An adventure in winter wonderland
I know. How cool does the name sound. We decided to visit Šmarna Gora, also known as Mt St Mary, since we were told it was a popular hiker’s destination and also the highest hill in the city, with a baroque church perched on the top. What we didn’t know, was that no one goes there in mid-winter. Whoops.
Not more than an hour away – North of Ljubuljana – getting here was simple. Ok, let’s retract. The bus ride was simple. As soon as we got out, we had no idea where we were and as we turned around to ask the bus driver, the bus was long gone.
It was a dormant, beautiful town, paved over by a sheet of snow. It was like stepping back in time. I half expected to see cobblers and women with scarves around their heads corralling their chickens. With no idea of where to go, we saw a woman in the far field walking her dog, walking towards a forest. We decided to follow her.
As we walked past her, she stared at us, open-mouthed, probably wondering if we were mad to go trekking in these conditions. We probably were. To our surprise, she spoke to us in English, and we were well impressed, as she managed to direct us towards the direction of the forest.
It was a winter wonderland. So many trails snaking through the forest, with magnificent views over the snow-capped countryside. We walked all day, trying to make sense out of the signs that we guessed (correctly!) were pointing towards the village. Finally, after a good 5 hour walk, when the sun was setting and our bones were starting to creak with cold, we reached the minuscule village at the foot of the hill.
Two friendly bartenders were excited to see tourists and found it hilarious we didn’t understand their language. They served us a few beers with great enthusiasm, added us on all their social media, and invited us to drinks with their friends. A few hours later, our stomachs crying with hunger, we walked in the general direction that the girls had pointed us, towards a restaurant. After walking into the darkness and feeling lost, we ran into a few locals walking their dog, and asked them if they knew of a nearby restaurant. As soon as they realised we were foreigners they stared at us in surprise.
‘What are you doing here?’ one of them said, before giving us directions to the only restaurant in the town. We went in. It looked charming and rustic, and also like someone’s dining room. The waiter spoke some English and very quickly started making suggestions of what we should order, and quickly started bringing out plates piled high with food, one after the other, of Slovene delicacies. Sausages, potatoes, steamed vegetables, beers, and even a small bottle of port to polish up dinner with.
We worried about the bill, frantic we were going to get a huge ripping off. But when it came to it, we were delighted. He had hardly charged us more than a £10 each. We were about to leave, when a few locals who were hanging around drinking, came round to us, also amused we had found ourselves in this neck of the woods. One of them knew some English, and he was thrilled to speak with us, especially when Chris told him he was Irish, and he burst into a long speech about Conor McGregor.
It was great to find things in common with people from a country we had barely heard of before, and most of all what impressed me was the advance level of languages Slovenes have. Not only did they all master an ability to communicate in and understand English, but most that we met on route spoke (besides Slovene), Spanish, German and Italian, just to name a few.
When we finally got back to the bus stop, we realised in fear that we had missed the last bus. The village was asleep, and it was almost midnight, not to mention it was well into the minus degrees. Just as we were about to start panicking, the two girls we had met at the pub ran out to see us. They were overjoyed, thinking we were coming back to join them at the pub, and then slightly heartbroken when we told them we were trying to leave, but still, we managed to persuade them to give us an alternative bus route back to the city. Sleepy and content we left Šmarna Gora with the hopes of going back one day, this time preferably in summer.