After our climbing adventure in Switzerland brought us so close to the Italian border, we decided to change our planned itinerary. Instead of going to Austria next to then reach Hungary, we headed direction Slovenia through Italy. After we had a hard time hitchhiking in Italy (being stuck on the ring road, see our facebook post), we were glad to finally arrive in Slovenia. We were planning on just passing through Slovenia, but Slovenia gave us so much more than we expected. What started out as a little detour, turned out to be a week long adventure.
A friendly Croatian couple dropped us off right in the center (thank you again Ivana and Robert) of our first destination: Postojna. This was late in the evening, after getting lost around the border.
We managed to find a semi-budget room (Sweet Dreams Rooms), which was actually really decent and made us wish we could use the hot shower and the soft bed for a few more days.
Postojna is best known for it’s 24 km long cave system.
We expected a small middle age like town focused around the cave tourism. While the town was indeed very much focused around the cave, it was anything but middle age. What we already noticed on the highway, continued here. Slovenia is a modern country with some of the best roads and infrastructure we have ever seen. We apologize to the Slovenian people, but we expected something more, well, ex-Yugoslavian. In fact it was already in those times that Slovenia was doing very well for itself. Slovenia’s domestic product was 2.5 times the average of Yugoslav republics.
We hesitated a little bit to visit the caves, because the site was presented like an amusement park. We walked from our room in the center, but most visitors come from the capital Ljubljana with buses. On the site there is the ticketing office (€25 for an adult), but also several bars, souvenir shops and a luxurious hotel.
The visit to the cave starts of with a 4km underground train ride that brings you right to the hart of the cave system. The cave is so big and beautiful, that it took us a while to realize that all this was sculptured by water. Some of the cave chambers are so large, they could house an entire symphonic orchestra (Oh wait, they actually did this already!). I won’t try to fully describe the cave. Just take a look at these pictures, that still fail to show the beauty to it’s full extend.
It was towards the end of the visit and thanks to the very good guide that we started to realize that the approach the Postojnans took might not be so bad. The caves have been open to the public since 1819 and there has been a tourist train since 1872. While the train and the guided path may take away your sense of discovery, it is the only way to prevent mass tourism form trampling all over the cave.
After our visit we had our lunch on a bench in the center of the town square. We collected our bags and we walked to the highway. The plan was to go to a hitchhiking spot we found on Hitchwiki and find a ride to the capital Ljubljana. . We weren’t even hitchhiking yet when a car stopped to pick us up.
Our driver introduced himself as Imin. While Imin didn’t know much English, this didn’t stop him from entertaining us. He gave us our first introduction to traditional Slovenian music. While we were almost dancing in the car, we noticed he had a rather unusual driving style. Let’s say we got to Ljubljana faster than we expected. While he was constantly honking at cars to move over, he never stopped smiling. “Skoda good car, Skoda cop car”, Imin said with a big smile, referring to his white Skoda Octavia that indeed resembled a Slovenian cop car.
After Imin dropped us of in the center of Ljubljana. We started looking for accommodation and we found a student dorm just 10 minutes walk from the center that was open to tourist during the summer holidays. It turned out to be a budget friendly solution with a big breakfast included.
But it was even before we put down our bags that we fell in love wit Ljubljana. A friend described Ljubljana as “the city of a thousand terraces”. And indeed, the sun was shining and we found one perfectly arranged bar with terrace after another. Ljubljana gave us the same cozy feeling that Ghent (Belgium) gives us: the feeling of a small town while it’s actually a large city. And the waterways and bridges made it look like Amsterdam. We continued to stroll along the streets and in the evening we had some of the best food for half of the price we expected!
The next day Ljubljana felt different: it had rained for most of the night and it continued to do so for most of the day. The streets were empty and the terraces wet. We went to visit Metelkova City. Metelkova is an autonomous social centre in the centre of Ljubljana. It is located on the site of the former military barracks of the Yugoslav National Army and is one of the largest and successful urban squats in Europe. It is home to underground music events and a lot of beautiful street art. We stayed here for a while, enjoying the atmosphere among the many hungover people. We planned to come back later that night to experience the party ourself, but a storm prevented us.
As beautiful as Ljubljana is, we were too excited to see some of Slovenia’s nature to stay any longer.
Again a nice Croatian couple brought us to our next destination. The small town of Bled is home to the most beautiful lake we have ever seen. While it doesn’t have the proportions of lake Como for example, it has everything to make the perfect postcard. The water is a clear blue that reflects sunlight in a way that is hard to describe and taunts you to swim in it. It also reflects the mountains in the background and the church on an small island in the middle of the lake. See for yourself why we liked it so much.
We stayed at the campsite right next to the lake. We got up early the next day because the sun warmed up the tent. This gave us a chance to be the first to swim in the lake that day. It was an amazing experience.
Later during the day the place does get quite crowded. So after a walk around the lake we decided to escape.
