7 things and places not to miss in Slovenia

7 things and places not to miss in Slovenia

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Slovenia. Most of my friends did not know where it was and why on earth I would choose to go there. Truth was, I was on a trip headed towards Ultra Europe 2015 held in Split, Croatia and Slovenia was just a pre destination prior to what I was considering the highlight of my entire vacation. Little did I know that this beautiful spectacular country caught us totally off guard and we ended up falling in love with it, as much as we did with Croatia! Perhaps even more so!

Here’s the top 7 experiences not to miss when (and I mean when, not if) you go there:

  1. Ljubljana

Slovenia-17Obviously the capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana (lyoo-blyah-nah) would be one of the first things you would explore when you land. This city is small but clean and the main town area is so pretty! It was scorching hot when I landed in July, albeit being summer- people were strolling around, gulping down gelatos and having their conversations in tiny cafes whilst there was plenty of music from baskers filling the air. The instant things, which hit me, were the clean streets, security and the friendliness of the people.

We stayed at an Airbnb just off the town area, which required about 15 minutes walk through the streets. Our host was extremely friendly and generous. I would definitely recommend staying at Airbnbs in Slovenia if you are worried about accommodation, the people are excellent hosts.

Tip: Take the gondola up the castle for a panaromic view of the whole city.

  1. Hiking in Slovenian Alps
Chasing waterfalls

Chasing waterfalls

Real exciting was a day tour we took with Slotrips (http://www.slovenia-trips.com/), to explore the Slovenian Alps and Soca Valley. I would definitely recommend this company as the best to get in touch with the pristine nature and real Slovenia. Our guide, Domen, was awesome as he took us to several waterfalls and even to local hotspots which tourists would not know about.

62% of land in Slovenia is nature, which would explain why the nation’s top sports are hiking and mountaineering. The locals would hunt for secret tidal pools and waterfalls to jump in and that would make up most of their summer; fantastic in my opinion. Fancy any lake you wish to swim in and do so!

  1. Triglav National Park

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A trip to Slovenia is not complete if you haven’t been to the tallest mountain at 2864 metres, Mt Triglav. It is said amongst the locals that – “No one is a true Slovenian unless he/she has climbed to the summit of Mt Triglav”. Apparently, this was true because every local we talked to after that has either a) climbed to the summit n thus proudly proclaimed a true Slovenian or b) abashedly laughs and said he is not a true Slovenian because he has not reached the tip of Mt Triglav.

Being a small and truly underrated destination for mountaineering and hiking, the trails were not commonly packed in the summer. Plenty of locals were trekking, some major backpackers, happy campers, and even groups of school children. Everywhere you went on whichever trail, the love for hiking is evident on the faces of the Slovenians. It was tremendously pleasant to see people really taking care of their national environment and loving the outdoors.

Tip: If you are an adventurous hiker, definitely spend on a few days camping outdoors in the wilderness of the Julian Alps.

  1. Cliff Jumping

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This is the absolute best thing to do in Slovenia whilst in the summer! Cliff jumping. There are literally numerous places to this, the Soca River being one of them. This was also the highlight of the day trip we did with Slotrips, where we braced a 8m jump into 10degrees water in a gorge in Soca Valley.

8m may not seem like much, especially for people who constantly jump off cliffs or rocks during European summers, but for me a city girl, it was the most terrifying and amazing experience that I had.

It was a day after walking tons of miles on trails in the Triglav National Park, chasing waterfalls and sweating madly in the summer heat. The waters were crazy cold and I kept falling over the slippery rocks, but the experience was unimaginable.

We all survived the jump! It was a big opener to cliff jumping for me, would definitely do it at any opportunity I find now!

  1. Vintgar Gorge

Slovenia-6Another great place for some amazing scenery and undisturbed landscapes would be the Vintgar Gorge, located northwest of Bled. It’s a great place to stop at if you are heading for Bled or Bohinj.

This gorge is 1.6km and it winds through the rocks and hills, contained with the Radnova River. This place is pretty touristy, and its hard to see why. I didn’t particularly liked the crowds but when you turn every corner and see emerald colours like this, its impossible not to fall in love with this natural feature.

Its not nearly a hike, as it is a walk through manmade wooden path winding round the hillside. Make sure you walk all the way towards the end, where you can actually see a huge waterfall and locals jumping off smaller rocks into the water (of course), making you cringe in envy.

