Enough of our more devout readers (aka our families) have started to ask us where we are in Italy that we’ve decided to come to terms with (and address) the fact that we have been doing a terrible job of keeping you updated. The truth is that we left Italy long ago, and have since visited three new countries (five, if you count the time I accidentally crossed into Switzerland and spent the night in a weird urban forest, and count the fact that we’ll be entering Montenegro later on today).
Since leaving Italy, we’ve done a tour of Slovenia, we’ve cycled down the entire coast of Croatia, and we crossed the border with Bosnia no fewer than six times (but that story will have to wait for a future blog post). Slovenia was a real treat, and I don’t know if it was because there is something inherently special about the country, or because we had been in Italy for roughly 40 days and were in need of a change of scene. If I had to guess, I would say that it’s because Slovenia is full of friendly people, cheap booze, and mountainous landscapes that are absolutely breathtaking. It can easily be counted in my list of top 5 favourite countries (which I won’t list because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings).
After pushing our bikes for over an hour up the most ridiculous hill we had yet encountered, we crossed the border and cruised on down into a beautiful Slovenian valley filled with vineyards. As we cycled down through the valley we noticed that someone had cleared a considerable rectangular area of forest on the top of an adjacent mountain and had written, with rocks and in capital letters, ‘TITO’, which made us stop and wonder whether there was a prevailing sentiment of Yugoslavian nostalgia in Slovenia.
Our first stop in Slovenia was a grocery store, and it was here that we had our first taste of post-Italia culture shock. We had spent enough time in Italy that we had developed a fairly good understanding of the language basics – enough to at least confidently ask for directions, order food, and so on. As we approached the till and had our items scanned, we expected to at least understand how much money the woman wanted in exchange for our food and water. Instead, when she looked at us and said something completely unintelligible, I found myself stupidly muttering “sorry, how much?” It was then that I realized that not only did I not know how to count in Slovenian, but I didn’t even know how to say “thank you”, “hello”, “goodbye”, or basically anything at all. It was only after leaving the grocery store that I realized I had accidentally purchased 9 liters of lemon-flavoured water*, which fortunately turned out to be delicious.
Anyways, I’m not going to get too caught up in describing everything we did in Slovenia (mostly because I already forget everything that happened), but I will give a rundown on some highlights. After leaving the wine valley, we cycled along a bike path for dozens of kilometers up a river so beautiful it could have been from a fantasy movie. It was only after reaching our campsite along another very similar river a few days later that we learned that the area had been a major filming site for the Chronicles of Narnia.** In fact, it was so beautiful that we decided to ditch our itinerary in order to camp for free in one of the most stunning places I have ever slept, swimming all day in glacier-cold water and baking in the hot sun.
We spent the rest of our time in Slovenia experimenting with different kinds of rakje (brandy), cycling on cycling paths (you can get anywhere in Slovenia by cycling path), eating strange cakes, and drinking kava s smetano (espresso filled with whipped cream). Ljubljana was an amazing city, and Bled was one of the most picturesque places I’ve visited (google it, seriously).
*To our environmentalist friends: there’s no need for concern, this was an anomalous circumstance as we very rarely purchase bottled water unless forced to do so. In fact, we tend to freak people out a little by drinking the water because tap water virtually never comes recommended, even by other young progressive types (not that we’re particularly young or progressive anymore, but I digress).
**Up to this point, we have inadvertently touristed filming locations for Star Wars (Tunisia), Passion of the Christ (Matera), Chronicles of Narnia (Tolmin), and now Game of Thrones (Dubrovnik).