A trip to Slovenia
As I climbed into the minivan I started to think that perhaps I should've taken Rok's advice and written "no kidney" across my stomach. I had all my things with me, so at least in the worst case I could easily grab it and make a run for it if things came to that. My stereotypes of eastern europeans (or at least people that speak an eastern european / russian sounding language) have long been ingrained in my mind from countless James Bond and other spy movies. They all must be somehow involved with either drug or people trafficking, and probably pack at least one hand gun too, right? Well, these were the thoughts that lasted for but a moment on my "bus" from Venice into Ljubjana, Slovenia until I realized just how friendly everyone was, regardless of the fact that I couldn't speak a word of Slovenian and they could only speak a few of English.
If you haven't heard of Slovenia, or at least couldn't find it on a map, you're not alone (though if you can't, I've embedded a google map below :) ). Slovenia is a very small southern european country (about 2/3rds the size of Vancouver Island in land mass) with just over 2 million people. It borders Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. The country formed out of the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 and is technically a part of Southern Europe. The country itself is very beautiful and even though it's so small it contains a lot of different terrain, with rolling hills in the south, beaches on the mediterranean, and the north west corner in the Julian Alps, and all that can be driven to within just over an hour of the capital, Ljubljana.
The drive into Ljubljana from Venice was completely uneventful and the landscape was mostly rolling hill and pastures. I tried memorizing and practicing a few important phrases in the language on the trip in... but this proved completely useless as no matter how hard I tried, my pronunciation was so bad no one would understand a word I was saying anyway.
I met up with Rok and Tamara for dinner that night and it was great to see familiar faces after a couple days of traveling by myself. I came in to the city a few days earlier than I was originally planning so I could attend Rok's bachelor party which was happening the next morning. It was well worth the change in plans. I'm sure the party would have been ridiculous enough even if I understood the language, but not being able to understand a word made for much hilarious confusion throughout the day.
Miha (Rok's best man) had rented a bus for us that basically took us to the seaside and back, on the way out Rok was forced to hitchhike wearing an iPhone suit, road bike a few kilometers down a secondary highway, and wander about the seaside in a wetsuit. When we got back we did a river boat cruise and ate dinner. The party didn't really end until about 5am the next day.
I had a few days to do whatever I wanted between the bachelor party and the wedding and on Rok's recommendation I decided to head for the Alps. I stayed in a small town called Bovec in the very north west corner of the country, about a 4 hour (very scenic) bus ride from Ljubljana. I'd never been to the alps so this was definitely a cool experience. I spent four days there just hiking and working.
The hiking was amazing, and while I had a couple points where I vividly recalled why no one should ever hike alone, it was well worth the trip out there. There's also a lot of mountain biking in the area too, I didn't do any, but could've been cool if I had a bit more time.
The route between Bovec and the next town (Kranjska Gora) is a 45km mountain pass that unfortunately is only used by busses during peak season in the summer months. I could either go there and take a train back into Ljubljana or take a bus back the way via the same route I had arrived. I thought I'd try my luck with hitchhiking the 45km as I thought it would be cool, and worth it, to do a full loop around the Slovenian Alps. There's very little traffic at this time of year and my attempt ended being quite pitiful, ending shortly after one kind driver signalled that he'd like me to blow him as he drove past.
Rok and Tamara's wedding was the day after I returned. The ceremony was held in a town called Bled. If you've heard of Slovenia then you've most likely heard of Bled. It's a gorgeous town at the foot of the alps west of Ljubljana. It's defining characteristic is a lake with a small island and a church on said island. There's also a castle perched along a cliffside of the lake. The entire area is really quite breath taking. The ceremony overlooked the island and lasted about 20 - 30 minutes or so. Of course, I didn't understand a word of it besides the odd thing my neighbour translated for me, but regardless, it was a beautiful ceremony. The reception was back in Ljubljana at one of their smaller castles. It was an awesome time and great food. And I also subsequently devolved into a 6 year old with my Slovenian language learning as everyone tried to teach me how to say some of their more vulgar / rude sayings... as well as order drinks at the same time.
At least by the end of the trip I was able to successfully pronounce most words that I needed (besides železniške postaje - train station) though since it was the end of my trip, it won't be so useful until next time :). Awesome trip and amazing people, there will definitely be a next time!