Ljubljana and the Slovenian Alps (2/2)
We showered and got changed in our hotel room, which was beautiful, with a lovely balcony overlooking the village and the mountains we’d just come back from.
Wanting a drink and some dinner, we stopped at a bar with an outdoor patio for a beer, then decided to head to a place called Okrepčevalnica Lačni Kekec for dinner, not knowing what to expect.
We arrived to see a very unique restaurant setup, with a huge grill house and three outbuildings full of tables for diners. The buildings were made from cedar inside and out and felt and smelled really special.
We were sat, and then served by an amazing waiter, who took charge and set us up with a platter consisting of a haunch of peka-roasted veal, cevapi, bread, potatoes, onions, salad, and a big serving of ajvar, a local (indigenous to Serbia and Bosnia I think) spread of roasted peppers and vegetables.
Our waiter joked with us and made us feel special and well taken care of. The food came out and it was immediately obvious that it was WAY too much. Still, we went at it with gusto, enjoying every bite.
A nearby table of young German men ordered an impressive feast, which we never thought they’d finish, then they ordered more food, then ordered desserts! I miss being able to eat like that without consequence.
When we asked about schnapps at the end of the meal (which we couldn’t finish), the waiter suggested some homemade plum brandy, which was strong, but delicious.
I don’t know if it’s a placebo effect or not, but having a digestif like that at the end of a big meal really seems to lighten the load.
We had a lot of fun at this grill restaurant and I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area.
We walked back to the hotel in the pouring rain, then sat on our covered balcony and popped open one of the two bottles of Prosecco we’d brought with us from Italy. We watched the silhouettes of the mountains fade to black and chatted quietly, enjoying our bubbly wine.
We had a nice long sleep, then went downstairs to take advantage of the hotel breakfast buffet on offer.
There was a beautiful spread, and I loaded up my plate with cold cuts, cheeses, bread, liverwurst, and other odds and ends.
All I needed in reality was probably some yogurt and fruit, but I can’t ever seem to turn down a spread of “free” food.
I’d miscalculated the number of socks I’d need on this trip, and wanted to go buy some so I didn’t have to re-wear any. We stopped in at a sports shop and were shocked to find the cheapest socks being sold for 20€ for a pair. Jeeze.
We left and I found another store hiding in a small plaza that was more our speed. I found three pairs of socks for 4€, and was much happier about it.
We got in the car and headed out to do a hike, this one an easier valley hike with a gentler uphill slope.
We arrived at Planika, where we’d began the hike. Parking was a couple euros for the day. The hike started out at the Slovenian ski jump training Center, a series of impossibly large ski jumps whose tops were literally enshrouded by clouds when we arrived.
Apparently Slovenians excel at the ski jump and many of their Olympians came from the nearby villages we’d just driven through to get there.
We parked and began our hike, an easy 4K jaunt through brooding beech, spruce, and fir forests. We could sense the mountains surrounding us, but they were mostly hidden in the cloudy gloom.
The hike was straightforward, but pretty. I tried to identify as many European species of trees and plants that I could, and we marvelled at the size of the snails we found along the path.
We arrived at Tamar, the end of our hike, which was a beautiful meadow that Kathy said was supposed to be surrounded by snow capped peaks – it was too cloudy to see them though.
It was still gorgeous despite that, especially when we spotted a small deer munching on wildflowers ahead of us.
There was a mountain hut serving food and drinks in the meadow, but we could hear a waterfall, so we thought we’d check that out first.
We took the path leading to it, then saw that it was a steep scrabble up a rocky goat path to get to the top.
We weren’t really geared up for it, but what the hell?
We made our way up the steep rocky path, enjoying the rush of the small waterfall and rapids beside us.
We made it about 3/4’s of the way up, then turned around, worried that the wet slippery rocks would do us in on the way back down.
We slid, stumbled, and crab-walked back down the hill and made our way back to the meadow, where two miracles happened simultaneously.
