Difference between revisions of "Slovenia"
Revision as of 18:19, 16 August 2007
Slovenia (Slovenija)  is a country in Central Europe that lies in the eastern Alps at the northeastern end of the Adriatic Sea. Despite its small size, with Austria to the north, Italy to the northwest, Hungary to the northeast and Croatia to the south, Slovenia has a surprising variety of terrain, ranging from the beaches of the Mediterranean to the peaks of the Julian Alps.
Slavic ancestors of Slovenians came from eastern parts of Europe and inhabitated territory a bit northern from present Slovenian territory in 6. century AD. They established a state called Caranthania (Karantanija in Slovene), which was an early example of parliamentary democracy in Europe. The ruler (knez in Slovene) was elected by popular vote. The Caranthanians were later defeated by Bavarians and Franks who subordinated them. They were christianized, but they preserved many rituals of their pagan religion, and above all they preserved their native language. The Slovene lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire and Austria under Habsburg dinasty until 1918 when the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new south-Slavic state ruled by Serbian Karadjordjević dynasty called Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians ("Kraljevina Srbov, Hrvatov in Slovencev" in Slovene), renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. In WWII Slovenia was occupied by Germans, Italians and Hungarians. Parallel civil war between pro-communist liberation formation (Partizani) and catholic anticommunist formations (Belogardisti, Domobranci) which collaborated with occupation forces was taking place. The victory of allies and consequentlly the Partizans resulted in massive exodus and massacre of members of anticommunist formations. After World War II, Slovenia became a republic of the renewed Yugoslavia, which though Communist, distanced itself from Moscow's rule. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power of the majority Serbs, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 with minimal bloodshed. In 2004, Slovenia joined the European Union and NATO.
Historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and a stable democracy make Slovenia a leading country among the new members of the EU and NATO.
For a pint-sized country Slovenes are fiercely 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 (1857-1957), credited with Ljubljana's iconic Tromostovje bridges and, seemingly, half the modern buildings in the country. In modern times, industrial band Laibach (see box) has served to put Slovenia on the map.
Mediterranean climate on the coast, continental climate with mild to hot summers and cold winters in the plateaus and valleys to the east.
A short coastal strip on the Adriatic, an Alpine mountain region adjacent to Italy and Austria, mixed mountain and valleys with numerous rivers to the east. Central Ljubljana valley with Ljubljana marshes in the southern part. In the southwest there is the Karst (Kras in Slovene) (where the name for karst topography actually comes from).
As Slovenia is a member country of the European Union, citizens from other member states can enter Slovenia with a valid passport or a valid identity card.
The Ljubljana Bus Station (Avtobusna Postaja Ljubljana) provides composite information about international and airport bus services. Phone: 090 93 42 30 (inland only) English Website: http://ap-ljubljana.si/eng/
Slovenia's primary international airport is Ljubljana Brnik  which is around 25 km north of Ljubljana, the capital. The airport is the hub of national carrier Adria Airways, which flies to most major European cities and various Balkan destinations. The cheapest ways in, though, are via easyJet's daily flight from London Stansted or Wizz Air's services to London Luton and Brussels.
Ryanair runs 3 flights per week from London Stansted to Maribor.
Web site of the Slovenian national carrier Adria Airways . Although the destinations are not numerous, the airline does operate three regular lines to and from England: Birmingham (in Summer once a Week, on Wednesday), Manchester (Twice a Week) and London Gatwick (once a day), usually there are special fares for the latter, so check their Web site every so often. There is also a line from Ljubljana to Dublin with Adria, although you can get a deal a lot cheaper with Ryanair , with a regular route from Dublin to Pula, which has a good train and bus connection with Ljubljana (a 3-hour ride).
Slovenia`s main airport Ljubljana Brnik, now renamed Jože Pučnik International Airport (after a deceased politian - a heated political debate ensued of course), was upgraded and expanded recently, with a new passenger terminal and some other minor works (a larger parking space). The airport is being served by other European airlines, with routes that are not necesarily operated by the Slovenian national carrier. Here is the list:
Air France (Paris), Austrian Airlines (Vienna), ČSA Czech Airlines (Prague), easyJet (London-Standsted), Finnair (Helsinki), JAT Airways (Belgrade), LOT (Warsaw), Malév (Budapest), Turkish Airlines (Istanbul), Ukraine Airlines (Kiev) and Wizz Air (Brussles-Charleroi).
Slovenia is well connected to all its neighbors by train. The most popular routes connect from Vienna or Villach in Austria (in good weather, this journey past the Julian Alps is spectacular), from Venice in Italy, from Budapest in Hungary and from Zagreb in Croatia. All lines converge on the capital Ljubljana.
English website of the Slovenian Railways company . There are number of international routes , special offers exist for some destinations, so you should consider informing yourself about that in advance. There are destinations, which have tickets on contingency basis, meaning that they could run out fast, but are usually a lot cheaper, such as Ljubljana - Prague line (cooperation between SZ and Czech railways), 58€ for a return ticket (with the normal price of just bellow 200€). Also, be aware that you also recieve discount with the Euro<26 youth card  on most international lines (of course 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 restraurants on board, with clean and modern toilets. The same can not be guaranteed for the lines heading south (such as Belgrade, Sofia, Skopje or Thessaloniki), so be sure to carry a supply of food and beverages on board (water (and coffee) is available in every sleeping compartment), when heading to or from Ljubljana from the Balkans, with the train.
