Euro Roadtrip (Part One) – Lake Bled & Ljubljana

The Sunday after Kings Day I had the morning to banish my hangover and prepare for my flight to Budapest. Life was a just little bit harder today and the usual excitement I have at the airport was tainted with fatigue and feeling sorry for myself. Though as I landed in Budapest the flickers of excitement began and despite my tiredness and I was so happy to be back in one of my favourite cities. My friend IB met me at the airport and we caught the night bus to her friends house where we staying for the night.

The following morning we packed up and headed to the bus station where we would be catching the bus to IB’s hometown Nagykanisza to pick up the car. We were embarking on a weeklong roadtrip through Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary and couldn’t be more excited. No set plans, we were throwing ourselves into the open and hoping for the best. We arrived into Nagykanisza around 1pm and walked the short distance to IB’s mums house. Her sweet Mum had cooked us a Hungarian stew and fruit soup for our lunch and left us lots of goodies for our trip. She was at work when we got there so I didn’t get to meet her but already I loved her!

Once we finished our delicious lunch we packed the car and headed off towards the Slovenian border. Nagykanisza is only a short drive to the border so by the time we got the CD player working we were in Slovenia! Another country to cross off! We stopped to buy a map and some coffee and made a plan of how to get to our first destination, Ljubljana. For any one that doesn’t know IB and myself, we are like a walking disaster when together- both clueless, easily amused and accident prone. We have conversati0ns about the strangest things and laugh a little too loudly in public. In hindsight, this trip could have been a total fail, though having survived the past week, I can happily say we managed to avoid any serious dramas. After marking out a plan on the map, we jumped back in our little red car and drove towards Ljubljana. The drive took about two hours and I spent majority of the drive in awe of the scenery instead of being IB’s GPS. We managed to find our way to the centre of Ljubljana but our map wasn’t detailed enough to show us where our home for the night was. A quick stop at a service station for some directions and using the free wifi we resorted to Google Maps and loaded the route into our phones, praying we could find our way around Ljubljana’s narrow streets. A few wrong turns and a bit of a scenic tour of the ‘burbs of Ljubljana we finally found our destination. We were staying with a guy that IB found on Couchsurfing. It was my first time using Couchsurfing so I was a little apprehensive about the whole situation but as we tried to work out which apartment we needed to go to, a tall lanky redhead with a deep voice said “Wrong direction ladies, its this way.” Shocked at a stranger talking to us in a country we’d never been in, we quickly realised this man was our host and as he offered to carry our bags to his apartment, chatting quickly as we walked, I decided this Couchsurfing business wasn’t too bad. Andraz was a Slovenian native, he was working in Logistics and lived about ten minutes from the city centre. He took us to the supermarket to grab some food and drinks and his friend Gregor came over once we got to Andraz’s house. We stayed up chatting until about 1:30am when we decided sleep was definitely needed.

The following morning was beautiful and sunny so we decided this mornings plan was to drive out to Bled. About 50 kilometres from Ljubljana, this sleepy little town surrounds a large lake that has water cold as ice and clear as crystal. This lake is the main reason why tourists flock to this area and as we first caught a glimpse of the sapphire coloured water, it was easy to see why. Lake Bled is a mix of glacial and tectonic origins. When the last Ice Age was over, the Bohinj Glacier deepened its natural tectonic hollow, giving the lake its present form. When the ice melted, the basin filled with water and Lake Bled was born. The 2120m x 1380m stretch of water is what fairytales must have based their lakes on. The swans floating on the water and the Disney-esque castle looking over the lake create a scene that would melt even the toughest of villains hearts. We had a coffee at the Panorama Restaurant, which like the name suggests, gave a panoramic view of the lake including Bled Island where the Church of Assumption is just visible amongst the lush greenery. We wandered around the lake towards the Bled Castle which after a somewhat challenging climb we reached the top and were rewarded with a flawless view. I’ve seen some pretty incredible views in my time and this one makes top five for sure. The combination of the dark blue lake, the greenery that went on for miles, dabbled with red roofed houses of the villages below and the snow capped mountains just visible below the clouds made for a sight that no camera could capture. The castle itself was also very pretty and we took a look through the museum which explained the history of not only the castle but the surrounding region of Gorenjska. The sun had decided to show its face so we stayed out in the courtyard, enjoying the warmth and the view until we looked behind us and saw dark storm clouds approaching, prompting us to hightail it back down to the lake for one last view before jumping back in the car to Ljubljana.

