Our final adventure in Slovenia was in and mostly around Kranjska Gora. It’s a fairly famous ski town and we had heard it was great for New Years Eve celebrations. Mostly we went to see the gorgeous Julian Alps. To clear it up -the Alps go over 8 countries and 750 miles (1,200 km). So everyone has different ways of referencing The Alps (Swiss Alps, French Alps, Central, East Central, etc.) The Alps do dip into the north western corner of Slovenia and these become the outskirts of the alps known as the Southern Limestone Alps of which make up the Julian Alps. Are they part of the alps? Yes, but they’re a part of a part of the alps.
You can just make out our journey from Lesce to Kranjska Gora on the map below. You can also see how very, very close we were to the Tri-border (where Austria, Italy and Slovenia meet) ~foreshadowing~.
The hotels in the area were all super busy with tourists so we got one about 20 minutes out of town and had to walk in every time we wanted to do anything. Fortunately our hotel had a pizzeria downstairs so we didn’t have to make a 40+ minute round trip journey in 18 degree weather every time we needed to eat. Of course we didn’t want pizza all the time so we went to the store. The stores would close for New Years so we bought the only shelf stable food we could think of (for hiking) peanut butter and jelly. Except the jelly was super Slovenian and made from a blend of plums, apples, and cherries.
We walked to the ski area to just watch people ski and sled. We were happy we hadn’t traveled there just to ski because there wasn’t that much snow. Every ski area was blasting their snowmaking machines and most of the lifts were closed. It was predominantly tow-ropes and people walking up with sleds.
Despite being in the middle of the Julian Alps, we were only at 795 m (2,608 ft). But it was colder here than anywhere else. We were wearing all of our layers including pajama pants under jeans and layering many shirts under the jackets. There has been no need to buy cold weather gear in Spain so we have what we have and just layer it all up.
While we arrived pretty early in the day we didn’t do much in town. There isn’t all that much to see – it’s more a place you go skiing or partying after skiing. So we just looked around and got our groceries.
Dec 31st Tri-border Hike
You’ve heard of the 4 corners where you can stand and be in 4 states at once, well this is the Tri-border where you can be in 3 countries at once. Only it’s at the top of a mountain.
We took a ten minute bus to Rateče. A tiny border town with a population of about 600. Everything was closed, but the gas station next to the old border crossing had coffee to-go. These are a super rarity. Spain doesn’t sell coffee to-go so it’s fun to hold a cup of coffee and walk around like Americans. I’ve seen French, Italians and Germans all make little “Oh look at me, I’m an American” jokes while walking around with to-go coffees. So we got to live that dream but actually be Americans. Then we stormed the border into Italy because it was just right there. We love walking across international borders because they mean almost nothing to the European Union. Like there is a small sign that says “oh, yeah, this is Italy, don’t worry about it.” There are also a couple of signs that might say something about local speed limits, or that it’s illegal to have your lights off or something. Other than that you can just cross on over whenever and however you’d like. So we strutted across that shit, to-go coffee in hands.
There is still a checkpoint (not operational) there from 2007 when Slovenia joined the EU and borders became obsolete.
This border crossing was special, Rateče used to be a part of Italy and the border was a place of skirmishes and issues since the Austro-Hungarian empire. Like walking across where the Berlin Wall used to be, being able to casually stroll across a formerly disputed border feels nice. Like look how far we’ve come.
Hilariously there was a large cross country track that started in Slovenia and looped into Italy. So doing laps on it as exercise might mean you cross a border five or six times. Nothing like zooming around internationally to get a good workout.
In the picture you can see me next to some headstone looking rocks, those were the old border markers and we followed a line of them up on the hike – we were hiking right up against Italy’s border.
We finally stopped marveling at borders so we could finally do what we set out to do – hike to the Tri-border. Ha! More borders. I don’t know what I can say about it except we went hiking. We had expected to have to cancel the hike because of deep snow but it turned out to be almost muddy (not much snow). The deepest it got was maybe four or five inches of snow max (as well as deep mud depending on where the sun could get through the trees). We passed large groups of Austrians who “Grüß Gott”ed us which we always find hilarious because it’s not the German we’re used to. Where we lived in Germany never used this as a greeting (it’s a purely Austrian thing to say literally “Greet God”).
