Friday, 18 October 2013

Warning! This road goes through Slovenia

As it turned out, Slovenia is quite the opposite of being dangerous. Now, after 3.400 kilometres on two wheels through the whole of Slovenia, Tyler and Carolyn are still impressed with this small country. Both agree that everything went smoothly. They are full of great advices on where to cycle, which route to take, what time is the best for which region... and as we mentioned in previous interview, they are preparing first and only bicyclist guide to Slovenia. That will be written by Americans! Here we present the first impressions after their amazing bicycle tour in Slovenia.
So, now after the tour round Slovenia what are your impressions? Was everything as you expected?

Carolyn: It was more than we’ve expected. Now that we are out of Slovenia we are actually missing it quite a bit. Everywhere we turn here in Croatia we’re reminded of the things we miss: the incredibly friendly, hospitable people, the really good value for money, and the spectacular diversity of landscape. 

Tyler: What is funny is the lack of crowds in Slovenia, even in the popular tourist destinations. On the one hand we really enjoyed being one of the few people there, but on the other hand we wanted to promote it. It is catch-22; we enjoyed the lack of crowd but wanted to see more people coming there.

You plan to make first and only bicyclists guide to Slovenia. How is it progressing? When can we expect it?

Tyler: We are still gathering and sorting information. We are expecting to finish it till late spring 2014. That is our target. And the focus will be a combination of cycling routes and information plus tourist and travel information. The idea is not just to give the map to tell where to go cycling but a travel guide for bicyclist that tell you what to expect when you go to this places. What to look for, the hidden gems, the great hostels to stay at… We are working towards completing the book now and we are always interested in finding partners help us promote this product and the great cycling Slovenia to offer. So we are open to anyone who would like to help us with resources and would like to become partner. We think it can only benefit Slovenia in the long run.
Is Slovenia, now that you’ve cycled it across and over, a good place for cyclists? Or is just a transit country?

Tyler: I think right now it’s both. Unfortunately, now it is more a transit country, because the information is so scattered and incomplete. There is no central place to gather all routes and travel information. That is if you do not speak Slovenian. That is why we decided to write our guide. As outsiders, we found it difficult to find information but it is really great place to cycle. I think it can be seen as a destination with the right kind of marketing and information. 

Carolyn: Even if it is a transit country, there can be ways to get people to stay more than just few days. For example, we made a great route from Maribor to Ptuj and to Brežice and Kolpa River. This is a different transit route from Austria to Croatia, but you see a very diverse section of the country. There are great wine cellars, Kolpa is beautiful, peaceful river, and there are some great, quiet routes for cycling. 

How many kilometers app. have you made in Slovenia? We know Slovenia has many hills, mountains… Would you suggest it to less experienced cyclist? Did your muscles suffer?

Carolyn: Our goal was 3000 kilometers. And by the time we were running out Slovenia it was just about 3.400 kilometers. We try to stick to back roads and small roads as much as possible. We did quite a good job.

Tyler: Are there hills in Slovenia? Yes, you have to be prepared for Slovenia. I think most cyclists actually see that as a benefit because it is challenging and it is typically beautiful.
Carolyn: There is a great reward for the effort that its put involved. And that is what cyclist would like to see. Some amazing views, great places to visit that are worth the effort to get there. But there are also many places that are less steep and challenging in the eastern part of Slovenia. There is something for everyone.

Which region did the biggest impression on you? When we spoke before your tour, you said, you are saving the best for the last. Was it Gorenjska?

Tyler: We were so impressed by the entire country it is hard to say. The biggest surprise was Jeruzalem, Goričko… North-East Slovenia. It was beautiful and, people are very hospitable.

Carolyn: Every place has a different charm for us. We love Bela Krajina, soft and gentle peaceful place. Soča valley is filled with incredible energy and white water. Logarska valley has incredible valley with gigantic peaks. Goriška Brda and Karst were nice. Our favorite place for us can depend on the season; in summer time it is great to be in the mountains as it is hot everywhere else. In fall it is great to be in Karst and Slovenian Istria. Every region has something to offer.
What about people? You have a lot of contact with locals as cyclist, what would you say about us, Slovenians? We usually do not think that we are that nice, friendly, hospitable as you say we are.

