A Taste of Slovenia

The other week in Italy, we were blessed with a 4-day holiday weekend, so of course I had to take advantage of the opportunity to travel.

Since the airline prices spike during national holidays, we thought it would be a fun (and way more cost effective) adventure to drive somewhere. Slovenia is just a 6 hour drive away from Florence, so with our Air bnb booked, our bags packed, and the tank full, we set off on our mini road trip. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about Slovenia before booking our trip. I saw a picture on Instagram, which led me to Google searching images and that was it. Off we went. Those kind of spontaneous trips are always my favorite, anyway.

We got into Lubiana (Ljubljana, in its original spelling), the capitol of Slovenia, around 9pm, checked into the apartment, changed, and headed to the center to find some authentic Slovenian eats. We soon realized how small the city actually is. Our apartment was about a 15 minute walk from the center, but once we arrived, we walked the whole center in about the same amount of time. We came across this delicious, authentic Slovenian restaurant who were kind enough to seat us even thought it was late (“late” to them, normal going-out-to-dinner time to us…it was 9:30pm).

FOOD and DRINKS

The first restaurant we went to was way better than we expected to find. It was Wednesday night, it was almost dead quiet outside and practically empty in the center. We didn’t know where we were going, and most places were already closed. Needless to say, we got pretty lucky. Our server was extremely polite and professional and armed with fantastic recommendations. He also informed us about the wine in Slovenia, and typical dishes. There was also a lot of sea food, which I don’t know why I was surprised to see. I’m not a huge fan, so I steered clear.

Slovenian dishes generally consist of rich meat, hearty vegetables, and heavy dumplings, also with soup as a traditional food of the area. Beef and chicken were not the main meats of choice. We found a lot of pork, and goose with a heavy sauce accompanied by potato dumplings or polenta. The rich flavors made my mouth water just reading the menus!

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Pork Medalions with a brandy plum sauce and a side of dumplings 

I also learned they have fantastic wine. They produce white wine on the coast of Slovenia (the small coast they do have between Italy and Croatia). Who knew? In Lubiana, and in the western part of Slovenia, they use a lot of nuts and also have German, Austrian and Hungarian food influences since they are the surrounding countries with strong influences. More specifically, though, the region around the capitol uses pumpkin seeds, which are a staple of the traditional dishes there. We had pumpkin seed oil with our bread before dinner, a pumpkin seed garnish on our main course, and pumpkin seed ice cream on the side of our nutty, not-so-sweet layered cake for dessert, made with– you guessed it– pumpkin seeds, among other nuts and seeds.

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They definitely get creative with something so simple. I have to say, we didn’t eat a bad meal there. They do have other diverse restaurant choices being the capitol of their country, but we tended to stick to what seemed authentic and didn’t regret it. Great wine, great flavors, great quality. They also have actual breakfast in Slovenia, unlike Italy where we just grab something quick with our coffee. 20160602_104814

Another night we wanted to try something different, but were disappointed to find the Italian pizzeria we we’re craving wasn’t so great. We left with upset stomachs and regret. We really are spoiled here in Florence, and we realized it that day.

Something else that was great about Slovenia was the beer.

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It is literally cheaper than water! Our apartment was actually near the local brewery, Union, just outside the center and there was always a crowd for dinner at the attached restaurant’s patio. We saw Union beer offered on tap almost everywhere, and soon realized that beer was an acceptable beverage any time of day. That’s something I can deal with! Some mornings when we went in search of the closest thing to Italian coffee we could find, most people at the bars were already posted up at a table sipping on their first brew of the day….not talking about coffee.
Speaking of coffee- how did everyone know we were from Italy right away (other than my boyfriend’s super Italian style and haircut)? Because we walked up to the bar and ordered our coffee, then waited there pompously for it to be ready. If we would have just looked around and taken a social cue from people around us, we would have noticed that we looked like assholes standing in the servers’ way at their drop station for dirty trays. Well, to be honest, I did take notice after we ordered and got funny looks, since I’m keen to that being a foreigner in the country I live in already. He, on the other had, was oblivious. People in Slovenia take their coffee like an American coffee house, sitting and chatting at a small table enjoying their time. So, be sure to grab a table when you walk into a place and order from the server, then sit and enjoy your beverage, even if it’s a freakin’ espresso. Another difference, but not completely, is that coffee in Slovenia is served with a glass of water, you know, for hydration. I’ve heard many European countries do that normally, but in Italy, it’s only offered at fancy places, or unless you ask. Then they might charge you for it. Stingy.

