Since our last update we have snuck into the small country of Slovenia through a tiny back road, twisting over the Alps from Italy. We had high expectations, having seen images of turquoise rivers and picturesque churches hidden amongst steep mountains. We have not been disappointed, having originally intended to spend just a few days, we ended up spending over two weeks (although that is not entirely by choice). Still there are certainly worse places to be stuck. In Slovenia we experienced genuine warmth and hospitality from the people, we enjoyed an abundance of coffee, we hiked in beautiful mountains, swam in crystal clear lakes and rode many a gravel/dirt/forest track. Ljubljana the capital is beautiful and relaxed, and it came to feel like a home from home.
One of the great things about Slovenia was the food. We took the opportunity to test out l0cal dishes such as Burek, krema rizine and gibinica. We also found our best ice cream yet in Ljubljana. Vigo charges two euro for a double scoop of handmade ice cream, and has many exotic flavours on offer. Within just a few days Ryan had tried them all, and being a true romantic was even generous enough to take us out for dinner one day (to vigo for ice cream) and breakfast the following day (to vigo for ice cream).
Our first experience of Slovenia was Triglav National Park. Here we found a deserted camp site on the side of the lake and pitched up on a perfect white beach. We really couldn’t have asked for a better location as we woke each morning to a low fog hovering above the lake, surrounded by snow capped mountains. It was exactly what we had been imagining and craving from our camping spots since we left home. A lazy morning reading on the beach was rudely interrupted by Ryan deciding to brave the water and go for a swim. It was rather unfortunate at this point, that a boat load of tourists (including many children), came along the lake in a silent electric boat. It was too late by the time he realised, for Ryan to keep his decency, and the poor tourists saw a wildlife spectacle they were certainly not expecting!
Throughout Europe we have been keen to sharpen our off road riding skills at any opportunity. Luckily on leaving Bohinj to get to Bled, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a rough forest track. We had absolutely no idea where we were, and guessed turn after turn for an hour or so before the forest suddenly fell away and we ended up in a stunning clearing on the hillside. We were greeted by a wonderful Slovenian lady who made us ‘cowboy coffee’, and sat enjoying the sunshine. Despite a conscientious attempt to follow the Slovenian lady’s directions out of the forest, it took us another hour to escape, but the day had built our confidence on the bikes, having been able to practice for the first time on gravel, mud and steep slopes.
After the beauty and natural wonder of Lake Bohinj, Bled was a bit of a disappointment. The famous beauty spot was surrounded by hotels, restaurants and the usual tourist paraphernalia. On top of that the weather had turned, and we ate a quick speck sandwich on the banks before we decided to ‘run for the hills’. We drove out of Bled, and out in to farm land where we stopped to ask a local farmer if there was anywhere to put a tent to which he answered just up the hill. We found a spot on the hilltop looking out towards the mountains, and walked over to the nearest farm to ask for water. We were greeted by a lovely Slovenian family. The daughter, who had studied agriculture, offered us coffee, and we spent a pleasant hour chatting and finding out about their farm. The hilltop looked out over the surrounding hills, and their land held a beautiful view of Mount Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia. In order to be a ‘true Slovenian’, you must climb this mountain at least once in your life. The father offered us dinner and a bed, which being British, we of course politely refused in favour of more pasta and pesto (we just cant get enough), and a night out under the stars.
The next day we headed to Ljubljana and a night of luxury – a hostel bed! We arrived early and were greeted by lovely hosts, Alex and Marija. After having a shower (we stunk) and locking the bikes outside the front door of the hostel under the watchful CCTV, we headed out to explore the city. Ljubljana is beautiful, a mixture of architecture, parks and bridges spanning the turquoise river that flows through it. We climbed the hill to the castle which has hosted both royalty and POW during the first and second world wars. Of course much time was taken to explore the local culinary delights of ice cream, speck and cvicek (a sour wine of Slovenia) and the crazy European nightlife at metelkova.
