Back from a few days in Slovenia and a last minute short-break. Despite that fact that we had to fly out of Stansted it actually turned out to be a lot easier and less hassle than flying out of Gatwick or Heathrow. Options of getting there by bus or train were out - not just because of the cost but the time. While I might try to use alternative means of getting places and not using the car all the time - in this case it just wasn't practical. Over four hours by bus and over forty pounds by train ... one way. So the car was quicker (only took just over 1 1/2 hours) and cheaper to park there. NCP did a great deal on long-stay.
Ruth, the friend I'd gone with had done a great job picking two Penzions, the first in the centre of Ljubljana - Pod Lipo. Clean, comfortable and very friendly, more of a hostel than a traditional B&B. Just a few minutes walk from the river and it's vibrant, cafe society. Well, about as vibrant as it seemed to get on a Saturday night in the capital city, which would be a very quiet night anywhere else. A slightly overpriced and not particularly brilliant meal - first they served me lamb chops instead of steak and then when it did turn up - their definition of rare was most certainly not the same as mine.
We took in the sights of Ljubljana the following morning - which didn't take long. There's not a huge amount to see. The City Museum and Castle are worth a visit and there's a Sunday Flea Market along the river bank and a few churches to visit. Lots of smart shops for window-shopping and judging by the cars there's plenty of money about in this ex-communist country.
Took the bus up to Lake Bled for some cycling and relaxation, with yet another delightful Penzion. Just a short walk outside the main town and with the added bonus of bikes available for guests, which we took full advantage of each day. The lake is well known for it's very picturesque island in the lake with a church. Boats take tourists out to the island to see the church and ring the wishing bell. You know when a boat of tourists has arrived by the continuous tolling of the bell.
On our first full day we cycling around the entire lake, it didn't take long and there were few other tourists about. Roller blading is also popular around the footpath but wide enough that you can avoid each other reasonably safely. Unlike trying to negotiate Brighton seafront. Having completed the circuit we then found our way out to the Vintgar Gorge with it's wooden walkway, enabling visitors to walk the length of the gorge. Unfortunately, the nearby fish restaurant was closed - although the local catch was swimming in two cages suspended in the clear, fast flowing river or we'd have stopped for lunch. Instead we had the most delicious mushroom risotto back in Lake Bled. Good basic food and generous portions at the traditional Gostilnas (local inns), with meat and fish being the main feature.
Slovenia is definitely pro-cycling, with plenty of wide cycle paths along most of the main roads and there is a big focus on outdoor activities in general all year round. The scenery is very alpine with wide fertile fields, surrounded by hills and mountains, still capped with a sprinkling of snow, plenty of trees and wildflowers. The Julian Alps is a popular tourist destination for walkers. The villages are a mix of traditional peasant lifestyles with vegetable patches, chickens and maybe a goat or two and the newer buildings - of which there are plenty, presumably for people working in the larger cities and towns. The older buildings are mainly wooden, chalet style (the winters are snowy and cold) and each village has a church with tall spires, often topped with an onion dome. We cycled up one track to visit a tiny, small church with very weathered frescoes but a delightful translation and explanation in English on the wall outside and great views over the valley.
Another attraction in Lake Bled is the thermal spa - where we spent a few pleasant few hours relaxing in the steam rooms, saunas and outdoor hot tub after a, not exactly gruelling, cycle ride earlier in the day. Not the best of bikes and I was missing my gel saddle and brakes that worked! Well, that's enough of sounding like a travel brochure for the Slovenian Tourist Board but it's definitely worth a visit - both the spa and the country and it's only a two hour flight from London.