Slovenia has an excellent highway network connected to neighboring countries.
Slovenia is a small country — there are no domestic flights — and getting around is generally quick and painless. However, the explosive growth in car ownership has meant tougher times for public transport, and bus schedules in particular have been slashed, so some planning ahead is required. Services are sparse on Saturdays and very limited indeed on Sundays.
Slovenia's train network, operated by Slovenske železnice (SZ)  will get you to most destinations in the country, although there are some annoying gaps in the network and routes can be circuitous, so going from anywhere to anywhere usually requires a transfer in Ljubljana. Trains are, however, some 30% cheaper than buses and return discounts are available on weekends. Buy tickets before you board, as there's a surcharge for any tickets bought from the conductor. A €1.20 surcharge also applies to any InterCity trains.
Quite a bit of money and effort has been put into modernizing the system and the newest trains are as nice as anything you'll find in Western Europe, but the stations themselves are often not quite up to scratch. In particular, the name of the station is typically only visible on a single sign on the station building itself, so figuring out where you are means craning your neck a lot. Trains are punctual though, 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 (outside Ljubljana), but printed schedules are always available: odhod (yellow) means departures, while prihod (white) is arrivals.
Buses fill in the gaps, and may be a better option for some towns not directly served from Ljubljana by train (eg. Bled, Piran). Some bigger stations have handy electronic search engines for schedules and fares.
Time table in English: 
Slovenia's roads are for the most part well maintained and well signposted, and you won't have a problem if you drive or hire a car. Having a car certainly does add a level of mobility and self direction that you won't get by train or bus.
Slovenian, the national language, is spoken as mother tongue by 91% of the population, but there are also significant Italian (concentrated on the Primorska coast) and Hungarian (in Prekmurje to the northeast) minorities. Most people you come into contact with as a tourist, especially younger ones, will speak English, and if not they'll almost certainly speak either Italian or German or both.
When speaking in English, use a simple language, no fancy stuff (as anywhere where English is not a native language) It will get you further and help to avoid any misunderstandings. The Slovenian school system is promotive in terms of teaching languages, especially English from elementary school on. With a typical high school having the second foreign language (usually German). Young people usually speak English quite fluently, also because there is no dubbing (on television) in the native language (this is unfortunately threatened) and the wide-spread use and availability of Internet.
Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian languages are understood, as they are almost mutually intelligible with Slovene, and spoken fluently by anyone who was schooled before 1991, the same goes for reading and writing the Cyrillic alphabet.
Slovenia entered the Eurozone on January 1st, 2007 and now utilises the euro (€, EUR) as its currency, having previously used the Slovenian tolar (SIT).
Prices are high compared to most Eastern European countries (except Croatia), but generally a bit lower (but not by much) compared to Italy or Austria. Although prices do vary quite a bit. It really depends on your location. For example, a beer (0,5 litre) in a pub in "Stara Ljubljana" (literally "Old (Town) Ljubljana") would cost you around 3€, while a beer outside Ljubljana would cost around half as much. A budget minded traveller can hold his own, if he is smart. For example buying your groceries in a large store (supermarket), such are Lidl or Merkator will be likely cheaper than buying on the market, or in a small store, etc.
A value-added tax (VAT) of 20% is charged on most purchases—this is always included in the price displayed. 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 (racun) and show this bill when you leave Slovenia through Brnik airport, or any of the main border crossings with Croatia.
The flip side to the near-disappearance of Communist-style "service with a snarl" is that tips for service are now generally expected at sit-down restaurants, with 10% considered standard.
Not too many people come to Slovenia for the food, but with Italian, Hungarian and Balkan influences most people will find something to their liking — unless they're strict vegetarians.
Generally speaking, Slovenian food is heavy, meaty and plain. A typical three-course meal starts with a soup (juha), often just beef or chicken broth with egg noodles, and then a meat dish served with potatoes (krompir) and a vinegary fresh salad (solata). Fresh bread (kruh) is often served on the side and is uniformly delicious.
Common mains include cutlets (zrezek), sausage (klobasa) and goulash (golaž), all usually prepared from pork, 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 (žlikrofi) 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, roasts, stuffed tripe, smoked sausage, salami (salama), ham (šunka) and bacon. Recipes for the preparation of poultry, especially turkey (puran), goose (gos), duck, and capon, have been preserved for many centuries. Chicken (piščanec) is surprisingly uncommon. Squid is fairly common and reasonably priced.
Uniquely Slovenian dishes are available, but you won't find them on every menu, so here are some to look out for:
Some Slovenian desserts can also be found:
Places to eat
At the top of the food chain is the restavracija, a fancy restaurant with waiters and tablecloths. More common in the countryside are the gostilna and gostišče, rustic inns serving hearty Slovene fare. Lunch sets (dnevno kosilo) cost around €7 for three courses (soup, salad and main) and are usually good value.
