As if simply meeting Claire the day previous wasn’t nice enough, I now also had a travel buddy from Bovec to Ljubljana. Ljubljana, (pronounced Lyoob-lyahna), is the capital of Slovenia, and a charming little University town. Claire was traveling to Ljubljana, then training it to Zagreb, Croatia before flying home to Australia the following morning. I was especially happy about having her along with me given my inexperience using buses.
As it turns out, it was quite easy and Claire and I had great conversation amidst periods of time where we faced forward and tried to will the motion sickness away. As mentioned in the previous blog, these roads were horrible. Not only were they extremely narrow, but quite curvy with one sharp curve after the other. In fact, we quickly learned the area was a bikers’ destination – roadbikes, yes, but primarily motorcycles.
In fact, the day before as Laura and I headed north for some hiking, we were the second vehicle to come upon a motorcycle accident. Though on vacation, the trauma nurse in me never ceases, so I immediately ran to his aid. As a nurse in a foreign country on a road 30 minutes from the nearest hospital (and by hospital, I mean “hospital”), there wasn’t much I could do, but I held c-spine like a boss. I found emergency services to be very intersting in Slovenia, or at least in this particular case, which I assume is a reasonable representation of the system.
The first to arrive on scene was a physician and two nurses. The physician was wearing his long white coat, despite it being miserably hot. The nurses wore pale blue scrubs with nametags and quickly established a rather funny looking IV. The physician then brought out a large box of medications (think tackle box), all in glass vials. Rather than do an assessment, he just asked the patient where he was hurting. In the physician’s defense, the patient was covered in protective gear from head to toe, however, he certainly could’ve done more to evaluate him. I think I did see him push around on his collar bone and look at his thumb (after he figured out what a “thumb” was), but otherwise, a very poor assessment.
Shortly afterward, the police, and what I believe to be the fire department arrived. They weren’t driving what looked like a fire truck, but they arrived in bunker gear and set up a tent to shade us. Over the next 20 or so minutes while we waited for the actual ambulance to arrive, the nurses provided medication, I held his neck in place, and we eventually stablized the patient on a backboard. Once the ambulance (finally) arrived, all that was necessary was to transfer the patient into the ambulance where he would be taken to meet the helicopter.
The patient, Cris, was super sweet, and I felt so bad for him. His leather jacket was so thick I had to hold his head up to keep his spine in alignment. I held it that way for nearly 30 minutes. At one point he asked if his head was getting heavy, and I didn’t deny that it was. He apoligized, and I told him he must have big brains. Given the circumstances, he adamantly denied that was the case. He was a German man there with his father and a friend of the family. They were on holiday to ride the apparently treacherous roads of Bovec. He had come around a corner too quickly and lost traction, careening into a rock wall. His helmet and protective gear absolutely saved his life. I was pleased to see all bikers were wearing the appropriate protective gear – every single one of them. They were wearing leather from head to toe, and helmets for their noggins. I can’t understand why this isn’t the culture in the United States. At any rate, no room for a soapbox in this blog post…
All that to say the roads are miserably curvy, and riding a bus on them ensured a sickly 3 hour drive to Ljubljana.
Once I arrived to Ljubljana, I bid farewell to Claire after we both agreed on the correct route for me to reach my Airbnb. Frighteningly, my iPhone was down to a measly 8% battery. I still needed to communicate with my Airbnb host, as he’d not given me the actual address of the accommodation. Furthermore, I was about 45 minutes early. Thankfully, I found the apartment without any issues at all, and still had a little battery life to spare!
Once my host, Anže, gave me a tour of the apartment, I plugged in all my devices and relaxed a bit while they charged. My plan was to let them charge, do some laundry, and then go back to the riverfront to find food. I don’t remember if laundry was listed as an amenity or if I simply saw a picture of the washer in the bathroom and assumed it was. I put all my dirty laundry in the washer, and then opened the top drawer to pour in the laundry detergent. To my surprise there were three compartments. All I had was liquid detergent. Being the problem solver I am, I quickly noted the model number and went to my computer to find the operating manual for this particular European style washer. What little I was able to find, only included the first 2 pages of operating instructions or the complete service manual – neither of which were helpful. I finally stumbled upon an extremely poor quality YouTube video that led me in the right direction. I went back to the washer and poured the liquid in the seemingly correct compartment… and it leaked out of the back of the compartment, pouring completely down the front of the washer onto the floor. Not willing to give up, I worked on the plastic piece at the back of the drawer a bit so that it would fit more snugly against the bottom. I tried again; it was holding (for the moment), so I shoved the drawer shut and hit the power button and… nothing. No power. I checked behind the washer and within the cobwebs and mess of cords and tubes, it appeared to be plugged in. I hit a few more buttons with no response from the washer, and finally gave up. I decided to go old school, like Italy 2015, and I filled up the bathroom and kitchen sinks with water and laundry detergent. Done.
