Difference between revisions of "Slovenia"
Revision as of 19:06, 9 May 2013
Slovenia (Slovenija)  is a country in Central Europe that lies in the eastern Alps at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, with Austria to the north, Italy to the southwest, Hungary to the northeast and Croatia to the south. Despite its small size, Slovenia has a surprising variety of terrain, ranging from the beaches of the Mediterranean to the peaks of the Julian Alps, to the rolling hills of the south. Slovenia is a member of the Erupean Union and NATO. It has historical ties to Central Europe, a strong economy and a relatively stable democracy.
Slavic ancestors of Slovenes came from eastern parts of Europe and inhabited territory north of present Slovenian territory in the 6th century AD. They established a state called Caranthania (Karantanija), where the ruler (knez) was elected by popular vote. The Caranthanians were later defeated by Bavarians and Franks, who subjugated them. They were Christianized, but they preserved many rituals of their pagan religion, and their native language. The Slovene lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire and Austria under the Habsburg dynasty until 1918, when the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new south-Slavic state ruled by Serbian Karađorđević dynasty called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians (Kraljevina Srbov, Hrvatov in Slovencev), which was renamed to Yugoslavia in 1929. In World War II, Slovenia was invaded and occupied by Germans, Italians and Hungarians, leading to a war between pro-communist liberation forces Partizans, and axis-sponsored anti-communist reactionary factions (Belogardisti and Domobranci). The victory of the Allies and consequently the Partizans resulted in a mass exodus of those who had fought with the occupying forces, including most of the native German and Italian minorities. After World War II, Slovenia became a republic in the reestablished Yugoslavia, which although Communist, distanced itself from the Soviet bloc and small territorial gains were made from Italy. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power in Serbia, Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence and adopting constitution in 1991. In 2004, Slovenia joined the European Union and NATO. Slovenia also adopted the euro in 2007, completing the final step of accession to the European Union.
Slovenes are proud of their culture. Two names you will run into over and over again are national poet France Prešeren (1800-1849), who penned (among other things) the Slovenian national anthem, and the architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957), credited with Ljubljana's iconic "Tromostovje" bridges and seemingly half the modern buildings in the country. It was the monks of the Catholic Church who kept Slovenia away from the influences of Central Europe to the north. As a result, Slovenian culture differs from the Balkan countries to the south. Part of both the countryside and city architecture in Julian Alps shares many commonalities with neighboring Austria, including countless roadside shrines and baroque steeples.
Slovenia has a mediterranean climate on the coast, mountain climate in Alps with mild summers and freezing winters, and continental climate with hot summers and freezing winters in the plateaus and valleys to the east.
Slovenia has a 47 km long coastal strip on the Adriatic Sea, an Alpine mountain region adjacent to Italy and Austria, mixed mountain and valleys with numerous rivers to the east and Pannonian Basin in northeast. This includes the central Ljubljana valley with Ljubljana marshes in the southern part. Karst (Kras) (the name for karst topography is commonly found in Guangxi Province, China) is located in the southwest. The Karst region is a barren but beautiful limestone region directly north of the Italian city of Trieste. Natural hazards include flooding and earthquakes. Slovenia's highest point is Mount Triglav at 2,864 m, the lowest point is Adriatic Sea at 0 m.
Unless you are just passing through, Slovenia is not the place for bums. Stores are friendly and local gas stations usually have free access to toilets, water and quick washing necessities (by the sink), but all that becomes negated by the smug commoners patronizing you throughout the day and treating you (or the public place where you're at) as their private property.
Slovenia is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Citizens of the above countries are permitted to work in Slovenia without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorization for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay.
The Ljubljana Bus Station (Avtobusna Postaja Ljubljana) provides composite information about international and airport bus services.
Connections between the Italian city of Trieste and nearby Koper and Piran are frequent on weekdays. There's also a daily bus trip between Trieste and Ljubljana. In addition, there are trips between Gorizia (Italy) and its twin town of Nova Gorica (Slovenia) are at least every hour throughout the day, although the trip can be made on foot. This offers an ideal connection between the Italian and Slovene railway networks or an alternative entry point from Trieste's Ronchi Airport or the city of Venice.
