It was in a bakery where I realised that I had entered the Balkans. When I saw burek on the shelves, I understood that I had crossed not only the border, but also an invisible line of division between Northern and Southern Europe. I came to a land of coffee, mountains and … hairdressers’.
Really, it’s funny to watch how access to different services changes across places I visit. In Czech Republic wine and beer were priorities, in Austria banks and in Slovenia you’ll find a hairdresser’s in every village, and sometimes more then one.
Generally speaking, Slovenia felt familiarly. Roads, immediately after crossing the border, become like in Poland, countryside is also more rural. And you can find some funny road signs. Beware of frogs! Beware of beavers! And my favourite: Beware! Swans on the road!
But if someone tells you, like they did to me, that Murska Sobota is a nice place, don’t believe them. You’ll find only some greyish facades, old blocks of flats (the so-called centre ) and a couple of rolled over hedgehogs there. I went there and checked it for you.
And frankly, a lot of towns look like that. What in Poland has already been renovated and repainted, here is still hibernated in the 80. Even big Maribor dies down after dark. Let me just tell you that the biggest attraction for me was lunch in a Vietnamese restaurant. Delicious. Check out Ngon, if you ever happen to come here. The only exception among those crumbling buildings is Ljubljana which is really worth spending some time in between the winding streets of (small) historical centre. And the Italian coast. Old Venetian towns of Koper and Piran are a labyrinth of narrow passages between stone houses and laundry hanging over the streets. Exactly what I love the most.
But the landscapes are simply stunning. Green hills, vineyards, forests, villages scattered around with white churches on top of the hills and sharp shapes of the Alps in the background. And Postojna? 25 km-long cave of which you can visit 3 but still you feel like descending deep to the heart of the Earth to see those fairytale-like stalactites. To make it more fun, you get there by train, like those in theme parks. If you forgot what it’s like to be a child, they will remind you. Or that moment when you arrive on the coast. First I felt the smell of pine woods in the midday sun, then I heard cicadas and finally, I saw olive trees below and deep blue sea on the horizon. Or the saltworks, on the border with Croatia. Rectangular shallow pools of salty water which after some time will evaporate and change into white grains of salt. Paradise for cyclists. Even if sometimes you’ll bump into an ascent of 18% and 18% is, if you were taught Maths really well, a vertical wall. First you cycle, then you pant and in the end you push. And then, on the descent, you sing Mariza for courage.
Slovenians are hospitable people, although sometimes it’s untypical hospitality. You can be hosted at home and left alone in a room and nobody will speak to you. But you can also talk to someone ‘till 1.30 at night. Or, escaping the rain, you’ll be invited by Tina, Science teacher, who will tell you that in Slovenia you can actually buy a forest. Or, when asking for directions, you will get a picture of St. Christopher. It’s an interesting country, Slovenia.