Difference between revisions of "Slovenia"
Revision as of 20:28, 11 May 2013
Slovenia  (Slovenija) is a member of the European Union, Schengen Agreement and NATO. The country lies in Central Europe in the eastern Alps at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, bordered by Austria to the north, Italy to the southwest, Hungary to the northeast, and Croatia to the south. Despite its small size, this eastern Alpine country controls some of Europe's major transit routes.
Previously one of Yugoslavia's six constituent republics, present-day Slovenia became independent in 1991. Historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and a stable democracy have assisted in Slovenia's transformation to a modern state. It has 200 administrative divisions (municipalities). The Ljubljana capital was founded in Roman times; today its university has over 50,000 students. Slovenia's main industries include car parts, chemicals, electronics, electrical appliances, metal goods, textiles and furniture. It has a Mediterranean climate on the coast, continental climate with mild to hot summers, and cold winters in the plateaus and valleys to the east.
Slovenes settled the region in the 6th century, when they were incorporated together with Bavarians and Franks. At that time, Christianization took place. Afterwards, the Slovene lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire, and later they were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the dissolution at the end of World War I in 1918 - when the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed, and turned into a multinational state named Yugoslavia in 1929. After Slovenia was occupied by the Axis powers and later liberated by the Partisans with the help of Western Allies in World War II, Slovenia became a republic in the renewed Yugoslavia, which although communist, distanced itself from Moscow's rule. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a short 10-day war. Slovenia acceded to both NATO and the EU in 2004, and joined the eurozone and the Schengen Area in 2007, completing the final steps of accession to the European Union.
Slovenia became the first 2004 European Union entrant to adopt the euro on 1 January 2007, and has experienced one of the most stable political and economic transitions in Central and Southeastern Europe. With the highest per capita GDP in Central Europe, Slovenia has excellent infrastructure, a well-educated work force, and a strategic location between the Balkans and Western Europe. Privatization has lagged since 2002, and the economy has one of the highest levels of state control in the EU. Structural reforms to improve the business environment have allowed for somewhat greater foreign participation in Slovenia's economy and helped to lower unemployment. Slovenia became the first transition country to graduate from borrower status to donor partner at the World Bank in March 2004. Slovenia was invited to begin the process for joining the OECD in 2007; it became a member in 2012. Despite its economic success, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Slovenia has lagged behind the region average, and taxes remain relatively high. Furthermore, the labor market is often seen as inflexible, and legacy industries are losing sales to more competitive firms in China, India and elsewhere. The global recession caused the economy to contract - through falling exports and industrial production - by 8%, and unemployment to rise in 2009. The economic growth resumed in 2010, but dipped into negative territory with the unemployment rate approaching 12% in 2012.
The national Radio-television Slovenia (Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTV)) is a public radio and TV broadcaster that operates a system of national and regional radio and TV stations. Slovenia has 35 domestic commercial TV stations (operating nationally, regionally and locally), and more than 75 regional and local commercial and noncommercial radio stations. About 60% of households are connected to multichannel cable TV.
The most famous Slovenes include the poet France Prešeren (1800-1849) who penned the Slovene national anthem, and the architect Jože Plečnik (1872-1957) who is credited with Ljubljana's iconic Triple Bridge. Part of both, the countryside and city architecture in Julian Alps, shares many commonalities with neighboring Austria, including countless roadside shrines and baroque steeples. The Roman architecture is present especially in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana.
Four major European geographic regions meet in Slovenia: the Alps, the Dinaric area, the Pannonian plain and the Mediterranean. Slovenia's highest mountain, the three-peaked Triglav, is depicted on the national flag. Main tourist attractions include the famous caves with their decor of stalactites and stalagmites in Postojna.
Slovenia has a 46.6 kilometers long coastal strip on the Adriatic, an alpine mountain region adjacent to Italy and Austria, mixed mountains and valleys with numerous rivers to the east. Slovenia's highest point is Mount Triglav at 2,864 meters; the lowest point is Adriatic Sea at 0 meters. Natural resources include lignite coal, lead, zinc, building stone, hydropower and forests. Natural hazards include flooding and earthquakes.
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.
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, and there are trips between Gorizia in Italy and its neighbor/twin town of Nova Gorica in Slovenia at least every hour throughout the day, although the trip can also be made on foot. This supplements the railway connection between the Italia and Slovenia, or an alternative entry point from either Trieste or Venice.
The Ljubljana Airport is Slovenia's primary international airport and the hub of national carrier Adria Airways, which flies to numerous cities across Europe and offers connections to Southeast Europe. The cheapest airplane travels are available via easyJet's daily flight from London-Stansted Airport in England.
