Difference between revisions of "Slovenia"
Revision as of 09:47, 8 January 2011
Slovenia (Slovenija)  is a country in Central Europe that lies in the eastern Alps at the northeastern end of the Adriatic Sea, with Austria to the north, Italy to the northwest, 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 was already more economically advanced than other nations behind the iron curtain prior to European integration and the powerhouse of Tito's Yugoslavia. Contrary to the popular misconception, Slovenia was not a part of the Eastern bloc (not after the Yugoslavian notorious split with the Soviet Union in 1948). Added the fact that Slovenia is also home to some of the finest scenery in the "New Europe", the transition from socialism to the European common market economy has gone well and serves as a model for other nations on the same track to follow.
Slavic ancestors of Slovenians 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 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 subjugated 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 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" in Slovene), renamed Yugoslavia in 1929. In WWII, Slovenia was invaded and occupied by Germans, Italians and Hungarians, leading to a parallel civil war between pro-communist liberation forces (Partizani) and axis-sponsored anti-communist reactionary factions ("Belogardisti" and Domobranci). The victory of the Allies and consequently the Partizans resulted in a violent mass exodus of those who had fought with 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 Belgrade, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 with minimal bloodshed. In 2004, Slovenia joined the European Union and NATO. Most recently, Slovenia adopted the euro in 2007, completing a quick and efficient accession to Europe and the EU.
Historical ties to Central Europe, a strong economy, and relatively stable democracy make Slovenia one of leading country among the new members of the EU and NATO.
For a small 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 (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 that kept Slovene alive over the centuries of relentless Germanization from the north. As a result Slovene survived in its unique form different than Serbo-Croatian to the south. Part of both the countryside and city architecture in Julian Alps shares a lot in common with neighboring Austria, including countless roadside shrines and pretty baroque steeples, giving the interior of the nation a truly alpine flavor. One could easily mistake parts of mountainous Slovenia for Tyrol, Salzburg or Bavaria. In modern times, industrial band Laibach (see box) has served to put Slovenia on the map. In the decades before them, Slavko Avsenik and his Oberkrainer (as known in German) did the same.
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.
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 and Pannonian Basin in northeast. Central Ljubljana valley with Ljubljana marshes in the southern part. In the southwest there is the Karst (Kras in Slovene, Carso in Italian) (where the name for karst topography actually comes from). The Karst region is a barren but beautiful limestone region directly north of the Italian city of Trieste.
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. Phone: 090 93 42 30 (inland only), website in English: .
Connections between the Italian city of Trieste and nearby Koper and Piran are frequent on weekdays. There's also a daily bus between Trieste and Ljubljana. In addition, services between Gorizia (Italy) and its twin town of Nova Gorica (Slovenia) are at least hourly throughout the day although the journey is easily walkable. 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.
Ljubljana 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 ways into the city, though, 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 but an hour's drive from Ljubljana via super highway. Klagenfurt, in Austria, is also an option. Although further away, the Italian airports in Venice and Treviso (called 'Venice Treviso) offer other entry points to Slovenia or good day trips to/from Slovenia. Note that railway connections between Slovenia and Italy are rather poor, though (see below).
Slovenia is well connected to Austria, Croatia and Hungary 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 Budapest in Hungary and from Zagreb in Croatia. All lines converge on the capital Ljubljana.
Italian Railways has slashed the only remaining daytime cross-border service, only the night train to Venice is still running. 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 afield. For trips to Trieste, it may be more advisable to take a train to Sežana and then take a taxi on to Trieste (about 10km, €10) or a connecting bus (3 times a day, weekdays only, €1).
English website of the Slovenian Railways company . There are numbers of international routes  and 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 SŽ 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. Also, be aware that you also receive a 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 restaurants 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. However, the express services which run to Zagreb (usually starting in Munich, Germany) are very high quality - but the price shows this.
Slovenia has an excellent highway network  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 €15.00 for a week, €30.00 for a month, or €95.00 for a year. For motorcyclists, this costs €7.50 per week, €25.00 for 6 months and €47.50 for a year.. Using motorways without a vignette will result in a fine of €300+. Vignettes are actually sold at the border, and the border agents are supposed to give you a flyer advising you to buy one, but they don't always do that. There are also signs advising you to buy, but they are in Slovene only.
