Slovenia: Land of chicken kicking
As a European virgin, visiting Slovenia was a lot like falling in love for the first time. I walked around in a dopamine haze, high on Baroque architecture, wildflowers and half-pissed on exotic grape varietals. From the cobblestone streets, to the castles, to the market square populated with fairytale produce, I couldn’t get enough of this whimsical land of nonsensical curses (ie. ‘Go kick a chicken!’).
Here’s where I left a fairly decent chunk of my heart:
Lake Bled: If cone-hatted princesses existed, they would live at Lake Bled. This kind of natural perfection usually comes with motivational quotes. Spookily blue water meets landscaped gardens, Bled Castle, Church of Mary the Queen on Bled Island and traditional pletna boats rowed by barrel-chested men (women are not allowed to row them which was fine by me).
We had lunch at Hotel Vila Bled, the former summer residence of Yugoslavian dictator Tito, which overlooks the most perfect view I have ever seen in my life. The villa, on the other hand, is a disaster of communist interior design. Mushroom pink carpet, angry-looking chandeliers and hideous expanses of inexplicable red velvet. Tito may have been an awesome tyrant but he was no Martha Stewart.
The good news for cheapskates is that there is a camping ground called Camping Bled just around the corner from Tito’s villa that has campsites starting from 8,50 Euros per night, per adult.
Ljubljana: It’s easy to see why ‘Ljubljana’ means ‘beloved’. With just over 200,000 residents, Ljubljana is quiet, clean and in the process of being beautified by the current mayor. Presided over by a castle on a hill, this city, which dates back to the Roman era is an easy to navigate centre that is free of traffic and chain stores.
Many of the cities’ newer structures are the handiwork of architect Joze Plecnik (1872-1957). Everywhere you turn, there is a library, a bridge, a statue or a wall constructed by this visionary man.
All this elegant modernity is underlaid with medieval stonework, Baroque buildings and soviet kickbacks in the form of hulking apartment blocks on the outskirts of town.
My personal favourite amidst the many glories of this city is the dragon bridge. Dubbed the ‘Mother-in-law’ bridge, there is a local myth that claims the dragons wag their tales when a virgin crosses the bridge. The punchline is that noone’s ever seen this happen.
Piran: Set so close to the Italian border that you can see Trieste, Piran is a 16th century Venetian shipping port with a dangerous past. Noted as a key drug importation port for the mafia, Piran is a strange combination of pastel holiday houses and shady characters lurking in winding alleyways. Nonetheless, I loved its crumbling, elegant buildings, yacht-filled harbour and slightly Eurotrash vibe.