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We managed to find our way back to our place with only a few stops and missed exits, proving that what ever way we thought we had to go it was usually the opposite. Picking up some fresh strawberries and bananas from the market near our place for a sugar hit, we waited for the bus to take us into the centre of Ljubljana. In typical ‘us’ fashion, IB and I had no idea how to work the bus tickets, nor where to get off. Luckily the Gods of Ljubljana answered our prayers and sent us a lovely lady who was kind enough to not only give us a spare ticket for the bus but to show us which stop to get off at and where to go. Thanking her in strawberries we set off towards the old city centre. Walking through the streets, filled with ancient buildings until we reached the city square (Mestni trg). Already in love with the city, we wandered around with our mouths wide open in awe of this grand old city. Grabbing a delicious spinach and ricotta burek from one of the many little shops, we sat down and people watched for awhile. The storm clouds that had approached Bled were yet to arrive in Ljubljana so the sun was still out in full glory, making for a perfect day.

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We continued wandering and enjoying the atmosphere when we came across the strangest and craziest looking bar ever. Čupiterija Hijo De Puta is a Spanish/Argentinian style bar/restaurant that is the epitome of funky. The first thing you notice is the life-size statute of a dairy cow thats hung upside down on the roof. Before we could go any further, the owner Miguel came rushing out and insisting that we join for a cocktail and tapas. The dark storm clouds had started to show their face so not wanting to get caught in a downpour we agreed to come inside. Miguel was an exuberant, friendly Spaniard who insisted we have the VIP lounge (it was a black leather armchair on steroids) and offered us free tapas with our mojitos. IB and I were mesmerised by the place, which delighted Miguel who gave us a personal tour. Being 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon, we were the only ones in the small bar so feeling a bit spoiled we listened and took photos as Miguel proudly showed off his establishment. After the grand tour, through the funky, eccentric rooms filled with quirky treasures from around the globe, Miguel took us behind the bar and poured two shots. He then proceeded to spray some liquid on to the counter and pull out a lighter. His English was a little rough so we had no idea what he was doing but we soon found out. Flicking on his lighter, the whole counter blew up in flames – I nearly lost my eyebrows! He let IB and us have a go and caught it all on camera, making sure he got our reactions when we finally downed the shots – FYI, it tasted horrible! We stayed for longer until realising the sun was beginning to descend towards the horizon and we still had so much we wanted to see of Ljubljana. We said our goodbyes to Miguel and headed off towards our next destination, laughing at our luck of finding the only bar in town that has a giant penis as a decoration.

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Using the lady from the bus’s advice, we managed to find our next stop, Metelkova mesto pretty easily. I had come across this place when doing my late night Pinterest-ing and I’m so glad to have found it. Metelkova mesto calls itself an autonomous social and cultural centre. Previously used as the former military barracks for the Slovenian headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army – Metelkova was squatted in 1993 by about 200 alternative producers and activists to prevent its illegal destruction and redevelopment, and from 1995 became a self-organised autonomous zone. While not reaching proper legal status,  the area has been partly registered as national cultural heritage since 2005. The squat is filled with several buildings all covered in unique and amazing street art. It’s very alternative and the art can be borderline creepy but its a place where people can come together with no sense of hierarchy or judgement. There are bars, artist studios, a hostel and a cafe in the squat as well as many of Ljubljana’s NGO’s offices. IB and I walked through the area and was amazed at the incredible talent displayed. I liked it because it was so different from the charming old town of Ljubljana, yet it seemed to fit in so well with the history. We left Metelkova as the sun was setting and headed back towards the Old Town where we had a drink or two before heading home to our host’s house and falling asleep, completely pooped after a long day exploring.

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The following morning we woke early and packed the car up to head off to Croatia. Before leaving though, we caught the bus into the centre to see the Ljubljana Castle and spend some final moments in this wonderful city. Before the trek up to the Castle, coffee was essential and we sat down at the delightfully girly Lolita, where the coffee was strong and the cafe adorable. The display counter was filled with delectable goodies, that looked far too good to eat so we resisted the temptation and just got cappuccinos to enjoy on the street outside. Once caffeinated we walked up a rather steep, narrow street and through some back streets (again, going the wrong way) and finally reached the castle. The Ljubljana Castle sits grandly on top of Castle Hill (original) and looks over the city. It’s not a particularly well known castle, and was once even used to house poor families in the 1960’s, though today it’s one of Ljubljana’s most popular tourist attractions.

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We walked down towards the city again for a last wander through the markets and a sneaky ice cream (get it from Lolita, the pistachio and coconut is the bomb) before catching the bus back to where our trusty little car was and tried to work out how the heck to get to Croatia. Stay tuned for the next part of the road trip – Predjama Castle and the Krk Islands!

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From the girl with no sense of direction who can now read a map, reeaaaal good!

J. x

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