Tyler: It is relative situation. Comparing to some other places, Slovenia is very hospitable. We are tourists and we get different treatment as the average Slovenian that lives there all the time. That is true, we can point out at least one situation when Carolyn was in the market and didn’t understand how to weigh some vegetable. The vegetable lady snapped at her but when she realized Carolyn was a tourist, she came back and helped her. As a tourist you get a different treatment as locals do. Slovenians are great. And almost everyone speak English, so we didn’t have any problems communicating. We met several other cyclists and all agreed how easy it is to communicate in English.

Could you share with us two or three adventures on the road? I saw you were eating cherries in Brda, you’ve climbed Vršič, tasted delicious wine, took loaded bikes on gondola…

Tyler: The North-East part of the country was remarkable as we did not know what to expect. The beauty of the countryside, the hospitality of the people… it was incredible. And Slovenian Istria. We were there in august and it was so hot, we couldn’t do anything. Then we went back two weeks ago (in mid-September) and it was so incredibly wonderful. Part of it was probably because we came out of the rainstorm from Postojna down to Izola. It was raining and so cold in Postojna and sonny and worm in Izola. It is charming little seaside location.

Carolyn: Everything was so smooth throughout Slovenia. We were connected to tourist professionals and local people. But there were times when we weren’t and it was still so smooth. Nothing stands out as a horror story, we didn’t get lost at all. For me the biggest adventure, my personal highlight, was from the route from Maribor across the Pohorje transversal and down to the Alps, to Logarska valley and then back to Kamnik. It was very challenging, some great climbs. It is not a route for everybody, but if you are up for a challenge it is incredible way to go. Almost no traffic, no bikes, no other human either. Just amazing mountain views, beautiful valleys, small farmhouses.
Where did you sleep? HI Hostels? What do you think about HI Slovenia hostels? Hospitality, standard etc. You were the first guest in totally new Hostel Bovec!

Tyler: Our experience with Hosteling International Hostels was really great. I can say that we were the first guest in Hostel Bovec. Those guys were so cool and we enjoyed staying in their hostel in Koper as well. We really liked Celje and Pliskovica.

Carolyn: Yes, Pliskovica in Karst was amazing; that 300 year old farmhouse in the beautiful little village. There is some great cycling there. That was a unique experience, specially the hostel.

Tyler: We liked Brežice also. It was exceptional nice hostel to stay in. And the folks who run it were really great. The last hostel that we’ve stayed was in Izola, Alieti. They were unbelievably accommodating. It is nice facility, right in the center of Izola, near the sea. It was great.

Carolyn: Generally we were impressed with HI hostels standards in Slovenia. The staff was very personable. Like Hostel Bovec, Hostel Histria and Alieti are small run family style businesses. Like the Hostel Celje and Brežice are more of a youth hostel style, which are also brand new facilities, good accommodations, more traditional with a youth mission. Those were fantastic as well. The HI is always a sign of a good quality hostel and that stays true throughout our trip. It is also interesting to see different types of hostels that are under the umbrella. There are lots of different options within HI Slovenia.
What was the weather like? In Gorenjska rains a lot… How do you deal with weather?

Tyler: As far as the weather, it was mostly sunny; it rained only four or five times. The rainiest day we’ve ever cycled in our lives was in Slovenia coming from Postojna down to Izola. Typically, if it is going to rain a lot, we just do not go. But you can get caught up. So we bring our rain gear with us and we try to take shelter were we can, in a café or in a bus stop. It is not preferred, but it happens. 

Carolyn: The rain comes but the sun always comes afterwards. That is another thing.
What would you, as experienced cyclist, who made numerous kilometers round the world, suggest to our municipalities to improve when it comes to cycling? 

Tyler: As far as municipalities, I think you need to think nationally not just each municipality as a single unit. I think that currently is a problem as each municipality has its cycling routes marked, but there is no cohesive network nationwide. I think you need to think more cohesive: national, regional and then local network. And sign it all the same nationwide and recorded it all in one place nationwide, on all three levels. And make a resource for people from outside to find.

Anja Turk
Volunteer of Hostelling International Slovenia

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