I remember distinctly when we crossed the border into Slovenia for the first time. We were on a dirt road cutting through a corn field and figured it out when the road signs were no longer in Italian. I also remember not realizing we passed back and forth between Italy and Slovenia three times until we looked at the map later. Our worries about an immigration checkpoint were unecessary.
We first read about Slovenia (and honestly discovered that it existed) a few years ago in an issue of Adventure Cycling magazine. I remember dreaming about the possibility of spending two weeks exploring another country on a bicycle and how impossible that sounded. Now here we were, over a month into a three month trip and finally crossing into the unfamiliar land we longed to see for so long.
We started the route by joining a published bikepacking route that Cass Gilbert, one of my favorite bikepacking bloggers created. We rode up steep hills and passed mountain vinyards with spectacular views. The excitement of finally getting into the backwoods and mountains and doing some real off-road bikepacking was exhilerating. We stuck with Cass’ route for a few days then eventually branched off and got back onto our own track. It never fails that when we try to follow someone else’s published route, we end up miserable becuase we’ve got our own style and no one else seems to plan the way we do. The route was great, but included a lot of unnecessary climbs. That is fine if you are on a loop for a few days trying to maximize scenic views and exercise, we however were trying to get somewhere. I’m writing this in Slovakia and at this point as a grizzled veteran of this trip, I barely plan a day ahead most of the time because our mood that day and seeing the actual mountains in person instead of on a map determines where we go a lot of the time. I’ll get around to writing a “Plan on the go” guide someday but for now, back to Slovenia.
As I said, we knew next to nothing about this country with such a rich heritage. It didn’t even exist until 1991 when Yugoslavia broke up and I got the sense they were still carving out their identity. Initally, the Western mountains felt a lot like Italy. There were vinyards everywhere and the architecture looked very similar. It was so interesting riding a bicycle and every day noticing the subtle changes in everything from the houses to the way roads were maintained and built. We stopped at a few landmarks, there was a WWI monument that turned out to be in Italy and we didn’t know until we read some plaques in Italian. It was sobering to see all the names of soldiers who died on the walls and think of all the lives impacted.
We had a helluva climb up to a church and cemetary on top of a mountain which drained us both physically. We celebrated our victory with boiled potatoes and a zooming downhill ride afterwards. Our legs and lungs certainly took a beating after the flat farmlands that is Northern Italy. The mountains kicked our asses! Our average distance was cut by two thirds and my arthritis in my knees started rearing its ugly head. This sent me down the rabbit hole (Remember I was reading Alice in Wonderland?) of saddle adjustments which is about as fun as trying to get a piece of popcorn out of your teeth with no toothpick.
The scenery was gorgeous and we gradually got our mountain legs up to snuff. We met so many lovely friendly people and enjoyed camping in the forest again. Our path took us East until we finally hit the Capital city of Lubjliana. As far as cities go, this one was like hitting the easy button! We rolled into the outskirts following farm roads and Lauren took the chance to befriend some four legged comrads.
Once we neared the metro area there was an endless bikelane. It eventually turned into an intricate system of bike highways that sprawled all over the city like arteries and veins. Every car was aware of and followed the right of way rules with bikes. It was brilliant!
We had a few maintenance issues with the bikes so we tried to find a shop to remedy them and also kept up our tradition of drinking the local brews. In this case that meant Lasko, a beer named for the town it was made in, but more on that later.
To make a long story longer, we ended up staying in the center of the city because the campground wanted 37 Euros a night to tent cap. I wanted to say, “Lady, you realize we are in a tent right? All we need is 10 square feet of grass and a cold shower.” Instead I said I was going to go check with my wife, then we rode back into the city. For nearly the same price we found a nice hostel in the center of the city. The next few days were grand. There were burgers, beers, chinese food, and me performing noisy bike maintenence in the basement of the hostel much to the chagrin of the counterperson who no one told I was down there.
During our celebration of my 1 year anniversary of leaving the Air Force, we were startled by an impromptu firewords celebration coming from the castle just for me. I didn’t remember sending the email to the chamber of commerce but was glad they remembered. Obviously we celebrated with drinks and great food.
That evening we coordinated to meet with the crazy Scotsman Graeme that we met in Italy and we ended up shutting down several pubs with his Slovenian friend. We sampled local beers and viljamovka (pear brandy) and learned a bit more Slovenian from his friend and our waitress. We found out later that Graeme got lost on the way home when his phone battery died and rode about aimlessly unitl 4:30 AM until he found his camping spot. I’m sure the viljamovka had nothing to do with it.
After a prolonged wandering session looking for a reputable bike shop, I got my cassette fixed and we headed East the next day to find more mountains. On the way out of the city, we climbed the hill to check out the castle and were not diappointed. Lubjliana was without a doubt, the best city we had seen. We both remarked about how we would love to live there sometime and try out “city life”. There was just the right amount of modern city with history and culture. The locals were friendly and the food was amazing. It is absolutely a place you must visit if you come to Europe and want to get off the beaten path. Lubjliana is a truly magical place.