Hiking, Canyoning, and Spelunking our way through Slovenia

When we arrived in Ljubljana by train, we needed to get to the airport to pick up our rental car. We had debated about whether or not to rent a car because it is more expensive than taking buses but since we were limited on time (only 4 days in Slovenia) we decided that in order to see everything, we needed our own transportation. Plus, we figured we could sleep in the car making it cheaper overall than if we were to stay in apartments. The buses run from the train station to the airport every hour and we missed one by 5 minutes. We found another couple that was taking a cab to the airport and when I asked the taxi driver the cost I heard “15 Euro”. I thought, wow, that’s pretty cheap considering a bus ticket is 4 Euro and we hopped in to share the cab with them. Once we arrived at the airport, we learned he had said 50 Euro. Damn it, lesson learned, clarify the cost because 15 and 50 sound alike but are very different numbers.

Once we picked up the rental car we headed to Lake Bled, one of the most stunning lakes I have ever laid eyes on. We stopped at a visitors center to inquire about places that we might be able to sleep in our car and we were told, “Don’t do it”, so our plan of saving money by sleeping in the car came crashing down. It ended up working out perfectly though because when we were searching for a camping spot or a hostel we came across a small hotel, Ivanka, that was run by an incredibly nice man named, Steffan. His rooms were clean and cheaper than the hostels or camping would have been for us and he had a kitchen for us to cook our own meals. SCORE! To top it off, his place was within a five minute walk from the castle. Once we dropped off our bags, we headed to check out the castle perched above the lake. The view was like being in a painting.

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While we were walking through the castle museum, one of the employees started talking to us about the area. He was so nice and helpful and recommended a hike for us called Debela Pec. I gave him my notebook to write out directions. After the castle we walked back to our apartment and then got some groceries from a near by market to make dinner. I was still feeling a bit under the weather (actually I was feeling pretty crappy) so a good nights sleep and some soup was what I really wanted. When we were making our soup and an MRE for dinner, Steffan noticed that I was sniffling and coughing and ran outside. He came back with a cup full of leaves, which he promptly put in water and began to boil on the stove. He gave me an explanation of the plant and even looked it up online to find the English translation. It is called Plantago and is a part of the plantain family. I was told not to drink it but to breathe the steam, in through my nose and out through my mouth, and then in through my mouth and out through my nose. So there I sat at the table breathing steam from a plant picked from the yard of our wonderful host for ten minutes and by the time I was done, I could breathe out of both nostrils again!

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Now that I had a full stomach and was able to breathe, I poured myself into bed in hopes that when morning came, I would be feeling better enough to climb a mountain. Sure enough, I was feeling better. I reheated the leaves and breathed the steam again in the morning and then we headed out to our hike. The directions we got the night before seemed easy enough and we figured we would be there in about 30 minutes. Well, an hour later, we were clearly lost on the dirt roads in Triglavski National Park. Along the drive, we had seen people walking through the woods in rubber boots and carrying wicker baskets. We figured they must be locals and would know the area to help us with directions. So we stopped and asked non-English speaking Slovenian mushroom pickers for directions. I showed them our map and pointed to where I wanted to go. After much debate between them and some yelling back and forth from more people in the woods, they decided we should continue the direction we were headed and that would take us there. Unfortunately, they were wrong and we finally figured out where we were and which direction we needed to go to get to the hike only to arrive at our hike at 12:30 instead of our planned 10 AM.

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The hike starts winding its way up through the forest. The smell of the pines and fresh air gave me a sense of comfort. Ronen and I had both been missing hiking and enjoying nature so we savored every moment of our time in Slovenia’s woods. The trails are marked with a white and red circle, so we new we were heading the right way, WOOHOO, no more being lost!

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After about 30 minutes we reached the top of a hill with a little cabin and some cows. The cows in Slovenia all had bells around their necks so it was almost like you had music greeting you when you reached the cabin.

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As we continued hiking, we climbed higher and we could see all the way down to Lake Bled and even to Austria. I kept stopping and taking pictures because the view was so beautiful but as we climbed higher and higher, I realized that what I thought was stunning, was nothing compared to what waited for us at the top!

