A long weekend in Slovenia: The countryside

I visited Slovenia last June, after the invitation of a friend who lives and works in the capital, Ljubljana. The plan was to combine cycling, trekking and sightseeing and do as much as possible in three days.

We both took it seriously – some of us more than others – and woke up at 5:00 am on Friday. The roads were empty and the air clean and fresh. The sleepy neighbourhoods and weathered roads of North Ljubljana were not a serious obstacle and soon we were climbing the first hills. Beige church towers with grey pointy roofs overlook dark green and golden summer fields, big piles of wood and small villages. The smell of animals lingered. All was wonderfully rustic.

After passing places with difficult names, like Hrastenice or Polhov Gradec, we heard the bells ringing as we pushed through a steep uphill.

The asphalt became gravel, then asphalt again and we went uphill and downhill all the way to the small river Poljanščica, where we turned right.

Our midway milestone was the medieval town of Škofja Loka. Surrounded by hills and forest, it sits on both sides of the river. At the edges of the town we could see a church towering a hillock, manor houses with red roofs and a castle dominating all. We rode through the very narrow old streets. It was almost mid morning and people were out doing their business.

The rest of the route was passing through dense small villages and fields. At some point we needed to be creative and do a diversion, since the road heading back south to Ljubljana was blocked by road works. An opportunity to catch a glimpse and photograph some small corners.

Next morning, we walked to Ljubjiana main coach station. On our way, we passed through the old Olimpija Ljubljana stadium. Nowadays, it is full of weeds. My friend told me half-jokingly, half-seriously it’s safer to wear green clothes around here. And certainly not the purple colours of Maribor FC, their mortal enemies. Well, that’s the Balkans. Don’t be deceived by the clean wide pavements.

We caught a coach to Lake Bohinj. On the way, we passed by the famous Lake Bled, with its trademark small island and church on it.

When in Bohinj we began our ambitious trek, starting from the west end of the lake. We were about to climb the mountain that commands the north side and descend from the east side. Not too far from the start, though, we had to turn back. “Path closed”. My friend found on-line that there was recently an accident, a Dutch tourist falling over the edge and losing his life. We walked to the Savica waterfall instead, where the man selling tickets complained that many tourists take the trek lightly, wearing flat shoes. I looked at my shoes. Perhaps it was better it was closed!

We walked parallel to the north side of the lake. Many people had dropped their bicycles and had dipped into the water. Slovenian people seem to make the most of their outdoors. From the east end, we climbed the mountain until we reached a high point. There we sat and ate our sandwiches taking a good view of the wild Slovenian country.

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Prambanan and Borobudur

I move between the morning market stalls exchanging greetings (“Selamat Pagi” – good morning) and buying “air” – water – and biscuit supplies, essential for survival today. I sit outside “Si Woles” bike shop until 8:00 when a friendly girl appears on the window of the shop, also her home. I rent a shiny bicycle at a very reasonable price and begin.

I’m like a fish out of water. Rather, like a minnow kicked around by a group of frenzied cats and eventually dying from horror. The situation is complicated by the fact that the left-hand side of the road, the slow lane, is used by small vehicles such as motorbikes and taxi-bicyles that go against the flow of traffic. Nobody is bothered to cross to the other side for only a few hundreds of meters until the next exit. Lonely Planet suggest to go through the University and follow a canal for a few miles until we reach the first temples of the Prambanan plain.

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Is this an alternative fishing technique?

The landscape is becoming more scenic, as rice aquaculture and small rainforest zones alternate. The plain is filled with temples built between the 8th and 10th centuries CE and are, mostly, Hindu, but including Buddhist elements. After all, the two religions coexisted in the kingdom after the wedding of a Hindu prince from the North with a Buddhist Princess of the South. The idea of ​​using a bicycle proved to be good, as you can reach temples where you are completely alone – the gentleman will appear momentarily for the ticket until he returns to his siesta.

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A smaller Hindu temple

Prambanan itself is a mysterious temple complex, the largest of which is dedicated to the sacred triad: to Brahma the creator, to Vishnu the keeper and to Shiva the destroyer, the greatest of all. Approaching from a distance and seeing for the first time its dark towers that spread out in the landscape, was one of the most powerful images of the journey. The temples are decorated by numerous reliefs telling the story of Ramayana Hindu epic.

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Prambanan complex

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Shiva Temple, Prambanan

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Entering Shiva temple

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Ganesha statue, with its trunk polished by the many visitors

After paying 1000 Indonesian rupees (5p) for bicycle parking (!), there was no time for lunch, since I wanted to reach the second giant of the area, Borobudur. So I caught the bus from Jobor terminal and in just over an hour, sunset approaching fast, I am in the town with the same name. Panic! Overwhelmed by persistent becak drivers I reach one of the entrances at the same time as a couple of Czech tourists. With Vitek and his wife, from beer-famous Pilsen, we walked between the Borobudur bells with the hidden Buddhas, heard the evening prayers from the mosques of the valley that surrounded us and greated the legendary Merapi volcano, the true king in this place. The Czechs offered a free lift back to Jogja, and thanking them it was finally time for food in one of the apparently renowned in all Indonesia “Gudek” (jack fruit sweet stew) restaurants.

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Borobudur, bell tip pointing to mount Merapi

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Borobudur at sunset

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A Buddha