Category Archives: Slovenia

Valley in Slovenia

How to get to Lake Bled, Slovenia, from Italy, by train.

The long version of the title of this post ends with “if you are cheap and/or stubborn and/or enjoy travelling by train.”

I own up to being a bit of all 3, so last summer when I read on the inimitable seat61.com that there are train options from Trieste/Venice to Lake Bled despite there being no direct trains from Italy to Slovenia, I knew I had to give it a try on my summer vacation. Seat61 calls the route “cunning, cheap and scenic” which I’m pretty sure is just a more eloquent way of saying “budget/stubborn/train-y”. I’m also pretty sure there are simpler options that involve buses, but I don’t care. Here is my experience: Continue reading

Bits and pieces from Slovenia

A few more memories from Slovenia that didn’t fit in any other post…

  • Not having enough water with me for the train ride to Bled, and trying to convince myself that eating the tomatoes I’d grabbed from the fridge on my way out of Torino that morning would serve me for rehydration. Two simultaneous truths: tomatoes aren’t that great for thirst; I was never really so thirsty that ‘rehydration’ was actually necessary.
  • Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… and I took the one for the pizzeria, obviously:

    Pizza this way

    Pizza this way

  • Also in Bled: a group of german teenage dirtbag Scouts, hanging around the bus station waiting for a taxi after missing the last bus to wherever it was they were going. Imagine a 1.5 litre plastic bottle of beer shared around, cigarettes, each of them wearing Scout scarves round their neck while trying to impress each other by melting bits of rubbish with their lighters (something something shouldn’t they have been using 2 sticks…)
  • Eating a horse hamburger in Ljubljana, which was very tasty (something something unknowingly eating horse hamburgers already in the uk) but it came in a bun that was the size of my face, filled with sauce. It defeated me.
  • Ljubljana was also where I met my first ever real life travelling-around-europe-on-a-gap-year girls. We were discussing our travels over breakfast in the hostel with a Croatian woman who was in Ljubljana to take her daughter to a figure-skating camp.
    “So then we got the train from Sofia to Zagreb,” said one of the girls.
    “It was 27 hours,” added the other.
    “Sofia? To Zagreb?! By train??! That’s… enthusiastic,” said the Croatian woman. She turned to the guy at the reception desk at the other end of the room. “Did you hear that? These girls, they got the train! from Sofia to Zagreb! Why?!”
  • My favourite “no dogs” sign ever, at Lake Bohinj:

    Only unexcited dogs allowed.

    Only unenthusiastic dogs allowed.

Velika Planina: a highlight of Slovenia

I’m back in Torino “summer” (I think there have been about 6 sunny days so far this year) so it’s time to relive some more vacation highlights.

“It’s good working here over summer, there’s plenty of tourists who I can practise English with,” said the barista at the cafe in Kamnik. I had to smile — I was just thinking how few other tourists I’d seen so far on my way out of Ljubljana and up to the mountains. I was heading for the ski lift at Velika Planina, which, according to a friend of a friend was a good spot to visit alpine meadows. The barista agreed. “It’s a really pretty place,” she said. “Great for hiking.”

“Really pretty” is an understatement. This was one of the highlights of my trip:

View at Velika Planina

Not bad eh?

Conveniently for lazy people like me, there’s a ski lift that they keep running in summer, so you can get to views like this without having to hike up yourself. (My totally legit excuses: it was already nearly lunchtime by the time I got to the bottom of the valley thanks to the not-great public transport schedule out of Ljubljana; it was a hot day and the sun was out in full force; I had already hiked strolled on flat ground the 2 days before; if the family with small children who arrived at the same time as me could get the lift, so could I.)

Once you get off the lift, there’s an easy walk of about 40 minutes to get to the traditional cow-herds huts:

Huts at Velika PlaninaApparently these are mostly (all?) reconstructions after a fire in the mid-20th century, but it took quite an effort to get them reconstructed as huts and not a state dairy farming collective. I think everyone’s pretty glad the effort was made — can you imagine a tourist campaign to come see the drab communist buildings on top of the mountain?

As I got closer to the village, the sound of cowbells, which had been faint near the ski lift, got louder and more constant. Although, as far as I can tell, many of the huts are now holiday homes, people still keep cows up in the meadows. They’re pretty chilled out cows, especially considering they have to share their space with hikers.

Cows at Velika Planina

mooooo!

I had brought some lunch but it turns out I didn’t need it, since you could buy delicious mountain food from one of the huts. Trust me, you will never feel more like Heidi than when you’re eating this, though I don’t think Heidi ate from an Ikea bowl…

Mountain lunch at Velika Planina

Left: sour milk, which is a bit like yoghurt. Right: meat and grits.

It was super tasty, and very filling. Almost enough to make me feel guilty about not hiking up from the valley. (No, not really.)

After lunch, I wandered around for a few hours, oohing and ahhing at the views of the mountains in one direction, and the plains in the other. I think I said to myself “this is so perfect!” about 75 times that day. I did consider hiking down just to work off the lunch, but in the end I took the lift, to make it pretty much the ultimate low-energy but still-satisfying walking day. Definitely recommended.

