On Thursday, we had a day we had been talking about for almost 25 years!😳 I think a little back story is in order here. Our friend Marjan started working for Jim’s company shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Marjan was in the aviation industry in Yugoslavia, and he recognized that with eastern Europe opening up there would be a need for people on the ground in that part of the world who were familiar with how to get things done.
This was back in the good old days, when the company Jim worked for was still privately owned and entertainment and travel dollars flowed freely. I met Marjan the first time he came to Houston at one of Air Routing’s infamous (and long gone😢) company happy hours, and then spent quite a bit of time with him in 1991 when I accompanied Jim on a business trip to London.
Jim spent some time in Slovenia in the summer of 1993, when he took an International business course as part of his master’s degree. The course included a week of study in Berlin, and Jim arranged his travel so he could spend several days in Ljubljana with Marjan before he went to Berlin for his class. Jim loved his experience, and we have been talking about me needing to visit Slovenia off and on ever since. Every time we saw Marjan he would ask us when we were planning to visit.
Getting to Ljubljana was one of the major considerations in selecting our cruise. What I didn’t realize at the time was how small many of the Adriatic countries are and how easy it would be to get to Ljubljana from Venice. Once we figure that out, our plans started to fall into place, and the side trip to Slovenia before we came home was born.
We were so incredibly fortunate to have a “private guide” for our full day in Slovenia. We saw many, many things that it would have been impossible to see with even the best paid tour. Before I start, I will tell you that we saw mountains, rolling hills, alps, valleys, vineyards, lakes, sunshine, snow, and rain. I can’t imagine that it would have been possible to cram much more into a day than we did!
We started out headed for Lake Bled, with a stop at one of Marjan’s favorite golf courses and another stop at the air strip where Marjan took Jim gliding during his visit in ’93.
I know somewhere in this house we have some pictures from Jim’s first visit to Ljubljana. I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to find them, and I’m ready to admit defeat…for now. It does let me know it’s long overdue for me to go through the tubs of pictures we have and get them all converted to digital! They’re of no use to anybody in their current state.
Back to Slovenia — those first two stops were fine, but I was more interested in Main Attraction #1 — famous Bled Cream Cakes and lattes at the Grand Hotel Toplice on Lake Bled. What an idyllic spot! We did have one kind of funny thing happen there. When we walked in there was a fairly big tour group preparing to leave. They were the only other people in the lobby when we arrived. We wanted to take a seat by the windows overlooking the lake. One of the men in the group actually stopped us and asked us to wait so that they could take pictures of their line of suitcases! We waited a few minutes, but they were taking picture after picture and after about 5 minutes of that nonsense we had finally had enough. We decided our cream cakes and coffee were far more important than their photographic endeavors!😂 After our “snack” we walked around the lake for a little while, and then Jim and I climbed up to Bled Castle for the view.
After we left Bled we drove through the countryside to Bohinj, a beautiful glacial lake nestled in a valley surrounded by the Julian Alps. We spent quite a bit of time there amidst the sun, the rain, the wind, and everything in between! We drove a little further up into the mountains to the base of a ski resort. One of Marjan’s ideas had been to take a cable car up the mountain for the scenery, but it was raining where we were and we could see that it was snowing at a higher altitude so we scratched that plan. After that it was time to go catch a train!
When we planned our day trip with Marjan the previous evening he offered two alternatives. One was to drive up into and across the Julian Alps, and the other was to take the car train and go through the mountains instead of over them. Based on the forecast we had chosen the car train, and that was probably smart. The weather changed frequently and quickly during our day in Slovenia and although we had some nice moments, we also had a lot of rain and it was snowing quite heavily up in the mountains.
The car train was interesting. It is very simply an engine with a passenger compartment, followed by a long flat wooden bed for cars. Car passengers drive on, ride in their own vehicles, and drive off at their destination! I’ve never seen anything like it, but it is the shortest and fastest way through the mountains, especially when it’s snowing!! I would say that our ride in total took about an hour and a half.
We got off the train in Most na Soci, and stopped at Sterk Hotel to stretch our legs and use a restroom. The views there were just spectacular, and that was in the rain. I can only imagine what it would have been like with the sun shining. From Most na Soci we slowly made our way through several small towns and ever changing terrain. The view out the window changed from alpine to rolling hills, but the rain was persistent.
Towards the end of the drive we climbed a pretty steep hill, rounded a sharp curve, and lo and behold much to our surprise we were looking at sunshine over a valley full of vineyards and rolling hills. I have not been to Tuscany (yet😆), but this beautiful area of Slovenia looked very much like the picture of Tuscany I have in my head. This part of Slovenia borders Italy, and shares much of its cultural heritage with the Italians. Some of the family wineries that we saw actually have vineyards in both countries!
Our destination was the Belica winery in Goriska Brda where we had a late, long, leisurely and extremely delicious lunch.
After lunch we made a quick stop at the Dobrovo Castle which has a wine cellar where many local winemakers store and sell their wines. The castle dates back to 1600 and today the space is used for a restaurant, the wine cellar, and for local cultural events.
This picture of the castle is from the “Think Slovenia” website:
From the castle, we drove to the picturesque medieval town of Smartno (St. Martin). Smartno was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1976 and has been rebuilt to replicate the original village. The entire village is now designated as a cultural site.
We saw/did a couple of interesting things on our way back to Ljubljana. The first was purchasing some fresh cherries. We drove until we saw a house that had a sign outside indicating that they had cherries for sale. Marjan parked, knocked on the door, went inside, and about five minutes later he emerged with the freshest basket of cherries I’ve ever seen! It’s certainly a different way to do your grocery shopping!
The other thing that I thought was kind of interesting was a road that we were on near Nova Gorica. There was a tall chain link fence on both sides of the road, and there was no place to turn off or enter/exit. That was because we were actually in Italy! The road itself was Slovenian territory, but as it ran through Italy the fences had been erected to create a border.
It was probably close to 8:00 by the time we got back to our hotel. What an awesome day we had! It was worth the almost quarter of a century I waited!😁 We decided to have a quiet evening and start to get ready for the trip home. Since I had been so neglectful on the ship we desperately needed to repack so I did that and (tried to) organize things so that we would only have to open one suitcase when we got to Zagreb. Our trip wasn’t over yet but it was getting close.🙁 All that was left was one more tour in Ljubljana, a trip through the countryside to Velica Gorica (Zagreb), Croatia, an overnight stay at an airport hotel, and the flight home.😢