The only problem with the hike was how warm it is. We show our Spanish friends pictures of the hike and they immediately shriek “you’re not wearing jackets!” Like we said they didn’t have much snow. Not to mention we were gaining something like 2,000 feet which warms you up. We were throwing jackets in backpacks and couldn’t take hardly any pictures because of the intense sunshine and backlights. Most of our pictures have awful solar flares ruining the pictures.
We made it to the top and had a great time standing in 3 countries at once – Austria, Slovenia and Italy. Austria turned their side of it into a ski area so we were hiking right next to skiers for a moment. There were 3 monuments to the tri-border. I couldn’t get a straight answer which one, exactly, was the border or if each country put one up. All the signs and monuments had all 3 languages in it, between our rusty German and Italian’s similarities to Spanish we could make most of it out. Mostly everyone was really excited about the friendship of the tri-border. We ended up eating those weird PB&Js in….Italy I think? I’m not sure which country the benches that weren’t covered in snow were in.
The sun was going down (3:30 is too early y’all!) so we power walked down the hill. At least we could finally take some photos without the intense backlight.
The sun was gone by the time we got back to the village, and we were nervous that the bus wouldn’t be running since it was New Years Eve and all. But it was, and we got back to our hotel and picked up some essential New Years sparkling wine etc. We watched some Slovenian TV and they made fun of the first lady heartily. She’s from Slovenia so they had skit of her trying to convince Trump to visit all the sights of her home country.
We went out at about 11, and by the time we made it to town there were tons of fireworks already going off, mostly people shooting them off from their backyards, but also a few from the ski area. We followed the crowd towards some noise, which ended up being another Alpine oompah band. At midnight the oompah band wished everyone a happy New Year, in Slovenian, German, and English, and the party continued. People were setting off fireworks, sparklers, poppers, and one guy just lit a road flare and laughed manically. Some teens tried to blow up a bottle and everyone gave them some space. We also saw someone attempting the kazotsky dance (he was drunk though and not as good as this guy). Which we had never seen before.
Something about oompah music, champagne and endless pyrotecnics (both official and random teens) made it one of the best New Years we’ve celebrated.
Did we wake up hung over? Yes. Yes we did.
As much as we didn’t feel like going out and hiking, we really wanted to make the most of our time here. So we picked ourselves up and went into those mountains. We weren’t worried though because we had our new favorite hiking snack: pickles, as well as our new favorite hiking drink: pickle juice. And everyone knows that pickle juice cures hangovers. This is debated by science but some people say the brine replenishes electrolytes. And boy howdy did it, we felt fine sipping on pickle juice and hiking in the alps. While Spain can’t make pickles to save its life, Slovenia totally can and we made it a point to stock up on this vacation whenever we got the chance.
We walked from Kranjska Gora directly onto a nature path to the Jasna lakes. The lakeside was chock full of families taking a New Year’s walk (and some people taking a polar bear plunge in the icy waters). We snacked on cookies and tried to feel human then said screw it, pickle juice and get into the mountains. Our tentative destination was a wooden chapel built by Russian POWs in WWI, but our expectations of making there were slim. We quickly found ourselves in the middle of the most perfect “Alps” environment you can imagine.
Our Three-Border hike had given us great views of the Alps, but this hike was IN the Alps. It was so cold that the water bottle in our backpack started to freeze, and we didn’t get a single beam of sunshine after leaving the lakes
We didn’t make it to the chapel, we came across a river almost within spitting distance, but the chapel was a good bit ABOVE us, and we really didn’t want to push ourselves. And also, we quickly googled pictures of it after attempting to ford the river, and decided that it’s more of a “shrine” than a chapel, and Spain has millions of those. So we bailed. And yeah, we were hungover and the sun was setting.
This was our last day in Slovenia, and we honestly didn’t want to leave. Every single person in Slovenia was amazing, the food had been great, and you can’t beat the mountains. Slovakia had had the same qualities as well. So far on this vacation we had discovered two of our favorite destinations of all time. Forget Ireland, and Austria. Visit Slovakia/Slovenia.
That last night we went to sleep confident that our third and final destination, Croatia, would be as good as the previous two. And yet…