Practicalities for future reference: You can do this as a day trip by bus although car would be much more convenient. Different people said different things to me about how frequently the lift goes up — every half hour? every hour? At any rate, it runs until 6pm during the week and later on weekends. There’s a campsite at the bottom of the ski lift if you want to overnight. It also has ‘glamping huts’, which are more or less wooden garden sheds with beds (which I stayed in and liked just as much as any dorm room; if you want one in high season you should probably call and book — I got lucky there was 1 free when I rocked up).

Lake Bohinj: better than Bled?

Woke up early this morning and have 4 hours until my bus leaves, so I guess it’s time I sat down at the hostel shared computer and wrote about Lake Bohinj. (Excuse any crazy typos, it’s a croatian keyboard…)

My second day in Bled started with a lazy morning in the hostel, drinking nescafe (it was free, don’t judge me) and chatting and playing Jenga with an Irish guy and an aussie girl who had never played Jenga before and a dutch couple who insisted the rules were you could only use one hand in a turn, you couldn’t alternate right and left to ease a block out. There was talk of hiring bikes and going to some waterfalls, once everyone had gotten up and dressed and we’d found out where these waterfalls actually were.

Around eleven we’d worked out the plan — it turns out the ‘waterfalls’ were actually Vintgar Gorge, which I’d been to the day before, and liked, but not enough to go there a second time. So with that we went our separate ways, the group off to Vintgar and me down to the bus station to see where I could get to easily in the area.

As it happens, there was a bus fairly soon to Lake Bohinj, which was about half an hour away. I’d heard of it before as ‘the other lake in Slovenia; some people say it’s nicer than Bled’. Time to test that theory then.

‘Some people’ are right.

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Perfect mountain lake.

Where Bled is quite built up, with its resorts and a substantial town on its shores, Bohinj is more of a large mountain lake that you could imagine hiking to and camping by. It was an overcast day when I was there, and everything was in shades of grey and green and blue, save the odd bright orange canoe and a white streak of a reflected church tower. Though it was hardly deserted, none of the crowds of Bled were there, and none of the bars and the boat hires every few hundred metres along the shore. Just mountains, trees, and a lot of water.

Lake Bohinj

Little beach with a tree.

I guess the reason Bled is more popular is that its water is much warmer – I took a quick dip in Bohinj before lunch, and a quick dip was plenty for me. It’s definitely more of a lake to walk around, or paddle on. I walked all the way around, with frequent stops to admire the views.

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Dramatic clouds and still lake.

So yes, count me as one of the ‘some people’ who prefer Bohinj to Bled.

Jumping in at Lake Bled

I’m going to try and blog my summer travels this year, with — I hope! — not too much delay (unlike, you know, every other post on this blog). My first stop was Lake Bled in Slovenia, where I stayed 2 nights (August 3 and 4).

It was around 5pm and stonking hot, and I was slightly dehydrated when I first saw Lake Bled. I’d just been on a 2 hour train ride from Nova Gorica. Before that, a 45-minute walk with my backpack in the muggy early afternoon between Gorizia and Nova Gorica stations. Before that a 2 hour train ride from Venezia, which came after a 20-minute frantic dash to duck out of the station, take a photo of the canal (yup, it’s still there) and buy a slice of pizza. Before that, a nearly-5 hour train ride through intermittent pouring rain from Torino. Before that, a 6am start and a wobbly bike ride to the station with my backpack. It was a long day, in other words.

‘The lake is nice,’ I thought. ‘But so is Lago Maggiore, and I could have been there 8 hours ago.’

Also, it’s usually hidden by the island in all the photos, but Bled does have a rather ugly strip of lakefront hotels and a casino. Not really the peaceful mountain lake getaway I had in mind. ‘I booked 2 nights in this place,’ I thought. ‘Well then.’

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I’m sure you get a great view from inside these buildings.

The next day was sunny and warm and having had some sleep I was a lot more keen about the whole place. I put my bathers on, grabbed a book to read, and headed down to the shore.

It took a bit of a walk to find a place where swimming was allowed (that wasn’t a paid beach — why on earth would you pay to swim in a lake?!), but it was a pleasant stroll and by the time I got to a jetty, I was ready to swim. It was still quite early, so it was just me and a middle-aged German couple, tentatively dipping our feet in the water and trying to convince ourselves it wouldn’t be all that cold. Eventually they eased themselves in on the shallow side, and I took a deep breath and jumped in.

The first thing I noticed was the taste. There wasn’t a taste. No salt, no chlorine. I don’t think I could quite believe I was swimming, even as I was working harder than usual to stay afloat with the reduced buoyancy of fresh water. The second thing I noticed was that it wasn’t cold at all. ‘I could get used to this,’ I thought.

So that was how I spent my morning, jumping in, climbing out and laying in the sun for a bit, jumping in again. People-watching from the water, getting out and walking a bit further around the lake and swimming again in a new spot. Sitting in a lakeside cafe reading. Admiring the view, which if you ignore the hotels is really very nice. Well then.

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