Welcome to Slovenia! Some countries feature stunning, world-class sights, but when I board the plane to leave, I'm happy to go. Other countries do not feature such world-class sights, but they are so charming and comfortable that I have the urge to skip my outgoing flight and start looking for apartments. Slovenia is one of those countries.
Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, is a compact city filled with Baroque buildings and cafe-lined streets and canals.
Although the above-pictured war memorial is in Ljubljana, Slovenia was spared most of the conflict which marked the break-up of Yugoslavia. Instead, Slovenia marched peacefully to independence in 1991, and became the first former Communist country to join the Eurozone in 2007. Slovenia is the richest per capita country of the former Slavic states, although in recent years, it has been hard hit by the global economic downturn. Despite the recent financial troubles, Slovenia has not experienced the popular unrest that has marked other financially troubled European nations such as Greece and Spain.
Perhaps one reason the populace has taken the economic downturn in stride is that the country is filled with incredible natural beauty. Slovenia is the third most forested nation in Europe, after Finland and Sweden, with over half of the country covered by forests.
One particularly beautiful forested region I visited was the Vintgar Gorge area outside of the small town of Bled.
The surrounding countryside in the Bled region features idyllic scenes everywhere you turn.
The town of Bled itself is built beside a beautiful lake. As pictured in the above photo, there is a castle overlooking the lake, the town, and the many resident ducks and swans.
Back in the capital city of Ljubljana, another castle sits atop a hill, overlooking the city.
The real charm of Slovenia lies not so much in its impressive natural beauty or its architecture, but in the quirky charm of its people. It's the kind of place where people don't bat an eye when a couple strolls by on stilts, hundreds of couples "lock" their love by putting padlocks on a bridge, fresh milk is dispensed from machines, a skeleton hangs above the street in a cage, and a door features the sculpted heads of six cardinals.
Ljubljana is the kind of place that has as its mascot a benevolent dragon, the image of which adorns buildings, bridges and the vests of preschoolers.
During our three-day stay in Slovenia, there were numerous events in the public squares around Ljubljana, including a dance recital by local schoolchildren, and a 10 kilometer race sponsored by Nike. Although I have no photo of it, my favorite event was a film festival featuring numerous English-language art house films. (I saw Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which I enjoyed.)
What Slovenia lacks in world-class sights, it more than makes up for in charm, and I would not be surprised if I find myself returning to the country sometime in the not-too-distant future.