SLOVENIA IN GENERAL AND ITS PEOPLE

The population of the whole country of Slovenia is less than the population of Rome. Something that was glaringly obvious was the fact that there were no immigrant beggars in the streets of Luciana (or diversity with immigrants in general) that we were used to in Florence. Everything was very clean, and it was eerily quiet, even in the center. The center itself, as I mentioned, was super walkable and can be seen within 30 minutes or less, unless you want to hike up to the nearby castle on the hill. We noticed that the people were really active, too. They dressed down, similar to Americans in sneakers, jeans, and hoodies, some of them even sporting active wear around the center. By Saturday, after being there for a few days, we noticed the popular weekend activity- biking. It seemed like everyone was on wheels and families went out in packs with their colorful helmets and polarized sunglasses as their gang paraphernalia uniting them. Generally, people were helpful and nice, but they seemed a bit closed. Maybe it was my perception, but it could also be due to the fact that their little country needs to find a balance between small town feel and tourists from all over.

Towns are few and far between in general in Slovenia, which means there’s miles and miles of beautiful green space everywhere else. The capitol of Lubiana, feels a bit like a mix between Eastern Europe and the Netherlands with its colorful Baroque period architecture, and cottage-looking houses. In the areas around the capitol, there are also other things worth seeing.

We took a little drive to Bled, a small town that’s famous for the church on the island in the lake, and also for the medieval castle on the highest cliff overlooking the area.

This year, the castle is having its 1,000th birthday, which means celebrations, of course! They will be having a medieval festival around the castle this summer to remember the time period and to preserve the authentic feel. I was surprised to learn that there are still generations of blacksmiths, vintners, and paper makers who are still producing and practicing their craft who work in the castle for tourists. It was pretty cool to see that people still cared about what their great-grandfather did, and continued the family business, even if it was a bit touristy.

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Another city we took a little day trip to see from Lubiana was Postumia (Postojna). This is the home of some of Europe’s most famous caves, spanning over 25 kilometers of underground tunnels that are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years old! It was definitely a tourist attraction, and I wasn’t crazy about the idea when we arrived, but once we get down there in the crisp sub terrain, I was so glad we decided to go! It was the coolest natural thing I’ve seen in a very long time. Walking through Earth’s natural caves dripping and damp, underground was pretty amazing. There were huge rocks and formations, formed by millions of years worth of magnesium and calcium water drips from rain through the ground above. 20160604_141112

After surfacing from the depths of darkness in the caves, we also took a 10 kilometer detour by car to see Castle Lueghi. It is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the first mansion/castle built using the mouth of a cave on a cliff. You have to see it to understand exactly how amazing this thing is.

One minute you’re walking on wooden planks with plaster walls, the next minute, you realize that the wall is rock and you moved into a place where you are actually inside the mouth of the mountain, yet still inside the house. It also had a great story behind it. I’m kind of a history nerd, so I love seeing stuff like that. We took an audio tour with it, which I normally really hate, but this one was actually interesting. I learned a lot and got see something new. I highly recommend seeing this amazing piece of architecture if you’re ever in Slovenia.

Everywhere me and my guy travel together, we always try to do something special, no matter how simple or ridiculous it may be. Since Slovenia’s travel and tourism slogan is “Slovenia”, we decided to put a love lock on the bridge in Lubiana. Super cheese, but I loved it.

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We were pleasantly surprised since the things we thought would be the least exciting to see, were actually the best parts of the trip. I love those kinds of surprises and it was fun playing tourist for a few days in a place that was new for both of us.

Overall, I would rate Slovenia as a country, 7 stars out of 10, if only because of the green pastures, cool history and good food. Lubiana was a nice place to slow down and have some time to relax and not feel overwhelmed, have some good food and wine, and enjoy city life without the city stress. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will definitely fall in love with  Slovenia.

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