The Ljubljana Airport is Slovenia's primary international airport and the hub of national carrier Adria Airways, which flies to a number of European cities and offers connections to Southeast Europe. The cheapest airplane travels are via easyJet's daily flight from London-Stansted.
There are a few other options worth exploring. Ryanair also runs flights from Dublin to Pula across the border in Croatia. Another convenient gateway, especially to western Slovenia, is via Italy's Trieste airport, which is an hour long drive from Ljubljana via highway. Airport in Klagenfurt, Austria, is also an option. The Italian airports in Venice and Treviso (called 'Venice Treviso) offer other entry points to Slovenia or good day trips to or from Slovenia.
Slovenian railways are well connected to Austria, Croatia and Hungary. The most popular routes connect from Vienna or Villach in Austria, from Budapest in Hungary, and from Zagreb in Croatia. All lines converge on the capital Ljubljana. Railway connections between Slovenia and Italy are rather poor as the Italian Railways have slashed the only remaining cross-border service. To get around this poor connection, one can take a train to Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and then walk or take a bus to its neighboring town of Gorizia (Italy) from where there are frequent trains to Trieste, Udine, Venice and further away. For trips to Trieste, it is advisable to take a train to Sežana and then take a taxi to Trieste (about 10km, €10), or a connecting bus (3 times a day, weekdays only, €1).
There are many international routes and special offers exist for some destinations, so you should consider informing yourself about that in advance. There are destinations that have tickets on contingency basis, which can run out fast, but are usually a lot cheaper, such as Ljubljana - Prague line (cooperation between Slovene railways and Czech railways), €58 for a return ticket (compared to a normal price of €200). For return trips originating in Slovenia, City Star tickets, which are open-dated, but usually require a weekend stay, are often the cheapest choice. You can receive a discount with the Euro26 youth card on most international lines (the discount does not stack up if you already have a special deal). The same card also applies for all domestic lines, with a 30% discount.
The quality and comfort of the trains on international routes varies significantly. The unwritten rule is that everything heading up north from Ljubljana has a pretty good standard. The trains usually have restaurants on board, with clean and modern toilets. The railway services heading south are of lower quality, so be sure to carry a supply of food and beverages on board (water and coffee is available in every sleeping compartment) when heading from the Balkans by train. The express services which run to Zagreb (usually starting in Munich, Germany) are high quality.
Slovenia's highway network is connected to neighboring countries. Slovenia demands that all vehicles with a permissible weight of up to 3.5 tons buy a vignette (road tax) before using motorways or expressways. For passenger vehicles, the vignette costs €15 for a week, €30 for a month, or €95 for a year. For motorcyclists, this costs €7.50 per week, €25 for 6 months, and €47.50 for a year. Using motorways without a vignette will result in a fine of €300 or more. Vignettes are actually sold at the border and gas stations (the border agents are supposed to give you a flier advising you to buy one, but they don't always do that). There are also signs advising you to buy a vignette, but they are in Slovene only.
There is a fast ferry between Venice and Izola, running with an irregular schedule mainly during the summer season. The journey takes 3 hours. Venezialines run one fast ferry per week between Venice and Piran. During the summer months, there is a fast craft service operated by Trieste Lines between Trieste (Italy), Piran (Slovenia), Poreč (Croatia) and Rovinj (Croatia). The portion of the journey between Piran and Trieste lasts 30 minutes, which is pretty much the same as a journey by car.
Slovenia is a relatively small country and getting around is generally quick and relatively painless when using highways. The growth in car ownership means tougher times off the highways, or when using public transport. Bus schedules in particular have been slashed, so some planning ahead is required. Services are sparse and limited on Saturdays and Sundays.
The railway system has been relatively modernized. The railway station names are typically only visible on station building signs, so figuring out where you are means constantly looking outside the right window (sometimes on the right side, other times on the left side). Some newer trains have an voice announcement system that tells you to which station you are arriving. Trains are punctual (except some international ones), so check the expected arrival time and some previous station names to be sure where to get off. For figuring out your next train from a station (electronic signboards are a rarity, but printed schedules are always available): odhod (yellow) means departures, while prihod (white) means arrivals, although this is usually also indicated in English.
