Slovenia: An Uphill Battle

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. 

Day Zero

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

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. 

Day Two

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. 

Day Three 

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. 


After a few splishes and splashes, we headed back to our car and back to the apartment complex for one more night as gypsies. 

Day Four

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. 

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Bali, so Bintang-y

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“Don’t you get sick of the instability?”

I’m sitting on the balcony of my hostel in Ubud, Bali, sipping a Bintang and watching the sunset over a rice patty with my newly acquired Dutch friend. She’s a teacher, on summer holidays for a few weeks. This is the one time a year that she leaves the comfort of home and goes to explore the world, and already she’s itching to get back.

“I love the thrill of living each day one at a time.” Continue reading “Bali, so Bintang-y”

My Twenty-Third Trip Around the Sun

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My last four birthdays, spent in Canada, New Zealand, New York, and Australia.

Last week, I turned twenty-three.

Turning sixteen meant I could drive a car. Eighteen meant I could vote and was (at least legally) “independent.” Twenty-one meant I could finally go out to bars. Twenty-three… Continue reading “My Twenty-Third Trip Around the Sun”

Holi Festival in Delhi


As I stood in a crowd of Indians and tourists, getting pelted in the face by handfuls of colorful powder, I couldn’t help but wonder, “how the hell did I end up here?” (Having this thought seems to be a trend in my life.) Continue reading “Holi Festival in Delhi”

A Very Irish St. Paddy’s Day

My travel partner (Valerie of Law Books and Cooks) and I had a few days at the end of her spring break trip to fill while her sister and mother went on to Spain. These days happened to be March 16-18 and I realized: we should go to Dublin for St. Patrick’s day! I don’t normally consider myself a genius, but in this moment I think I was close.  Continue reading “A Very Irish St. Paddy’s Day”

Statues, Saris, and Sunsets in Sri Lanka

  
I hit the road again on a sunny Sydney Monday. Per usual, on the morning of the trip, I suddenly felt completely unprepared and questioned my sanity. I have barely any money; how am I supposed to survive three weeks of traveling?

I spent the morning running around my apartment, moving my stuff out, getting the keys to the girl who was going to sublet my room, running to the bank to make a deposit, then running to the airport to catch my flight. Somewhere along the way, AirAsia decided to change my flight time from 11:55 to 10:55 on their website, causing my heart to go into a new kind of arrhythmia. I’d never missed a flight before, and I was not keen to start now. 

  
Luck was on my side, as when I got to the check in counter the girl was like, “wow! Everyone from this flight arrived early today. I wonder why!” I gave her a death stare usually saved for special occasions only, but then I was just too relieved to care anymore. I made it to my gate with enough time to grab a ham and cheese toasty for the flight. Nine hours later (without any free drinks or snacks, AirAsia is the worst), I was touched down in Kuala Lumpur. 

I had a couple of hours to sit and ponder my entire existence while throngs of people ran to catch their connecting flights. In just a few hours, I’d gone from one face among a million westerners in Sydney to one of the only westerners in the airport. People were fascinated already, coming up and asking me where I was from and where I was going. The types of people that in America we are taught to fear were coming straight up to me, having a chat, and letting me play with their toddlers. I realized, “Damn. These people are actually 10 times nicer than people at home.” Traveling: the greatest way to reduce personal prejudices.

The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo, Sri Lanka was only about three and a half hours. I was planning to stay awake, but instead I slept for literally the entire flight. When we landed, I learned that not only did we go back a few hours, but we also went back by 30 minutes. I had no idea a time zone existed that changed the number of minutes. Very confusing stuff. 

I arrived in Colombo at 10 pm. I’d done a bit of research, so I knew that walking around as a single female after dark is like carrying a sign saying, “Attention criminals: please kidnap me,” so I had made arrangements to stay at a home stay that provided airport pick-up (Henderson Lake View Residence; amazing family!) I rang the owner and he came within a few minutes of my landing. I made sure he addressed me by my full name before I agreed to get into the car. The whole ride back to the house, he unleashed endless tips on what I should do and where I should go and how I should get there. 

  
I told him that I wanted to go to Mirissa the following day, and he arranged a tuktuk to pick me up in the morning and bring me to the right bus to get me there. The public transport in Sri Lanka can be hectic, so he recommended I take a coach bus for the journey. I definitely wanted to avoid the groping I had read about online when women take the crowded buses and trains, so I was happy to spend a little extra. The tuktuk cost 150 rupees (roughly $2 AUD) and the bus cost only 600. 

  

The bus was air conditioned and took about four hours to get to Matara, which is a few miles south of Mirissa. I got off where I felt was closest to Mirissa and attempted to then find the local bus that would take me there. Unfortunately, the buses had no signs in English and the streets were crowded and smelly. I got quickly overwhelmed and decided to just get another tuktuk to the beach. I haggled with the driver, as he wanted 800 rupees, and got him down to 500 (which was probably still overpriced). At this point, I didn’t care. I was dripping sweat and just wanted to plop myself into the ocean. I arrived at the beach within twenty minutes and checked into my hostel, Hangover Hostel Mirissa. It is located literally across the street from the beach, which is perfect. 