When entering through northern neighbor Austria, you also need a separate vignette to use the Austrian highway network.
Slovenia is a relatively small country 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.
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, and although rural stations are often quite basic, most stations are extremely well kept with flowers decorating the platforms throughout summer months. 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. Newer trains do have an voice announcement system that tells you to which station you are approaching. 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 (outside Ljubljana), but printed schedules are always available: odhod (yellow) means departures, while prihod (white) is arrivals, although this is usually indicated in both English and Slovene.
Buses fill in the gaps, and are usually 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.
There are a number of car rental and taxi businesses in Ljubljana. The big international companies are all represented , but if you are on a budget, the local companies have some nice offers if you do not mind using a car which is a few years old.
Slovenian, the national language, is spoken as mother tongue 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) minorities. Historically, and prior to the end of WWII there was also a significant German speaking minority. Conversely, Slovenian is spoken in border regions of neighboring countries.
The level of spoken English is very high when compared to most European countries. Most people you come into contact with as a tourist, especially younger ones, will speak English. Many Slovenians have some functional knowledge of German, in particular in Eastern Slovenia, and of Italian in the coastal region where Italian is a co-official language. Serbo-Croatian is very closely related to Slovenian and widely spoken by those above 30 and at least understood by younger people. Communication in other Slavic languages, while possible, will require some more effort and hand waving.
The Slovenian school system heavily promotes the teaching of foreign languages from primary school onwards. Children study two foreign languages (most commonly English and German) by the time they get to grammar school. A typical grammar school often teaches an optional third foreign language, Spanish, Italian, or French. While the youngsters speak English quite fluently, older people are more skilled in Serbo-Croatian, German and Russian, and can read cyrillic.
However, learning a few words of the local language will earn you a great deal of respect and some friendly smiles.
Remember, when speaking in English, use simple language, as anywhere where English is not a native language. It will get you further and help to avoid any misunderstandings.
Slovenian cities leave no doubt about historic influence played by Austrian and Italian architecture: Ljubljana is not unlike Prague and Piran could be easily mistaken for a small Italian town. While cities are far from boring, the real Slovenian must-see is its diverse and unspoiled nature.
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. 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.
Prices are high compared to most of Eastern Europe (except Croatia), but lower compared to Italy or Austria. Although prices do vary quite a bit, it really depends on the location. For example, a beer (0,5 litre) in a pub in "Stara Ljubljana" (literally "Old (Town) Ljubljana") would cost you around €3.00, while a beer outside Ljubljana would cost around €1.80. A budget minded traveller can hold his own, if they are smart. For example buying your groceries in a large store (supermarket), such are Mercator, Tuš, Spar, Lidl, Hofer, E.Leclerc etc., will be likely cheaper than buying on the market, or in a small store, etc.
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—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 (račun, pronounced rah-CHOON) and show this bill when you leave Slovenia through Jože Pučnik (formerly 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.
People from Slovenian northern neighbour Austria come to Slovenia just for the food, cause with Subalpine, Italian, Hungarian and Balkan mixture most people will find something to their liking - unless they're strict vegetarians. Many say that the pizza here is as good or even better as in neighboring Italy.
Generally speaking, Slovenian food is 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 and is uniformly delicious.
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 (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 (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 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 (restaurant), which could be a fancy restaurant with waiters and tablecloths or just a typical Chinese restaurant. 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 okrepčevalnica, where trying to pronounce the name alone can cause indigestion. There is no real Slovenian fast food, but Slovenians have adopted greasy Balkan grills like pleskavica (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 either meat (mesni), cheese (sirni) or apple (jabolčni), 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 smokiest inn can usually whip up a decent fresh salad (solata) and fried vegetables on request. Lacto-ovo 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). It is wise to know that even the smallest store has its healthy food shelves with many non-animal alternatives. In the cities the Mediterranean chick-pea staple falafel and its cousin the vegiburger 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 cities on the coast there is a paradise for meat-eaters. Local specialities are 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 costing €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 with friends sitting in the same café for hours. Tea (čaj) is nowhere near 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 by request.
