Friday, August 27, 2010

Eastern Slovenia (Ptuj, say it like you spit it!)

Day twenty six of my bike trip will be a day to remember. It started off low and finished very high. Between those two, was rain, 102km of riding, a short 8km ride in a police van, and the Slovenian countryside.

Welcome to Slovenia, rumored to be the 'Sunny Side of the Alps,' but I was not so sure when I crossed in.

My day started badly. I had a poor night's sleep. I could not find my bike computer in the morning when I was packing up and my GI tract was more than fired up to start the day. I eventually got on the road and then it started to rain. Before I got to the border, it started to rain harder, but it never turned into a down pour so I was lucky. For the first time on my trip, there were people working at the border, but they were only checking shipping trucks. They waved me right through.

Rural eastern Slovenia.

As I crossed into Slovenia, I did not have a proper map yet. I was just using the edge of my Hungarian map. It showed that there was one small road, a highway, and the autobahn to the town I wanted to go to. When I crossed the border, I did not see the small road, so I stuck with the highway that I was on. Unfortunately, the map was wrong. The highway ended and my only option was the autobahn. In the other countries I have been in, the autobahn is off limits for bikes and signed accordingly. This autobahn did not have a sign. Also, it was only 9km to my town. I decided that it might be legal and to risk it. Two km later, I found out that it was not legal. A police van went by and turned their sirens on. I pulled over. He berated me. He thought I was Spanish. It must be my tan, because no one has ever thought I was Spanish before and there is no way my Spanish is fooling anyone. I asked him how to get off the autobahn and suggested climbing the fence or just biking to the next exit where I was going anyway. He berated me some more before loading me into his police van for destinations unknown. At the next exit, he documented me, figured out I wasn't Spanish (based on the passport), and finally let me out of the van. I felt really fortunate to not have received a citation or free ride to the closest police station. This was my first major experience in Slovenia. It could be seen as bad, but I'll sign off as it being good, especially since he was the first person I met and he made the choice to be more helpful than not in Slovenia (by not arresting me).

A different kind of driveway.

The rest of my ride was pretty uneventful. I was able to find small roads to ride. I had AMAZING peach gelato. I learned that Slovenian gelato is much cheaper than in Hungary AND then give you more. Slovenia earns a bid for best country visited for that. In the town that I got gelato, I was not sure how to dodge the autobahn. I asked a real estate shop where the tourist office was. Instead of giving me directions there, they asked what I wanted and gave me the directions for the rest of my day to Ptuj.


Ptuj is important. First, to say the name properly you must pronounce the J like an I. If you do this correctly, you will be spitting the name out, PI-TU-EE. Say it again and again and smile. It is also an important town because it is the oldest town in Slovenia, populated since the Stone Age. I did not know any of this when I chose to pass through there. It was just a spot on the map and ended up being so pleasant that I decided to spend the night there.

Ptuj, Slovenia from the castle.

The first hostel I checked out had its reception in a bike shop. Very cool. Unfortunately, they were full, so was the second hostel I visited. However, the owner of the second hostel went above and beyond and called around to find me a room. After checking into that room, I asked about laundry because my biking clothes were giving off a pretty bad funk. They did not a guest laundry. I said it was fine and that I would hand wash them. When I came back down stairs later, the woman said that they could do the laundry for me for free as long as it was a small load. That was completely unexpected. This was my first day in Slovenia and their hospitality was overwhelming. All of these people and more turned what started out as a bad day into an amazing day.

Morning in Ptuj, Slovenia.

After giving them my laundry, I went to the bike shop to see about getting a new water bottle cage. The guy working in the shop recognized me from Ormoz when we passed each other earlier in the day. We chatted about biking, Colorado, and life. When I was installing the cage, he was putting air in someone else's tires and asked me if I needed help. I didn't, but asked for air if he did not mind. He filled me right up. Then, I went back in to keep chatting and ended up buying a new bike computer to replace my old one. Unfortunately, I had to replace everything. It is not hard to install them, but it would have taken me an hour to be happy with it. The guy kept chatting with me and did it for free in about ten minutes. Brilliant. Friendly. Hospitable. Wonderful. From there, I explored town and got some locally flavored food for dinner. The waiter was super helpful and friendly too. He was only topped by the wonderful girl at the tourist info shop playing Leonard Cohen where I checked my email. I just found wave after wave of amazing people in eastern Slovenia. It was a completely unexpected treat.

A central Slovenian town.

The beautiful rolling hills of central Slovenia.

As I reluctantly left Ptuj the next day, I did not have a definitive plan. I was a little behind schedule and didn't have any spots to visit until almost 200km away in Bled. I had hoped to do a big day to get a little caught up. My morning riding started out alright. I was able to find my route pretty easily and, perhaps more importantly, I was able to stay on that route easily. Often, I lose a lot of time trying to figure out where I am going.

This gas station was different. We don't usually pair them up with bars in the USA.

After an hour or two of riding, an older guy joined me on his mountain bike. When we were done chatting, he cruised on up ahead. I worked to stay with him and it was not too hard. I just had to keep a higher tempo. By doing this, I start going 25-30km an hour as opposed to 20-25km. After he dropped off, I decided to just try and keep moving like that. As long as I focused on my tempo and did not worry about speed, I was able to do it. I made it to the next big town Celje, about 70km away, by late morning. I pulled into their tourist information site to check e-mail (they all have free fifteen minute Internet), find out about my camera, and find out how far I had to go. The women working there were par for the course in Slovenia, unbelievably friendly. They went above and beyond to be helpful and really made me feel welcome.

Is stringing grapes(?) up like this the normal or torture for a bad wine year? I have not seen this before. Maybe these are for olives and I am used to grape.

After leaving Celje, I kept hitting my tempo. The hills were small. The road to the next town that I was looking for was always well labeled. I could not believe how long I was sustaining my higher speed by focusing on tempo. I did not look at my odometer at all, just my speed. I started to wonder if my new computer was off because it was new. I checked it and everything seemed right. Then, I started looking at the road signs and double checking distances. I was spot on again and again. I actually was biking that well. I finally stated to slow down when I was near the Ljubljana airport. I rolled into the town of Kranj, about 40km short of where I would head the next day, not sure what to do. I still felt decent, but I also didn't want to overdue. I checked out my total distance for the first time and it said 153km. I decided to stop and stay in a hotel. However, the tourist information place was closed and it was not a tourist town. I slowly found the hotel with that sad 'where I am going look' upon my face. When I did, a local started chatting me up. He told me about a couple places to eat and offered to join me. I really wanted to get off my bike and shower, but I figured why not. He had grown up in town and took me to his favorite pizza place where he said no one finishes a whole pizza. I did it easily and by the end of dinner, he decided I was innocent enough to offer a room to in his home. This was my first home stay and it was great. The only thing bad about it was my camera payment and delivery drama got started there, but that wasn't Slovenia's fault. Slovenia was offering up more incredibly warm people. My host, William, introduced me to his family and told me about pre and post communist Slovenia and his adventures. He likes to walk. His longest one had been a pilgrimage to Egypt. He travels different each time, but that time he took no money and relied on strangers to give him bread and water. It really made my traveling seem pretty cushy.

After two days, my summary was short. The riding was great. The people are great. Slovenia is fabulous. Go. Visit.

Slovenian hospitality is amazing. They even gave me my very own town to live in.


  1. Brody, those are hops, not grapes, growing on the vertical trellis strings. I've heard that Slovenian hops are very high quality and they export them to all the big german brewers. But Slovenia's (not as high quality) national beer, Lasko, is brewed from german hops.

  2. gotta love good hospitality! :-)