A large hiking group of at least thirty German seniors were just leaving the small hut (they were friendly, but we would have had to wait forever to be served), and the clouds parted to offer us an incredible view of the mountains around us.
We ordered some radlers (low percentage mixtures of beer and grapefruit juice – refreshing and delicious!), and sat outside, soaking in the sun and the view that it afforded us.
Once we were finished, we got up to leave and the clouds swooped back in, darkening the meadow and causing the mountains around us to disappear once more. We felt like a couple lucky ducks.
We really enjoyed the wildflowers amongst the rocks and in the meadows, there was such a variety and they were so pretty!
Deciding we had room for another outing that day, so we drove to the Alpine Mountaineers Museum before doing another waterfall hike.
Next to the museum parking lot (which cost a couple euros) was a fun vending machine full of fresh milk, yogurt, and cheese, all produced locally. How cute!
We went to go in the museum, but were cut off by a huge group of about 30 school boys escorted by teachers. Ughhhh.
We peeked into the museum, which was very small, and saw a 10€ entrance fee per person as well as heard the echoing cacophony of thirty screaming children. Nope.
We skipped the museum and left straight for the second waterfall, Peričnik, which we hoped wasn’t too busy.
We arrived and paid 5€ for parking (that was certainly beginning to get old!), then made our way to the trail which didn’t seem too busy.
This waterfall also had a steep hike to the top, but it was made easy by stairs, so we climbed up it quickly.
We arrived at the first flat section, where the waterfall pounded into a small pool from above. There were only a few people in this area, and most were on their way out.
You could make your way behind the waterfall, so we did just that, which may have been the first time I’ve done that.
We took some misty pictures, then started climbing to the very top and were delighted to find ourselves the only ones up there.
We carefully scrabbled over the wet rocks to once again walk behind the waterfall, which started just above our heads.
We peered over the edge from a dizzying height, and enjoyed the backdrop of the snow peaked Alps. What a beautiful place!!!
Slovenia was working hard to recapture our hearts after a rocky start, that’s for sure.
We drove back to town, had a beer, then looked at our options for dinner.
There were a few closed restaurants, the grill spot from last night, some pizza and burger spots with mixed reviews, and some fancy hotel restaurants.
Since the breakfasts were so good at our hotel, we decided to try out a fancy (and pretty expensive) meal out there.
We were sat down by a haughty butler-esque waiter, then ordered a seafood starter, a mushroom soup, a braised octopus dish, and a mixed Slovenian meat dish, as well as some wine.
The meal started with some fun breads and dips that the server said was compliments of the chef.
The seafood starter came next and was excellent, with five small servings of octopus salad, a rare scallop nestled in whipped cheesy potato, a fried shrimp wonton with sweet chili sauce, a whole fried small redfish, and a raw scampi with a squeezer full of lemon juice.
The soup came next and was super tasty, big chunks of fresh porcini in a rich and creamy mushroom stock with Parmesan foam.
Our wine glasses remained empty for quite some time at this point and the waiter seemed to be ignoring us.
Eventually we managed to practically grab his sleeve and order some nice reds to go with the mains.
The octopus was incredible, slow cooked until tender and delicious. The meat platter was pretty disappointing though, basically a few cuts of meat, run under the broiler and served with fries.
It was tasty, but I’d hoped they would have done something upscale or fun with it. The meat from the night before was more authentic and tasty. The waiter simply dumped the plates on the table, not explaining the dishes. When I asked which meats were which on my plate as he was leaving, he said, “It’s mostly pork.”
The waiter continued to studiously ignore us, despite our empty glasses. We tried to politely get his attention time and time again, before we just ended up saying, “We’d like our bill!” as he walked past, avoiding eye contact.
He didn’t ask if we wanted dessert or anything, despite offering it to other tables with German diners.
It was annoying that this man was completely ruining our meal, due to some hatred of English speakers, or thinking that we were Americans (a constant, but understandable thing on this trip), or some other perceived slight, even though we had been exceedingly smiley, polite, quiet, and had used as many Slovenian words as possible.