  

My first dip into the Indian Ocean was amazing. The beaches are virtually empty (compared to Sydney’s beaches anyway) and the water in unbelievably warm. I felt refreshed and wiped the last two days of long travel from my mind. Back on the beach, I bought a fresh coconut for 50 rupees ($.50) and laid back to enjoy the sun. That night, I bought a feast of rice and chicken curry with a side of fresh pineapple juice for less than the cost of a beer in Australia. I would have loved to partake in the night life, but it just didn’t feel safe. I was exhausted anyway. 

    

The morning of my second day in Mirissa, I got up early to get started on my hunt for an ATM. I was down to just 100 rupees cash and all the ATMs in Mirissa were broken. The nearest town with a working bank was Weligama, about 5 miles from Mirissa. I finally felt comfortable enough to take the public buses (plus, I couldn’t afford the tuktuk) and caught the number 2 bus into town. It cost only 20 rupees and wasn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be. While yes, they slow down rather than stop the bus to allow you on and off, they were very helpful in getting me to where I needed to be. 

  

After procuring 10,000 rupees at the ATM, I stopped in a little shop that sold saris. The man working there outfitted me in a gorgeous white sari and undershirt for only 1,000 rupees. He then tried to sell me about 15 more things, so I quickly left his shop. It’s funny how different the people reacted to me once I was outfitted in my sari. Women smiled and giggled, and the men began shouting things like “beautiful Sri Lankan girl!” I’m still not sure if they just found me amusing for trying to appropriate their culture, but it made me feel just a little bit more connected to them.  

  
I spent the rest of the day on a beach lounge, sipping fresh fruit juices and eating endless curries and rice, all for only a few Australian dollars. 

For dinner and a drink (I had a papaya juice, as I’ve decided to lay off drinking while in Sri Lanka) I went out with two of my dorm mates to Zephyr on the beach. It was one of the highest rated restaurants online, and for good reason. I had a fish fillet burger that was to die for. The restaurant had an adorable puppy that the staff had adopted who spent the meal lying on our feet and sleeping. 
Dining with my dorm mates was awesome. They are both two women in their thirties traveling alone. It was awesome to chat with not only fellow single female travelers but with women a decade older than me who are still partaking of this tramping lifestyle. Different life events led us all to this same place. It gave me inspiration and hope that this is not just a phase of my life, but is a lifestyle. 

  
On the morning of my third day in Sri Lanka, one dorm mate and I woke early and packed up to hit the road. We were both heading to Kandy and decided to make the trek together. We first hitched a ride on one of the treacherous local buses from Mirissa to Weligama for 18 rupees. Then, we caught a train from Weligama to Colombo for 220 rupees (woo!). The train took us through some amazing beaches and we were lucky enough to score two seats next to each other. Most people ended up standing for the two hour ride. Once in Colombo, we had intended to grab the train to Kandy. Unfortunately, we found out that all tickets were sold out except 3rd class and those wouldn’t be on sale for another hour. We grabbed some ridiculously cheap rice and curry (90 rupees whaaaaat) and recuperated. I knew there would be a bus to Kandy and my mate had faith in my navigation skills, so I got us to the bus station and within twenty minutes, we were on board a cramped, air conditioned bus to Kandy. 

  
One thing you notice while traveling through Sri Lanka is just how impoverished much of the country is. Many people live in shacks with wood slat walls and tin roofs just beside the railroad tracks. It really makes you think about how different a life you live and how lucky you are to have been born into different circumstances. 

   
 
We arrived in Kandy just after six and took a tuktuk to our hostels, which turned out to be directly across the street from each other. My hostel, Kandy city hostel, was the nicest hostel I’ve ever been to. Seriously. It was like a palace. And only $15 a night!!! We ran down the road to grab some dinner and had our cheapest meals yet (180 rupees for mine!) We opted not to stay out after dark, as there were lots of men out and about. Kandy was the most cosmopolitan place either of us had been to in Sri Lanka. 

  
In the morning, we headed straight for the temple of the tooth. We planned to also go to the big Buddha on the hill and Helgas Folly hotel before I headed to the airport, but we ended up having to stand in line for over an hour in a crowded, hot room waiting to glimpse the shrine. Since the line wasn’t moving, we got fed up and just left to walk around the gardens and the temple. It was all still beautiful, just not worth the wait or the 1000 rupees to see a shrine for a tooth. Since it was hot, we just looked at the big Buddha from a distance. Then, we got some fresh juices (80 rupees!!!!) and had a few rotas for snacks. Before we knew it, it was time for me to catch a bus back to Negombo to the airport. I caught the public “blue bus”, the cheapest and only non air conditioned option because I’m just reckless like that. 

  
I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to catch my next flight to Paris. I grabbed some Burger King (you can take the girl out of America but you can’t take the America out of the girl) and waited to start the next leg of my trip. 

In all, Sri Lanka was absolutely beautiful. I conquered my fears and went there alone and am so glad I did. Sri Lanka has an amazing culture completely different from my own. For anyone considering the trip: go. You won’t regret it. 

Xo,

K

Where 2015 Took Me

 

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As this year draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about where it took me. If I told myself on January 1 of this year all the places I’ve seen and the crazy stuff I got into, I honestly don’t think I would have believed it. I knew this would be a big year for me, since I finally graduated from university, but I had no idea just how big it would get. Continue reading “Where 2015 Took Me”