The following morning, we woke early, keen to pack up the bikes and get into Croatia that day, and went downstairs to unlock the bikes. Lottie noticed straight away they had moved, and then saw the damage. Someone had tried to steal them! The chain securing them had been cut, and both ignition barrels cut out. Both bikes had disc locks on which were still there, but where the thieves had attempted to remove them, the discs were bent. The bikes were not drivable. Understandably we were really upset and angry. The police were called and issued a report, but ultimately there was not much they could do. We spent the day researching where we might find parts in Slovenia, but being Sunday, nothing was open. Our third day in Ljubljana was spent doing more research, and we ended up having to order parts from the UK, some of which would take up to ten days to arrive (even though they promised only half that!!!).
We were very disheartened but decided to make the most of our extra time in Slovenia and escape the city to go hiking in the Kamnisko-Savinjske Alps in the north of the country. We took a bus from Ljubliana to a village where we took a cable car, usually used for skiers up to a high alpine pasture.
The scenery was stunning, and despite warnings of bears, we made camp at over 1600 metres next to a hunters lodge and endured a cold night on the hillside.
Hiking higher the next day, we found the refuges were all still closed. This meant we had to resort to melting snow for our water. The snow increased as we scrambled up narrow ridges and climbed steep mountain slopes with the clouds darkening above us.
By the time we reached the highest col, Lottie was exhausted and we decided to head for lower ground to make camp. The track led through steep forestry and past stunning waterfalls. In warmer weather and with more energy we would have definitely jumped in for a swim!!
Having survived the treacherous mountain peaks we thought we were home safe and already discussing the cool Lasko beer awaiting us at the bottom. Our thirst was too much for us to pay too much notice to sign pinned to a tree next to the path which in hindsight must have said something along the lines of path closed/no entry/murderous forestry men ahead of something along those lines. We noticed that there was some forestry work on the steep slopes above us but we continued on after waving at a forestry worker and receiving a friendly wave back in return. No more than 3 seconds later there was an almighty crashing sound and we looked up to see a huge tree sliding down the hillside towards us, gathering pace as it did so. Needless to say we quite literally ran for our lives with the tree/missile/runaway train only missing us by a few meters before continuing to the bottom of the valley with a thunderous crash. Safe at the bottom, it was the best beer we had ever tasted. In comparison to tree dodging, motorcycling around the world is wee buns!
On our return to Ljubljana, unsurprisingly only half our parts had arrived. Alex and Marija looked after us well though and had already booked us beds in the event that we needed to stay longer even though the hostel was fully booked. A few word on hostel Vrba, it is excellent! Clean, spacious, filled with interesting people and in a great part of town. The best bit about it though are Alex and Marija who between them do everything and really are the best hosts in the world going far beyond what could be expected or wished for. A huge thanks to them for a wonderful stay at their fantastic hostel (www.hostelvrba.com).
Unfortunately in our experience not everybody in Slovenia is as warm, generous and friendly as our hostel hosts. There was more than one uncomfortable discussion with a local that has left us feeling that travelling in Slovenia would not be so fun or rewarding if we were not white. This is our experience and is not to say that all Slovenian share these views but it happened regularly and severely enough that it should be mentioned here.
Our final few days in Ljubljana comprised mainly of eating ice cream, playing jungle speed, tinkering on the bikes, day trip to skofja loka and hiding from the cold, wet weather in the hostel. We had not imagined the Balkan states being so cold in April whilst the rest of Europe enjoyed plenty of sunshine as our family were quick to point out.
With the bikes finally ready to go again we made plans to leave first thing in the morning making our way south towards Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Like fools though we hadn’t checked the bikes properly after fixing them so it was only on our departure that we noticed Ryan’s bike was making some nasty noises and had a wobbly rear end. A quick check confirmed that the bearing was shot and needed replaced. Once again Alex stepped in to save the day and organised for her mechanic friend to replace it that afternoon at a bargain price. What a woman! On a side note, if anyone can suggest why a bearing would suddenly disintegrate like that please let us know. There was definitely no noise coming from it on our arrival to Ljubljana, only after the attempted theft and damage to the brake disc. Too much of a coincidence we feel.
A final camp outside Smartno which literally froze us, our bikes and all our gear brought us to the end of a wonderful 2 weeks in Slovenia. This is most definitely a country that we would return to and encourage others to do so also. Let’s just hope the following countries can live up to the high standards Slovenia has set.