From northern Italy, we entered the former communist country of Slovenia. During the communist era, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia. It was ruled by Marshal Tito who, although an avowed communist, did not follow the dictates of Moscow. In that, citizens had a little more freedom that in other parts of the communist world.
Our first stop of the resort area of Bled. Situated on beautiful Lake Bled, the area has been considered a recreation area for many years. Both the Nazis and the communists protected it as a recreational getaway.
The most prominent feature is Bled Castle, high on a promontory above the lake. The castle is first mentioned in writing in 1011 AD, so it certainly pre-dates that time.
In the center of the lake sits Bled Island. The principal feature of the island is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria. This church has been a wedding destination for centuries.
The church is accessed from the wharf by a stone staircase of 99 steps. Tradition says that if a groom carries his bride up the steps, across the courtyard of the church and into the church, then rings a bell inside, the marriage will be long and fruitful. One caveat is that the bride is forbidden to speak during the entire journey.
Bled is also home to a five story hotel which, in earlier times was the summer home of Marshal Tito.
After Bled, we traveled to Maribor, in northeastern Slovenia. Maribor is off the usual ‘tourist track’ so we had more one-on-one interaction with local people without someone trying to peddle schlocky souvenirs to us. It was a very enjoyable city.
Shortly after arriving in Maribor, we went to a farmers’ market in the public square. We were told that the strawberries were especially good at that time.
The public square also housed a sobering monument. The National Liberation Monument, erected in 1975, honors some 667 Slovenians gunned down by occupying Nazis during World War II, for the crime of resisting the occupation. By walking around the monument, you can see the faces of those killed. The citizens of Maribor have dubbed the monument Kodžak (Kojak) because of the resemblance to a bald head.
The area near the square is also home to the world’s oldest grape vine. The vine has been producing wine grapes continually since at least 1625. It still produces enough to make about 100 ceremonial bottles of wine a year.
We took a side trip to Kungota, a small village near the Austrian border. The trip included dinner at the Doppler Family Winery. Most notably, the winery is completely underground. The only building on the property is a small structure which houses the elevator to the winery below.
Slovenia – Not My First Choice
This trip was completely preplanned by a travel company. As such, the destinations were also pre-designated. On my own, I would not have picked Slovenia as a place I would want to visit. However, now that I have experienced it, Slovenia is very high on my list of places to which I would like to return.