The Irish Ryanair airport runs flights from Dublin to Pula across the border in Croatia. Another convenient gateway to western Slovenia is via Italy's Trieste airport, which is an hour-long drive from Ljubljana via highway. The airport in Klagenfurt, Austria, is also an option. The Italian Treviso Airport, serving Venice and Treviso, offers alternative entry points to Slovenia.
Slovene railways are well connected to all neighboring countries, except Italy where railway connections have gaps. The most popular routes connect from Vienna or Villach in Austria, from Budapest in Hungary, from Zagreb in Croatia. To get around the poorer railway connection to Italy, a train can be taken from other points in Italy to Gorizia, and then take a bus, or walk to its neighboring town Nova Gorica in Slovenia, where there are regular train lines to Ljubljana. For entries from Trieste, it is advisable to take a bus or a taxi to Sežana where another train can be boarded.
Several international routes and special offers exist for some destinations. Some destinations have tickets on contingency basis that can run out fast, but are usually very cheap, such as Ljubljana - Prague line priced €58 for a return ticket (compared to a normal price of €200). For return trips originating in Slovenia, open-dated City Star tickets, which usually require a weekend stay, are usually the cheapest choice. With the Euro26 youth card, a discount can be received 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.
Slovene highway network is connected to all neighboring countries, with a few poorer connections to Croatia on the Slovenian side. 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 highways without a valid vignette can result in a fine of €300 or more. Vignettes are usually sold at borders 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 not always available in foreign languages.
A fast ferry between Venice and Izola runs with an irregular schedule mainly during the summer season, the journey takes 3 hours. Venezialines runs another fast ferry per week between Venice and Piran. During the summertime, there is a fast craft service operated by Trieste Lines between Trieste in Italy, Piran in Slovenia, Poreč and Rovinj in Croatia. The portion of the journey between Piran and Trieste lasts 30 minutes, which is pretty much the same as a journey by car.
Hitchhiking may be your best option to move around for free. Getting around by car is generally painless when using highways, but those require you to purchase an expensive vignette. You might experience 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.
Hitchhiking in Slovenia works and is generally safe, but be aware that by hitchhiking you are playing a gambling game as some of the times you may not get a driver who doesn't expect you to kiss his ass for the favor of a free ride. The general rule is if the gut feeling is telling you to not take a ride when someone pulls over to pick you up, just ignore them and keep hitching. You may also have a better experience with female drivers, though they might not be the ones to offer you a ride as often as the male drivers.
The railway system has been relatively modernized. The railway station names are typically only visible on station building signs, so figuring out to which station the train is arriving means constantly looking outside the correct window (sometimes it's on the right side, other times it's on the left side). A few newer trains have a voice announcement system that announces to which station the train is arriving. Trains are punctual (except some of the international trains), so you should check the expected arrival time and previous station names to be sure where to get off. For figuring out the next train from a station (electronic signboards are rare, but printed schedules are always available): odhod (yellow) means departure, while prihod (white) means arrival, although this is usually also indicated in English.
Buses fill the railway gaps, and are usually a better option for some towns not directly served by train (like Bled and Piran). Some bigger bus stations have electronic search engines for schedules and fares.
The 38,925 kilometers long Slovene road network is usually well maintained and signposted, so traveling by car usually isn't a problem. There are many car rental and taxi businesses in Ljubljana. The big international companies are also represented, with some of them offering older cars for a cheaper price.
If you seek new experiences, it's easy to take a ride from Ljubljana to Zagreb in Croatia. This can be done either by train, bus, car, or plane (from Ljubljana Airport). Once there, you can enjoy world concerts and more.
The quality and comfort of the trains on international routes varies. Trains heading up north from Ljubljana usually have good standards, and they also have restaurants with modern toilets onboard. The trains heading south are usually of lower quality, so you should probably carry a supply of food and beverages with you (water and coffee are available in every sleeping compartment) when heading to Croatia. The express services, which run via Slovenia to Zagreb (usually starting in Munich, Germany), are of high quality.
The highway connections to Slovenia's southern neighbor Croatia are poor, and they usually turn into regular road connections due to unfinished highway-building projects, so purchasing a vignette when traveling to the Balkans only makes sense when using the only direct highway route from Ljubljana to Zagreb via Novo Mesto.
The national Slovenian language is spoken natively by 91.1% of the population, 4.5% speak Serbo-Croatian that is even more widely understood, 4.4% (minority communities near the national borders) speak Italian and Hungarian. The level of spoken English is similar to other European countries. Many Slovenes have some knowledge of German language (especially in the Eastern Slovenia). Using simple English will help to avoid misunderstandings.
Slovene schools teach foreign languages from primary school onwards. Students 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 most of the younger Slovenes speak English fluently, older residents are more skilled in Serbo-Croatian and German, while some of them can also read Cyrillic.
