Monday 22 April 2013

Welcome, spring!

This year winter lingered around my home town in Slovenia quite a bit longer than we were used to. I guess it was due to a massive amount of snow we had. Higher temperatures with sun and quite a bit of rain in the last days took care of the last patches of snow in valleys around here.

In surrounding mountains however, a few more weeks (or even months) will have to go by for all that snow to melt - there is still meters of snow above 1.000 meters of altitude in some parts of the country.

I took a photo of these cute white flowers (snowdrops or Galanthus in Latin) behind my house a some days ago. It was just a few meters away from the place where I took a similar photo last year. They seem to grow on the same spot year after year when snow starts to melt. You can take a look at last year's snowdrops on the link. I wanted to make a comparison between the two photos - they were taken with two different cameras.

The first photo (the one on the link) was taken with my old Olympus C-5060WZ just before I replaced it with the current Nikon D7000. There is an obvious difference in the resolution of the two original photos but that is not reflected on the blog.

Please share your views and observations. Do you notice any difference between them? Is it really obvious?


Friday 19 April 2013

Top 10 reasons for visiting Slovenia

A few years ago Slovenia started regularly appearing on tops of various hot travel destinations lists all over the media. Key market players and trend-setters like Lonely Planet, Frommer's, Fodor's, and National Geographic have all been raving about this small country with a population of two million, tucked among Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. If this still does not ring a bell, you definitely must be wondering what the fuss is all about...

As a local who has also done his share of travelling, I can easily point out a few strong points of this little gem of a country every visitor should be looking forward to. Even more than just that - I can do it from a traveller's point of view.

If you are a regular visitor of this blog, you have probably noticed I recently entered Big Blog Exchange competition (hosted by Hostelling International) and made it to 100 finalists from all over the world. If the jury recognizes Slovenia as an interesting enough travel destination, I will have the honor of exchanging places with another contestant from a yet unknown country. Only 16 lucky bloggers will have the chance to embark on this great adventure. I hope this list will also help tip the odds my way.

So with no further ado, here are my top 10 reasons why everyone should visit Slovenia:

    For a country only the size of Wales, Slovenia packs a huge variety of landscapes. Country's landscape changes from snow caped Alpine peaks in the north, to Adriatic coast in the south-west and Pannonian Basin in the east, with endless, green rolling hills in the middle. The best part of this is you can get from the Alps to the Adriatic sea in a couple of hours and even make a short stop at a fairytale-like lake on your way there.
    If diversity of landscape is not enough for you, there is also a whole different world hidden underground (some of the natural cave systems go on for over 20 kilometers).
    Alongside with landscape food also changes from one part of the country to another. Near the northern border there is a strong Germanic influence and in the west Italian and Mediterranean cuisine is well represented. There is a similar situation in eastern (Hungarian influence) and southern regions.
    Those endless rolling hills mentioned before make a perfect setting for three main wine producing regions: Littoral, Lower Sava Valley and Drava Valley. Although low production capacities are keeping most Slovenian winemakers away from the World scene, there are some real gems among them.
    Slovenia's location is one of its strong-points but at the same time takes its toll on the number of visitors. It is definitely conveniently located next to higher ranking tourist countries like Italy, Austria and also emerging Croatia.
    Sadly instead of including Slovenia into their itineraries tourists tend to rather spend more time in nearby Italy and Croatia. The best case scenario includes a short three-day visit to Slovenia.
    In my opinion Slovenia can serve as a perfect base for an European adventure - when (if at all) one gets tired of it, there are always places like Venice and Vienna just a short drive away.
    Due to its location and a quite turbulent past, there are many fascinating historical sites in Slovenia. They range from prehistoric (the oldest musical instrument in Europe was recently discovered here), Roman, medieval (picturesque castles), WWI (one of the bloodiest battles was fought in the west of the country) to WWII (many remains of partisan activities) and beyond.
    Despite its location in the very heart of Europe there are still many nicely preserved regions where a traveller can be one with nature. Over half of the country is covered with forests where many rare animals can still be observed in their natural habitat. A true paradise for nature lovers!
    You can try swimming in many Alpine lakes and rivers so clear they will make your head spin. It is no wonder a fairytale movie spectacle like The Chronicles of Narnia was filmed in the Soča river valley. You can also find some unique fishing and adrenaline sports opportunities there - usually for a fraction of a price you would pay in a neighboring country.
    Even though prices have gone up since embracing the Euro, Slovenia is still very affordable compared to its neighbors. I am sure with growing tourism, prices will only rise with time. This is usually an irreversible process, so visiting as soon as possible is the right thing to do.
    Even though it is not unknown, I think it is fair to say Slovenia is still relatively undiscovered. This however is changing fast. With growing media attention more and more visitors are finding it on the tourist map. This might be good for the economy but seeing crowds of tourists around every corner is not a very desirable thing for a traveller.
    Luckily at this moment finding a place for yourself is pretty easy to do - even though it is a small country.
    Visitors to the country are usually surprised to find friendly locals always ready to help them out. I guess this has something to do with the fact people are not tired of tourists yet. There are not all that many... yet.
    If you are approached by a local it does not mean he wants something from you - he probably just wants to offer help.
    Having one of the lowest crime rates in Europe should also say something. This does not mean a traveller should be totally careless in Slovenia but probably there is no need to be more careful than at home.
    Last but definitely not least - there is a good chance you will not have any problems communicating while in Slovenia. I find this to be quite important when trying to learn more about a local culture. Most locals speak at least a second language apart from Slovenian. English, Serbian, Croatian, Italian and German are widely spoken. If you do find a person who does not speak any English, there is a very good chance he (or she) has a friend or a relative nearby who does.
    Despite all this, it always helps if you show a little effort and learn a word or two in local language. It just might help you get to the other side of that door that usually stays closed.

I believe Slovenia is a perfect destination for a first time visitor to Europe. It offers a perfect taste of Europe - a little bite of every neighboring country, usually with some local seasoning. Since it is pretty easy to navigate and laid-back it can serve as an introduction to more hectic places (e.g. Rome or Athens).

Slovenia can make a prefect start to your European adventure!

How about you, my trustful reader - have you ever been to Slovenia? Did you like it? What do you think of the above list?
Please leave a comment. I would really love to hear from you.


Wednesday 17 April 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Venetian lion in Chioggia

This Lion of Saint Mark (also known as the winged lion of Venice) - a symbol of the Republic of Venice is guarding one of the entrances into the town of Chioggia. Even today the lion can still be seen all over the Mediterranean.

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