Slovenia – understated charm underrated serenity

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It was tough making Slovenia part of my travel plans.

After all, few has ever heard of this small eastern European country nestled between Austria and Italy. But my penchant for taking the off-beaten track and the mind-blowing pictures I saw made me determined to set foot there.

We took an exhausting six-hour train ride from Italy due to the lack of a direct route. As the train pulled to a halt in Bled, a town northwest of Slovenia, the sun was just ready to cast its evening glow across the Julian Alps – Slovenia’s very own snow-capped mountains that is, in my opinion, just as or even more captivating than that of Switzerland’s.

Having come from the boisterous cities of Rome and Venice, this little town with people riding about leisurely on bicycles and cars chugging unhurriedly along the roads helped to calm down our busy minds.

A kind taxi-driver spotted us – three Chinese girls looking worn out and confused – and offered to make a phone call for us to our hostel.

“The place you are staying is pretty far off from the main attractions you know,” he said. This news immediately drew worried looks on all of our faces.

But as the car took us through fields after fields of flowers accompanied with sweet-looking mini cottages, we knew that we made the right choice after all. Avoiding the capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana, was done intentionally so as to prevent an overdose of tourist attractions.

The town of Bled is a good respite for the weary soul. Not only for old retirees but for travelers who have seen too much, done too much and used up too much money.

Unlike the usual travel destinations, there are no magnificent cathedrals or renowned museums. Instead, what was offered in Slovenia is its untainted natural beauty that its people remain very proud of.

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We awoke on our first morning to a sumptuous breakfast prepared by our fatherly Slovenia host who has lived there for more than 30 years, as he enthusiastically shared with us the things to do in his little hometown.

So skipping the typical “must-dos” and “must-sees”, we adapted quickly to the slow pace of Bled and took our time to explore the surroundings.

We popped into small shops selling homemade bread and hand-painted crafts. When we felt like it, we hiked up the hills of the Bled Castle so as to catch a view of the town as well as its surrounding landscapes. As we strolled along Lake Bled, its clear blue waters reflected a whimsical church sitting on an island settled in the middle of the lake.

Lunch was a simple fare of cheap and tasty sandwiches from a convenience store where its staff spoke excellent English and was eager to let us use their restrooms whenever we wanted.

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Time passed by very slowly and it was good. We had no need to rush because there are no opening hours for its lakes and mountains. But as our lazy bones awakened, we then decided to take a boat ride to the island perched in the middle of Lake Bled.

One can opt for the costly boat ride rowed by an experienced boatman or a cheaper alternative that sees you doing all the hard work yourself. Of course, feisty us decided on the latter and it also turned out to be one of our greatest nightmares.

Without any rowing experience, we hoped onto the boat feeling all confident that we will make it onto the island some several kilometers away in less than half an hour.

A good 20 minutes later, however, we found ourselves circling around the lakeshore. After much struggling and many close encounters of capsizing the boat, we made it halfway across the lake and decided that we are better off on land.

Feeling fully charged-up from all the rowing, we then decided to try biking to Vintgar Gorge – one of Slovenia many natural reserves with beautiful waterfalls.

Like free-spirited children once again, we zipped passed dusty mountain tracks up and down steep slopes with huge motor trucks alongside us. On one particularly long stretch of road, we rode past fields of dandelions that danced in the wind and with the magnificent Julian Alps that stretches on for miles after miles for its backdrop.

For the next two days, our activities continued to revolve around nature. We took time off to visit a neighbouring town, Bohinj, where its huge and raved about lake was not comparable to Lake Bled. We strolled along lakes and rivers, lazed on green lawns and picnicked on flower fields.

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One afternoon, we also experienced our first river rafting stint down the rapids of Bled. Every night after all the physical activities, we were treated to a 3-course Slovenian dinner prepared by our lovely host and his wife.

In Bled, we did not scale any peaks nor did we conquer any famous tourist spot. There was really not much to do but we spent quality time discovering God’s beautiful creations once again and appreciated the serenity and charm of a slow-paced life. But that said, how often are there chances to do really just nothing at all. And in Slovenia, we are glad that we took the chance.

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