  1. Talk to the locals

A huge reason why Slovenia holds a special place in our hearts now was because of the people. They speak perfect English, perfect grammar, they love to share about their country and their love for the outdoors. I loved the fact that they held the upmost respect for Mt Triglav and pride for their clean undisturbed sceneries. The locals are open-minded, they do not mind tourists and they seem to just be in their own world.

It is certainly one European country where I have not experienced any hustling and bustle of a city, no jostlings or any of that sort. Slovenia is like a fairtytale small European town you would find in Disney movie, surrounded by giants Hungary, Croatia and Austria. Its no wonder why many people overlook it in their rush to get to Italy or cross the sea over to Croatia.

  1. Lake Bohinj

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Our next day after exploring Julian Alps, we headed to Lake Bohinj. This area was sort of completely different from Soca River, in the fact that it reminds one of New Zealand or Scotland instead. The lake itself was surrounded by majestic mountains, in contrast to the packed trees and cliffs environment of the Soca Valley. Unfortunately it was raining heavily when we arrived so we did not manage to get into the waters. I would definitely recommend to rent a kayak and head out though!

People you met in a day: Friends for Life

Throughout all the tours I’ve been to in my life, whether it be multi day tours or mostly 1 day tours, I’ve never really been very much connected to the other travellers on board.

Recently I’ve been coming across this saying where one meets people on the road just for a day, and they become friends for life. I wonder if that is really possible, considering you split up after a day and go about your own itineraries. That was not till my trip to Slovenia 🙂

Slovenia-50I ended up jumping into crystal clear blue waters of the Soca Valley gorge with the strangers in my fellow tour group and it was wonderful!

The water may not look it but the current was strong, and it was 10 degrees cold. For someone who’s used to tropical weather, may I just ascertain again that that was freezing for me!

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Say hi to my beautiful friends I made when we were all freaking out from just jumping 8 metres, (for most of us our first time jumping from any cliff..ahem yours truly). It was a day after walking tons of miles on trails in the Triglav National Park, chasing waterfalls and sweating madly in the summer heat. The waters were crazy cold and I kept falling over the slippery rocks, but the experience was unimaginable and I suddenly got the understanding why Slovenians practically jump off and swim in any lake possible during the summer 🙂

Me staring into some kind of abyss

Me staring into some kind of abyss

So that was the area we all jumped off from, its definitely not some kind of exhilarating height, but it was enough for me as a first timer! Too awesome that I am definitely looking for jumping opportunities wherever I go now 🙂

It was probably the whole atmosphere of gaining courage, supporting one another and rush of adrenaline which led us to becoming fast friends after that. We ended up with drinks at the end of the night and still keep in touch till this very day x

The Lizard: The Peninsular Unknown

Lizard… where do I even begin. This place is wonderous! An unexpected gem situated at the southern tip of Cornwall, in Southern England. During my research for this trip I merely knew the more popular attractions of the Minack Theatre and other southern tip, Land’s End. I came across this place called the Lizard , and the images online were beautiful, but nothing quite clearly prepared me for the place in reality!

Walking along the coastline

Walking along the coastline

We arrived on a clear sunny(lucky) extremely blustery morning and started off our walk along the coastal part of this peninsular. Word has it that the place is called Lizard due to the rocks being composed of serpentinite. I am not a big fan of the animal itself.

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Our path took us inland too,across meandering small trails suitable for any hiker of any level. I was very envious of people who lived in the town and had this in their own backyard! Imagine morning or sunset walks!! I especially loved wandering inland for a bit, it took us away from the biting cold winds even in the spring of May, and gave us a chance to enjoy the greenery without having to flick our hair away from our faces every 5 seconds.

This particular stretch made me think of Lord of the Rings, of course it is not as magnificient as New Zealand, but perhaps it could pass off as the flatlands or grasslands of Rohan? 🙂 Nonetheless, I was a happy city girl stumbling along the grasses, loving the fresh air and nature in my surroundings for a change. Sometimes, cities and skyscrapers can be absolutely suffocating.

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Scraggly rocks and the sea

Scraggly rocks and the sea

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Can someone actually jump up and down for joy at the sight of such green?! I wished I was one of the many dogs for many a moment, able to run free and sniff the beautiful air, wrestling their bellies against the lush green grass and bushes.

