In order to add a little variety to our European itinerary we decided to add a few smaller, less visited, less touristy cities. Now, there are A LOT of these cities in Europe (duh, most cities in any given country are not tourist-geared cities), so we basically looked at parts of our trip where transportation days seemed long and found cities there to break up the travel time. Somehow, almost all of our “small-city-stopovers” ended up back-to-back, sandwiched between tiny Lake Bled and huge Budapest. Since these towns are smaller and less touristy, there is not a TON to do, meaning we planned less time in them. We ended up squeezing three cities (Ljubljana, Maribor (both in Slovenia) and Graz (in Austria)) into a five-day period, effectively destroying the intention that these cities act as layover stops, and causing even more transportation headaches. Ironic.
The bus ride from Bled to Ljubljana was short and we arrived in the capital city in time for lunch (which is very rare). We enjoyed a seafood lunch along the river (Logan had mackerel and I had John Dorrey, which I didn’t know existed until I ordered it) and wandered old town for a bit. I was feeling a little sick, so we went back to our room so I could rest. The next morning we checked out and locked our bags at the train station. Our transport to Maribor was leaving in the afternoon, so we decided to take a free walking tour to learn more about the city.
As far as capital cities go, Ljubljana is TINY. Since Slovenia only became a free and independent country 20 years ago, Ljubljana’s status as a capital of Europe is relatively new. Before 1991, Slovenia had always been part of some other nation or empire (Romans, Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavia).We learned a lot about Slovenia on our tour and were treated to another side of the former-Yugoslav story. In the Slovene version, the war was short(only 10 days) and almost bloodless. The transition into the western world from the former Soviet one was easier for Slovenia is many ways due to its historical ties to Austria and relative freedom during the Soviet era. However, our tour guide explained how joining the European Union and adopting the euro has been difficult, as things in Slovenia have become more expensive, but salaries and wages have not gone up accordingly. The bright side? College is free. That’s right, FREE!! One top of that, there are discounts for students in restaurants, clothing stores and even apartments. We were told that that average Slovene goes to college for seven years.
After a two-hour ride to Maribor (in a HOT and stuffy van) we were picked up by the parents of our next Airbnb host and driven up and up and up to a cabin overlooking the city and the vine covered hills surrounding it. Maribor is famous for being home to the world’s oldest wine-producing grape vine. The vine is at least 400 years old and still produces a few bottles of wine a year, which are given to important people all over the world (presidents, CEO’s, people like that). But no one ever drinks it due to the symbolism of the wine as a gift (and it’s rumored to be terrible because the vine is so old). Wine is very important in this region of Slovenia and every year they have a festival and crown a queen. Yes, a wine queen. Where do I sign up? The wine queen must be knowledgeable about wine-making and represents the importance of wine in Maribor. One our only full day in Maribor we made the long trek down to town to see the vine and go wine tasting. Unfortunately, the wine from the oldest vine is saved for gifting, so we tasted this year’s vintage. Yum. We had hoped there would be more tasting rooms in town, but it would seem you need to drive to the vineyards for the tastings. No car=no wine. Bummer. So, we bought some wine and journeyed back to our room for our own tasting (I say journeyed because the walk back up the hill took 2 hours).
We got a ride back to Maribor the following morning to catch our ride share to Graz. This was our first ride share, and it ended up being great. We saved a ton of money (28 euro train ticket vs. 5 euro ride share) and made it to Graz in under two hours. The day we arrived in Graz was our five year anniversary (of when we started dating) so we decided to splurge a little for dinner. For an appetizer we got white asparagus with hollandaise sauce and prosciutto, which was heaven on a plate. For our main courses we got beef tips with asparagus and cream sauce, which was delicious, and beef fillet (rare, of course) in a red wine and shallot sauce, which was phenomenal. On the way home it rained. Well, not really rained. Poured. Buckets. I have never ever been so soaking wet from being caught in the rain.
The next morning we got up early(ish), hoping to get moving and beat the forecasted rain. We made it to Castle Hill, but only a few minutes before the rain did. We waited it out in a little café filled with families attending a children’s festival happening on the hill. Watching the little kids splash around in the puddles helped pass the time. When the torrential downpour finally let up, we decided to make a break for it and head to Eggenberg Palace. The rain stopped just long enough for us to walk around the castle grounds, snapping photos of peacocks and beautiful flowers. After wandering a bit, we met our guide for a tour of the palace itself. The Palace has no electricity and because of the rain the shutters needed to be closed, meaning the whole palace was dark when we toured it. Our guide had a flashlight and was leading us through the dark rooms, aiming the beam of light around each room, explaining the paintings. It was the strangest tour we had ever taken. When we got out skies had once again opened up, so we called it a day and heading back to our Airbnb for some tea and movie watching.
So, the question is, was it worth it? Well…. Probably not. We saw some cool places, ate some delicious food and had some good times. However, constantly moving like that is stressful and tiring, and the benefits of how much fun you are having has to outweigh the costs of travel time and energy. In hindsight I think it would be more worth our time to use a place like Ljubljana as a base from which to make day trips. But, our intentions were good and the results okay, so we feel no regrets.