We rented out two mountainbikes and went to the Vintgar Gorge. The ride there was steep and challenging, especially with Annelies’ knee injury. But we made it to the Gorge and it felt more rewarding then taking the tourist bus there, which seemed to be the more popular option.
The Radovna river carves through the rocks for 1,6km, with many rapids and waterfalls. There are several wooden bridges over the river that allow for a spectacular view of them.
The way back down to Bled lake was obviously easier with the bikes, but thrilling at times. It had started raining and the asphalt was getting slippery. We decided to make a stop at the castle that is dramatically situated on top of a cliff above the lake. While the entrance fee (…) put us off from visiting the inside, we did get rewarded with a spectacular view of the lake and the idyllic church.
While we didn’t think much about the guided boat tours to the island/church, we had a romantic burst in the evening and decided to take the more quite alternative. We rented out a boat we could row ourselves and brought our own food and wine to make it even more pleasant. The price for the boat from the rental point just near the camping is 10€/hour and we took just one hour. While that is enough to reach the church and go back, we would recommend two so you can take the time to relax on the island.
Off course we couldn’t leave the lake before we checked out some of the climbing.
The climbing: Bled and Osp
Slovenia and the Slovenian people are well know for their adventurous spirit. It is considered a rite of passage for every Slovenian to climb Mount Triglav, Slovenia’s highest peak at 2864, at least once in their live. The peak is even their national symbol and is featured on the flag.
It is no wonder rock climbing is a popular activity within Slovenia. With over 90 sport crags spread across the country, there is more then enough climbing for a full size climbing holiday of several weeks.
Because our time in Slovenia was limited we decided to stick to the most popular and beautiful two crags we could find. Also they couldn’t be more different from each other.
Around Bled there are about 350 routes spread over 7 crags. We checked out the gem called Bohinsjka Bela, which was about an hour walking from the camping. The Bela crag surrounds a waterfall, which is honestly not so spectacular on its own. It’s the enchanting town beneath is with it’s narrow streets that make it appealing. While you are climbing here you will see the odd tourist checking out the waterfall, but it is only as a climber that you get to enjoy this place to the fullest. The limestone rock has routes on offer across the grade range: from slabby 3’s to overhanging 8c+. The routes are well equiped and are said in the guidebook to be some of the best in Slovenia.
We checked out some 4’s to get Annelies’ knee warmed up after the biking the day before and to our surprise even those were well worth climbing and offered some technical moves. We only had a few hours to the climb, but we were lucky enough to have some local climbers advise us some fantastic routes in the upper 6’s. Since the Slovenian grading leans more to the hard French grading, I was happy to on-sight the 6c Intermezzo Varianta.
Next on the list was Osp in southwest Slovenia. Osp is the center of Slovenian climbing and attracts climbers from all over the world. The crag is a horseshoe shaped wall that has a very high concentration of excellent climbing routes (over 200). The quality of the rock is amazing and offers many tufa extravaganzas. In the unlikely case that you would get bored in Osp, there are also the nearby crags of Misja Pec (hard and overhanging) and Crni Kal (mostly lower grades). Climbing in Osp can also be combined with climbing in the Istria area in Croatia.
Because of the heath and some logistic problems we sticked to one day at Osp. Every route we climbed was of very good quality and would instantly be a classic in some lesser quality rock climbing areas.
The village of Osp just below the crag is very quiet. We stayed at the only camping place in Osp: Vovk tourist farm (10 euro/night). The surroundings are beautiful and we sure enjoyed our evening walks between the farm animals and crops.
But there was a big downside for us: there was no food! While the website promised great local food, there was nothing during weekdays. Only in the weekend and we arrived on a Monday. The nearest supermarket was a 7km walk. Being stuck without a car, we were at the mercy of the owner to provide us some bread, vegetables and meat. While this worked for a day, the overall impression was not very welcoming. With a car it could work, but know that on weekdays the only facilities open are the showers and toilets.
Our next destination was only a few hours away.
Getting out of Osp with an early bus at 6am, we arrived in Piran around 8am. We arrived next to the port of a city that resembles Venice in many ways. The port is cozy with many narrow streets leading inland and beautiful piazza’s with remarkable buildings and statues. We would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t so crowded. Slovenia has a very narrow coastline and even without real beaches the city of Piran attracts a lot of tourists looking for some refreshment in the sea.
The first accommodation we checked out was the camping place Fiesa, a 900m walk from the town. After following Google maps uphill and back down through the city center (instead of following the easy path along the beach), we reached a camping spot that everyone with a tent should avoid. You get shoved in to a fenced area without shade no larger than an over sized camper. We put our backpacks down briefly and headed back towards town to find a cheap hostel or apartment. We did find something, but i’m not going to recommend it either. It was a small garret with a broken air conditioning. But it did have a great rooftop terrace that overlooked Venice…erm… Piran we mean.
While visiting the center we met with some other hitchhikers that gave us some valuable information about their visit to Pakistan and Iran. We were well rested to get on the road again, all the way to our next destination: Romania. What we expected to be an easy journey, turned out to be another adventure.