Just a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to point out Slovenia on a map. But at the end of last summer, a few of my good friends took a road trip around the country and their stunning photos put it on my radar.
Slovenia is located to the right of Italy, below Austria and above Croatia. It’s most well-known landmark is Lake Bled, and even that isn’t really that well-known.
Louis and I decided to rent a car and do a road trip around Slovenia for three days this summer. I was really anxious for the trip because, being Europe, the only option was to rent a manual transmission. I have had exactly two driving lessons ever with a manual, both of which occurred in a parking lot. But I was (perhaps foolishly) game for a challenge, so I went for it.
We arrived to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia, on a Saturday. We rented a room through Air Bnb for $28 on the outskirts of the city. Our host was a lovely young girl and her dog Lily. We arrived a bit late after having trouble figuring out the bus system (you have to buy a public transport card for €2 at a kiosk and then top it up before trying to get on a bus), and set out again straight away after dropping off our bags.
I found Ljubljana to be a very cool city. It is not very populated and has a clean appearance, unlike many of the other Eastern European cities I have been to. Sprinkled all around the city are art displays, like the dragons adorning one of the bridges.
At the top of a hill at the center of the city is an old castle called Ljubljanski Grad. The castle was built in the 11th Century and definitely looks the part. We climbed to the top just in time for sunset. I somehow forgot to take a single photo of the castle itself, but here is what the view looking out is like.
Day one was time to pick up our rental car. I had been both dreading this day and looking forward to it for months. I knew Slovenia would be great to see by car, so I just kept telling myself it would be fine.
The bus from the center of Ljubljana cost €4.10 and brought us to the airport, where we picked up our car from Hertz. I quickly signed the papers and they put a €1800 hold on Louis’s credit card (thanks Louis <3) and, simple as that, I was given the keys to a cute little white hatchback.
I somehow pulled the car out of the lot without stalling. I was shaking so badly, I could barely push in the clutch, but I managed and got out of town and onto the motorway. With Louis navigating (and probably reveling in the fact that he doesn’t have a license), we made it the 45 minute drive to Lake Bled.
Traffic slowed wayyyyy down when we got off the exit for the lake. It was 10 am on a Sunday, in August. I should have expected this. Things were going okay until the cars ahead of me came to a stop, on a hill. When they started moving again, I just kept rolling backwards and stalling.
I’m sure everyone who has driven a manual has had this traumatic hill start experience, so I will spare the gory details. In the end, I caused such a traffic backup that the local police came to investigate. They were lovely and one offered to drive my car the rest of the way while I sat in the back. He backed into a spot at the station and told us we were lucky and now had free parking for the day. So the result was actually quite positive.
Lake Bled is huge and stunning. The water is an emerald color and is absolutely clear. I was still too shaken to feel like swimming, but Louis got in the water and said it was a perfect temperature. When the sun went down, we heard some music and went to investigate. As it turned out, there was a Slovenian singing competition happening and we stayed for a couple of hours listening to some very talented 13-year-old Slovenian girls make Christina Aguilera sound like a fool. Oh, and I cornrowed Louis’s hair.
We waited for the traffic to die way down before I attempted to drive again. I stalled my way across the street and out of the police station before finding a dirt parking lot and turning the car off. We decided to sleep it off and try again in the morning.
Recharged by a bit of sleep, I decided to give driving another shot. Thankfully, a little rest seemed to have cured my PTSD and I was able to make it out of Bled without a hitch. Louis did some research and found a little town halfway between Bled and Ljubljana called Kranj. We made it there and parked the car in the parking lot of a Lidl for the day.
Kranj is an adorable little town full of museums and churches. Unfortunately, we visited on a Monday, when pretty much everything was closed. We were most upset about not being able to visit the tunnels. During World War II, tunnels were constructed under Kranj to house citizens in case of air raids. They opened the tunnels in recent years to tourists and hold events like wine tastings and Halloween mazes inside.
We stumbled upon a Bosnian restaurant by the river called Das Ist Walter which was very highly rated online and decided to have some food. For €3.90, I had a feast of ćevapčići, traditional sausages, and bread. It was delicious, but heavy, and we needed a nap afterwards, so we headed down to the riverside and lay down in the shade. Four hours later, we woke up to the sun setting. It was time to head back to the car and find somewhere to park for the night.
I had a theory that if we found an apartment complex to park in, no one would suspect we were dirty gypsies sleeping in our car and we could have a peaceful night. And it turns out I was correct! I found a dark corner of the parking lot and we settled in for another night of leg cramps and mid-night shivers.
We woke up early on our last full day to the sound of a family just outside the car. They were giving us side glances but overall were pretending not to notice us. After realizing that they could still see us, even if we sat with our heads under our blankets, I decided we should make moves. We found a McDonald’s a few minutes away and headed there for breakfast.
One of the great things about Slovenia is the McDonald’s. All around Europe, McDonald’s restaurants are pretty fancy and charge about €9 for a meal. Slovenia was having none of that. A Big Mac here cost €2.20, and they had table service. Like, actual table service. This is what our coffees looked like.
About fifteen minutes away from the McDonald’s was a tiny town called Skofja Loka. It is a tiny medieval town with cute bridges and a river flowing through. I was now feeling confident in my driving and we parked at another Lidl for the day. It was a holiday, so much of the town was closed, but we stumbled upon a cute waterfall at the river that seemed the place to be for the locals. We got in for a much needed bath, despite the water being fairly icy.
WE MADE IT! I woke up feeling very pleased with how far we’d come. All that was left to do was fill up the tank and return the car to the airport. I could finally put driving a manual under the “skills” section of my mental resume.
Turns out, we had only used about two liters of gas the whole trip. €7 later and the car was safely back at the rental lot.
Next time, I’d like the venture further in the country. I know Slovenia has a lot to offer and the little bit I saw was stunning. As an added bonus, the people in Slovenia were incredibly lovely. From our Air Bnb host to the police to the service people we encountered along the way, everyone made us feel welcome. I know I’ll be back again someday, and I’ll be dragging a few of you along with me.