Slovenia for a Stag, May 2018

So, Slovenia! Just the 2 weeks later than planned so apologies to keep the thousands of my fans waiting. At the start of May I visited a brand new country on my list for a friends stag. Lloyd has been a good mate since 16 or so and I’m delighted that he has found happiness with Cara, and even more so I was able to spend a long weekend with him drinking lager.

It was fortunate another mate I don’t see very often, Dan – based in Beddau (don’t ask how to pronounce it) – was able to pick me up and drop us to Stanstead airport early on Wednesday morning. Thankfully the trip was without any major delays and we arrived comfortably to meet Lloyd and his workmate James at departures. Four out of seven went in search for the departure lounge Wetherspoons. It was at this point the other three lads, Lloyd’s university pals, messaged to say their trip from Cheltenham wasn’t as smooth as ours from south Wales, and there was a real danger of them missing the flight.

Long story short… they did.

With Dan sacrificing his divine right to have an extortionately priced beer at the airport so he could pick up the hire car, we arrived at sunny Jože Pučnik airport mid-afternoon with the Alps defending every horizon, unsurprised with the knowledge half of the country is forest. Next stop: Bled.

Bled & Caves.

Bled is a small town about 45 minutes north-west of capital city Ljubjana. Its main attraction is a beautiful lake in the middle of peaceful green surroundings, overlooked by the medieval Bled Castle.

When I say Bled is a town, it has a population of 6,000 people, whereas Newport’s nearby village Caerleon houses 8,000 folk. This didn’t make finding our hostel too difficult. Garden House Bled offered comfortable dorms with a balcony in forestry surroundings, including it’s own treehouse and sauna. For the small price we paid we were delighted to chill out in the sunshine and cracked open the first beers on foreign soil. Some rancid 7% IPA I wouldn’t touch at home, but one must make do sometimes.

As the sun started to set and kickoff of the Liverpool-Roma Champions League semi-final was fast approaching we headed in to ‘town’ that was all of a five minute walk down the hill by the lake, with another guest Helmut from Germany tagging along with us.

The rounds were delivered and consumed at a healthy pace, although my doctor may disagree. By the end of the game we were half a mile along the lake in Devils Bar filling up on pizza and flirting with the odd spirit and mixer, contemplating on whether or
not to visit the casino up the road. Once my ‘gamble responsibly’ spiel was shared we decided to proceed, but thankfully without any form of ID I wasn’t allowed in, thus went back to the pub with James who was staying in a hotel nearby, had a few more lagers and walked home alone getting lost on multiple occasions.

Overnight the other three lads finally arrived. They ended up driving to Luton, flying to Munich then driving 5 hours south through Austria. They must REALLY like Lloyd. I woke up without a hangover, fresh and ready to make my introductions. What a nice bunch.

The plan this morning was to visit the Vintgar Gorge before the Postojna Caves on the way back to Ljunbjana. It turned out the Gorge was actually closed that week so just the caves to look forward to. Whilst those staying at the hostel gave ample time to get ready, the person who decided to go it alone and book a hotel was unresponsive due to excessive drinking the night before and meant we didn’t leave Bled until 90 minutes later than anticipated.

This would have a disappointing knock on effect. Once we arrived at the caves and knowing the hire car would have to be back at a certain time, we didn’t have enough time to see the main attraction, having to make do with a much smaller version of exhibition. I can’t speak for the rest of the lads but I was furious at this point, even considering I have been that inconsiderate arsehole on a few occasions! But, we still had a long weekend ahead of us to enjoy in Ljubljana.

Ljubljana

Once we had dropped the hire car off near the train station later that afternoon, we headed to our hostel in one of Europe’s smallest capital cities. It was an uninspiring stroll through side streets as we hoped this wasn’t all the city had to offer, where was this castle and river? Most places you go to the station is smack bang in the middle, but not here… it took us half an hour to get to the “famous” dragon bridge where our wonderful h2o hostel was located a few minutes along the Ljubjianca river.

Shower, shave, sh… etcetera and we were sat having a beer in the first pub we found, and there where countless bars aligning the river without outside seating areas enjoying the weather – it was supposed to be thunder and lightning. This was the first time we had all settled down to have a beer together and conversation soon turned into a few jokes and finding more about each other. A first walk up the river allowed us to visit another bar and when we filled up the table with empty local Union of Laško beers we headed somewhere to watch the football as Lloyd’s team Arsenal were playing Athletico Madrid in the Europa semi. This was harder than anticipated as we ended up in a place called the ‘England Pub’ with a big crest of three lions outside, it was as crap as it sounds. It didn’t fill me with confidence that we had to actually ask for the game to be shown, and by half time we gave up on the game and visited a welcoming restaurant for (another) pizza.

