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Date: 25th September 2005

Newsletter 4. Paradise Regained - Slovenia

Here's the newsletter we promised back in August 2005!

Can you believe we spent 2 whole months in Italy? No - we can't either.

But we didn't spend enough time in Slovenia that's for sure. Looking at the map it was difficult to imagine we'd be spending more than a week or so there - it was tiny! But we managed to squeeze in 24 days and seriously - it was not nearly enough.

"To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries" ~ Aldous Huxley.

Slovenia - ex-Yugoslavia, ex-communist. To most of us in Western Europe in conjures up images of a hellhole.

Well that's a bit of an exaggeration - we are not sure what our expectations of Slovenia really were. We hadn't had time to read our guidebook or do any research so we really had no idea where to go or what to expect. Just to frustrate the matter, the members of the cycling & hospitality clubs we'd contacted - the wretched things
- who would have dreamed they'd be so helpful? We were given piles of information much of it cycle route specific. One guy we never even got to meet sent us a directory of every bike shop in Slovenia! Were we happy - of course not! The suggestions seemed to fall into 2 camps of crossing the border at Nova Gorica or Kobarid. We were still undecided as we had pulled the door shut the day we departed Italy. Finally we called on fate to guide us and tossed a coin. We weren't disappointed with destiny's choice.

Our departure from Udine was on a soggy day despite having spent 4 days waiting for the rain to pass. We traversed Cividale and followed a magnificently forested peaceful road along the river with mountain peaks rising on each side and a smattering of small villages with no one in sight and entered Slovenia. The Italian frontier guards cheerfully gave us a weather forecast and warned our reception on the other side wouldn't' be quite as welcoming. To our surprise they were right! The Slovenia guard lingered way too long on my passport. The minutes ticked by with nothing but the occasional swish as the pages were turned in silence. It seemed time had stood still when the Algerian visa and Colombian stamps were reached. Richard's new and empty passport was returned but from the time taken to turn each page it seemed that mine was War & Peace written in a foreign language. We were beginning to chill - Richard, bored and impatient to debark on our next adventure attempted to defuse the situation by requesting a stamp in his passport.

From the look we received, it was apparent that apart from clearly being the worst possible kind of undesirables attempting to enter their country, stupidity was added to our list of crimes.

"Slovenia is in the European Community - you don't need a stamp" was the icy response.

"Yes and so are France and England, so we can travel freely in the EU
- so stop pestering us and let us go." was my response ..... well in my head anyway ;-)

Back in real life Richard switched into charming mode and launched into the tale of our world travels and how it was so important from him to have a stamp from every country especially those as unique as Slovenia blah blah blah.

This softened one guard but HE who held my passport wasn't impressed.
As all 3 pairs of eyes swung onto me you could almost see the thought bubbles floating ...

"And you? Why aren't you making the same request?"

I muttered something about my passport being nearly full - no space etc but that didn't seem to wash.

"Where are you going?"


Richard nearly fell off his bike in shame and hastened to explain - "but we want to visit Ljubljana, Vršic pass, the caves - we've heard so many good things about Slovenia."

He then turned to me and seriously berated me for this inelegant and unsubtle faux pas. I played along with this mock telling off for the benefit of the guards - well I assumed it was mock.

And that seemed to placate the guards and they let us go.

But come on... look at the map yourself, Slovenia is so small it's only logical you'd be crossing a frontier shortly after entering.
It's hard to see how people could actual get a speeding ticket in the country - surely the average car would reach a border and need to break before it got to any decent velocity.

Legend says that when God created the world, he had a handful of the most beautiful, most wonderful leftovers, and with these remaining treasures, he created Slovenia.

So we cycled on into paradise and before we had time to realise it we were in the village of Kobarid and it was charming. Well it would have been if we hadn't been harassed by hordes of Italian tourists, who after having steadfastly ignored us for the last 2 months when we had been in their own country suddenly were enrapt with us and drove Richard into growling at them to leave us alone.

I was confused as to why the sudden interest?

"They're on holiday; they're bored and are using us as entertainment Richard wryly informed me."

According to our guidebook Bovec was a disaster zone - with red and yellow circles on the buildings to warn of their imminentant collapse.

If there hadn't been only one road we would have been convinced we were in the wrong place. It was a gorgeous town - surrounded by mountains, the houses were all perkily displaying flower boxes of red geraniums waving a flaming red banner in all directions.

We headed up the Trenta valley taking far longer than we had anticipated because we simply had to stop every few minutes to take photos. Freewheeling down a beautiful cliff edge we were delighted to find picnic benches, bins and porta cabins. I held my breath, clenched my fists slightly and armed with toilet paper braved one. Richard thought I'd been driven slightly crazy by the fumes when I emerged with huge eyes, a big grin on my face and doubled up with laughter when I announced

"There's toilet paper, they're clean, they even smell good - go take a look - go on I've never seen anything like it!"