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When we had about 20 minutes to reach the peak, we climbed up to a ridge and this was the view we saw. It was mind-blowing beautiful, the tallest peak in Slovenia, Triglav, was towering in front of us and we were surrounded by the Julian Alps.

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We pushed the final 20 minutes to the top of Debela Pec and we sat to eat lunch and soak in the beauty of the Alps. We weren’t ready to leave after sitting there for 30 minutes, but we figured we better head down, just in case an afternoon storm moved in. It was so hard to pull ourselves from that mountaintop with a view like this:

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We made our way back down slowly and the light was shining through the forest like it was magic.

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That evening we drove around the lake and then treated ourselves to a nice dinner on the shore of Lake Bled. We shared a fish platter and a bottle of wine at a restaurant below the castle. The calamari was incredible and the grilled whole fish was melt in your mouth perfect. It was the perfect way to cap off one of the best days of our trip.

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In the morning, we woke up to go canyoning in Grmečica with a company called OUTdoor Slovenia (http://www.outdoor-slovenia.com/canyoning-in-slovenia.html). Canyoning is basically hiking up along the rim of a canyon and then abseiling, cliff jumping, and swimming your way down along the river at the base of the canyon. It was awesome. The water was cold; around 8º C but they do provide a 5 mm wetsuit and hood. The problem I am realizing is that a small wetsuit is not like smalls used to be. My message to all women’s wetsuit manufacturers, is this, while I appreciate you wanting to make women feel good by fitting in a small, the fact of the matter is, they are a large, and they need to cope with that. Your decisions to change your sizing to go with the trend of women’s weight gain has left actual size small women in baggy suits and freezing cold. Besides freezing my ass off, I loved every minute of our canyoning adventure, and given the chance I would definitely do it again. Thank you Tine for showing us an adrenaline filled side of Slovenia!

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After our day canyoning, we went back to Bled and got directions to Vintgar Gorge. It turned out that Vintgar was also very close to where we were staying. Vintgar is an easy stroll along a boardwalk above a gorgeous blue green river with canyon walls only meters apart in some places. The afternoon light was shining through the gorge, making the blue green waters sparkle and the shadows from the gorge walls provide stunning contrast.

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That evening we made ourselves a delicious stir-fry and relaxed outside with a bottle of wine. In the morning we left and headed to Tolmin Gorge and then on to Postonja to visit the castle and caves. Tomlin was beautiful and it was another easy hike that only took us about an hour.

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On our drive from Tomlin to Postonja we saw a sign for a cave so we took a little detour to explore it. It was the largest cave I had ever been in and the water inside added to the mystery of what was in the black depths of the cave.

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After a long day of driving (Ronen did all the driving because it was a manual and I, unfortunately, never learned how to drive one) we finally arrived in Postonja, 15 minutes after the last cave tour of the day had begun. The only way to see the caves is on a tour and the tour lasts 90 minutes so we were in a bit of a pickle. We needed to be at the airport in Ljubljana by noon the next day so the earliest tour at nine in the morning would be cutting it close. We decided to hurry to the castle, which is 9 km from the caves to see it before it closes and then figure out a place to camp. We made it to the castle five minutes after it closed, but we were still able to see the outside.

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We tried to find a place to camp but it was expensive and we only had 20 Euro left. Since we were leaving the next day, we really didn’t want to take out more money so we tried to find someplace cheaper. We stopped at an apartment to ask if there was room and what the price was. The owner spoke almost no English but he said he wanted 25 Euro for the night. I thanked him but told him we had no money. Somehow, he understood and pointed to the grass in his front yard and said, 10 Euro, and that is how we found ourselves camping in the mans front yard.

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In the morning we woke up and took down our little camp and headed to the early cave tour. We had decided that we had driven all the way there to see it, may as well go. The caves were incredible but make sure you have your “I’m ready to deal with tons of stupid people” hat on before you go.

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Slovenia was incredible. I loved every moment of our time there and the people made a beautiful country so much more beautiful with their kindness. It truly is a little country with a huge heart.