Literally. The continent is just beginning a heatwave with a striking resemblance to the one that is (hopefully) leaving the US Southwest and Slovenia is no exception. We left a few days ago after sustained days above 80ºF and high humidity. Since then, it’s only gotten hotter. Today’s forecasted high is 94ºF, in a place where air conditioning is hard to come by. It was hard enough for us to stay cool, so I’m glad we were there then, not now.
Danielle and I first visited Slovenia in November, 2010, when we had a four day weekend from our jobs teaching in Hungary. After a night in Zagreb on Halloween, we took the train to Ljubljana, then a bus up to Bled. It charmed our socks off thirteen years ago and we tried to find our way back ever since. Our objective this time around was oriented around staying cool, but it was still a major success.
The way in
It’s a bit of a long train journey from Munich, but it’s super rewarding to watch the Alps suddenly rise in front of you then disappear into tunnels only to emerge high in a valley, with some of the Austria’s tallest peaks surrounding you.
From there, the train exits Villach into the Julian Alps, the peaks start to blend with the Dolomites to the west. With steep, jagged, karst mountains, the Julians form a cozy basin in which most of our adventures took place.
We spent one full day in Ljubljana to recover from the journey and see the city before we headed to Piran on the coast and Bled in the mountains.
It was nice to have time to spend in Piran this go around. Our 2010 trip revealed how much more there was for us to explore around here but we only spent one night in this former Venetian town on Slovenia’s shores.
Our primary objective was to swim. This was because it’s something we all love, but especially László, to do, but also because it was among a vanishing number of ways to escape the heat.
There’s something really joyful about watching a 4 year old jump into deep water beside much larger kids. We brought a PFD and goggles for him to wear, which helped him feel more comfortable, and swim in water well over his head (and mine). I don’t really know how to describe the mix of determination and pure glee in his face as he jumps in, swims around to the ladder, climbs, and repeats. Neither is there a word for the mix of pride and astonishment I felt observing his bravery as he jumped from heights greater than any I’m comfortable with, even as an adult, into the sea. Watching László interact with water was a highlight of the trip for sure.
From the beach we walked along the trail that follows the old city walls into the town center for dinner. It was mostly as Danielle and I remembered, but again, it was nice to be able to actually set, observe, and enjoy the place a bit this time around.
All László wanted to do was play in the plaza. There are few to no cars allowed in the old town of Piran, so we didn’t really have to worry about him running into traffic. He mostly ran in circles trying to play with other kids who didn’t necessarily know that’s what he as trying to do while we sipped drinks and ate dinner. (Nancy was the winner on that meal with a delicious tuna steak.)
Our second day of heat escape found us swimming in Lake Bled. A glacier-fed natural lake tucked into the Julian Alps famous for the church built improbably on an island in the middle. Here again, László seemed like such a natural in the water. He jumped straight in, unbothered by the temperature differential between the air, body, and water. He went down the water slide probably a dozen times, swam out to a swimming platform with Danielle and Nancy and jumped off that, he even went off a 3m diving board. By himself. Twice. I swear this kid is part fish.
We didn’t do a lot of the other things you’re “supposed to do” in Bled: take a Pletna boat out to the church. Visit the castle. Climb Triglav mountain. Golf. (I mean, who cares about golf, it’s literally everywhere.) But we did have a ton of fun in the water, stayed cool, avoided major sunburn, and took great pictures in the process. Need we do more than that?
Ljubljana’s own weather
The climate in the city was hostile to our desire to enjoy the place, but we did still manage some delightful moments in the Slovenian capital. A few things that are neat about Ljubljana include: Vending machines for fresh eggs, raw milk, and basic OTC necessities from the pharmacy. A gorgeous riverwalk with many pedestrian-only bridges. Water fountains everywhere. A castle that is used primarily as a museum and cultural center (and has a funicular train to the top). And, finally, Ljubljana’s own weather, an art installation in Prešeren Trg that sprinkled water overhead, high enough up that it felt, and looked, like an extremely isolated weather event. Much like a refreshing rain shower on a hot day, this was a nice touch to help us cool down and have some fun after roasting all day.
I still have a lot of fondness for Ljubljana. It’s a funky place with an easygoing vibe, arts, and unmatched scenery. I think we’ll try to go back in the fall or spring next time, or at least ensure we book a place that for sure has air conditioning for night time.
End of a trip
This concludes the whole-family portion of the Great Sabbatical Euro Trip. We all departed from Jože Plečnik International Airport last week, but to different destinations. Gog took László home with her via Amsterdam and Chicago while Danielle and I carried on to Madeira via London.
It was an absolutely amazing adventure, and a tremendous privilege to have this experience wandering through foreign countries with László and Danielle, and, for the last few days, Gog.
When we started planning this trip back in late 2022, we had all kinds of grand ideas. I think we hit the right mix of familiar and novel, even if we ultimately weren’t quite as ambitious as we started. We’re still learning how to travel with our kid and our limitations both individually and collectively. I’m glad we prioritized what we did rather than trying to do too much that was wholly new or more complex because it made learning how to travel with a child a bit easier.
I hope this is the start of a lifelong obsession with travel for László, and that it is not the end of our international gallivanting together.