Things just seemed to get better every km we cycled - apart from he weather that is! It has to be said - there's a reason for Slovenia's green lushness.

We braved Vrsic pass - nicknamed "the devil's Climb" by the Italian's who regularly climb it in the giro d'italia. After everything we'd heard about it we can only say that the Italian's are wimps.

We managed to climb it without heart attack or any other incident - bar when Richard gave me half a snickers bar to keep up the energy & moral...I scoffed it down and full of energy and enthusiasm jumped on my bike and promptly road off the edge down a ravine!

Luckily Wasabi got jammed between 2 boulders and there was a tiny ledge that I managed to land on so no damage bar a few scrapes!

We wound our way up the Vrsic pass - we weren't alone - it seemed on every turn there was a snotty Italian on a bike weighing maybe just over 2 grams refusing to acknowledge our cheerful asphyxiated greetings.

Of course it was worth it for the spectacular views at the top, except that we could see sod all - the eternal clouds having decided to join us.

About a third of the way down, stopping to admire the view (and recover from the cobblestones at every one of the 25 bends) we were quizzed by a carload of Israeli tourists on how much further up it was. They enquired as to how we got to the top. Seriously - you've got to wonder about some people's intelligence. On our confirmation that we had indeed cycled up on our bikes one of them announced:

"Well if you can make it to the top on bicycles I suppose we can make it in the car."

Skofja Loka was the largest town we'd been to so far in Slovenia and at last we felt we were in a city as opposed to a village.

This was actually a misapprehension - it's tiny - but it was the impression we got as we were sitting at the bus station where we'd agreed to meet Gregor. We were disappointed to see out first cigarette butt on the ground since our arrival in Slovenia.

Greg's and Villi made up for our initial sorrow disappointment handsomely.

Greg's regaled us with tales of his Mongolian travels and Vili instantly sussed what crap cooks we are and spoilt us rotten by cooking numerous local dishes. Hearing of our intention to cook a tortilla that evening for dinner and clearly concerned for his future health, he marched out the flat, basket in hand to his hidden mushroom spot. We were in awe of the size and variety he returned with. Villi clearly wasn't surprised when we narrated our experience camping in the Jelovica hills being surrounded by mushrooms every direction we glanced.

"Which ones are edible?" I kept demanding of Richard.

"I don't know"

"But your dad grew mushrooms!"

Doesn't make sense to me.

We were interviewed by a local travel magazine. For the first time the journalist actually printed what we said and wasn't fearful of repeating our comments about religion, war etc. Quite a shock to find someone who actually prints the truth!
If there any Slovenian readers you can read the at

And thanks to Gregor for those of you that don't speak Slovenian - here's the translation.

The joke in SK of course was the fact that recently the new pope had been sent an invite to visit the town. But the only hotel in town had recently closed. Gregor said that the pope could stay with him.

"Bled is full of tourists. Chock full! Tourist horde!"
So the warnings went.
We have to laugh at the assertion. Neither Bled nor Bohinj were anything of the sort. Bled has been a tourist draw for centuries - that's certainly no secret, but the reality is, the term "a lot" of tourists in Slovenia is a ludicrous concept when compared to the number of tourists in other places - Italy being a prime example.
When someone says those places are full of tourists, they are certainly not kidding.
Bled has a lot of tourists relative to other places in Slovenia, but only because Slovenia is seriously under-touristed. We doubt it will stay like that forever but right now it's beautiful, clean, cheap in comparison to much of western Europe, and the people are the friendliest we came across in Europe as they are not yet jaded towards foreigners. It is starting in Ljubljana now though.

Just when we'd got used to hearing that Budapest was the new Prague (or was Prague the old Budapest?) the travel sections of the newspapers decide to confuse us by announcing. "Ljubljana is the new Prague."

Ljubljana; a place for American expat's yearning to rediscover the Paris of the 20s or the Prague of the 80s, can find artists and writers congregating in coffee houses with the spirit of old Europe still permeating the air. But they may be too late!

What a surprise Ljubljana being compared to Prague considering- the Slovenian architect Jože Plecnik practically designed both of them.
But from the lack of Bush's children that we encountered, it looks like we Brit's will beat them to trashing it first.

Yes -since Easyjet introduced flights direct from London, the enthusiasm of the Ljubljanan's for the Brits is rapidly waning as they have to increasingly deal with drunken louts stripping and jumping in the river, keeping the residents awake at night, pushing up prices and bullying their way into the housing market. We're fully expecting to see signs plastered everywhere starting from Dover all the way to


                                    ATTENTION BRITS!
        It is now officially your overriding imperative to go forth
   and destroy Ljubljana before the yanks get there and beat us to it.

Quite right - we don't want them planting a Starbucks on our river now do we?

Then again... we've probably got it safe to ourselves. All the American's will be heading for Slovakia. After all, isn't Slovenia the country George Dubya Bush mistook for Slovakia during his 2000 presidential campaign?

Ciao 4 now.

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Stani & Richard

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