sLOVEnia

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Imagine Julie Andrews with her open arms crying out: “The hills are alive with the sound of music,” and you’ll get a little sense of Slovenia. When we arrived in the land of Slov in April, the weather was changing constantly: rain, sun, snow, rain, sun – a meteorological malarkey that made the whole country (the size of Wales) seem uncertain to place on the map. Wedged between Austria, Italy, Croatia and Hungary, this tiny piece of country had so much to offer in the way of the great outdoors. In the north the Alps stepped across the landscape, but due to severe snow on the alpine roads, we were advised by the Slovenian snow patrol to head back down from ear popping heights!

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The highlight of the trip was climbing down into the Škocjan Caves – a huge network of underground lakes and passages that we climbed through – at some points seeing caves that were over 200m deep. The strange thing about the caves, as told by the tour guide who relayed information in three different languages at our tour group, is that the caves grow all of the time. One piece of rock (there’s a specific name for these icicle shaped rocks but I can‘t remember them) was 250, 000 years old (or young as the guide laughed.) This fact made me feel quite mortal, and climbing 500 steps around the underground system didn’t make me feel any more ‘big’ in the grand scheme of things. But hanging 47 metres above the Reka River on the Cerkvenik Bridge (in the cave) was one of those ‘nature is sublime moments’ – even if vertigo played its whirling tune in the background.

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At end of our trip we put away our walking boots and drove down to Piran – the piece of Slovenia in the south west that juts out into the Mediterranean sea. Piran felt like Italy. People spoke Italian in the small, open-air restaurants that looked out over clear waters to the blurred coastline of Trieste. Piran was amidst celebrating tourism when we arrived on the Saturday and the topic of display was salt. Shops full of huge, white crystals in all different bags, products and designs punctuated the outside of the main square. After eating a huge platter of fish (with glittering eye balls staring up at me) and drinking some delicious Slovenian wine, we meandered back to our hostel after stopping at various small bars for a nightcap. The woman with the twitchy eye who had shown us to our dark room had obviously gone to bed – not quite the splendid hotel with spa that we had stayed in in Bled, but one third of a price of some of the hotels on the front.

On the last day we went to Ljubljana, pronounced (lubliana) as I found out through sounding like a philistine on tour – I was pretty sure it was Lu-beejeanna. The city was fantastic with a big river running under the three way bridge. Either side of the river were lots of small cafes, restaurants and bars and we sat and had lunch on high tables overlooking the river. There were hundreds of stalls in the market place featuring local products like honey, brandy, flowers and marvellous painted toys on springs. After a quick ice-cream stop at the gelateria that sold ice-cream in every colour imaginable – blue, lime green and bright pink, it was time to drive to the airport.

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