Geographically, Slovenia marks the northern edge of the Balkans. However, having made my through the region, Slovenia feels much less Balkan and much more Central European. Slovenia looks to north rather than south for its architectural and cultural cues. The country’s membership in the EU and use of the euro provide further evidence of its alignment.
Modern Slovenia came into being in 1991 when it broke away from Yugoslavia, which it had been a member of since the post-World War I period. Independence was achieved after a 10 day war. Though 66 people died in the fighting, the country was spared the drawn out bloodshed that occurred in nearby Croatia and Bosnia. Slovenia had been under Austrian rule for over 500 years before World War I.
My stay in Slovenia was brief and limited to the capital city of Ljubljana and Lake Bled. I was not able to take in much in that short time.
By the standards of the capital cities I’ve been to in Europe, Ljubljana is sleepy. This feeling was further enhanced during my time there because the two days I spent in the city happened to be a national holiday (Assumption Day) and a Sunday. This meant most of the city’s sights, shops, and restaurants were shut down. However, Ljubljana is a beautiful and clean city. Walking around empty streets provides a certain joy in this environment that left me perfectly content.
The Ljubljanica River winds its way through the center of town. Several bridges, each distinct, cross the narrow river.
Seemingly the only attraction to be open was Ljubljana Castle. This fortress is probably the biggest attraction in the city. Sited on a peak in the middle of town, the castle’s watc tower offers great views of the area. A slight damper on my experience here came in the form of rain, wind, and lightning that added the wrong type of excitement.
The castle complex has a number of exhibits on subjects ranging from the castle’s history to medieval torture and dungeons to puppets.
About an hour away from Ljubljana is scenic Lake Bled. A lone island with a church sits in the lake. Surrounding the lake are the Julian Alps. Ferrying people from the shore to the island are gondolas rowed manually. A castle sits on a rocky outcrop at the lake’s edge. It feels like a kind of invented place from a fairy tale.
Bled Castle has existed in some form for over one thousand years, making it the oldest castle in the country. Several shops and historical exhibitions are contained within it. Since the castle sits several hundred feet above lake level accessing it requires a short, enjoyable hike.
The gondolas to Bled Island, called pletnas, hold about a dozen people and take about 15 minutes each way. As I observed, these small boats are very sensitive to shifts in weight and the rower would regularly ask passengers to adjust their seating arrangements to avoid capsizing. Even with the rocking and threat of being dumped in the lake, the ride is pleasant and worth the €12 cost.
Bled Island is small and tree covered. The most notable feature is the Church of the Assumption, which has stood there in its current form since the 17th century.