Beer (pivo) is the most popular tipple and the main brands are Laško and Union. Adam Ravbar beer is good quality and is usually hard to find anywhere except in their small brewery (located in Domžale, a town about 10 km north of Ljubljana). A bottle or jug will cost you €2.50 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 or (colloquially) šnops, not unlike the Hungarian palinka, can be distilled from almost any fruit. Medeno žganje also known as medica has been sweetened with honey. Vodka is, as in most of Slavic nations, also very popular, especially among the youger generation.
Slovenia has a wide variety of accommodation, 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 euro. Quite a few student dormitories (dijaški dom) are converted into hostels in the summer, but these tend to be poorly located and somewhat dingy.
Mountain Huts can be found in Triglav National Park, and they are very warm, welcoming and friendly. 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.
Tourist farms can be found around Slovene countryside and usually they offer wide selection of traditional food, local wine, different sport activities etc. 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.
University in Ljubljana is the oldest, largest and most well-respected teaching institution in the country. The University of Ljubljana also contains 3 art academies: Theater and Film, Music, Fine Arts. Various recognized international charts list the University of Ljubljana in the top 3% of universities worldwide.
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.
Slovenia is most likely one of the safest countries to visit, but be aware of your surroundings.
The nationwide emergency number is 112. To call police, dial 113. There are emergency telephones interspersed along the main motorways. You can find the closest SOS-phone by the arrows on the reflection posts.
People may get a bit aggressive in crowded bars and discotheques, and it is not uncommon to be grabbed or groped.
Petty theft is routine in vicinity of Roma settlements in southern parts, especially around Krka river. Don't worry about it, just don't leave your watch on the car seat while you go kayaking.
There are no unusual health concerns in Slovenia. Hygiene standards are high and tap water is potable.
While in nature, always use tick repellents, due to the Boreliosis and Meningitis danger. Boreliosis is very widespread in the country.
There are two species of venomous adders in the Julian Alps. You are unlikely to be bitten, but if you are, you should seek medical help as antiserums are available (although actually seldom administered). In the forests in the south, you may encounter a bear, although attacks are very rare.
Slovenians are generally open and friendly, so don't hesitate to address people as those younger than 50 understand English and will be eager to help you. You will impress them if you try using some basic Slovenian words. Slovenian is rarely spoken by foreigners, so your effort will be appreciated and rewarded.
Slovenians will insist when offering something, as "no" doesn't always mean "no," they just think it's polite for you to refuse, and polite for them to insist. Don't worry unnecessarily, but still you should take some normal precautions to study your host first.
Slovenians are proud for having preserved their national identity (especially the language) in spite of the pressures from neighboring nations in past centuries. Due to their economic success as well as historical and contemporary cultural bonds to the Central Europe, they usually don't like their country to be described as part of "Eastern Europe". While Slovenian language is closely related to Serbian and Croatian, it is not the same language. Another common misconception is that Slovenia was part of the Soviet Bloc, while it was in fact, the northernmost country of Yugoslavia. You can, however, freely discuss these topics; just be aware that you can hear contrasting sides of the story, depending upon whom you're talking to and of his/her political affinity. There is still a strong division among leftists and rightists. Be careful if entering a discussion on open territorial issues with Croatia or on the Slovenian civil war during WWII and its aftermath. Consider these controversial topics a taboo.
There is an active lesbian and gay scene in Slovenia. 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 international calling code for Slovenia is 386, and the prefix for international calls is 00; 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 Slovenian mobile companies, Mobitel and Simobil, provide an excellent 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 0.39€ per minute for calls made and 0.15€ for calls received, while calls to or from non-EU providers remain expensive. Slovenian pre-paid SIM cards are also available in supermarkets and gas stations.
Telekom Slovenije operates around 3500 phone booths. They unfortunately do not accept coins but require the use of cards costing 3-15€.
Slovenia is generally well covered by inexpensive broadband internet due to fierce competition between multiple companies. Internet cafes are thus common in cities and internet access is offered by most hotels and hostels.
The offices of Pošta Slovenije are ubiquitous. Look for french horn-like signs on dark yellow background. Delivery takes one day within Slovenia, a few days within Europe and (usually) less than two weeks worldwide. DHL is also available.