This morning brought clear skies and some of the coldest temperatures that we have seen since the beginning of our trip, clear back in mid-April. As we have learned, though, it always feels better to leave early in the morning, so we didn’t wait for the sun to warm us up – beside, we had a nice climb strait out of the gate. As we were checking out, we met a fellow camper from Oregon who also has toured a large part of Europe and also New Zealand by bicycle with a 5-month old girl. This place seems to be a magnet for cycle tourists. Today we saw no fewer than 5 cycle tourists on our route into the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana.
I know that I have previously said that the place to go if you are interested in cycling Europe is Provence, in the southeast of France. I rescind that comment. Today’s ride through the Slovenian hills marks a new standard for awesome cycling. The hills weren’t too bad, as they are not graded between hill top towns as we have previously seen. Instead, they take a rational approach by weaving between the dark, heavily wooded hills.
We cycled not only through wooded countryside, but passed through several small towns and villages. While this place has a sleepy feel to it, even the smallest villages have an energy to them. While riding through Italy or parts of France, we would often ride through villages without seeing a single soul. Here, as we pass through even the smallest settlements, we see people riding their bicycles through the streets with their groceries, out in the gardens picking weeds, or leading groups of children to school, with each child holding onto a knot in a rope. It is refreshing to be in a place that has everything so put together!
We were a little worried to ride into the heart of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city since busy city riding can always make for long days on the bike. Slovenia has one of the most active and successful economies in Eastern Europe. They seem to be very industrious, and as Rick Steves puts it, the people have a “can-do attitude”. Since we have seen almost nothing that resembled an industrial area thus far, we worried that the city would be busy and full of traffic since the work has to be done somewhere!
Before we knew it, we entered the city limits. Even on the busy highways this place is beautiful! On either side of the highway we rode on there were green hills with churches and a few small homes, while in between lanes there would be patches of green with white and purple wildflowers in bloom. The dedicated cycling lanes don’t hurt, either. Usually heavy traffic agitates me, but today I didn’t care.
We lazily meandered into the city center on the intricate network of bicycle lanes. This is by far the most bicycle-friendly city I have ever seen. There are stations where bicycles can be rented and dropped off nd I don’t think that we saw a single road without a bicycle lane, and they are heavily used. As we would stop at the various stop lights, full clusters of cyclists would pile up. When the green light started, as many as 8 or 10 bicycles would sort themselves back into single file in the lanes.
Ljubljana is not so full of history as many of the other cities, as half of it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1895. It was rebuilt with a very eastern style, though, and has a very vibrant feel. We slowly rolled through the streets and around the picturesque river and ate our lunch near a park as we watched the city work around us.
AWhile stopped to take a quick picture of a dance concert in one of the squares on a pavilion where the girls were dancing to “Fernando’s Hideaway” from the Pajama Game, an overweight and slightly drunk man started talking to Bree. Once he started talking, he didn’t stop. He probed about our bikes, inquired about our travel plans, and told us about the time he stole a bike because “the owner deserved it, so it was ok”. He even offered to let us stay with him! Not feeling warm and fuzzy about this sweat-laden man talking circles with what must have been specks of white cheese on his lips, we politely declined and told him that we had to be on our way. Of course, as soon as we left to enjoy the bike lanes en route to our camp 5 km out of the city center, Bree spotted the man following us on his bicycle. Debating whether to try and lose him by speeding up and taking some quick turns, Bree spotted a Nikon retailer and we popped in to inquire about replacing a lens cap that broke, he gave us a friendly Italian “complimente” and rode on by. Thank goodness!
At our campsite, we were greeted by a friendly man with excellent English (everybody here seems to have excellent English) and we quickly found a nice spot with shade where we could still get access to the wifi. Our planned dinner was a local Slovenian dish called Idrijski Žlikrofi. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite survive the trip in our panniers and the dumplings got a little…melty, so we turned the whole mess into a nice soup which was actually really good! After cleaning up dinner, we are now settling down to a soundtrack of the very catchy, modernized polka music which is really popular here, coming from the on site restaurant. Did I mention that we love this place?