Fast food, invariably cheap, greasy and (more often than not) terrible — it's best to steer clear of the local mutation of the hamburger — is served up in grills and snack bars known as bife or okrepčevalnica, where trying to pronounce the name alone can cause indigestion. Greasy Balkan grills like pljeskavica (a spiced-up hamburger patty) and čevapčiči (spicy meatballs) are ubiquitous, but one of the more tasty if not healthy options is the Bosnian speciality burek, a large, flaky pastry stuffed with meat (mesni), cheese (sirni) or apple (jabolčni), often sold for as little as €2.
Slovenia is not the easiest of places for a vegetarian, although even the smokiest inn can usually whip up a decent fresh salad (solata) on request. Some dumplings and other dishes with cheese (sir) are vegetarian, and in the cities the Mediterranean chick-pea staple falafel and its cousin the vegiburger have made some inroads on fast-food menus.
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 espresso, and cafes (kavarna) are a common sight with a basic cuppa costing around €1. Tea (čaj) is nowhere near as popular and, if they do drink it, Slovenes prefer all sorts of fruit-flavored and herbal teas over a basic black cuppa.
Beer (pivo) is the most popular tipple and the main brands are Laško and Union. An inside tip would be Adam Ravbar beer, which is usually hard to find anywhere except in their small brewery. A bottle or jug will cost you on the order of €1.5 in a pub (pivnica). Ask for veliko (large) for 0.5L and malo (small) for 0.3L.
Despite what you might think if you've ever sampled an exported sickly sweet Riesling, Slovenian wine (vino) can be quite good — they keep the best stuff for themselves. Generally, the Goriška brda region produces the best reds and the drier whites (in a more Italian/French style), while the Štajerska region produces the best semi-dry to sweet whites, which cater more to the German/Austrian-type of palate. Other local specialities 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 decilitre (deci, pronounced "de-tsee"), with a deci around one euro and a normal glass containing about two deci.
A Slovene brandy known as žganje, not unlike the Hungarian palinka, can be distilled from almost any fruit. Medeno žganje also known as medica has been sweetened with honey.
There is a wide variety of accommodation, ranging from five star hotels to secluded cottages in the mountains, along with some award winning accommodations, such as Hostel Celica, which recieved the Lonely planet`s award for "Hippest Hostel" in 2006. One should probably check out the official Web page of the Slovenian tourist board, for accommodation: 
There are many hostels in and around Ljubljana, the average price for a basic bed in a dorm was around 10-20euros but places seemed to accept Hostelling International Cards (YHA cards are accepted). Information on where to find youth hostels is very easily available from the Tourist Information offices.
Amongst the best hostels around Slovenia can be found in the Triglav National Park where there are many 'Mountain Huts' which are very warm, welcoming and friendly. Again, information about these huts can be found at tourist information offices who 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 700m up. There are clear signs/information around stating how long it will take to travel to/between all the huts indicated in hours.
Camping is not permitted in the national parks of Slovenia, but there are various 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.
Things to do
There are many great 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.
Slovenia has three universities (Ljubljana, Maribor, Koper) and several independent colleges (BSA Kranj, IEDC Bled, Politehnika Nova Gorica...). The University of Ljubljana also contains 3 art academies: Theater and Film, Music, Fine Arts.
It's possible for English-speaking graduates to get work in a Slovene school teaching English for around a year in a scheme similar to Japan's JET programme.
Phone Nr.: Emergency 112 Phone Nr.: Police 113
NOTE: Slovenia is most likely one of the safest countries to visit, but to be aware of your surroundings.
TIVOLI PARK (Ljubljana): The park is generally very safe, and a great place to take an afternoon stroll, but rapes have been reported in Tivoli park after dark, and flashers are know to hang around the Eastern side of the Park across from the student dormitories. Horse mounted police patrol the park. DISCOTEQUES: People may get a bit aggressive in crowded bars, and it's not uncommon to be grabbed or groped.
There are no unusual health concerns in Slovenia. Hygience standards are generally high and tap water is potable.
Slovenians are a bit more reserved than neighboring nations but after first contact they get quite open and helping. Don't hesitate to address people. People younger than 50 at least understand English if not speak and they will be eager to help you. You will impress them when using some basic Slovene words. Slovene is rarely spoken by foreigners, so your effort will be appreciated and rewarded.
Slovenians are proud of the fact that they preserved their national identity (especially the language) in spite of the pressures from neighbouring non-Slavic nations in past centuries.
Due to their economic successs and historical as well as contemporary cultural bonds to the west they don't like their country to be described as part of "Eastern Europe". Another common misconception is that Slovenia was part of the Soviet Bloc (in fact it was part of Yugoslavia that notoriously split with the Soviets back in 1948). People have no problems talking about the communist period and get often nostalgic over it. They are also proud that they were the first of the federal republics to declare independence from Yugoslavia.
There are some open territorial issues with Croatia. Be careful if entering a discussion on this subject. Nationalists take it quite emotionally! Another delicate issue is Slovenian civil war during WWII. This national tragedy is still painful for many Slovenians. Try to stay neutral if discussing it.