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Overlooked countries – Slovenia and Bulgaria – Countries 36 & 37

There are some countries that I’ve always been keen to visit. They’ve been top of my list and I’ve made time to go and visit them.  Some I’ve even visited again and again. And then there are some countries that for one reason or another, I’ve always overlooked.

Continuing my counting counties series, the next countries I visited were places in Europe that I have never paid too much attention to until I decided to visit.

Slovenia

As part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia was never a tourist hotspot when I was growing up. And to be honest, there was never anything that called out to me, or any mega cheap budget airline flights urging me to go.

However, nowadays It’s much less overlooked as the world is cottoning on to how amazing Slovenia is. I found it very western and very similar in feel to Italy or France. And the prices were towards the Western European standards as well – the places I visited were not bargains.

The capital Ljubljana has an amazing dragon bridge and the phenomenal old town that is perfect for wandering in. Even if it’s grey, miserable and torrential rain like the day I visited – you can have a great time. Over and above the capital the natural wonders and scenery are superb. And I need to go back to see more of the Julian Alps and lakes.

Ljubljana

Small and perfectly formed is a great way to describe the old town of Ljubljana.  Lots of picture postcard views and some cool museums to visit. Sadly the weather was not very cooperative when I visited, but I still loved it.

I was most impressed with the art museum – it was one of the most feminist museums I have visited – it appeared half the artworks were by women. A bit of investigation led me to realise this was a very heavily curated museum. The old country was forgotten and the new Slovenia was being presented here.

But wow, if that’s what it takes to get a more equal representation, maybe we need to start heavily curating the old art we hold? Looking at you National Gallery of Men’s Art in London.

Nature and Lake Bled

Now if you want nature, Slovenia has you covered. And I went to visit that picture postcard place Lake Bled. I wanted a relaxing autumnal weekend away exploring. This was to be an outdoorsy break with lots of hiking, countryside and fresh air.

And in real life, it really is as amazing as you expect. The Lake feels serene and welcoming and offers a perfect running track around the perimeter. While the side near the road can get busy with tour groups, the other side of the Lake offers a much more peaceful atmosphere and different views of the island. And the best views are from the lookout points that you hike up to. Great panoramas and some fun exercise on the way up.

Moreover, there are hiking trails all over and it’s easy to walk and see the countryside and some canyons. Rather than the actual destinations or big tourist attractions, I loved seeing the countryside and small villages – how people really lived. Rambling around gave me the perfect cover for this – and I was shocked by how many people didn’t explore further than that picture postcard view.

Bulgaria

More difficult yet rewarding

Bulgaria is not top of most people’s places to visit. It’s easy to see why so many other people have also overlooked Bulgaria as frankly, it’s not the easiest place to visit. They do not set out to attract foreign tourists. Hence, little things are more complicated than other European destinations. But undeterred, I went for a weekend trip to Sofia, to see what it’s all about. A taster visit as it was.

And boy was it worth it. I am the sort of person that loves visiting more challenging and interesting places. And I loved the idea that visiting Bulgaria would be like a sneak peek behind the Iron curtain adapting to a modern capitalist world. There were many hints around of the countries communist past – most notably in the architecture and public art. But also little hints everywhere on the scale of the state and people’s socialist beliefs.

Statues and Churches

What I did find in Sofia was visually amazing and interesting. The Orthodox churches were stunning – bluey green domes everywhere. That beauty at the top is misrepresented by the poor photo quality. It was stunning. And I was lucky to see it in the green, and in the white after a snowfall.

Ms ZiYou statue

In Sofia, statues abounded. The statues were also really interesting and distinctly socialist. Which is just the style I absolutely love and could easily spend all day looking and snapping photos of them.

I even hiked in the snow to the Communist statue museum at the age of town as I loved them so much. It was one of these museums that you can get to the general vicinity easily enough, but finding the entrance in what I’d call a light industrial estate was tricky. But it was worth it. I was in heaven wandering about the snowy statues. The other visitors numbered in the single digits – leaving the snow crisp and unblemished.

Bulgarian Language

Ms ZiYou Bulgarian Theatre

Now, if you thought Russian was confusing, have you seen Bulgarian? Even the best linguists struggle with the vast alphabet of latin and non-latin characters mixed together. It’s one of the largest alphabets and consistently looks confusing to me.

Moreover, in addition to the complex language, there was less English spoken overall. Compared to other capitals, Sofia was distinctly non Anglophone. And I loved that.

Related Posts – Counting Countries Series

Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Are there countries you have overlooked?
  • Have you been to Slovenia or Bulgaria?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

12 comments on “Overlooked countries – Slovenia and Bulgaria – Countries 36 & 37

  1. Both countries that were on our itinerary for late 2017 (the idea being to end up in Greece for the winter) – until family catastrophe resulted in a swift return home from Krakow….. We’re planning to retrace our route back to Krakow next April and continue south from there. Thanks for reminding me that I’m really looking forward to it!

  2. My wife lived in Slovenia before coming to the UK and loves it there.
    It’s somewhere we would consider moving to as it is relatively cheap, safe, modern, compact and beautiful.
    If you like skiing, It’s in the alps!
    If you like the beach, it’s close to the Adriatic .
    Ljubljana is a great if small city and the local cuisine is great too.

    Thanks

  3. I’ve been to Slovenia twice, found Ljubljana on a road trip where it became a highlight, and subsequently took MrsShrink there for our first holiday together.
    Probably my favourite country and place to visit outside of the UK. All the best of Austro-Hungarian architecture, german beer, Italian food and wine, alpine scenery, western culture, small friendly safe cities, cheapish prices, great climate.

What do you think?