The children’s song “Rain, rain, go away, come again another day,” was ringing in our heads today as we sheltered in a bus stop by the side of the road in the middle of Slovenia. Rain is stopping play at Wimbledon and a few thousand kilometers away it’s not doing much for our cycling either. The water started to pour down just before noon, with some thunder and lightening thrown in for good measure. We had our lunch, read our books, changed our clothes, repacked our bags and still we waited for the rain to stop. We were happy enough, dry and warm, but we were going a bit stir crazy so when the rain eased a bit a couple hours later we made a dash for the nearby town of Celje, thinking it wouldn’t be long before the storm blew over entirely. Wrong! As we stopped for groceries the skies opened again and the rain came down harder than ever. We debated trying to wait it out, hoping to find a camping spot for the night, but we soon realised our chances were slim so we got a hotel room instead. It turned out to be the right move because several hours later the water is still accumulating on the streets of the town. We made one trip out of our room for food and barely made it around the block before we were soaked. One bright spot in our day came not from the weather but some good news on the radio: the release of Alan Johnston, the BBC’s correspondent in Gaza. He was kidnapped in March and every day since then we’ve listened to the latest efforts to free him, his words as he was dressed in an explosives belt and forced to appear in a video by his captors and messages of hope to him from listeners around the world. Very moving stuff and we were relieved to hear he was finally released unharmed. It’s amazing how attached you can get to someone you don’t even know.
You Are Viewing Slovenia
Not a bad distance for half a day’s work. We had a late start getting out of Ljubljana because we wanted to get a few things done before we left. First, a nice man at a sports shop managed to order us a replacement cartridge for our water filter on short notice (we dropped our last one off a table and broke it, not unlike the fate of our old camera… sigh) so we had that to pick up. Then we spotted a used book shop where we found some more reading to keep us going; State of Fear by Michael Crichton and Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the famous children’s book, Le Petit Prince. Next we toddled back to a free wi-fi coffee shop we’d found the day before to do some more online tasks but we lost the connection after only a few minutes and despite two cappuccinos and much fiddling we couldn’t get it to work again. Frustration ensued but we hope to find a place to get online again before long down the road. So far Slovenia has been a bit of a mixed blessing as far as internet goes. There seems to be plenty of it, mostly free in tourist bureaus, but usually even if we pay a few euros to get online, the computers and software are so old we can’t use them to update our site. We gave up on the internet and finally picked up our usual stash of groceries (today’s haul included feta cheese and some Asian stir-fry mixes – something different, hurrah!!) before heading out of the city around midday. Ljubljana was a very easy city to get around and out of, with its seemingly endless bike paths. It wasn’t long at all before we were biking through fields and gardens on back roads, heading east along the big but rather brown and murky Sava river. We had planned to continue along the river until the Slovenian-Croatian border, with the idea to see Zagreb, but last night we decided we’d rather see more of the Slovenian countryside so tomorrow we’ll turn north in search of more lakes, woods and waterfalls. Apparently the world’s oldest grapevine awaits us in the town of Maribor so that’s another photo to look forward to in a few days.
Just what you’d expect from July; clear blue skies and sun, sun, sun. The day actually started out cool but it soon warmed up and we happily took a break from the bikes to hike to a waterfall that just happened to be along our route.
The walk through the woods was nice and shady and we soon arrived at Slap Sopota, a 62m high waterfall dropping noisily into a pool of water. Slovenia seems to specialise in natural beauty spots. We signed the guest book, which was left in a metal box fitted into an old tree trunk, and then returned back down the path. After our little diversion we carried onto Ljubljana, crossing a small mountain pass and then heading mostly downhill alongside a river and on plenty of tree-lined roads.
We went through a few villages but mostly we were surrounded by trees or hay fields. The few cars we saw were very courteous, giving us lots of space as they passed. A nice change from many Italian drivers! The traffic only picked up as we approached the city. We were on a road that said cyclists weren’t allowed but, in a curiosity that seems to be common to urban planners across Europe, the signs didn’t give us any other option for continuing on to Ljubljana.