This was especially frustrating in contrast to our amazing server the night before and to the rest of the incredibly warm and friendly hotel staff.
It seemed that all of the tables got some complimentary schnapps or brandy at the end of the meal. I’d overheard him offer different kinds to the other diners, sweet, or strong, but he just dumped two on our table – super strong plum brandy.
It was still good, though Kathy had been looking forward to a sweet one. We had hoped to enjoy a fine whisky, or more of the schnapps or brandy that they had on display, but we just got up and left due to the rudeness of the waiter.
Our bill seemed high and we noticed that we’d been charged for the “complimentary” bread and an extra 6€ for water we never got. Whatever.
If the waiter had at least done his job and kept our glasses full with a fake smile, it would have been a different experience but we felt very cheated as it was, despite the tasty food.
We went back up to our balcony and opened the OTHER bottle of Prosecco we’d brought with us and enjoyed it before going to bed. We’d only brought carryon luggage with us, so we had to make the Prosecco disappear before we left for home.
The next morning I had some fresh cooked eggs and bacon with my breakfast spread, which made my breakfast belly happy.
We were heading back to Ljubljana, but didn’t actually want to leave our Alpine paradise. We tossed around the idea of staying another night, but we’d have to extend the car rental and forfeit the cost of that night’s Airbnb, so we wisely gave up on the idea.
Instead, we decided to do some day trips and arrive back to the city later at night than originally planned.
For the morning, we drove to the starting point Velika Planina, a mountaintop herdsmen’s village, and the largest active grazing meadow in Europe.
To get there, we drove to the base of a mountain, and caught a cable car up quite a height.
The woman collecting money for the cable car at bottom mentioned that the chairlift that brought you from the cable car up to the village wasn’t operational, but it was only a half hour walk.
Kathy was worried, as we’d crammed a lot into the day, but I thought to myself, “A half hour? Probably more like 15 minutes.”
We exited the cable car, after enjoying its breathtaking ascent, and looked up the long steep hill to where we had to go. We were on the bottom of a big steep grassy ski hill!
There was a shuttle bringing families with small children to the top that Kathy suggested we take to save time, but I wanted to walk it.
We started our march up the steep hill, trudging slowly with burning legs while our cable car companions either shot ahead or fell behind.
The walk was strenuous and Kathy wasn’t too pleased at having to do it, particularly since it was taking so much time. A half hour seemed optimistic to be honest.
We finally reached the top, where there was a hut with washrooms and a bar, but the village was actually another 15 minutes further ahead.
We kept walking until we eventually reached it, and quickly discovered it was all worth it.
A small village spread out underneath us, full of wooden huts, built in a super unique fashion, and small Alpine dairy cows outfitted with classic cowbells which clanged in a charmingly rustic mountain concerto.
A couple villagers walked by and pointed us towards a hut that was serving traditional food. So we meandered our way over, taking too many pictures of cute calves and stoic cows.
We walked up to the hut serving food, and confused as to how to order, I walked in, getting hurriedly shooed back out. Oops.
We sat down at a wooden bench and a man came out to take our order. We got some of everything except dessert; a bowl of soured milk, a bowl of buckwheat mash with pork cracklings, some freshly baked bread, an assortment of homemade mountain cheeses, and some homemade apple cider.
Everything was actually delicious; the soured milk kind of like yogurt, and the buckwheat mash like a tasty fluffy dry porridge. We ate it with the mountain wind blowing through our hair and the clangs of cowbells washing over us. It was lovely. When we paid for the meal, the man gave us the wooden spoon we ate it with as a souvenir.
We wandered around the village for a while (at one point being attacked by a cow that either really loved me or really hated me) then sadly made our way back to the cable car, needing to catch it at a certain time if we were to be able to make it to our next stop. I could have stayed up in that meadow with the cows for a whole week!