Older Slovene cities have historic influences by Austrian (baroque) and Italian (Roman) architectures. If you find the cities boring, you can visit the alpine resort of Bled and its lake with an island, the massive stalactites and stalagmites in the Postojna caves where the graffiti indicate that the first tourists came there in 1213, the lively coastal town of Piran, the Soča river, or the Trenta valley.
The National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana (Presernova 20, entrance from Muzejska Street), is the oldest and the largest Slovene museum. It was founded in 1821. The museum building on the Museum Street was built in 1888, and was the first building assigned solely to Slovene culture. Today, it stores a rich collection of valuable objects. The oldest ones date back to the Stone Age, and there are also newer ones that are still used in today's modern times.
The new building of the National Museum of Slovenia on the (Metelkova, Maistrova Street 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 holiday activities in Slovenia. The mountains and rivers of the Julian Alps provide the perfect location for skiing, 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, visit cities, or enjoy the countryside 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.
You can make relatively cheap purchases of groceries and other common supplies in several supermarkets, such as the Slovene supermarket chains of Mercator (major) and Tuš, or the international supermarket chains of Spar, Aldi (Hofer), Lidl, Eurospin, E.Leclerc and CBA.
Prices are generally high compared to most of Central-Eastern Europe. Some prices vary depending on location. For example, a half-liter of beer costs around €3.00 in a pub in 'Old (Town) Ljubljana' (Stara Ljubljana), and around €1.80 outside Ljubljana.
A value-added tax (VAT) of 20% (with a reduced rate of 8.5% usually applied to foods and some soft drinks) is charged on most purchases, and is always included in the displayed price tags. Non-EU citizens 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 Ljubljana Airport (formerly Brnik), or any of the main border crossings with Croatia.
It has long been a standard to not expect tipping for services in Slovenia. In recent years, tips are becoming more common, especially in some of the high-tourist areas.
The old saying "there is no free lunch" is true in Slovenia. Served foods can be expensive, and the best way to get cheap food if you are on a budget is to buy it directly from the local supermarkets.
Unless they are strict vegans, Slovenia's visitors can usually find something to their liking among the Subalpine, Austrian, Italian, Hungarian and Balkan mixture of served foods.
Slovene cuisine is heavily influenced by that of its neighbors, including the Austrian Strudel and Wiener Schnitzel, the Italian risotto and ravioli (including pizza and several sorts of pasta), and the Hungarian goulash. Unique dishes include an air-dried ham (kraški pršut, similar to the Italian prosciutto), dumplings (štruklji) that Slovenes prepare in 70 different ways stuffed with sweet fillings, meat or vegetables), a type of polenta called žganci and ajdovi žganci (made of buckwheat), potato dumplings (žlikrofi, similar to the Idrian gnocchi specialty), and a type of soup made of beans, sauerkraut, potatoes, bacon, spare ribs, and the main seasoning is garlic called jota.
The traditional Slovene cake called potica, which is made by rolling up a layer of dough covered with walnuts, and a very cake-like pastry called gibanica, which is made of poppy seeds, walnuts, apples, raisins, and cheese, topped with cream.
Slovene foods are generally heavy, meaty and plain. A typical three-course meal starts with a soup (often made of beef or chicken) broth with egg noodles, after which a meat dish is served with potatoes and a vinegary fresh salad. Fresh bread is often served on the side. Common mains include cutlets, a sausage and goulash, all usually prepared from pork, lamb and game, but there is also a large choice of fish and other seafood further away from the coast. Popular Italian imports include several sorts of pasta, pizza and ravioli.
A major event in the countryside is the slaughtering of a pig, from which many various products are made (blood sausage, roasts, stuffed tripe, smoked sausage, salami, ham and bacon). Recipes for the preparation of poultry, especially turkey, goose, duck and capon, have been preserved for many centuries. Chicken and squid are also common.
Places to eat
At the top of the list of places to eat in Slovenia is the usual restaurant (translated restavracija), followed by common bars in the countryside, called gostilna and gostišče, with rustic inns serving Slovene fare.
The international McDonalds fast-food chain is available in larger cities. Hamburgers are also served in grills and snack bars called okrepčevalnica. Slovenes have adopted several Balkan grills, such as the spiced-up hamburger patty called pleskavica, and spicy meatballs called čevapčiči. Other popular fast-food options include the Bosnian the large, flaky pastry stuffed with either meat, cheese or apple called burek, and Doner kebabs (commonly known as Shawarma).