Buses fill the gaps, and are usually a better option for some towns not directly served by train (e.g. Bled, Piran). Some bigger stations have handy electronic search engines for schedules and fares.
Slovenian roads are usually maintained and signposted, and you usually won't have a problem when traveling by car. There are many car rental and taxi businesses in Ljubljana. The big international companies are all represented, with some of them offering older cars for customers on a budget.
The national Slovenian language is spoken natively by 91% of the population, but there are also small Italian (concentrated on the Primorska coast) and somewhat bigger Hungarian (in Prekmurje to the northeast) speaking minorities. Historically and prior to the end of World War II, there was also a significant German speaking minority.
The level of spoken English is as high as in other European countries. Many Slovenians have some functional knowledge of German, in particular in Eastern Slovenia, and Italian in the coastal region where Italian is a co-official language. Serbo-Croatian is either widely spoken or at least understood. Communication in other languages is harder encounter.
Slovene schools teach foreign languages from primary school onwards. Children can study two foreign languages (most commonly English and German) by the time they get to grammar school. Grammar schools often teach an optional third foreign language, Spanish, Italian, or French. While the younger Slovenes speak English quite fluently, older people are more skilled in Serbo-Croatian, German, and can read Cyrillic. Using simple English will help to avoid misunderstandings.
Slovenian cities leave no doubt about historic influence played by Austrian and Italian architecture, like Ljubljana and Piran. If you find the cities boring, you can visit the alpine resort of Bled and its lake with an island, the Postojna caves with massive stalactites and stalagmites, the lively coastal town of Piran, the Soča river, or the Trenta valley.
The National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana (Presernova, Muzejska ulica 1), is the oldest and the largest Slovene museum. It was founded in 1821. Existent museum building on the Museum street, was built in 1888 and was the first, building, assigned solely to culture in Slovenia. Today it stores a rich collection of valuable objects. The oldest spring back to the Stone Age, but there are also the newer ones, which are still used in our everyday life. Important columns of museum activity are also rich museum library and unit for preservation and restoring.
The new building of the National Museum of Slovenia on the Metelkova Street (Maistrova 1), exhibits collections of the applied art heritage of Slovenia. The permanent exhibition brings together objects of applied arts from the 14th century to the present day.
There are many opportunities for activity holidays in Slovenia. The mountains and rivers of the Julian Alps provide the perfect location for hiking, mountain biking, rafting and kayaking. The southern part of Slovenia is an area of numerous caves. You can enjoy different spa resorts in the eastern part, take a dive in the Adriatic Sea, experience the Slovene cities, go skiing, or enjoy in the countryside tasting Slovene cuisine and local wine.
Slovenia has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
A value-added tax (VAT) of 20% (with a reduced rate of 8.5% usually applied to food, including some soft drinks) is charged on most purchases, which is always included in the displayed prices. Note that if you are not an EU citizen, you are entitled to VAT tax return for purchases over a certain value. Ask the cashier to write down your name on your bill and show this bill when you leave Slovenia through Jože Pučnik (formerly Brnik) airport, or any of the main border crossings with Croatia.
Tips for services are not expected.
People from Slovenia's northern neighbor Austria come to Slovenia for the food, with Subalpine, Italian, Hungarian and Balkan mixture people usually find something to their liking, unless they are strict vegetarians.
Slovene food is generally heavy, meaty and plain. A typical three-course meal starts with a soup (juha), often just beef (goveja) or chicken (piščančja) broth with egg noodles (rezanci), and then a meat dish served with potatoes (krompir) and a vinegary fresh salad (solata). Fresh bread (kruh) is often served on the side.
Common mains include cutlets (zrezek), sausage (klobasa) and goulash (golaž), all usually prepared from pork (svinjina), lamb (jagnjetina) and game (divjačina), but there is a large choice of fish (ribe) and seafood even further away from the coast. Popular Italian imports include all sorts of pasta (testenine), pizza (pica), ravioli (ravioli) and risotto (rižota). A major event in the countryside still today is the slaughtering of a pig from which many various products are made: blood sausage (krvavica), roasts (pečenka), stuffed tripe (polnjeni vampi), smoked sausage (prekajena salama), salami (salama), ham (šunka) and bacon (slanina). Recipes for the preparation of poultry (perutnina), especially turkey (puran), goose (gos), duck (raca) and capon (kopun), have been preserved for many centuries. Chicken (piščanec) is also common. Squid is fairly common and reasonably priced.