My experience in Europe overall has been that people eat out very late. Expecting this, I was surprised to find most of the restaurants were only serving drinks at 9:30-10:00pm when I finally went out on the town. Already feeling a little nauseated from the bus-induced motion sickness, the last thing I wanted was alcohol. I walked down the promenade hoping to see someone eating, but I only saw beer and wine drinkers. After exploring the city center for a bit, I finally found a hole in the wall restaurant offering traditional Slovenian food. Bingo! I had half a Carnolian sausage and some type of layered apple streudel-ish dessert.
Once I finished I went back to the Airbnb for some adequate rest. I had a lot of exploring to do the following day!
The next morning I woke up bright and early! With nothing I had to do, I decided to sleep in just a little longer. When I finally got up and around, my first order of business – as always, first thing in the morning – was to find breakfast. I did some TripAdvisor research which led me back to the riverfront where I found Slovenska Hiša (Slovenia House), serving traditional breakfast food. I ordered some coffee, and chose the egg breakfast as I’ve found it so hard to get good sources of protein in European breakfasts.
After enjoying the peaceful breakfast by the river, and making friends with 7 sparrows, I went to the Triple Bridge for pictures. The Triple Bridge is in the city center and it’s a beautiful location where 3 bridges come together crossing the Ljubljana River.
As it was opening day for the Kansas City Chiefs, I had to perfect my perfect Slovenian Sunday Funday photo. As any avid sports fan would do, I came prepared with both Kansas City Royals and Chiefs gear. My only regret was leaving my Royals hat at home. I didn’t want to single myself out as an American solo female traveler, but many times caught myself thinking: “I wish I had my Royals hat right now!” At any rate, I set my phone timer and after multiple failed attempts, finally captured a decent Sunday Funday photo at the Triple Bridges.
Having satisfactorily achieved my goal, I put my phone away and turned to head toward the next item on my list – the Ljubljana Castle. I turned around, but before I could take a step, I was met by a man in a wheelchair who was selling hugs. He insisted that I needed a hug. While I’m always an advocate for giving and receiving hugs, this man was lacking in the area of personal hygiene and was a little creepy, to say the least. He went on to inform me that he wants to cook dinner for his girlfriend but he needs money to buy the food, blah, blah, blah. I told him I didn’t need a hug, and he was quite offended. He tried a little longer and harder to solicit my money and hug, but to no avail. I was standing my ground! He eventually wheeled away and I continued across the bridge. As I got to the other side, I was distracted by more beautiful scenery and took some more pictures. I again, put my phone away to head to the castle AND THERE HE WAS AGAIN! Right in front of me! I said to him: “Oh! It looks like you’re still selling hugs!” He replied that he was, followed by: “You kill animals, too!” Then he sped away. I couldn’t help but laugh!
Finally, I continued in my pursuit to Ljubljana Castle. As expected, it was only a million stairs to get there. I don’t know who’s idea it was to build all these castles on hills – what a strategy. If I lived in medieval times, I’d never leave the castle. Ever. Unless I was on a horse, of course.
As I climbed (for an eternity) up to the castle, I could hear a marching band in the distance. At least I had something to distract me on my upward trek. When I got there I moseyed around the castle, taking advantage of picturesque locations. I looked out over the city and noted the path of the river. I had the option to go inside the castle and get a better view from the bell tower, but again, I’m not a fan of a lot of sweaty bodies in tight places, and I’m certainly not going to pay for that sweaty experience! Besides, there was so much of this charming city to explore!
After the long hike up to the castle, and the slow descent down a long, steep sidewalk, the next immediate necessity was of course, gelato. Once my gelato craving was satisfied, I explored the city center a little more.
