2016 Slovenia Diary: Day 1

Photo: Jill Gatlin

Well, it’s not actually Day 1. It’s day 4. But, we’ve finally arrived at our destination, Log Cezsoski, a sleepy little hamlet nestled between an obvious avalanche path and the Soca river. It’s a few kms from the town of Bovec, which is known as the “Extreme Sports” capital of Slovenia. We are not extreme, so we’re glad we’re a few kms away. We’re probably not even sporty. Jill likes to say we’re “outdoorsy.”

It’s clear, though, that Bovec is a great place for kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, paragliding, and eating pizza and goulash. There’s a nice-sized Mercator — a Slovenian supermarket chain owned by the mayor of Ljubljana — in the middle of town. It has everything one needs, including a small and inexplicable Mexican food section. On our first night, we were able to make burritos filled with homemade refried beans and veggies sauteed in paprika and cumin. The cumin here is more akin to caraway, but no matter. I’m adaptable.

What I’ve been looking forward to eating in Slovenia even more than Mexican food, though, are these two sauces, which burst with old-world flavor. I enjoyed them here last year and I’ve been looking forward to returning to their aromatic charms.

Namaz and Ajvar. The one on the left reminds me of pimento cheese, but without the cheese. The one on the right doesn’t remind me of anything. It’s just that good.

So how did a couple of outdoorsy types, standing on the threshold of middle age, end up here? Well, one of the best ways to get to Slovenia is to go to Europe. Then, attend to this crucial sign in Austria, which presents itself on the drive south from Munich. Go right for Slovenia and left for a place called Wien, which is brimming with Wieners, maybe. So do yourself a favor, bear right.

Wien you see this group of signs, go right. Photo: Jill Gatlin

Pretty soon, you’ll end up going through an abandoned border station, which is either a throwback to the days of the Iron Curtain, when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia, or it’s a little newer, from before the young nation of Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004 and still maintained an international border with its neighbors. Those days are over, so this elaborate erector set-looking thing is showing signs of wear. But one wonders, why not tear it down completely? Such sights are common in Europe. The border stations of the EU are unmanned and in disrepair, but you get the sense that they could be recommissioned within days, even hours, just in case this grand experiment at preventing wholesale slaughter and chaos loses its lustre.

The abandoned Austria-Slovenia border station. It needs a coat of paint and some weeding. Photo: Jill Gatlin

We spent our first night at Slovenia’s vacation hotspot, Lake Bled. August is certainly high season here, and it was packed with all the folks that inhabit this curious confluence of places — the Germanic world to the north, the Romantic/Italian world to the West, the Slavic world to the East, and slobs like me, from the United States. Jill is not a slob, for the record.

Lake Bled is a gem, though. Josip Tito, Yugoslavia’s Cold War dictator, had a summer residence here. It’s a lavish hotel now. I think Donald Trump spent a few hours at the hotel once, attending a wedding for someone in his current wife’s family. Seems fitting. Does anyone know if Tito had small hands? Let me know in the comments.

Bled Castle. Photo: Jill Gatlin

Anyway, to summarize, people were swimming and relaxing all around the shore and Jill saw a woman walking around bare-breasted, which is no big deal here, nor is the occasional naked child running around. Also, there’s a chapel on an island in the middle of the lake, as well as an old castle above the town center. We climbed up to the castle, paid 10€ to get in and, once inside, discovered new frontiers in gift shop/historical monument integration.

Inside Bled Castle, in a designated non-gift shop area. Photo: Jill Gatlin

That’s how things got started. I’ll have more stories as we continue to explore.

Photo: Jill Gatlin