I don’t know when this happened, but it seems I’m a ten days into my trip already (I first told you about it here). I’ve trained and biked my way through five countries, slept in seven different beds and met some new friends for life.
I have had highs and lows, but overall I couldn’t be happier. And happier all the more to know that it’s only taking me €15 a day to feel this good.
Scooting through Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Italy, I’m surprised that perhaps the least known of these countries actually comes out top of the list for budget travel so far.
A lonely night in Brno, Czech Republic, gave me the need to see some familiar faces. So I backtracked and took an imprompt train back through Austria, to catch up with some friends in Slovenia. Said friends are a trio of delightfully loony girls, who were driving a van around Europe for a few months and offered me a spot on their van’s floor.
They’d made it to Ljubljana, the pretty little capital of Slovenia. The trip begins with a bang when they take me straight to a tattoo parlour, where they get small momentos from the most inked up Serbian I have ever seen. He also has a mohawk.
It wasn’t what I expected, but welcome to Slovenia!!!
Waking up in the morning, the contrast from last night’s drinking-wine-from-a-bottle-in-a-tattoo-parlour experience is immense and Ljubljana paints a completely different picture: it’s all wealth and glory, blue skies and beautiful old buildings. A dream to navigate and compact in size, Ljubljana is a great stop for a day trip (or more) before heading up north to Europe’s best kept secret. The Triglav National Park is the reason why Slovenia tops my list so far.
1. Ben’s Place
It’s hard to say what I most like about Ben’s hideawayin the Soca Valley. It could be that his first words are “would you like a prosecco??” and “shall we get you some Ug boots?”. it could be his cats. It’s definitely got something to do with his wicked sense of humour (get him to tell you about the messages he mows into the meadow for his partner….) and his wild garlic pesto.
Ben is an Australian who it seems accidentlyngot stuck in London for 20 odd years. Two years ago he chucked in his life as a banker and started up a little boutique bed and breakfast in the Soca Valley. I stayed here a while back before the fifteenaday journey got started, and completely fell in love with the place. When Ben heard about my trip he said I could return and help out with firewood (he’s already got the Slovenian obsession with woodpiles going) in exchange for board for a few days.
After a night on the floor of an old transit van, I speedily agreed and only a day later I was pushing my bike down Ben’s riggidy old driveway. I couldn’t get there fast enough and instantly felt like I’d come home, especially with hints of his lost London life scattered around the place (think old tube maps and vintage books).
A few days of domestic duties interspersed with walks in some of the most beautiful countryside was just what the doctor ordered and if you get the chance to visit Ben, you should.
2. The people
Slovenians are more obsessed with mountains than perhaps the Czechs and Austrians are, which is really saying something. And they’re also an incredibly proud of the land they love, too.
From the second I was on the train with my oversized backpack and undersized bike, it was all questions about where I was going, whether they could help and a huge amount of interest in how my bike folded up. The people here are lovely.
3. Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj
The two lakes are the pearl in the oyster of this area, and both very easily accessible by train. A walk around more touristy bled takes only an hour and provides great people watching, from the lycra-clad German runners to the Italian Mamas with their heels and handbags. Something for everyone! Stock up on a cheap bottle of wine or a few beers from the local supermarket and you’re set for watching the lake as dusk sets in. Beaut. Bohinj, on the other hand, is just around the corner and is much quieter. I ran around the lake, which I have to say is the best training ground one could ask for.
4. Cheap supermarkets, Europe’s best picnic spots.
Especially if you’ve found someone to split costs with, fifteenadaying in Slovenia is easypeasy – with the Italian influence helping you out on the food front, €0.80 mozzarella and €1.00 ciabatta make top notch picnic fodder, best enjoyed in front of mountain panoramas too pretty for postcards. I’m not actually sure why I left…
5. An outdoor paradise
Hiring bikes for a half day can cost less than €10 and is a great way to get out and see the places you wouldn’t make it to otherwise. Swimming in the lake and the gorges is free (and freezing) and walking won’t cost a cent. You’re spoilt for choice and you don’t even need to fork out for a map as it’s all very well signposted and getting around is easy. Call into the visitor centre in Bled or Bohinj for tips.
With all this fresh air, blue skies and exercise you’ll need to head back to Ben’s place for a nap! And there’s nothing wrong with that!
My next stops on the journey are Zurich, through Germany again to Berlin and up to Copenhagen. If you have tips, please get in touch!