Europe #12- Slovenia- the best place on earth

As we approached the Slovenian border it dawned on me that I knew barely anything about the little country. I blame that partly on its size and absence of headline making news but mainly on the fact it’s only been around for 27 years as its own state. The majority of my relatives are much older and my dear old Gran would’ve been collecting her pension when Slovenia announced its independence in 1991 and so its youth is my scapegoat for my ignorance of what is now my favourite country on the planet. My lack of Slovenian knowledge was unfortunately shared by our satnav meaning that as soon as we crossed from Italy it became a bare screen with a lonely arrow sat in an empty, green space signalling the unchartered territory, leaving us to rely on Bani’s navigation to guide us the unpronounceable capital- Ljubljana.

 

The wonderful motorway infrastructure made the journey effortless as we cut through the forests which cover half of the country to the medieval capital, where we were greeted by the challenge of the public transport system. After getting rejected from the first bus by a fast speaking Slovenian we were left confused as to the payment accepted until we stumbled upon the card top up machine we issued us with a debit card of Ljubljanan carriage to transfer us into the heart of th city. The cleanliness and the impressive array of medieval structures made a notable first impression on us but it was the incredible quietness that made this city stand out. After venturing through some of the biggest European cities to arrive at a capital filled with culture to be empty made for a fantastic change to a peaceful setting in which you can meander around the old bridges and halls, up to the castle which looks over the streets all the way to the vast forests.

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The best roads

 

Once we had restocked on food, fuel and socks it was time to get back on the road and head through the country north to Lake Bled. This little gem in the remote Slovenian mountains is a bustling town full of backpackers, campers and holiday makers all keen to explore around the thermal lake, and even in it on the island situated in the middle which is home to the iconic church. It took us a few laps of the water to take in the remarkable vibrancy and liveliness of the old, medieval town. I would say it’s surprising that such a distant, formerly quiet haven has become such a tourist hotspot but it is no wonder that it has due to the picturesque lake and natural playground which surrounds it. We eventually came to the conclusion that parking was scarce or maybe even imaginary along the shore front and so settled for the small train station a short walk from town. It was a nice nod to the interailers that we stayed at the train station as we wouldn’t have even stopped in Bled if it wasn’t for the hordes of them who had been flaunting the beauty of the location all over social media.

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Camping by the trains

 

Naturally, we found ourselves bumbling around the path following the lakeside, taking in the paddle boarders and canoeists enjoying the water and the families and travellers picnicking on the beach until we arrived in the town. Bled itself is a small place, largely made up of hotels and bars to utilise its strong tourist wave during the summer and a few shops to supplement this. On our quest to find a supermarket to restock the fridge we staggered across an adventure activities shop advertising all variety of things from kayaking all the way to the more extreme skydiving. It was the latter that caught our interest and we ventured in. We were greeted happily by the shop attendant on arrival who didn’t have the hardest of sells to sign us up to jump out of a plane. It is when we wrote our location down as “Bled Train Station- Red VW Van” that his eyebrows raised and we explained our journey, to which he provided the useful information that we required a toll pass to use the Slovenian motorways, an item that we had not yet acquired but still managed to avoid any hefty fine for. With the dive and a little canyoning booked in for a couple of days’ time we had a lengthy while to enjoy what was on offer in the local vicinity. We began with a cycle circling the perimeter of the lake on the hunt for a rope swing made known to us through a friend who’d enjoyed the simplistic air inducing fun only a few weeks previously. Like anyone, we love a rope swing and were rather keen to discover the brilliant man catapult and carefully studied the directions given to us. Persistent searches of the shoreline where the fabled swing resided were undertook but to no avail as it avoided our grasp and left us swingless and a smidge disappointed. Nevertheless, we remained determined to enjoy the lake even without the swing, and so braving the pouring rain which had opened up on us we donned our bin bag ponchos and returned to the lake. It was only the pair of us who had the brilliant idea to swim in the rain leaving the entirety of the lake to just us, and a few people enjoying a wet boat trip to Bled Island. The warm water proved to be a welcome solace from the pelting rain and we may have even cleaned up a little as we bathed in the water. Once we had dried off we suited up in the bin bags once again and explored the medieval culture that Bled was built on, most notably the castle which watches over the lake and town. The cycle up the hill to the fortified position the old building occupies was a daunting one that more than re-established the circulation lost to the cutting wind and rain but the rewarding view at the summit was worth it. If the view itself wasn’t a worthy prize for our efforts we added to the glory with a beer as the sun set over the hills whilst we pondered the adventure of sky diving which was to come the next day.

 

 

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Driving through the mountains

The best way to describe waking up to go sky diving is to compare it to Christmas Day morning. You know, the feeling of expected magic but in an uncertain form? Fun and adrenaline are guaranteed but you don’t know how it’s going to play out or what’s really going to happen, but the butterflies in your stomach are up early and the day builds up the big moment where you get your gift of jumping from 6000ft. Minus the Christmas turkey and Gran on her umpteenth glass of wine in front of the Eastenders special it’s pretty much the same. So, me and Bani were up early, can of spaghetti hoops down and on the road (still without a toll pass) to the backcountry of the Slovenian mountains to find the airfield. This turned out to be a gratifying stocking filler as the drive through the most rural mountain passes became my favourite drive of the trip as we explored the enjoyable hill climbs and empty bends, we even had a bike versus van challenge on the downhill, comparing the cornering of a bike to the 2.0L engine of the van, with my exceptional racing lines coming out on top. If it were any other destination we may have been sad to end such a satisfying drive but we rocked up to airfield in an incredible mood. A mood that was slightly dampened by the distinct lack of any planes, pilots or people. Eventually we discovered some similarly shocked customers who after a while learnt that the jumps had been delayed for a few hours due to the weather, and so we were all herded to a campsite nearby. When the time to dive finally came around we were still as excited as we were when we woke up and the moment arrived to suit up and meet our dive pilots. It’s a crazy idea to strap yourself to a random bloke and jump out of a plane whilst attached to him, and even crazier to pay for it but that’s what we were doing, and what we were excited to do. Our plane was used in the Bond film ‘Goldeneye’ which only added to the ecstasy of the situation and when it reached the desired altitude it was finally time. It’s a feeling impossible to describe and there are no words that summarise the combination of flying and falling experienced whilst overlooking an entire mountain range shaped by the earths curvature and the ridiculous adrenaline rush achieved whilst free falling out of a plane with a Slovenian man attached to yourself makes it a slightly blurred occurrence to recall. It is simply the best and most amazing experience that I have ever endured and I would fully recommend it to anyone who has ever thought about doing it.

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Fanny with the bond plane

And so, the sky dive, the epic mountain roads and the destinations of a cool medieval lake town and a quiet, quaint city are why I fell in love with Slovenia, if you get the chance- go!

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