Then I took a walk to Tivoli Park. Tivoli Park is similar to Central Park in NYC, although not as big, or pretty for that matter. Nonetheless, there were parts of the park with which I easily fell in love.
As I entered the main part of the park, I saw there was an exhibit. This thoughtful exhibit was a tribute to the United States 100 year Anniversary of the US National Parks. On one side of the walkway were displays of beautiful photos of all the US National Parks. On the other side were equally as wonderful photos of Slovenia’s Triglav National Park.
My dad always gives me a hard time, (read: worries for my safety), regarding my desire to travel internationally, particularly with the recent violence in Europe. He says to me: “What’s wrong with staying here”? My response was that violence can occur anywhere, and there is so much culture and beauty and history abroad. While I still believe that, this Tivoli Park exhibit opened my eyes to all the beauty and spectacular sites I’ve been ignoring right here in my home country. So instead of having my Travel Bucket List, I now have divided it into two, resulting in a Domestic and International Travel Bucket List. Maybe I can get my dad to come along with me to the domestic spots! (I’m just saying… hint, hint).
Pictured above is a an example of the amazing photographs in the exhibit. This is a chamois. These little guys are commonly seen in Triglav National Park in Slovenia. I was hoping Laura and I would run across one during our hikes, but sadly, we did not. After seeing the entire exhibit, I got lost in the park. My favorite sights included people enjoying a lazy Sunday on the lawns – laughing with one another, playing with their kiddos, napping, reading, studying, picnicking, biking, etc.
It was just a happy day. Everyone appeared to be in a good mood. My particular favorite was a group of older men who were playing Bocce ball together. One kept talking to me in Slovenian. I’m not sure what he was saying, but it appeared to be an invitation to play. I was content watching them. They were giving each other a hard time, laughing and joking.
It was so nice to be a part of what I assume is their Sunday afternoon routine. The one guy and I exchanged “thumbs up” when he made a great play. As I’ve always said, the smile is a universal language, and while I had no idea what he’d been saying to me for the previous 30 minutes, we were able to communicate flawlessly with our smiles. They all bid me a farewell wave when I left my park bench for the next Ljubljana treat that was in store for me. Would you believe me if I told you it was another gelato?! 🙂
With gelato in hand I walked the perimeter of the city center on the lookout for a new place to dine. I wanted a place by the river that wasn’t too crowded yet, but crowded enough to have a good energy. During my search I stumbled upon The Dragon Bridge and a bridge full of locks.
I didn’t know Ljubljana had one of these, but it was beautiful. Dissatisfied with my options, I finally left the riverfront to a back street and found what I thought would be a great little restaurant. As I sat down to a glass of white wine, I realized the restaurant was immediately in front of the door to my Airbnb. It made for a short trip home once I’d stuffed myself past discomfort. (I had to try the traditional dessert, you know)!
The next day I woke up bright and early for a half day tour to Lake Bled. This was something I had been looking forward to since I had booked it. I had a great experience during my night group tour in Rome last year when I met Karen. She and I hit it off right away and spent the evening enjoying the sites (and wines) of Rome. With those expectations in mind, I was thoroughly disappointed when I learned my fellow group tourists were 3 middle aged Indian couples. They seemed friendly enough at the start, but quickly began bossing me around, telling me where to sit and what to do. Once out of the van I quickly ventured off on my own, which was easy enough since they were as slow as molasses, paying no mind to meeting times set by our tour guide.
Our first stop was a waterfall. While beautiful, it was similar to the waterfalls Laura and I had seen together.
I was more entertained by watching the trout swim against the current while I stood on the bridge waiting for the rest of the group to finish their hour long waterfall photo shoot. While the tour guide and I waited for them, we had a nice conversation, during which he told me if they were not timely we’d have to choose between the castle and the pletna boat to the Lake Bled island. If those couples ruined my tour for them, it was going to be bad times for them. Thankfully they were only slightly late the rest of the day, so we got to enjoy all we’d set out to do.
