Mon 5th Aug.
When I first thought about going to Italy I began studying it on a map. I looked to the right of it and thought “I wonder what Slovenia would be like”. I knew nothing about this small Balkan country, yet it was on the italian border. A country known to the world. I wouldn’t what it was like there, how different the country’s rules were and what the terrain might be like. I started to think about going months ago and now I was there.
I was back on the road early. I had stuck well to my regime to get up earlier and do more cycling I devised back in the Pyrenees. I went through my last Italian town called Basovizza. It was typically Italian and coming to life in the early hours I got there. I had my last Italian espresso and took my time watching people coming and going through the little cafe/bar. It was great seeing all the different people coming in, chatting, having coffee then leaving. Truckers, workers and people from the town. I got a fresh supply of water from a shop and bread.
The aim for the day was Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, roughly 85km from the border, where I had organised to stay with a host for a day and see the city. Within an hour I was passing through light green trees either side of the road and a sign to Slovenia. There were a few flags and a border control buildings, but it was quite relaxed and again no inspections or passport checks were made. I was in Slovenia.
Beyond the border I went past some hitchhikers with backpacks, the first I’d seen of the trip. I saw more later on in the day, perhaps it was a popular thing to do in Slovenia. Almost immediately the landscape and terrain had a very different feel and look. It felt quite barren and malnourished compared to Italy and Switzerland, almost like another planet. The landscape had long hills that you could see one behind the other far into the distance. It was beautiful in a way, but desolate in another.
I always look for what makes a country unique compared to its neighbour and I start looking for these differences as soon as I enter. It seems quite childish in a way, assuming the landscape and people will be different because you’ve crossed a border. But I always felt like I did find subtle things that characterised a place as being unique. Even in Andorra and Liechtenstein there were nuances that distinguished them from their neighbours.
It was hot and windy on the roads. I stopped at a small quiet cafe as part of a guest house, sat down and got some water. There were men outside having coffee. I got talking to the girl there and tried to learn a few words of the Slovenian language, but didn’t get far.
I stopped later in a town further in and got a pizza from a bakery. I’d looked up the currency before coming here, so I wouldn’t have any surprises. Slovenia used the euro, but that was unusual for this part of Europe. Croatia had still used its own currency, as did Hungary and Czech Republic. The pizza cost about €3 and a left a bit for later.
I passed a small military museum I got into a shaded area with a lot of trees and greenery, which was a nice contrast to the barren landscape I cycled through coming in. To help me get through the day, I pioneered a way to listen to music without earphones. I opened the front pannier and set the iPad to play the one album I’d downloaded on the trip, the recent release from electronic producer Zomby. This made for a pleasant companion for a long day’s cycling.
Next on the list was Postjana, where I stopped for a cold drink in a fancy hotel bar. I checked the internet and confirmed the address and my route to the capital. The GPS worked on maps that were on SD cards and had to be downloaded there before the trip. The maps you have to pay for and as I wasn’t sure where I’d be going, I was only covered for the main cities; France, England, Italy, Germany etc. and the for the smaller countries I had no GPS and relied on Google maps to figure out my route and get where I was going. It was fairly simple in Slovenia as there were only a few roads connecting places. Once you had the names of the road you needed (i.s. 625) you could follow it until it separated, or you got where you were going.
Checking the iPad for maps was cumbersome and I had I had to be quick to conserve precious battery life that could seldom be replenished. I also relied on-screen grabs, as the iPad was wi-fi activated, not 3G, so I’d take screen grabs and reference those for where I needed to go. Sounds flimsy, but it worked well and always got me where I needed to be on time.
The heat from Italy carried on over here, I stopped at a Lidl to get food and cold water. Towards Vrhnika the terrain became flat and rich with greens and mountains all around. I could hear a storm in the distance and kept moving narrowly avoiding it. After Vrhnika, I had a straight run the took my right into Ljubljana alongside a main road. I knew I had done a good distance for the day, as I could feel it in my legs and body. I pulled into the city and entered in the quarter where my host Tina lived. Surprised by good fortune, I checked the map and her house was very close.
I got there and the buzzed me in, storing my bike in the basement and taking my bags upstairs. For the first time on the trip, my hosts were three women roughly my age. They shared an apartment in the top half of a detached building and some older relatives lived in the apartment downstairs.
Tina had just got back from a cycling trip with two friends to Turkey, so she was fresh off the heels of her first cycling adventure and happy to host someone else on theirs. We cooked, had some wine and had an early night as there were plans for a big day tomorrow.