After Venice, we planned to head to Croatia, a country I have heard so much about and always wanted to visit. When we looked at a map, the distance was quite far, so we decided to split the journey in two and stop in Ljubljana, Slovenia; a country I had heard very little about. I had no idea they won “Green City of Europe 2016” award, or that they have a completely unique cuisine or that their forested mountains are reminiscent of British Columbia.
Let me start by saying “The Man in Seat Sixty-One” is amazing. Literally, almost every train journey in the world is detailed on his site. We have used his links and experience for almost every train journey we have been on so far in Europe and every quoted price and timetable he lists has been accurate. It’s amazing how up-to-date his site is when it covers such a wide range of trains. So when we needed to get from Venice to Slovenia and couldn’t find an easy route, we turned to his site and our suspicion that there were no direct trains turned out to be true. I guess this would be the closet thing to an adventurous travel day since leaving Central America for Europe.
The first step in our journey was a regional train from Venice to Trieste. The trip was relatively uneventful as we watched the scenery change from open fields to tree-covered hills. We then made a short walk through Trieste to where the historic tram, an old-fashioned piece of Trieste heritage, picked us up to take us to Villa Opicina on the Italian side of the Slovenian border. The tram is unique in that for 10 minutes of the journey it buffers up to a ‘drogue’ and becomes a funicular railway up the steep escarpment out of Trieste. Once we arrived, we walked to the outskirts of Villa Opicina (it is a tiny town) to a desolate building which could barely be called a train station. It was at this point that it really sank in: this wasn’t a popular route. Other than two other passengers (that had been on the tram with us) and a handful of staff – likely for the cargo trains that were stopped outside, the station was empty. Based on the departures and arrivals board, the train to Ljubljana was the only passenger train of the day, leaving once in the morning and once again in the afternoon. On-board, we scored and got the entire first cart to ourselves!
After a long journey, we arrived at our airbnb just outside the city center absolutely starving. Lucky for us, our host was about to go grab some dinner and took us to a Serbian restaurant down the road. For what seemed like no money at all (compared to Italy) we had a simple but extremely satisfying meal of sausage and bread with beer. This traditional Balkan dish, Ćevapi, turned out to be Dan’s favourite meal for the next two weeks.
Our first day in Ljubljana we were about to leave to explore the old town when our airbnb host came home and offered to give us a ride out to Bled, a small town known for its beautiful lake and castle, about an hour bus ride away. We jumped on the opportunity and spent the afternoon by the lake. We rented a row boat for an hour and rowed to a small island in the middle of the lake. Relaxing with the stunning background around us was just what we needed to start our time in Slovenia.
Most of our second day was occupied by food (see post here) but we did manage to squeeze in the short hike up to Ljubljana Castle. We could have taken the short ride up in the funicular but, of course, it was priced for tourists and we preferred to walk. While the castle at the top was really nothing spectacular and we didn’t pay to get to the very top, the views from the courtyard (which it is rumored will be charged for soon too) were lovely.