After the waterfall was a walk through Vintgar Gorge. Again, while the gorge was beautiful, it wasn’t as deep as the Soča River Gorge I’d just hiked alongside three days prior. Additionally, the only people I saw at the Soča Gorge were two insane repellers, whereas Vintgar Gorge was a huge tourist attraction with people filling the path from start to finish. Nonetheless, I enjoyed peace walking through the gorge and got some great photos.
As you can imagine, I was slightly annoyed with all the people. As mentioned in a previous blog, the “disgusted look” made an appearance more than I’d like to admit – particularly on this excursion. I captured one of these moments for my sister and cousin, Terrill, although I’m sure you all will appreciate it. Maybe this is a combo “disgusted look” and “are you serious right now?” look.
Once we’d all finished the 45 minute walk through the gorge, we were off to the lake town of Bled. No day is complete without an uphill hike, and today was no exception as we climbed a very steep, uneven cobblestone path to the Bled Castle entrance. When we got to the top, two of the women on the tour decided they didn’t want to go into the castle because they didn’t want to climb any higher. No matter that there were only two stairs into the castle. I was slightly annoyed, and so were their husbands who promptly paid their entrance and made them go. Even more annoying was when the guide was trying to tell us the history about the printing press at the castle and they were all just chatting amongst themselves. I felt really bad for the tour guide, but he remained very professional and patient with them. He probably deals with it on a daily basis, unfortunately.
Once we’d received our introduction to the castle, we were off to explore again. I immediately went to the very top so I would have plenty of time to take pictures of Bled Island below.
I learned a lot of history about the castle, which only fairly recently belonged to Slovenia. I also learned that Bled doesn’t have a city center like many of the other medieval towns as it is actually a combination of five villages that banded together many years ago when the economy was especially poor.
After exploring the relatively small castle we took a short drive down to the lake where we hopped aboard a pletna boat. Pletna boats are flat-bottom boats made by a handful of local families. It is illegal for anyone who is not part of these families to make or operate pletna boats at Lake Bled.
Our “captain” rowed us to the picturesque Bled Island. This little island is quaint and unique. It is the only island in Slovenia, and has 99 stairs to get to the top. Once atop the island, there is a small church, which is the site for many weddings. However, tradition holds that if a groom wishes to marry his bride there, he must carry her up all 99 stairs. (Skinny bride, anyone)? Another fun tradition involves the church bell, which was ringing continuously during our wait for the pletna boat to the time we arrived at the island. It is said if you ring the bell three times, your wish will come true. Of course you have to pay entrance into the church, first.
Upon being set free to explore after our guide’s introduction to the island, I immediately went to the pay station to pay my six euro to get into the church and ring that bell – a small price for my wishes to come true! I approached the counter, six euro in hand, when the man informed me the church was now closed for a wedding. How ironic, huh? Story of my life. So I took my six euro and ate my sorrows away with more gelato and a Potica, a traditional Slovenian pastry-based nut roll baked in a bread oven. This particular Potica was made with tarragon and sour cream. Yummy!
We rode the pletna boat back to the shore and our guide then drove us home. I had to take one last photo before leaving the beautiful lake. Look how clear the water is!
One highlight from this part of the tour was that a Boxer was running around the parking lot of the hotel where we parked. He was a beautiful brindle and was playing with a ball. Of course it made me miss my babies, and I couldn’t help but say hi to the little guy. He came over to me and stood leaning against my thigh just like Mina does. Heartbreaker! Boxers are simply the best dogs ever. I can’t wait to get home and see mine!
An early morning, a hot day and several busy days of walking and hiking caught up to me and I I napped the entire 40 minutes back to Ljubljana. I completed my night with one more gelato, two glasses of wine at a riverside bar, and two generous complimentary portions of green olives.
I returned to the apartment to pack and await 11pm, when I would venture out into the city to catch a midnight bus to Vienna, and on to Budapest, assuming I survived the waits at the sketchy bus stations. My host was super flexible and allowed me to stay until 10:30pm without charging me an additional night’s stay.
Taking in every last little bit of this beautiful town, I crossed the Triple Bridges, and made my way north to the sketchy bus/train stations. When I left Claire 3 days before, the sun was shining and people were bustling about to their next destination. As I neared the bus station, I was greeted with quiet darkness, sketchy people and otherwise empty sidewalks. Spoiler alert: I didn’t die! However, you’ll have to check out the next blog to find out what happened. Next stop, Budapest.