A few lads alluded to the reason why I didn’t have a hangover all trip, something along the lines of European booze containing less preservatives? Anyway, fresh for a second day running and before you could say Jan Oblak we wandered through the market, over that famous dragon bridge of course, on the way to Ljubljana castle that overlooks the city in every direction. On a clear day I discovered that you could see a third of the whole country! Sadly today wasn’t a clear day. It started pissing down incredibly as we started the steep climb uphill and continued whilst we meandered through various castle exhibits ranging from the history of the castle and the city, a rather poor puppet museum to the viewing tower, and the bar. The trip back to the centre wasn’t half as bad as we got the lift. I don’t know why we didn’t use it on the way up either! The remainder of Friday was used up by welcoming Dom, the eighth member of our group and visiting several other bars in the city in between some delightful lightening displays.

Saturday was our last full day and shortly before lunch we started a walking tour. Whilst I felt that we had seen all there was to see it was great to get an alternative look at Ljubjana. The tour focused a lot around various works of art, especially graffiti which I found it difficult not to consider as vandalism, although the stories behind the art offered some fascination. Away from ‘art’ it was interesting to discover one of the first LGBT bars is currently located under the mayor’s office at City Hall, a show of protection after the bar previous locations was subject to attacks from neanderthals. We also visited the famous dragon bridge – OBVIOUSLY – and two ghettos Rog and Metelkova. To me, of limited cultural expansion capabilities the areas looked like abandoned scrapyards, but in fact they offer so much more to the ‘alternative’ population. Of Rog, Wikipedia states:

The former Rog factory serves Ljubljana and the wider community as a space for alternative content which is lacking in an otherwise heavily institutionalized Slovenia. Its 7,000 square meters hosts many collectives and spaces: multiple gallery spaces, art studios, two skate parks (including the largest covered skate park in Balkans), Rog Social Center for disadvantaged groups (such as migrants and refugees), various concert and clubbing venues, a bicycle repair shop, etc. Those collectives provide a rich programme of social and cultural activities. All users participate directly and make decisions collectively at general assemblies.

… not something we’re very familiar with to that extent, unfortunately, but superb to hear about.

A hearty financial contribution to our tour guide shortly after and we headed back to somewhat normality finding a burger bar along the river for a few more beers before heading back to the hostel for a few hours to watch the final County game of the season whilst others headed to the park and Laško brewery.

Our final planned activity was a boat ride along the Ljubljanica. Albeit a simple 20 minutes upstream and back again, most of which we had walked alongside back and fore numerous times, we were on a stunning wooden boat, drinking a can of lager, waving to anyone unfortunate to make eye contact as the sun fell from the sky for the last time.

Drinks that evening involved some 8 Euro rubbish Baileys/Coffee/whipped cream combo, a beer next to a local hen party who also brought their own whipped cream to use on any good looking blokes walking by – luckily our group didn’t fit that category so went unharmed. Afterwards a long walk past the train station to a club turned out to be some ballroom dance kind of gig, as humorous that could possibly be. Ultimately we ended up in the small café bar just behind our hostel for one last quiet round or two, having a chat to some fellow Brits who were there as part of Hash House Harriers, an international group of non-competitive running social clubs. I’m not sure the chaps we spoke to did much running over the weekend given their age and more so their drinking behaviours – they put us to shame!

As stag do’s go, it was a very quiet affair. However, the last one I went to abroad I ended up sick in bed for two out of the four days and did bugger all, so this was an improvement.

The last day (still hangover free) I took the initiative to wake up first so I could visit Tivoli Park after saying goodbyes to the three chaps making their long trip back to Munich. Another sunny day and a coffee overlooking the city seemed an eloquent end to the weekend. Unfortunately EasyJet had other ideas. The trip home was delayed by more than three hours!

A big reason for wanting to go on the trip was it would be the only chance I have to celebrate Lloyd’s imminent marriage to Cara, having accidently booked our weekend to Prague on the same weekend.

So if you’re thinking of going to Ljubljana…my recommendations are:

A weekend is more than enough time.

Whilst the city is lovely, you will quickly run out of things to do unless a quiet drink by the river is your idea of a getaway. Visiting the castle is essential and I highly recommend the alternative walking tour. Nevertheless Slovenia is bordered by Austria, Croatia, Hungary and only a few hours’ drive from Venice in Italy.

You MUST visit Bled.

If you go to Ljubljana you will regret not going to Bled even if it is for a couple of hours. We were only there overnight, mostly drinking, but during the day there are endless walking routes, water sports and a visit to the viewpoint from top of the castle seemed a good idea if time permitted.

The probability was I would have included Vintgar Gorge and postojna Caves in that too has we been able to see them.

Add it to your agenda.

Slovenia is multicultural, friendly, and somewhere that has certainly benefitted since being in the EU. Whilst groceries and accommodation is cheap, still expect for pay £2.80 off a pint and meal prices similar to the UK.