I have only been in Slovenia one day now and I am ready to move here permanently. The country is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the vibe of this city is relaxed, with an intellectual cafe scene along a meandering river and overlooked by a castle. There are bike paths on every street, painted red, and every intersection includes stop-go lights for bikes along with pedestrians. People bike everywhere, constantly. There are community gardens in every neighborhood. Lazy cafes with strong coffee. Good food and company. I am in heaven.
Yesterday I went cave spelunking! I traveled two hours south to the Karst region of Slovenia to see the Skocjan Caves, a huge cave system with an underground river that empties into the Adriatic Sea. Our tour guide led us deep under the surface, at times almost 200 meters below, and we wandered around huge, glistening calcite formations. The best part was crossing a bridge 100 meters above a canyon with a raging river. Afterwards, hiked a little around the hills. Slovenia looks like Austria – bright green, rolling hills, picture-perfect Bavarian-style homes, and the Alps beyond. Just breath-taking.
Getting around the country is super easy. The local train system is punctual and comfortable, and often you can arrive 2 minutes before the train, jump on, choose a seat, and pay for your ticket when the conductor walks by. And the passing show of scenery is a sight all its own! I saw farms, forests, cows and sheep, and mountains. I also noticed these dry-stacked stone walls crisscrossing the land. Some are strong and fully complete and others are crumbling and covered in moss. A poetic sight, like a living incarnation of a Wordsworth poem.
For dinner I sought out a small Bosnian restaurant, hidden away in what looks like an alley. Called Harambasa, it serves traditional Bosnian food. The menu is inexpensive and simple. I tried a mix of two different kinds of meat sausages. I especially like the cevapi, which are these short stubby sausages. I also had some fried doughy bread (similar to American Indian fry bread) with a soft spreadable cheese called kajmak. There were no vegetables, beyond the grilled onions. An absolutely delicious meal, if heavy on the meat. To accompany my feast, I ordered the local sodapop, called Cockta. If you are ever in Slovenia, try Cockta. It was first produced as an alternative to Coke during Communist rule when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia, and Western goods such as Coke were unavailable. Slovenians are very proud of their local sodapop, and I actually prefer Cockta to Coke or Pepsi. It’s not as sweet as Coke, but not as sharp an edge as Pepsi. A nice balance between the two.
The highlight of the day was meeting two locals named Myanna and Denis, a mother and her 19 year old son. Harambasa was packed, and I invited them to sit with me at my table. We ended up spending 2 hours there chatting about Slovenian and American culture, the pros and cons of socialism, and how capitalism is changing Slovenian society for good and bad. Then they invited me to their own restaurant, which was a block away. They are both architects, and owned this 600 year old building, in which they decided to renovate the first floor and open an Asian fusion restaurant called Shambala. We spent another two hours there chatting and joking around with their bartending staff. At the end we exchanged emails, and I now have friends in Ljubljana!
If you don’t hear from me in the next few weeks, or I don’t come back, I may just be here in Ljubljana, sitting at a cafe or hiking the surrounding hills. Come and find me, and be bewitched for yourself!