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Another of my favourite pictures from the region, the stairways to heaven, I name it in my head. This was a stairway that we had wandered down earlier, travelling inland away from the coast. On our journey back, we climbed back up this particular flight and my face turned toward the sunlight, its rays flaying on the grass at the sides. The stairs paved the way to a higher place which crested the top of a hill and led us to the coast yet again.  It was like the breath of inland before entering the battle of the winds.

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Though it may not look it, the winds that morning were at least 50mph. It was still the best place in Cornwall and it ranked top amongst all our votes. Definitely recommend it to anyone who’s heading down to Cornwall! More of lizard photos on my photostream.

Zanzibar: Alone and Alive

For the most part of my trip to Zanzibar, I was alone when we hit the beaches of Nungwi. It is situated at the northernmost point, the tip of Zanzibar and we hopped on a large taxi to get there. It takes about an hour from the beaches of Nungwi back to the airport.

Whilst my fellow mates wanted to laze around and did not have spare cash to afford a more comfortable stay, I opted for a better option to stay in by walking around the stretches of resorts. I bumped into a local and made friends with him for the better part of my next few days. He was so friendly and nice to me, although his intentions were more than that. Nevertheless I am absolutely grateful to have met him that day, for it gave me courage to go about and have a short vacation on my own.

IMG_0305The sunsets everyday were amazing, the beaches were dotted with many fishing boats which have been out since the break of dawn. I took a stroll every evening, just taking in the seaside air and enjoyed the feeling of soft sand crumpling between my toes.

This was the view from my accommodation. I step out onto my front porch of my room and there it is.

This was the view from my accommodation. I step out onto my front porch of my room and there it is.

I picked one of the days to go on a snorkelling tour, whereby I joined a whole other group of people and we headed to an island in the middle of nowhere. An island which is not inhabited at all, the waters so crystal clear I could not believe it.

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Ive never seen a cleaner shoreline than this and we had lunch made of fresh caught fish from the sea.

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Our snorkelling took place in equally crystal clear waters.

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On the way back as the boat dropped off people to their respective resorts, I couldnt help but notice the more luxurious and expensive bungalow resorts along the coast.

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It was unreal plainly because no one gets the real picture of what is behind these resorts. About 400m behind all of these beautiful resorts, the local people live in stone houses with no roads and no electricity. The locals live in darkness and with so little food, every morning most of them walk the little paths to the shore and work as waiters and cooks, serving burgers and fish and chips to tourists. Its unthinkable to imagine that this portrayal of paradise for tourism and poverty lives adjacent to one another. I was stunned when my local friend took me back to his home area, and the children were thin without clothes, the women trying to cook over charcoal. I don’t think this is particularly uncommon in Africa, but the reality of this stark contrast in environments really hit me and has remained with me ever since.

We can look at Africa as tourism do, a large continent with so much to explore, wild animals to capture on safaris, lodges and wildlife enticing us urban people. We can look at the continent as a place to help people, to volunteer on our monthly projects and what not. But do people actually bring home this message that the people are still suffering clearly, and it is not as always exotic and pretty as it seems? The region is so vast and huge I can barely think of what it would take to turn it around. All I can say is that though they may be poverty stricken, many of the children are smart and they rejoice in simple things such as pumping water from the ground and making faces into your camera. They welcome you with open arms, they sing to you their national anthem. So much potential in these people, its such a shame for them to be living in these conditions.

Zanzibar wrapped up my one month stay in Africa and it sealed my love for this continent. I have every intention to go back, to go to other parts.

Paradise of Tanzania: Zanzibar

The sun rays hit the side of the bus windows as we rolled into endless plains and flatlands, littered with the occasional shady tree. The grass sparse, trampled on by wild zebras and giraffes. I opened my eyes and took all of this in at once, cramped in the backseat, coming to terms that I have arrived in Tanzania. The first resemblance which popped into my mind was that of the opening scenes of the Lion King.

We crossed the plains of this vast region toward Dar Es Salaam, where we caught the ferry into Zanzibar. You can also take a 45 minute plane ride. The archipelago wraps around the east coast of Tanzania, a region commonly known as the Land of the Serengeti. One day I would wish to return for a safari.

