The jolly barman with large breasts in a red bikini merrily waved us in with a spatula as we nudged open the heavy wooden door to the bar. Laughter steamed the windows from the inside out on this chilly, early winter evening in Bled, Slovenia. The tiny bar was teeming with grimy, work-boot wearing men with missing teeth and large-bosomed, frolicsome women.
The barman’s own large breasts and red bikini was a result of an illustrated apron wrapped around his big belly, providing a hilarious juxtaposition to his round figure. Platters of food lined the room, taking over every available surface, and mugs of beer were passed out freely. The jolly barkeep ushered us in with the spatula in one hand, holding a platter of pršut in the other. He hand fed us the salted dried pork off the platter he was holding as we entered the door. It seemed rude not to accept the salty pork draped over his fat fingers, and so, with that, we were welcomed to join the festivities. The revelry on this particular night was due to the return home of the aluminum smelter workers at the end of a grueling two-week work cycle in which the labor force was sent away from home to work 16 hour days in the smelter.
It was this first night in Slovenia that I fell in love. I didn’t yet even know that the country we had stumbled upon was vibrant with broad birch forests, snowcapped mountains, verdant valleys, karst chasms, cliffside castles, vineyards for days and raging emerald rivers through slot canyons. All I knew at this point was that I was in love with the kind humor and unassuming nature of these welcoming people. The remarkable countryside was merely icing on the cake.
Slovenia geographically bridges the gap between Eastern and Western Europe and the Balkans region. It is a country unto itself that boasts particular charm—seated below rigid Austria, across from loose Italy and above the politically charged region of former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has grown up humble and quiet. The result is a culture of unselfish, modest individuals who work hard and live by their values.
Biking through forests by day and huddling by fires at night, surrounded by the alpine peaks of the Julien Alps and the Triglav National Forest, and exploring the mystical Vintgar Gorge with its raging turquoise waters makes this particular region of Slovenia an unforgettable experience. The unpretentious capitol, the captivating Karst region and the picturesque Mediterranean coastal towns of the South further add to the allure of this incredible country. From our first encounter with the bosomed barman, to our last encounter with an eclectic hostel owner in Ljublijana who lent us his personal car to drive across the country, I continued to fall in love with the people and the landscapes of Slovenia. It is here, in this beguiling land where fairytales live on.