A friend of mine once claimed that Slovenia was the “New Zealand of Europe”. Being a huge fan of all things Kiwi my ears instantly pricked up. Could there really exist a place so breathtakingly beautiful here on my doorstep (…relatively speaking)? ‘He must have just seen mountains and made the link’, I assured myself. Surely this tiny slice of land in central Europe could not compete with the land of the long white cloud?

I decided to investigate. Slovenia tooks its well-deserved place on my Eurotrip itinerary 2010. Five days, three locations, a hell of a lot of fun. Hand on heart, I can say that Slovenia is indeed the closest thing to New Zealand I’ve seen on this continent, what with all the mountains and lakes and GREEN everywhere. My Kiwi travel partner Rosie had to agree. But not only that, I was also equally enamoured with the people I met on my journey. It seems that people are what make a truly lasting impression on me and it is on these grounds I can compare Slovenia and NZ.

First stop was Lubljana, the quaint picture-post card capital. The city brims with personality –  the architecture is ornate and colourful and the winding cobbled streets lead you along the winding Ljubljanica river. At night the bridges crossing this river are inhabited by buskers, but rather than a man and his guitar, I had the pleasure of listening to a brilliant ten-man brass band in the moonlight.
Slovenes still take time out on Sundays to shut up shop and pursue more leisurely activities and this does not exclude the capital. This may leave tourists a little puzzled or lost, but it is perhaps this tradition that keeps the locals so happy. A proud nation, the official litter picks of Ljubljana wear bow ties! Clearly, a sense of humour and a laid back attitude is required here.
The main attraction is the castle, perched high on a hill, offering fantastic views of the city and beyond. We managed to catch the last night of Ljubljana Festival’s series of “Films Under the Stars”, settling down to The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom). It certainly wasn’t just the late-night breeze that chilled us that night…
After a ginormous breakfast of scrambled eggs at the Lonely Planet-recommended Le Petit Café (Trg. Francoske Revolucije) it was time to head to Bled. Buses between the capital and Bled are frequent and around €7 euros each way – the scenic route is the only route and it was well worth the (slightly bumpy) ride. On arrival at our accomodation (Hosteller) we were greeted warmly, firstly by Gaia, a gorgeous black labrador, soon followed by Tommy the owner, who gave us a fantastic run-down of the local area, helped shape our plans for afternoon and ultimately led us to have one of the best nights of our trip…

After a walk around the beautiful lake, it was time for a pit-stop. It was at the George Best Bar that we met Zdravko. Now, usually when a strange older man beckons you over from the other side of a bar, fag and pint in hand, a young woman like me runs for the hills. But being in my free-spirited travelling mindset, I decided to say hello. He didn’t seem too dodgy and there were hills-a-plenty if I did need a quick getaway… turns out I didn’t. We ended up staying for a couple of hours, meeting his friends Dave and Jethro (British and Dutch) and basically having a right old laugh.

Instances like these are for me, what travelling is all about. In our day to day lives, we are often so stressed out or focused on ourselves that we ignore eachother. Weeks and months pass, and we have nothing to show for it except an endless length of mechanical existence. We barely have time to keep in touch with our loved ones, let alone spend an afternoon conversing with complete strangers.  Zdravko was one of those special people, whose positive outlook on life and unconditional kindness left Rosie and I with some fantastic memories. Although he had to leave us in the evening, he called in a favour so that we could eat at the town’s busiest restaurant, for half the usual price. Random acts of kindness like this remind me to open my eyes and appreciate all the good in the world…I cannot thank Zdravko enough.

After a gorgeous dinner of slow-roast pork with roast vegetables, wine and blueberry schanpps,the night descended into drunken antics with a few more rounds at George Best, followed by Tequila shots with orange and cinammon. Oh and Jethro and I danced the night away to Michael Jackson. I know this thanks to the video footage… All in all, a fantastic night. And a fantastic country.
                                                                              Hangover cure: Calippo and swim in Lake Bled.

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