Uniquely Slovene dishes are available, but you won't find them on every menu. The ones to look for are kraški pršut (air-dried ham, similar to but not the same as Italian prosciutto), štruklji (dumplings that Slovenes prepare in 70 different ways stuffed with sweet fillings, meat or vegetables), žganci (a type of polenta, ajdovi žganci are made of buckwheat), žlikrofi (potato dumplings similar to gnocchi, specialty of the Idrija region), jota (a type of soup made of beans, sauerkraut, potatoes, bacon, spare ribs, and the main seasoning is garlic). The Slovene desserts to try are potica (a type of nut roll for holiday occasions also prepared with the widest variety of fillings) and gibanica (a very heavy cakelike pastry of poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins, and cheese, topped with cream).
Places to eat
At the top of the restaurant chain is the usually restaurant (restavracija), which could be a usual restaurant a Chinese restaurant. More common pubs in the countryside are called gostilna and gostišče, with rustic inns serving Slovene fare. Lunch sets (dnevno kosilo) cost around €7 for three courses (soup, salad and main).
There is no real fast food market in Slovenia, but international McDonalds chain is available in larger cities. Hamburgers are also served up in grills and snack bars (okrepčevalnica), and Slovenians have adopted several Balkan grills like a spiced-up hamburger patty (pleskavica) and spicy meatballs (čevapčiči) are ubiquitous, and one of the more tasty if not healthy options is the Bosnian specialty burek, a large, flaky pastry stuffed with either meat, cheese or apple, often sold for as little as €2. In recent years, many fast food places started making döner kebabs, and they are now among the most popular fast foods in Slovenia, and can be found virtually everywhere.
Slovenia is not the easiest of places for a vegetarian, although even the usual inn can make a decent fresh salad (solata) and fried vegetables per request. Vegetarians will have it easy in Slovenia, while strict vegans won't find more than a handful of vegan restaurants in the country (most of them in Ljubljana). However, even the smallest store has its healthy food shelves with several non-meat choices. In cities, the Mediterranean chick-pea staple falafel and its cousin the vegi-burger have made some inroads on fast-food menus. Many restaurants offer a "vegetarian plate", which includes potatoes, fresh or boiled vegetables and "soya steak".
In coastal cities, there are many choices for seafood lovers. Local specialties include fish, squids, mussels and octopus.
In proper Slovene style, all bases are covered for drinks and you can get very good Slovenian beers, wines and spirits. Tap water is generally drinkable.
Coffee and tea
In Slovenia, coffee (kava) usually means a tiny cup of strong Turkish coffee, and cafes (kavarna) are a common sight with a basic cup priced €1.00 - €1.50. One can also order coffee with milk (kava z mlekom) or whipped cream (kava s smetano). Coffee culture is wide-spread in Slovenia, and one can see Slovenes sitting in the same café for hours. Tea (čaj) is not as popular, and if they do drink it (mostly in the winter), Slovenes prefer all sorts of fruit-flavored and herbal teas over a basic black cup. Tea is served with honey and lemon per request.
Beer (pivo) is the most popular tipple and the main brands are Laško and Union. A bottle or jug will cost you €2.50 in a pub (pivnica). Ask for large (veliko) (large) for 0.5L and small (malo) for 0.3L. The Union Radler Grapefruit is also good.
Riesling, the Slovene wine (vino) can be quite good. The Goriška Brda region produces reds and the drier whites (in a more Italian/French style), while the Štajerska region produces semi-dry to sweet whites, which cater more to the German/Austrian-type of palate. Other local specialties worth sampling are Teran, a very dry red from the Kras region, and Cviček, a red so dry and light it's almost a rosé. Wine is usually priced and ordered by the deciliter, with a price around two euros for the usual glass containing two deciliters.
A Slovene brandy (called žganje or colloquially šnops), like the Hungarian palinka, can be distilled from almost any fruit. Medeno žganje (also known as medica) has been sweetened with honey. Vodka is also popular.
