My first bokbier

Literally, the first bokbier I had on my first day in Amsterdam.

My work colleague Ruud is Dutch and loves beer. Perhaps that sentence is redundant.

Anyway, when he found out I was heading to Amsterdam in October, he told me that I needed to try bokbier – a dark malty beer that is brewed seasonally by many Dutch breweries.

Ruud knows I love malty beers (and hate hoppy, bitter beers) so he assumed I would enjoy bokbier.

Thank you, Ruud, for making sure I didn’t miss out! From the time we arrived until we flew home, I don’t think a day passed by that I didn’t try another bokbier.

Delicious!

Now I just need to find out how I can partake in Ottawa.

Evening in Metelkova

Hanging out in Metelkova. (Photo: Junkii)

As invaluable as guidebooks can be in helping travelers learn about a city, all the reading in the world will not let you experience the heart of a place in way that compares to the way a local can show it to you.

For instance, while the the books might tell you to visit Metelkova – an arts community in the middle of Ljubljana that used to be a military headquarters – it likely won’t steer you there at night.

And while there’s nothing wrong with that – there’s a ton of brilliant photo opportunities to be had by daylight, with art, graffiti and sculpture scattered around the former army barracks buildings – the area comes alive in a different way at night, with local artists, musicians, and youth taking over the space to share songs, laughter and drink.

Not our photo (we weren’t there during daylight hours) but that’s the structure where we hung out all night – up in the crow’s nest.

It’s a scene that we wouldn’t have considered intruding on had we been alone, but with Nina as our guide, we received a warm welcome as we climbed some of the rickety old jungle-gym structures to hang out with a group of young musicians.

We sang, as Darko played guitar for us all, sharing a few of his own compositions. We laughed as locals joined and left our little huddle on the upper section of a rusty play structure. We drank together, even indulging in shots of bear-blood: a local, blood-red shooter purchased at an unlicensed pop-up bar operating on the edge of Metelkova.

We had an early morning flight scheduled the next day, so we had limited time to spend partying among the locals, but the time we spent there made for a fun-filled final evening in Ljubljana – made special by the generous and kind locals who entertained us in a setting that we would never have found on our own.

It was a wonderful parting memory of our time in Slovenia and gave us one last opportunity to spend quality time with our amazing friend, Nina.

If you’re looking for more, there are some nice photos of Metelkova (including the one above) in an article from Solvd Magazine.

Illusions and Laughter

Oh what a feeling…

While there’s no doubt museums can be fascinating and educational places, it’s rare that we take in museums while we’re travelling.

Usually it’s just a question of time. A decent museum can eat up half a day if you’re not careful, and there are often too many other sights that we want to take in.

With Ljubljana though, we had scheduled long enough that we weren’t pressed for time. And when we saw signs all over town for the Muzej Iluzija (Museum of Illusions), it sounded like a fun way to pass a lazy afternoon.

They might as well have called it the museum of delight and laughter. It was so much fun!

I mean, there are the grander illusions that use paint and mirrors to make for some fun photos – like the few we captured. But while it’s not a large place, there were just so many displays that made you look twice. That made you whisper “wow!” or raise and eyebrow and say “whhaaatt?!”

We started laughing together from the moment we entered until we passed through the gift shop on the way out.

Well worth the admission price for these shared memories!

…when you’re dancing on the ceiling! (Photo:Junkii)

Macabre! (Photo:Junkii)

Terrifying! (Photo:Junkii)

Maybe my angle is wrong, but I think you’re supposed to be able to do some matrix-style moves in here. Ignore the belly…I was just in Italy!

Heads will roll! (Photo:Junkii)

Found ‘Round Ljubljana

Inside the walls of the castle: the main courtyard. (Photo: Junkii)

Like Bled, Ljubljana is also presided over by a big castle in the middle of town. And like Bled, it’s also a tourist attraction, but it does offer great panoramic shots of the city. So, on our final day in Ljubljana, Junkii and I started with a funicular ride up to the peak, and spent some time taking in the city from on high.

After we had our fill, we wandered on foot back into town along the paved pathways leading away from the castle.

Ljubljana is quiet but lovely. We had no major adventures on that last day, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a “found ’round” post, to share some of the photos we took in Ljubljana that we haven’t had a chance to use in other posts.

These were taken throughout our four-day visit.

The view from the peak. (Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

Spiral staircase leading to the top of the castle tower. (Photo: Junkii)

Same staircase, as seen by Rockr.

A little patio time between friends.

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

I like these fat-horse statues I found in a fountain.

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

Smart idea for Canada: heaters under the tables would definitely extend patio season.

(Photo: Nina)

Rockr says “This would be my office if I lived in Ljubljana. (It’s City Hall)” (Photo: Junkii)

Piran in the Rain

Patios put away due to inclement weather. (Photo:Junkii)

After a morning spent spelunking, we were looking forward to our afternoon plans: a visit to the seaside town of Piran.

