Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hello, Ljubljana, Slovenia!

The start of my Balkan road trip - a messy pile of clothing, when I was trying to not over pack the night before I left.

This trip came about after talking to Canadian Meghan, who I'd met in Hong Kong years earlier. We've both now settled in SLC and reconnected, and we decided we needed to go somewhere.

I don't know why Albania came into my head, but it did. Still relatively unknown to the tourist world, sandwiched between the hot spots of Greece and Croatia. It had to be less expensive, less crowded, and a true adventure. After seeing Matt's photos of Slovenia from last year, he talked me into going there, and it's all fairly close, so why not road trip through?

I read many travel sites and found several personal blogs helpful in planning and raising awareness of what I'd be getting into. Meghan's up for anything, so we booked flights and cars. Into Slovenia, out of Albania, traversing as much in between as we could.

So here I am the night before, packing my new suitcase/rolling duffel/backpack that I ordered online to try out, thought I didn't like it, tried to send it back, return shipping was as much as the item, so I kept it and loved it. I can recommend this High Sierra bag easily - it might be my favorite new suitcase.

Lacey picked us up on Friday morning, and off to the airport we went. First stop - selfie. I don't believe in them and neither does Meghan, but I had to capture our excited faces. When I checked in at the Delta counter, there was an older gentleman working, and when he saw that I was flying into Ljubljana, he said, "oh, you're going to Yugoslavia!" And then he proceeded to tell me all about the region. 

Salt Lake to Detroit. Detroit to Paris. Good morning, Paris!

And the strange corridors of Paris to get us to Hop Airlines.

I was pretty tired at this point, and I woke up over Slovenia in a haze, but look at the beauty below! I had to try and stay awake. I knew we'd made a great decision to come here. The most picturesque villages were below!

I always think of how arriving in a new country, the first thing that usually greets me is an airport bathoom, and I have lots of first impressions with bathrooms. It's strange. I don't think we found an ATM in the airport, but I had some euros, so we found a shuttle bus, got into the city, and found our AirBnB apartment, near the heart of the city.

The apartment owner was back in Italy, so his friend Tine met us and gave us the rundown. Here's where to go in Ljubljana. He also said, "there's no crime here, it's boring."

We rested for a bit, changed clothes and got back to feeling like a normal human after a long flight, then set out for exploration of this lovely little storybook city.

It was HOT. I don't think I planned too well for super warm weather, and we walked strategically in the shade as often as possible. But here's the city. 

This is PreŇ°ernov Trg, where everything comes together in the city. Trg = square in Slovenian.

Part of Tromostovje - triple bridge. The one middle bridge started to get too crowded, so they put two smaller ones on either side for pedestrian traffic.

Straight Outta Compton getting some play here.

The thing to do in these countries - climb up great hills to castles and fortresses. We were happy to see a mostly shaded trail up to Ljubljanski Grad.

It was first built in the 12th century and has been updated in use and purpose. Used as a prison in the 19th century. It's now more like an events center, and I was really confused at the multi-purpose use of the place. Cafes, stages, reading nooks, museums, lookout tower, stores. It felt a little random to me.

So many stairs to the top of the lookout tower.

But lovely views from the top!

On our way down from the castle we got asked to take a survey about shopping in Ljubljana. Super random, but we did it. Then over to the Dragon Bridge - Zmajski Most. Dragons are an important part of the city's culture. And it was here that I realized that while this attraction is 'big' in the city, it's quite small and charming, like everything else here. Don't expect grandiose building, it's all tiny glory. 

We found a restaurant that Tine recommended, so we sat down for the first of many, many outdoor meals. Europeans do summer so well. 

We ordered a ton of things. This tomato vegetable soup was delicious. And the first of many feta dishes.

Creamy pasta.

Potatoes. They do potatoes really well.

And when I ordered a Coke, our waiter was quick to ask if I wanted to drink the Yugoslavian coke - Cockta. It was developed in the 1950s in Slovenia, and spread throughout Yugoslavia since Coca-cola wasn't available. It wasn't my favorite drink, but I'm glad I tried it.

Their massive potato dish. I noticed this restaurant had a couple people with Down's Syndrome working here, and it was great. Watching the potatoes was only part of what they were helping with.

We also lucked out and had a table in view of one of the many stages set up in the city for a music festival. This particular band played a lot of music from the American South. I was confused as to where I was for a minute.

More strolling after dinner.

Random Germans who wanted a selfie? Sure.

We got a decent night's sleep then said goodbye to our little apartment and hello to our rental car. 

We picked up our car at the train station and had to wait in line in a tiny booth behind a group of Spanish women who were getting a car. The car rental guy and one woman spoke English, but there was some confusion about the deposit amounts and frustrations were rising. I stepped in to try and help a little bit, and ended up having some funny conversations with this group of Spaniards. Eventually another couple showed up to rent a car, and the girl is Slovenian but now lives in Spain, so she was the perfect go-between to help out because of impeccable language skills. The Spaniards got sorted out, we got sorted out, and here was our beautiful Opel for the next few days.

I spent a lot of time researching rental car companies that would let us do a one-way rental and allow us to drive through multiple countries. Most rental car companies won't let you drive into Albania, and some won't let you through Bosnia and Montenegro, but Sixt turned out to be the best option. The one-way rental was fairly expensive, but not nearly as bad as other options that I found. They're a reputable company, and we could drive the car through Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia. It worked out really well, and we didn't have any issues. Sixt gets my recommendation.

We had one more spot to see in Ljubljana before leaving on Sunday morning, the famed Metelkovo Mesto. Former army barracks that now host artists, nightclubs, and other event studios. I can't imagine what it'd be like at night, given that I was a little overwhelmed in the day. Maybe I'm getting too old for this kind of stuff? The people watching would've been amazing though. 

That's it for Ljubljana. A great start to our trip and introduction to Slovenia. Off to Bled we go!

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