Predjama Castle, the largest cave castle in the world and a series of tunnels and caves which are the some of the largest in Europe. We weren't interested in the caves, having the caves of Nerja just down the road from us, however I thought the Castle worth a visit for photography reasons. I had a walk around in the evening after heavy rain had fallen; it's very green!

I found some lanes along which to walk to stretch my legs and along one of them, came face to face with a fox! We stared at each other before the fox decided to make a run for it; there was no time for a photo! Our visit to the Castle was made in the continuous rain and was short! Chris managed to sneak into a small car park right next to the castle as a barrier was up. Although the outside of the castle built into the rock face was impressive, inside it was all a bit twee. We didn't spend much time inside, although did manage to enjoy some spectacular views from an undercover upper patio area. Getting up to the patio was somewhat hazardous as the steep steps were wet, however it was worth the effort. Clouds were drifting in and out of the forest areas providing atmosphere in an otherwise grey day. As we left the castle and returned to our parked car, we saw that the barrier was now down! A guy was walking down from the car park and as he had on a hi-viz jacket, Chris gambled that he was something to do with the barrier. He was correct and a quick payment of a few Euros without a ticket, had us out and on our way again! Whilst we'd had a look in the local tourist office, I'd seen a leaflet on bear watching. As the rain hadn't relented, I thought I'd get in touch with the organiser and was delighted to find that it was still on for that evening. Four of us were taken to a hide in the forest about half an hour from the town. We were under strict instructions not to talk or make a noise. We watched, we waited and made no noise. It had been agreed we'd leave after 4 hours if there'd been no sightings. Turned out that none of the animals wanted out in the rain and apart from a few birds, we saw nothing. Still an experience though and I think it's possible I might've had a bit of a doze at one time!

May 21st - 23rd

I was in my element once more as we started to head northwards and towards the mountains I'd seen from Ljubljana! We were going to stay in the mountains which was a magnet for outside activities. We had a wonderful trip to reach our last destination in Slovenia, we are once again in the Alps!

The journey to reach Bovec and our accommodation took us through small villages alongside the River Soča. Driving up to a restaurant where we anticipated a coffee, we found it closed, however we were able to get a good look at the Solkan Bridge, with an arch span of 85 meters making it the world's longest stone arch railroad bridge.

The rain wouldn't let go of us completely which meant capturing photos whenever it wasn't raining too heavily. There seemed to be so much water in this area, much of it thundering through gorges and down waterfalls.

When we arrived at our accommodation the rain started to abate and I was able to get out for a lovely walk to explore the area further. It really is beautiful and I was delighted to find I'd be able to walk on tracks alongside the unbelievably turquoise coloured river.