A small resort town on the Adriatic Sea, Piran is renowned for its Venetian-style architecture and laid-back vibe. We were looking forward to a couple of meals of fresh seafood and some time spent relaxing on a sunny patio. With echoes of Italy and gorgeous views of the sea, we were hopeful for a few hours of down time in this popular getaway spot.

But sadly, the one day we scheduled to visit was rainy and miserable.

The rain was intermittent enough that we were able to take a few photos at least – enough to get the picture that Piran would be a lovely spot to spend a sunny day or two. But given the nasty weather, we had to truncate our time. We enjoyed a late lunch and a quick stroll around town, but then we packed it in and headed back to Ljubljana to drop off our rental car.

Not without incident though. We must have risen too early that morning. Not long after we hit the road back home, we both suddenly got really drowsy. We pulled off the road to buy a coffee drink at the nearest gas station. But the sleepiness was powerful! We agreed that it was best to stay off the road until we were more alert. So we found a quiet corner of the parking lot and reclined our seats for a rest. We both zonked for about an hour! That’s never happened before while we were mid-road trip….especially not in a foreign country.

Anyway, just wanted to record it for posterity. Here are the Piran photos.

The town square.

Little alleyways… but no people. The residents knew enough to steer clear of the rain. (Photo: Junkii)

Perched on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

(Photo: Junkii)

A lovely little bit of graffiti.

Another angle on the town square. (Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

Castle in a cave

Your hosts at Predjama Castle. (Photo: Junkii)

Following the tour of the caves, we took a short detour to check out Predjama castle, which is a castle built into another cave.

Slovenia is a cave-heavy country. What can I say?

Anyway, the person who built the castle decided having in it inside a cave would offer a more defensive position. So there it is.

We didn’t go inside. Our research had suggested that the interior was not original to the building, and so we didn’t feel a strong need to spend the money on admission. Besides, we had limited time and were anxious to get to our main destination for the day – the resort city of Piran, on the Adriatic sea.

Plus it was raining out. So we snapped a quick pic of the castle as a memory and headed on our way.

Photo:Junkii

Postojna Cave

Another major tourist hotspot in Slovenia is Postojna Cave.

It’s a huge cave. Massive. Perhaps the biggest in the world. Or maybe second biggest. Or third. But right up there with some other famous caves. And it has incredible biodiversity…or something. And, oh, the colours!

Um, if it sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s because I don’t. We didn’t learn anything, because we wandered through half the guided tour WITHOUT A GUIDE!

We arrived on time for the start of the tour. In fact, we got to the cave early on our second day because we skipped breakfast to make the drive from Lubljana. We paid for our tickets and went to the cafeteria to grab a sandwich, keen to learn about the site. We waited patiently with hundreds of other visitors for the main gates to open and for the tour to start.

There were loads of people – some English, lots of Germans and Chinese, along with French, Spanish, Italian, and of course local Slovenian folks. The cave employs tour guides that specialize in each language, and you’re meant to get into your appropriate grouping before you enter the cave.

When the gates opened, however, there was a lot of confusion about where to go. Unbeknownst to us, Junkii and I managed to get herded into the group that had rented a device for a self-guided tour. It wasn’t until we got a fair distance in that we realized no guide was going to speak to us: the tourists all had headsets!

Once we learned of our mistake, we found a helpful employee who told us just to wait for the English group – which was two groups back. We let the Chinese and German groups pass us by and blended in with the anglos when they arrived.

But it was too late. We had missed the introduction and all we caught were a few highlights about specific formations within the cave.

So, I’m sorry that I don’t have more to share with you. The pertinent info was lost without translation.

And since it was dark, we really didn’t get many photos. Junkii managed two that were worth keeping.

So, without further ado, we present: Postojna Cave. Worth a visit for sure, but make sure you get in the right lineup!

Photo: Junkii

Photo: Junkii

Local Cuisine

One of the only times on this trip that I pointed my camera at food. I’m gonna have to step it up for our Middle East adventure. (Photo:Junkii)

Frankly, we did a terrible job of documenting our food experience on this trip – particularly in Slovenia where we came across so many delicious things!

On our first night in Ljubljana, we mostly just sat on patios and had drinks and snacks, but we also wound up at a place that sells Burek – a local hangover food that could, frankly, give poutine a run for its money in the greasy-and-delicious category.

It’s essentially meat, cheese and whatever else you want (there are multiple flavours) all wrapped in a warm pastry. It comes either in pie form (which we had) or braided into a spiral – but however it comes, it’s a grease bomb that a perfect (if not entirely healthy) way to satisfy a late-night craving after a pub crawl.

On our second night in Ljubljana, we went to a restaurant that specializes in traditional Slovenian cuisine. There were multiple delicious things on our table, but chiefly I remember my main meal of bograč – a delicious hunters stew that was seasoned to perfection and simmered in a rich and complex broth.

And I just liked the stencil – it’s not even that I wanted to try to re-create the recipe at home.

