Slovenia stole my heart. The all-night train from Belgrade traversed Croatia in darkness then eased into Slovenia as the sun rose. I leaned out the window and let the cold March air touch my face as the train wound through along the breathtaking Sava river. When I arrived in Ljubljana I had hardly sleep, but I was too restless to stay in my hostel. I walked around the quaint city for 2 hours, enthralled with the inventive architecture and brightly painted exteriors. In the center of town sits a local market complete with a milk dispensing machine that is refilled every 4 hours with fresh, unpasteurized milk from a nearby farm. That night I went out by myself to a bar on the outskirts of town nicknamed the “Graffiti Bar”. It was worth the walk. I befriended a small group of Slovenians who whole-heartedly adopted me for the night. We drank Lasko and “Bear Blood”, danced inside and played music outside around the bonfire till 4am.
The next day I left for Lake Bled, a haven known as The Jewel of Slovenia. The name is not an exaggeration. The calm beauty of Bled was unparalleled on this trip. Abound with castles, placid water, and stunning views of the Alps, Bled was the kind of place I’d like to return to and stay a while. The 20 Czech hockey players in my hostel added an edge to the experience. I was talked into joining them for a late-night visit to the casino, which turned out being somewhat lucrative for me at the blackjack table. They were a rowdy bunch of characters if I’ve ever seen one. Undoubtedly a loving bunch. My next move was the Alpe Adia. The hike was primarily in nature, but it ended in the Italian port town of Trieste. Trieste is not a tourist town. I hardly met a soul who spoke English, and after days of hiking, I was used to minimal conversing. These two kind men below picked me up hitch-hiking over the Italian border from Slovenia. I’d veered from the trail and was nowhere close to the town I was supposed to be in. They laughed at my story and decided that I would go to lunch at a pizzeria with them and they would take me to San Lorenzo. In a patchwork version of Italian, Spanish and English, they told me about their grandchildren and asked about my parents, my travels, and my work. I was informed that I was their granddaughter for the day, and that if I needed anything while I was in the region I was to call or email them. When they dropped me off in San Lorenzo I was strangely glad I had gotten lost.