As a few of you know at this point, about one week ago I reluctantly decided to stop walking the Slovenian Mountain Trail for fear that I would be seriously injured, or worse. I loved almost every second of walking through the forests and mountains of Slovenia, even the moments when I was completely exhausted and pushing myself to the limit to make it up mountains to the next mountain hut. Last Saturday, there were a few, brief moments I definitely did not enjoy.. but that is absolutely no fault of the Slovenia Mountain Trail, the fault lies solely on myself for not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into when I started this trek. It has all been an amazing learning experience and I am eager to come back next year, better prepared with the knowledge I now have of the terrain and the trail system, and I will knock the rest of the trek out of the park.
Looking at this in another way, it is an amazing opportunity for me to write up some basic information in English for people that might want to do the Slovenian Mountain Trail (and you absolutely SHOULD want to do it!). I had a very hard time finding background information on this trail on any of the tourism websites. The one-paragraph description given actually reads like a nice relaxing walk, actually.
“This is the longest and the most popular long-distance trail in Slovenia. In 28 days, you will be rewarded with exceptional views and experiences. It begins in Maribor, takes you across the plateaus of the Pohorje Hills, the Kamnik and Savinja Alps, the Karavanke Alps, and the Julian Alps. Finally, you will be caressed by a sea breeze on the Adriatic coast.”
Now, you would think that I should have known this would be much more than a relaxing stroll, but I have trekked all over the world at this point and I have never before had to climb up the side of a mountain at 60 degrees before. The local Slovenians that I would see running up and down the mountains did so with small day-packs of approximately 4 or 5 kilos and with mountain boots with the utmost support for their ankles. The heart of my problem is, my backpack is massive weighing around 25 kilos, and my hiking shoes do not have the ankle support to manage the unmaintained tails of loose rocks and boulders that I would have to navigate through the mountains.
The night before I decided to end my trek, the caretaker of the mountain hut I was staying at looked at me with grave concern in his eyes and mentioned to me that my bag was extremely large for this trail and that from the next day through the remainder of the Alps, the trail was about to get much, much more difficult. If this wasn’t enough to freak me out, a friend from the UK wrote to me saying she dreamt I had died… and to please write back to her letting her know I actually HAD NOT died.
Though a little bit fearful, I set out the next morning to descend 1500 meters into a valley before climbing back up 1500 meters up the next mountain. On my way down the side of the mountain, I was navigating around extremely high cliffs, on paths that wouldn’t have been so challenging, except the weight of my bag had taken all of my dexterity away. To catch my balance as I was sliding on loose rock, I would have to shift my weight quickly, and that weight shift, with the extra 25 kilos on my back would actually pull me in directions I didn’t really want to be going. I hadn’t fallen in the 7 previous days of hiking, but this day I had already fallen 3 times. By the time I descended the 1500 meters into the valley, I had decided to call it quits and head to Ljubljana, somehow.
I had made it from Maribor, the beginning of the Slovenian Mountain Trail, to the tiny mountain village of ‘Robanov kot’. This is where I will pick up the trail next year, with a smaller backpack (I’ll find a hostel in Ljubljana to leave the rest of my gear) and more supportive boots. I should be able to knock out the rest of this trail, no problem.
For the last week, I have been spending time with ‘The Beloved.’
This is the literal translation for Slovenia’s capital city ‘Ljubljana.’
So much to adore about this city.
The country of Slovenia became independent for the first time ever in 1991. This means that it had been constantly occupied by foreign powers throughout its entire history. Since they never really had their own, dedicated military, there are no statues or monuments of soldiers, generals on horseback, commanders with flags, etc.
The greatest heroes of the country of Slovenia, the people that actually do have monuments and statues around the capitol, are authors, architects, scholars, and intellectuals. This revelation will give you some insight as to the general relaxed, inviting, and inspiring mood of this capital city. Two of the greatest heroes of the country are Jože Plečnik (architect) and France Prešeren (poet).
Plečnik returned to Ljubljana after being the head architect on the restoration of the Prague Castle. He learned many lessons about city planning while in the densely populated Prague, and he implemented everything he learned back in Ljubljana. His trademark and signature design style are literally all over this city. There is evidence of Plečnik in many of the buildings, the central market, the multitude of stand-alone columns with early deco lighting fixtures on top, a few of the iconic bridges and even the park benches scattered all throughout the capital.
Prešeren is considered one of the country’s greatest heroes, and he was a poet. He did more to advance the cause of the Slovene national consciousness in the 19th century than anyone else through his many epic poems. Through his writing, attempted to create and define the unique Slovene culture, and he often clashed with the ruling governments and the Catholic Church who thought his writings were anarchic and immoral. One of his poems ‘Zdravljica’ (A Toast as in ‘cheers’) had one verse set to music and it was adopted as the Slovenian national anthem in 1991.
When you speak to a Slovenian about these two figures in their history, you can absolutely feel the subtle pride as they talk. One of the things that really impressed me the most, while speaking with a local here, they were extremely proud that their national anthem is the only national anthem in the world that speaks kindly of other nations. While most anthems will tout the superiority of their country and ask god to favor them in all things, the Slovenian anthem takes an entire verse and calls on god to look after everyone, not just themselves.
God’s blessing on all nations
Who long and work for that bright day
When o’er earth’s habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway
Who long to see
That all men free
No more shall foes, but neighbors be!
The person I was speaking to was so proud that their nation’s anthem includes a blessing for everyone on the planet. This is yet more insight as to why I have been feeling such intense hospitality and kindness from everyone I have met here. It is written into the fabric of their culture to not just think of themselves, but about others as well.
Since I have been in the capital city I have:
– Taken an extremely long tour of the castle
– Spent way too much time in the interactive ‘Puppet Theater & Museum’ (I am sure I played with every single puppet)
– Walked the route that highlights the Roman ruins
– Explored Tivoli park
– Perfected my ‘saunter’ walk
– Gone to autonomous neighborhood ‘Metelkova’ every, night
– Completely… chilled out
I have been in the capital now for almost a week and I have been perfecting my saunter walk, a walk that allows me to travel at a sloth’s pace because to travel any faster, I would run the risk of reaching the edge of town within 10 minutes. This is not a large city. However, it is the perfect just the way it is. The baroque, old section of town directly under the castle is lined with restaurants and cafes, not crowded at all, and as I saunter through the streets and alleys, I get to absorb every sight and smell in my surroundings.
I decided to stay a few days longer because Ljubljana Pride is tomorrow (Saturday, June 17) and I don’t want to miss a bunch of rainbow flags marching through a medieval, castle city. Such a young LGBT community, it seems, but incredibly politically vocal in their opposition to what is happening in Chechnya. So tomorrow should be very interesting and inspiring. I think there is a lot of heart, soul, and community here that has been lost in most of the Pride marches in the USA.
I have to get back on the trail ASAP though and Sunday I leave for 4-days at Lake Bled. This is a very touristy place, but I will hike for a few days away from Bled to some awesome caverns and gorges that should be quite an adventure.
During the one-week I hiked through the mountains of Slovenia, I went down THREE belt notches. My entire body was getting insanely toned, and if I stay any longer in Ljubljana, I am going to lose that, so I really want to start walking again ASAP.
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