Stone Town in Zanzibar is located on the western side of the island and its usually the first stop for travellers. It is the main urban area to walk the narrow streets and winding alleys , soaking in the culture and smell of the sea before you head out into the vast beaches dotting the coast.

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The corridors of the Stone Town are winding roads with balconies and terraces. The accommodations usually hostels and lodges.

One of the cleaner corridors! Palm trees and sunny skies enhances the white terraces

One of the cleaner corridors! Palm trees and sunny skies enhances the white terraces

This island seems very far away from home, no one back in Singapore has really heard or talk much about this area.  I only learnt about it whilst researching for my trip to Uganda.

Every night there is a pretty big seafood market in the open square next to the sea, where the locals grill and barbeque fresh seafood. Its amazing, the smells are so captivating! Garlic and butter, mixed with the saltiness of the air, seafood and large arrays of sugarcane and desserts.

Kebabs

Kebabs

Every shop is filled to the brim with stacks and stacks of food on skewers or fresh seafood laid out on their table. You just pick what you want and its on the grill for you. IMG_0199

People just come for their dinners, cheap and made hot on the spot. They sit along the coast, chomping on their food and have a real good time.IMG_0200

Hello, would you like some Octopus??

Hello, would you like some Octopus??

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Another highlight of Zanzibar are the spices!! The next day we headed to the other market which is also densely visited in the day. The Spice Market.

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IMG_0210Shop after shop after shop, filled with tons and tons of spices! All individually wrapped into plastic, labelled, their colours resemble that of art tools for kids.

It's easy to picture merchants and fishermen shipping their spices off to the markets.

It’s easy to picture merchants and fishermen shipping their spices off to the markets.

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Most Memorable: Uganda

Here’s a really memorable experience forever etched in my mind:

I did a month long trip to Uganda and Tanzania, during my summer break at Uni. Together with the Leeds RAG society, a student-run fundraising organisation, I raised funds for my trip and got into the rural areas to help build schools manually for the children.

My most memorable experience came one night when our mud house was infested with ants. There were black ants crawling all over our bodies, the hut itself, our gear, in our sleeping bags, in the cooking area, just everywhere! The locals poured kerosene over the walls, in the hopes of deterring the ants with the smell. However, as I was sleeping in the corner right at the back, the night was plagued with the crumpling of plastic as ants kept crawling all over my stuff still. Getting extremely paranoid and frightened of being bitten to death, I slipped out into the night with all of my gear and my sleeping bag.

I ventured into the black wilderness outside, got out my head lamp, and began to set up my tent all by myself. This was during strong chilly winds overhead, signalling a storm might be coming. I slept in my tent, all alone that night but at utter peace.

Recalling that incident, it was a decision which made me really appreciate the safety of a tent. Pitched well, and made well, it was like a sanctuary I could crawl into if I ever needed to escape the wilderness. I gained some new bravery for myself that night and it made me feel that hey, maybe I COULD actually survive in the wilderness. (seeing as I am a complete urban city person all my life)..

Turi Beach: A short resort review

Thought I’d do a short post on somewhere much closer to home… Batam, Indonesia.

Exactly a year ago in 2014, my best-est girl mates went with me on a short weekend getaway to Batam! Being in Singapore, its only 2 hours ferry’s ride away 🙂

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Arriving at the Turi Beach Resort, the open aired lobby displayed an impressive view of the ocean coupled with palm trees! To be honest, we did not expect such a beautiful view at all!

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We stayed for two nights. The hotel spalled large grounds, with many pools right next to the ocean. The vast grounds were quite impressive, however lots of amenities were quite old and not being maintained. It was such a shame

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One of the really pretty parts of the resort was this long bridge which led to a separate miniature island. They had a small bar there and lots of space to look out over the sea, popular for sunset and sunrise watching.

Of course, we got up at dawn and watched the sun rise :)

Of course, we got up at dawn and watched the sun rise 🙂

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A girls getaway is always a good idea! The resort overall was alright, I would give highs for its incredibly big bathroom, some spectacular views. Unfortunately, low maintenance of facilities and the fact that the beach is not used for suntanning or lounging around because of its rocky shore definitely puts it down low on my list of accommodations!

I was touched mostly by the fact that my girls were with me for my birthday and they took the time off to be with me. After all, the company’s what we should be grateful for, even if everything else of the trip was not up to tip tops.