What were we supposed to do, just turn around? The road was narrow but we cycled on regardless and had no problems making it to the campsite on the edge of the city. The campground actually has the grand title of a “resort” which of course made us fear the cost, but it was a pleasant surprise to find a reasonable price and even a discount for having arrived by bicycle! After we set up the tent we ran straight for the large pool. The temperature is hovering around 30C so it’s great to have a place to cool down and soak our muscles.
The area around the Julian Alps is so beautiful, the rest of Slovenia has a lot to live up to. Our first few kilometers outside of Kobarid took us up and down rolling hills, through green farmland and villages. There was no intensive farming that we could see, just large pastures, the occasional chicken coop and many small garden plots filled with lettuce, beans, corn and squash. Before long we arrived in Tolmin and stopped to do some of our regular chores: grocery shopping (two rounds, because we couldn’t figure out what to buy the first time), a stop at the petrol station to get some gas for cooking and some time on the internet at the tourist bureau.
The afternoon was already ticking away by the time we’d done all our errands and had lunch under a clear blue sky, watching paragliders soar above us. We thought that once we got over the Dolomites that might be the end of the mountains but there are still plenty to jump from, if you’re a paraglider, or to challenge the legs if you’re a cyclist!
We’d planned to forge ahead to Ljublijana, or at least to make a good part of the distance, and we did make a start out of Tolmin, up into the hills, but Friedel was still suffering from a headache that appeared earlier in the day so we decided enough was enough. We took the first shady spot we found as our spot for the night.
It looks like a small gravel pit. Not the prettiest of spots, although we do have a babbling brook just behind the tent and we’re out of view of the road, which is very quiet in any case. Tomorrow we are hoping to reach the Slovenia capital, where we’ll probably spend a couple days, and then maybe on to Zagreb. As we’re really just killing time before meeting Friedel’s uncle in Munich, we’re considering all kinds of directions on our bikes!
That was what Friedel wanted to know as we pushed and sweated our way up a gruelling hill.
“Because we like it,” came the answer from Andrew, not entirely convincingly.
Ah. Of course we like it…. this is what we gave up our jobs for, right?!?
We’d heard that crossings into Slovenia could be mountainous, but we hadn’t envisioned going up at an angle so steep that even the racing cyclists had given up trying to pedal up the slope. The official grade on the road sign said 12% over four kilometers but it felt like at least 15% or maybe even more. In all the passes we covered going over the Alps we never reached a road as steep as this one. We huffed and we puffed and after nearly four hours of pushing – making for a mighty speed of 1km an hour – we reached the top at over 1,000m and began the glide down to the border crossing.
Although the road was going downhill we really had to pay attention and put our brakes on at every twist and turn because the route was so narrow there was no room for error and we had to be ready to stop on a dime if a car came along. The scenery was stunning over the mountains but our eyes were almost always on the road, which was not much wider than many bicycle paths.
After several kilometers of coasting along we reached the border, showed our passports to the Italian guard (we thought this was part of Europe now??) and then nearly turned around when we saw another hill looming in front of us. Thankfully this one was not as steep as the last one and we were able to make slow progress until finally the descent began again, this time into the Slovenian town of Zaga.
As we passed a pizzeria the four racing cyclists who passed us hours ago cheered our arrival and we chatted for a few minutes with them about their trip (one week from Munich to Ljublianja) and life back in their home country of Britain. We hit the road again and after a few rolling hills we set up camp in the pretty town of Kobarid, celebrating our arrival in a new country with a bottle of locally made Chardonnay.
Our first impressions of Slovenia are very good. Towns filled with neat, flower-covered houses. Mountains in the background. Emerald coloured rivers. It looks like one month in Eastern Europe may not be enough!