Slovenia is not the best place for vegetarians, although some inns offer fresh salads and fried vegetables per request. Strict vegans won't find more than a handful of vegan restaurants in the country. However, even the smallest grocery store offers non-meat foods for sale. In the cities, the Mediterranean chickpea staple falafel and the 'vegi-burger' can be found on some fast food menus. Many restaurants in Slovenia offer a 'vegetarian plate', which includes potatoes, fresh or boiled vegetables with 'soya steak'.
In coastal cities, there are several choices for seafood lovers. Local specialties include fish, squids, mussels and octopus.
All restaurants and bars are usually covered with drinks like beers, wines and spirits. Tap water is usually clean and drinkable.
The 'coffee culture' is widespread in Slovenia. 'Coffee' usually stands for a tiny cup of strong Turkish coffee, and cafes are a common sight with a basic cup priced €1.00 - €1.50. Coffee with milk or whipped cream can also be ordered.
Tea is not as popular, and only sorts of fruit-flavored and herbal teas are usually available instead of the basic black cup. It can also be served with honey and lemon.
Beer is the most popular tipple, and the main local brands include Laško and Union. A bottle or jug of beer costs €2.50 in a pub. Ask for large for 0.5L, and small for 0.3L. The Union Radler Grapefruit is also good.
The western region produces reds and the drier whites (in an Italian/French style), while the eastern region produces semi-dry to sweet whites, which cater more to the German/Austrian-type of palate. Local wine specialties include Riesling, Teran (a very dry red from the Kras region), and Cviček (a very dry red). Wines are usually ordered by the deciliter.
A Slovene brandy called žganje or šnops (similar to the Hungarian palinka), can be distilled from almost any fruit. Medeno žganje or 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 Slovenes 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, including five star hotels, secluded cottages in the mountains, and 'tourist farms' in the countryside.
Sleeping in your car, though uncomfortable, is a cheap and viable option (especially during the summer season), and you usually won't get bothered in secluded public parking places, though you might not want to stay at the same place longer than a day or two. The free parking places of settlement areas are your best bet, as well as some parking places of restaurants, but you should avoid the more obvious parking areas such as the ones of supermarkets, as those are very often monitored by various securities (especially at night).
There are hostels in all of the high-tourist areas in Slovenia. The average price for a basic bed in a dorm ranges from €10 to €20. Some of the student dormitories are converted into hostels in summertime, 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 these huts is by foot, and the lowest huts are around 700 meters up. There are clear signs with information, stating how long it will take to travel to or between the huts indicated in hours.
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 with you, as nice, comfortable grass is a luxury at campsites and you will more likely find pitches consisting of small stones.
Slovenia has four universities, located in Ljubljana, Maribor, Nova Gorica and Koper, as well as independent colleges like BSA Kranj and IEDC Bled. The university in Ljubljana is the oldest and largest educational institution in the country, offering three 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 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 (see the 'Entry requirements' section above).
English-speaking graduates can get work teaching English in Slovene schools for a one-year period.
Hygiene standards are high and tap water is usually drinkable. While in nature, it's advisable to use tick repellents due to the dangers of widespread Lyme disease and Meningitis. If bitten by one of the two known species of venomous adders in the Julian Alps, you should seek medical help to provide you with antiserums (although these are seldom administered). You may encounter a bear in the forests to the south, but actual attacks are rare.
Slovenia is a relatively safe country to visit, especially during daytime. People may become aggressive in crowded bars and discotheques, and it isn't uncommon to be grabbed or groped.
Homosexuals are generally not in danger, although there have been reported attacks in the past. Be cautious in the evening and at night, especially in bigger 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 phones stationed along main roads and highways. The closest SOS phones can be found by following the signposts, which are usually put right in front of the phone station, so driving slowly is advisable.
Slovenes are generally friendly, so don't hesitate to address them 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.
Know the locals
The general rule is to rely on the cities for most shopping options and choices in big supermarkets, as well as for other related businesses. For best experience with the residents, you should avoid some of the larger cities and rely more on the smaller towns with populations below 37,000. You can also find many pleasant rural areas.
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 expensive commercial services.
Telecom Slovenia (Telekom Slovenije) operates around 3500 phone booths. These require the use of smart cards, which are sold for €3 - €15.
Mobile networks use the common European frequencies (900 and 1800 MHz). Three mobile companies, the Slovene Mobitel (major) and Tušmobil, as well as the Austrian Simobil, provide good GSM coverage. 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 GSM SIM cards are widely available in supermarkets, post offices and gas stations.
Slovenia is covered by over 415,580 hosts from several internet companies, offering services to 1,298 million internet users. Internet cafes are common in cities and internet access is offered by most hotels and hostels. Wireless internet networks are also available.
The offices of Postal Service Slovenia (Pošta Slovenije) are very common. They can be found by spotting 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.