08 September 2011

Slovenia - Ski and Swim in a day!

Slovenia – Ski and Swim in one day!!

Market in Ljubljana

“Travel is food for the soul, restores our balance, links us to the global community, and allows us to be witness to various cultures, climates, languages, and foods. As we absorb the power of Mother Nature in other parts of the world, witness proof of ancient civilizations, both in the ruins and the buildings that have stood the test of time, we come to realize our small part in the global nature of our earth, which is part of the greater Universe.” Judelle Drake

Slovenia, a small country with so much heart– the difference between Croatia and Slovenia is so marked that it is noticeable as soon as one crosses the border. The farms are much larger, well planted and the tractors were driven by men. The buildings are in good condition, no flaking paint, crumbling walls or mortar holes, people are smiling and looked happy! The roads and highways are well signposted and in excellent condition. The war only affected Slovenia for about 10 days which made a huge difference to their economy, tourism and the well-being of the population of 2.2 million. Historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and a stable democracy have assisted in Slovenia's transformation to a modern state. Slovenia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.
Street Cafe in Ljubljana

 This small country has it all, and with only 99 inhabitants per square km, Slovenia ranks low among the European countries in population density - compared with 320/km² for the Netherlands or 195/km² for Italy. The Slovenians are very fond of their outdoor lifestyle, whether it is skiing in the Alps (we saw snow on the peaks in late June!), swimming in the Adriatic (their piece of coastline is 46.6km), visiting the beautiful Lake Bled, or exploring the extensive cave system at Postojna, the 2nd largest in the world.

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a city of many beautiful and interesting bridges over the Ljubljanica River, which is also called The River of Seven Names. It is believed that the first bridge across the Ljubljanica River was built back in Roman times. The Ljubljanica River often flooded until the course of the river was improved in the first half of the 20th century. Today's tamed Ljubljanica River and its attractive concrete embankments owe much of their appearance to architect Jože Plečnik. He redesigned the embankments with tree-lined walks including the romantic multi-level willow-lined walk running along the length of the Trnovski Pristan embankment, which contributes to the city's unique character. The embankment café’s encourage visitors to while away the time with a beer, coffee or a quick snack and view life through the seemingly slow pace of this enchanting city.

We decided to go on an excursion to Lake Bled (Blejsko jezero) which is a picturesque, glacial lake and lies in the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia, where it adjoins the town of Bled. The lake is 2120 m long, 1380 m wide, with a maximum depth of 30.6 m. A medieval castle (dating back to 1111) towers above the lake on the north shore. We were rowed out to the island in the middle of the lake on a “Pletna” rowing boat to view “The Assumption of Mary's Pilgrimage” Church.

Statue in Mary's Pilgrim Church

The Pletna boats are passed down from generation to generation and require strong arms to row 20 adults across a large expanse of water! The owners are extremely proud of their unique method of transport and only have rest days when it rains! These wooden boats are approx.7m long and 2m wide. Originally the rights to row on the lake were given to poor families from the village of Mlino who were unable to pay their taxes. Under Maria Theresa, 20 families were granted exclusive rights for lake transport and this still exists today.

Pletna on Lake Bled

Lake Bled

We finished our excursion with a visit to Villa Bled, a 4* Relais Châteaux Hotel where we were treated to a private tour, then coffee and cake on the beautiful veranda overlooking Lake Bled. Austrian Prince Windisch-Grätz built a beautiful mansion on the site of the present villa when the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Subsequently, as Bled developed into a cosmopolitan resort for the European elite, the mansion served as a summer residence of the former Yugoslav royal family from 1920. After the Second World War, the villa was rebuilt into a presidential residence of Marshal Tito, where he hosted many important international statesmen. 

Villa Bled
Another highlight of our visit to Slovenia was an outing to the Postojna Caves. This is one of the largest and most easily accessible caves where visitors are carried by an electric train which hurtles along at seemingly break-neck speed into the depths of the earth to view the beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, pillars, and translucent curtain formations.

Postojna Caves
Another unique feature of the Cave is the “human fish”, proteus anguinus, a creature adapted to the eternal subterranean darkness. The human fish is up to 30 centimetres long and has no eyes—it does not need them. It has no protective pigment either, and its skin is a similar colour to that of Caucasian human beings—hence the creature’s name.  The human fish is sometimes swept out onto the surface, when the underground waters are high. Long ago people believed it was a baby dragon, since it came from the underworld. For 200 years it has been one of the main attractions here, and even features on Slovenia’s coins. We saw one in a special tank and it sent shivers up my spine – so pre-historic looking! The temperature underground remains at 8 Degrees C and jackets are available for hire at the entrance!
We have gained an insight into the history and lives of the people in these former Communist countries and have marveled at the natural beauty of Croatia and Slovenia. The harsh reality of the Croatian War of Independence has sunk in as we witnessed some of the chaos that is still evident and will take much effort to overcome. Look beyond the “tourist” traps and your travel experience will enrich your lives.

View of Lake Bled from Villa Bled

Pavement Cafe in Ljubljana
Polis (Police) Pizza & Beer all in one little street!
Ljublijana exhausted this tourist so on that note.....

Bye from Slovenia

© Judelle Drake

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