And the only photo I took was of the recipe, which was stencilled on the wall! Not even a glimpse of the dish itself.

I swear, I’m losing my touch!

On our third evening, we went to a restaurant called Sarajevo ’84, which had a very specific vibe to it: it was decorated in celebration of the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics – complete with televisions re-broadcasting the games on a loop.It had a very communist/propaganda feel to it. Very cool.

The restaurant specializes in a dish of bread and spiced Balkan minced-meat sausages called čevapi. I had a huge plate of food, and yet not one photo. Not even a shot of the décor.

Nope – despite all that incredible food (and thanks to Nina for being our food tour guide!), the only photo I took of food was of this cream cake. Granted, this cream cake is famous in Slovenia and a local delicacy around the Bled area. And yes it was delicious, but I do wish I had taken more photos as a reminder about some of our other meals.

Canada Condensed

The castle overlooking Lake Bled. (Photo: Junkii)

Rather than spend our entire time in Ljubljana, Junkii and I decided we would do a couple of day trips. Slovenia is small enough and has good enough highways that you can get anywhere in a matter of a few hours.

On our first full day in Slovenia, we rented a car and headed off into the countryside to visit two major tourist attractions: Lake Bled – with its picturesque setting that includes a castle on a cliff and a church on an island in the middle of the lake – and Lake Bohinj, about 30 minutes further than Bled.

Bled
Bled is probably Slovenia’s most famous attraction. The locals had warned us that it is a tourist-heavy place. And it is, but don’t forget that we just arrived from Venice. Bled had nowhere NEAR those kinds of crowds, so for Junkii and I, it felt absolutely peaceful by comparison. It wasn’t hard to enjoy the place.

The setting made for some spectacular photos, especially later in the day as the sun was setting. And as you can see below, the fall colors really added to the ambiance.

Social media in the making – the castle at Lake Bled was definitely a tourist hot spot. (Photo: Junkii)

We also walked up to the castle overlooking the lake, and spent a bit of time there. The castle was pleasant enough, but it’s really the splendor of the natural landscape that’s the star. If you plan on going, you wouldn’t be missing much if you were to skip the castle – but the fact that it’s high up does provide a nice vantage point from which to take it all in.

Someone had been doing some yarn-bombing around Bled.

(Photo: Junkii)

The church on the island is the star of the setting. (Photo: Junkii)

Plenty of tourists.

…Including ourselves! (Photo: Junkii)

A view of the town below. (Photo: Junkii)

There’s a pathway that runs all the way around the lake. We didn’t have time to do the entire thing. (Photo: Junkii)

We went back later in the day to get some sunset shots.

(Photo: Junkii)

It’s hard to take a bad photo. (Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

Bohinj

At play in Lake Bohinj.

We had heard from several locals, including our GoOpti driver, that Bohinj is even more spectacular than Bled. I think that appreciation stems form the fact that it’s less developed and less spoilt. As a result, it’s also far less touristy, and that might be what local people like about it.

As for me, I agree Bohinj is spectacular, with a gorgeous little village nearby and a beautiful, unspoiled lake stretching out between mountains, but I preferred Bled and the almost fairytale image of the church in the middle of the lake.

Bohinj was beautiful, but I could have easily been in part of Canada – it felt that familiar.

In fact, if you take castles out of the equation, our drive across Slovenia that first day really did feel like exploring some of the best parts of Canada… just in a lot more condensed space.

Magnificent mountains, beautiful boreal forests, and lovely lakes – it’s like someone took Ontario, Alberta and BC and smooshed them together. The result is Slovenia, and it’s gorgeous!

Unspoiled Lake Bohinj. (Photo: Junkii)

The little village that overlooks the lake.

(Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

A little farm and church on the way between Bled and Bohinj. (Photo: Junkii)

(Photo: Junkii)

Friendly Ljubljana

Nina, Kira, Junkii and Rockr embarking on an afternoon of drinks and conversation. (Photo: Junkii)

I was slightly hesitant as we arrived in Slovenia because I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I’d get.

It’s a bit awkward to explain why.

The short version is that Junkii had visited Ljubljana at a time when he and I had split up. Obviously we have since reconciled, but during that period, he had spent time hanging out with Nina, whom Junkii had met through his now-ex-boyfriend. (See, I told you it was complicated).

Junkii had bonded with Nina, and their friendship has outlived the one between Junkii and the ex, but I still worried that I might be intruding on their connection. I also worried that Nina’s allegiance might remain with the ex.

My worries were put to rest as soon as I met her, though. She welcomed me to Slovenia with a big hug and the four of us (including Nina’s friend, Kira) wandered off for an afternoon of drinking along the banks of the Ljubljanica River.

A cool, sunny early autumn afternoon of drinks, snacks, quips, gossip and laughter in the open air in quietly charming Ljubljana gave way to evening, and more drinks and snacks on a series of restaurant patios.

I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to charming Ljubljana and to new friends.