With wide eyes and rested bodies, we were excited to launch ourselves into autumn in Northern Europe like jumping into a freshly raked pile of leaves. We had gifted ourselves with six precious days of independent travel, outside of our normal month-long stays. And so, we had the pleasurable task of exploring one country up and a world away - Slovenia! Slovenia was a strike to the senses in the most enveloping and charming way. We stayed in the capital, Ljubljana (loob-lee-YA-na) for a night, before picking up our rental car and zipping across the countryside.
The Slovenian people were our first shock - never, and I mean NEVER, have we come across a collective group of individuals that were so amicable and obliging. Oh my God, these people JOKED. With STRANGERS. They had sarcasm! They welcomed us and chatted with us and opened their sweet and unwavering souls to us! And we were only there for five days! They were so unreserved, uninhibited, dare I say, un-European?
Ljubljana might be one of the most charming cities I do believe we've ever been. It's small, so it's easily walkable, with beautiful ottoman architecture and cobblestone streets, ivy lacing up the buildings and puffy clouds dancing across the sky. It felt like someone turned up the saturation on all the colors that decorated the city. God I love fall!
Once we got our rental car (a cousin to our much beloved Roo from Iceland), we drove due north from the capital, to the Logar Valley, Rinka waterfall and Grintovec peak. Taking a hard left, we wound our way through the twisting roads to right outside of Bled for the night. The backpacking hostel we stayed in was huge and empty (due to it being late in the season) and not a little unlike the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Travis thought I was being ridiculous, but come on! The hallways had creepy red carpets and creaky hardwood floors. And we were the only ones there!
Anyways, after working my mind into a frenzy, we slept and woke to a beautiful, cloudless day to explore Lake Bled and the surrounding park. Bled is beautiful, and a walk around the lake practically beckons you. For a time, I think there was a rumor that underneath the Monastery on the lake held Vlad the Impaler's (Dracula's) empty tomb, but that legend has since returned to Lake Snagov in Romania. We also ventured to Lake Bohinj, Bled's bigger brother a little farther into the Triglav National Park, Vintger Gorge and Savica waterfall (the Slovenian word for waterfall is "slap," which I find quite hilarious).
Day Four had us driving halfway around Triglav National Park, only to be blocked by 30 meters of road construction outside of Kranskja Gora, and then driving around the other half to get to where we were actually trying to go, with a brief stop in the Tolmin Gorge.
We stayed in Bovec that night, and on Day Five we delved deep into the Vršič Pass, humming through the Soca River and Trenta Valley, Kozjak Waterfall, and what we hoped would be Boka Waterfall (it was all dried up!). Before moseying back to Ljubljana for the night, we stopped at a winery to really get a taste for Slovenian wine - hello orange wine! Basically, they make white wine in the way of a red wine, meaning they leave the skins and stems on the grapes for a few days before filtering them out. It makes for a mouthy, tannic and altogether delicious experience.
Fast-forward two days and a 15-hour overnight bus ride later, and Berlin! As far as capital cities go, Berlin is the least European I do believe we've been in (outside of the UK, obvs). Not necessarily a bad thing, but Berlin has exactly that denim-jacket, unwavering-stare, general-punk vibe throughout, even in the yuppier parts. However, we enjoyed ourselves not so much for the war-time memorials and museums (because Jesus there are a lot of them), and more for the moodiness of each neighborhood. We loved Prenzlauer Berg, with its open avenues and gentrified coffee shops; we equally loved Kreuzberg, with its in-your-face attitude, street food and beer bars.
Unsurprisingly, Berlin reminded us of a spread out and capriciously reserved Portland, but with better street art. We did a few of the tourist things, but really kind of dropped the ball on that end. I like the history of WWII, and by "like the history," I mean I like reading fictional novels set in war-torn countries during WWII, but everything felt a little obligated. So we opted out. 16 months into traveling full time, and I still can't get used to being okay with "If you don't want to go see it, then just. don't. go. see. it." Travis, of course, has no problem with this.
However, in the end, Berlin has a feel in the air that could be like home. It's easy, open, design-oriented and plush with breweries and coffee shops - so very close to Portland or Seattle or Chicago. And yet, it's just not quite there.