Before I left for Poland, I got many wishes from well-meaning but geographically-misinformed (which is to say American) people that I “stay away from Yugoslavia.” I think they meant Bosnia. Apparently some people have the idea that I’m the type to just wander into a war zone on a lark.
Anyway, I’d read for a long time that Slovenia was the economic miracle of the former communist states, with macroeconomic factors approaching Western levels quickly. I also heard that it was quite beautiful (and this was the kicker) had excellent wine. Well, how could I not go see for myself?
So, in looking for places to escape my awful school and the coldest winter in 60 years, I naturally decided to visit Slovenia. With a willing accomplice in tow (and his girlfriend who is a rather good friend of mine as well) we set off…well, actually the thing ballooned and we ended up touring quite a bit of South-Central Europe. But we eventually, after going to Hungary, Croatia, and Italy, did end up in Slovenia.
Easter Sunday and Monday, 1996
After boarding the most comfortable conveyance yet, an Italian train from Trieste, and a bit of hassle when some American servicemen, apparently on leave from Naples or some other Italian NATO port, thought they could change countries on just their Military ID, we started into Slovenia.
This was one of the most beautiful train rides I’ve ever had. The train wound up gracefully among the Slovenian mountains, passing picturesque peaks, villages, and alpine meadows. Spring had just arrived, and while parts were still snow-covered, I saw several animals, the odd hawk, and generally had a pleasant time.
Unfortunately, since this was Easter Sunday, we had a harder time finding tourist information in Ljubljana than anywhere else. By chance we happened across a cheap hotel, for the same price and twice as nice as that listed in the evil Let’s Go. We obtained a map there and worked our way to the picturesque Dragon Bridge and further to the Triple Bridge, where our Japanese friend got to see the spectacle of Catholics in full formalistic flower. While our Catholic friend participated, we split off to climb the hill to see the castle.
While at about the same level of commercialization, on the surface Slovenia seemed, if anything, slightly less wealthy than its eastern neighbor, Croatia. The buildings seemed a tad shabby and the streets a little dusty after absurdly clean Zagreb. On the other hand, the people seemed about as relaxed as in Croatia. We didn’t get a fair appraisal of the place, though, because absolutely everything was closed down. We ended up having to eat in the local Dairy Queen. Yes, that’s right: Ljubljana has one of the first Dairy Queens in Europe. And Kraków has one of the first Wendy’s. Go figure.
Anyway, I did later get to sample the wonderful Slovenian wine in a pizza place we managed to find. After helping out an English guy who I kept running into for the rest of our stay, we managed to find out from the Czech embassy that we could get a visa for our Japanese friend on the border, and decided to leave the next day, taking an overnight train from Vienna to Kraków. DON’T BELIEVE CZECH EMBASSIES, EVER! I think they did that just to cause trouble. Of course you can’t buy a visa at the border–and guess what, Canadians, you can’t claim Americanism when it’s convenient here–you need ‘em, too. Anyway, we were rather tired, so the next day (after being unable to find decent wine as all the shops were STILL closed, we boarded a train, having seized the day, er, or ten days in South-central Europe. Again, we had a quite nice view of the mountains on the way to the Austrian border.
I would recommend Slovenia as much as Croatia as a tourist destination, but don’t go on a major Christian holiday unless you know people well enough to stay with them and drink their wine–something I hope to do sometime.