Sleeping outside in a public area (outside the designated camping grounds) is not recommended. Aside from the climate's moisture posing a problem, not many Slovenian residents may be comfortable with seeing homeless bums, and sleeping outside in a public place (especially inside a city and especially at night) can get you in trouble.
However, Slovenia has a wide variety of high-priced accommodations, ranging from five star hotels to secluded cottages in the mountains.
There are hostels in all of the tourist destinations in Slovenia. The average price for a basic bed in a dorm is €10 - €20. Quite a few student dormitories (dijaški dom) are converted into hostels in the summer, but these tend to be poorly located and badly maintained.
Mountain Huts can be found in Triglav National Park. Information about these huts can be found at tourist information offices that will also help you plan your walks around the area and phone the hostels to book them for you. The only way to get to the huts is by foot, and expect a fair bit of walking up hills, as the lowest huts are around 700 m up. There are clear signs/information around stating how long it will take to travel to/between all the huts indicated in hours.
Tourist farms can be found around Slovene countryside and usually they offer wide selection of traditional food, local wine and different sport activities. They also offer opportunities to experience real traditional countryside life.
Camping is not permitted in the national parks of Slovenia, but there are various designated camping grounds. It's advisable to take a camping mat of some sort, as nice, comfortable grass is a luxury at camp sites and you're much more likely to find pitches consisting of small stones.
Slovenia has four universities, located in Ljubljana, Maribor, Nova Gorica and Koper, as well as several independent colleges like BSA Kranj and IEDC Bled. The university in Ljubljana is the oldest and largest teaching institution in the country. It contains 3 art academies: Theater and Film, Music, and Fine Arts.
Citizens of the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland can work in Slovenia without the need to apply for visa. Citizens of some non-EU countries (see the 'Get in' section above) are permitted to work in Slovenia without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorization for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay.
It's also possible for English-speaking graduates to get work in schools, teaching English for one year.
Slovenia is a relatively safe country to visit, especially during daytime, but be aware of your surroundings. People may get a bit aggressive in crowded bars and discotheques, and it is not uncommon to be grabbed or groped.
As elsewhere in this part of Europe, homosexuals are generally safe, although there have been a few reported attacks in the past. Be cautious in the evening and during the night, especially in cities. Women/girls holding hands are considered normal and a sign of friendship.
The nationwide emergency number is 112. To call police, dial 113. There are emergency phone stationed along the main motorways. You can find the closest SOS-phone by the arrows on the sign posts.
Hygiene standards are high and tap water is usually drinkable.
While in nature, always use tick repellents, due to the Borreliosis and Meningitis danger. Borreliosis is very widespread in the country. There are two species of venomous adders in the Julian Alps. If you are bitten by them, you should seek medical help as antiserums are available (although seldom administered). In the forests in the south, you may encounter a bear, although attacks are rare.
Slovenians are generally friendly, so don't hesitate to address people as many understand English and may be able to help you.
It's common to shake hands when introduced to someone. In the younger generation, hugging is not uncommon between friends. Greeting people with "Dober dan" (good day) is also common.
The international calling code for Slovenia is 386, the prefix for international calls is 00, and the area code prefix is 0. Some number blocks are reserved for special use: 080 are toll-free numbers and 090 are commercial services, which are usually expensive.
Mobile networks use the common European frequencies (900 and 1800 MHz for GSM and 2100 MHz for 3G). Two major mobile companies, the Slovenian Mobitel and Austrian Simobil provide good coverage in GSM, while 3G is mostly unavailable in mountainous regions. Roaming between European phone companies is becoming cheaper due to the EU regulation setting a maximum of €0.42 per minute for calls made and €0.132 for calls received, while calls to or from non-EU providers remain expensive. Pre-paid SIM cards are also available in supermarkets, post offices and gas stations.
Telekom Slovenije operates around 3500 phone booths. They require the use of smart cards priced €3 - €15.
Slovenia is generally well covered by inexpensive broadband internet due to competition between multiple companies. Internet cafes are common in cities and internet access is offered by most hotels and hostels. Wireless internet networks are also available.
The Post Offices of Slovenia (Pošta Slovenije) are common. Look for a black French horn-like sign on a yellow background. Delivery takes one day within Slovenia, a few days within Europe and usually less than two weeks worldwide. DHL is also available.