We just made the cable car, then descended down the mountainside at a dizzying speed.
Once down, we hustled to the car, then drove as fast as we could to make it to the last available tour of the Postonja Caves, a couple hours away.
We made it with time to spare and joined the crowd at the most touristy place we’d visited yet. This was supposed to be worth it though.
We paid a few euro for some devices that would give us the cave tour in English, then joined the mob to get into an open rail car in the entrance of the cave.
The ride by rail took a few minutes and I knew we’d made the right choice by coming. Wow. Simply wow. What an impressive cave!
We got off the rail car and did a 1 hour walking tour though the gigantic caverns, seeing massive pillars, stalactites, stalagmites, and other glittering alien cave structures.
I can’t describe to you (nor do my pictures do it justice) just how big and impressive this cave truly was. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
It was expensive, it was touristy, it was annoying (who brings a goddamn baby to a cold scary cave?!!?! It just wailed the whole time, which echoed everywhere. The parents missed the whole tour, which you can’t stop on or leave, dealing with the infant and not seeing anything. Have some common sense and wait a freaking couple of years when the child will actually have a sense of wonder and enjoy it!), but it was so, so, SO worth it; for these cave aficionados anyways.
We drove back to Ljubljana and dropped off the rental car without incident, before heading to our bed for the night, funnily directly beside the place we’d just stayed in.
Thumbing through a list of expensive, meat heavy meal options, we opted to skip the local stuff and go to an Asian restaurant, Riksa Curry and Wok, where we had a super spicy chicken vindaloo and some stir fried noodles. The spice and… Asian-ness of the meal was refreshing and comforting (we eat a lot of Asian meals at home) and we felt good about our choice, despite me not getting to try the venison goulash I’d half had my eye on at another restaurant.
We had a quick beer at the Cuddy Sark, a staple in Ljubljana, despite being a British pub, then went home to bed.
We had a few hours to kill before our shuttle to the airport, so we went back to the market. On Friday’s, a bunch of the restaurants in town set up outdoor booths and serve fun meals for cheaper than they’d usually be.
This weekly event had the market BUMPING.
There were people everywhere, locals and tourists, having fun, getting food and drinks, listening to the awesome playlist they had going on loud speakers.
We got a fried veal tongue sandwich with homemade pickles, and a liver dish with onions, chanterelles, and asparagus sauce served with homemade walnut bread. Both were pretty tasty.
We also had a few craft beers, ciders, and cocktails, thoroughly enjoying the vibes in the market that day.
Ljubljana had to work hard to win us back over, but it definitely did in the end.
We made our way to the shuttle to the airport, where we caught a plane to Paris, sitting in front of loud yelling kids. Not crying babies with poor sore ears, but children being so loud, I hurt my eardrums trying to drown them out with my noise cancelling headphones.
I’ve complained a lot about noisy people on this trip, but come on. Everyone else on the plane was miserable, while the kids were allowed to yell and scream and carry on. It’s not okay.
We had a rough time getting to our Airbnb in Antony, a suburb of Paris, but finally got there at around 9pm. We went out for dinner and a beer, ending up getting burgers due to there oddly being a dearth of decent food choices, then went to bed in our slummy but affordable apartment.
The next morning, we were finally on our way home, sitting next to whiny young kids once more on our seven hour flight (fml) but happy to be going home – to our dog Arrow who we sorely missed, to our own bed, and to QUIET. We live such a quiet life, it’s hard to adjust to the noise of the rest of the world.
I was also looking forward to cooking again. We discussed that on future trips, we’d set aside more rest time in places where I could cook with local ingredients.
I would have done a few things differently on our trip (skipped the long romanticized train ride from Paris to Venice, spent more time in nature, stayed longer in Paris and Venice and less in Ljubljana, etc.), but I thoroughly enjoyed venturing into a new part of the world (despite some of my gratuitous bitching). I’m already looking forward to our next trip; hopefully in Asia!
First though, my dog, my bed, and my cutting board!