Explore Slovenia With Petra Jan

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culturallyours podcast explore Slovenia with a local Petra Jan

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Explore Slovenia With Petra Jan
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Show Details

In this episode, we explore the beautiful country of Slovenia with a local Petra Jan. Petra lives in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia and she shares her love for her city with us – unique experiences in and around the city. She also shares some off-the-beaten path adventures around Slovenia that can help you explore this amazing country that has some dramatic landscapes, diverse terrain and stunning ocean views of the Adriatic Sea. From restaurants to outdoor spaces, Petra takes us on a beautiful adventure – right from the comfort of our homes. She also shares some beautiful images of all the places she talks about via our blog.

Show Notes

Karthika explores the beautiful country of Slovenia with a local Petra Jan. Petra lives lives in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia and also known as the city of dragons,  and she shares her love for this city – unique experiences in and around the city. She shares some off-the-beaten path adventures around Slovenia that can help us explore this amazing country from its dramatic landscapes, diverse terrain, rich culture and stunning views of the Adriatic sea. From restaurants to outdoor spaces, Petra takes us on a beautiful adventure – right from the comfort of our homes. Karthika and Petra also talk about the future of travel as seen from the eyes of a travel blogger.

The Transcript

As I connect with people around the world and get a chance to learn more about their local area, communities and country, I am reminded of a line from The Circle Of Life song in Disney’s The Lion King. It goes something like this, “From the day you arrive on the planet, there is more to see than can ever been seen, more to do than can ever be done.” While I have always been a bit of spur of the moment adventurer, most of my adventures have been similar to things that I know, like and am comfortable with. But since March of this year, I have found myself yearling a lot more for the unknown. More new-to-me adventures and experiences – perhaps as a way to feel more alive and well lived in a way. My guest today on the CulturallyOurs podcast is Petra Jan, a mechanical engineer plus travel blogger from Slovenia. And I don’t know about you, but prior to speaking with Petra, I am kind of embarrassed to admit, I had no idea where Slovenia was.

Petra was a delight to speak with and she shared so many beautiful nuggets about her home country – a country that is so diverse in landscapes – from the Ocean to the mountains thanks to its geographic presence in Europe. She also shares little known facts about her home city – Ljubljana – a city known as a city of dragons. There is a lot of well-preserved archeological history in Ljubljana with incredible museums that showcase thousands of years of history. Petra also shares some unique experiences to be had in Slovenia from exploring a vast network of underground caves to photographing brown bears in the wild. Like she says there is something for every kind of traveler in Slovenia.

We also chatted about the future of the travel industry, one of my favorite questions to ask my guests this season and Petra’s answers definitely gave me hope that more people are looking for a positive shift and change in the travel industry – a move away from super commercialized, over touristy areas to more mindful and sustainable experiences involving localized activities.

Come join me on this episode of CulturallyOurs and learn about Slovenia with Petra Jan.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that due to changing travel advisories and restrictions as a result of the global pandemic, please check local and country specific travel guidelines before visiting.

Karthika: Welcome Petra. Thank you very much for joining me on culturally ours, as I am excited to have you on the podcast, and I cannot wait to chat with you and get to know you a little bit better and get to know your part of the world a little bit better.

Petra: Hi, thank you very much for having me as well. I hope that this is going to be a good one.

Karthika: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about sort of who you are, where you’re from, just to sort of help set the stage for this conversation?

Petra: All right. Well, as you said, my name is Petra and I am from Slovenia, which is a small country in central Europe. And I am a Ph.D. student. I’m working in mechanical engineering, but I have a blog which is called Erratic Engineers. And this is where I share all my travel stories and my recipes and this kind of thing that I’m interested in.

Karthika: Wow. A mechanical engineer. I can’t say I’ve spoken to a mechanical engineer before you are the first and you have a travel blog, that’s amazing. Talk to me a little bit about Slovenia since that’s where you are right now.

Petra: I am born and raised in Slovenia and it’s a small country next to Italy. And the fun part is that it’s shaped like a chicken. If you look on the map it looks like a chicken.

Karthika: Okay. I have to go back and check it out.

Petra: Yeah. I think you’ll see it. The head is next to Hungary and then the butt of the chicken is next to Italy and the sea. And we have about 2 million people. It’s fairly small or my hometown is about 300,000 people, it’s really small and it is the capital.

Karthika: So, you’ve lived by the sea your whole life.

Petra: Yes, about one hour away. Everything is super close.

Karthika: That’s awesome. Now, much has changed in the world, as we know it. Can you talk a little bit about how your community or your area, your country, how has Slovenia dealt with the pandemic and, how are the plans for reopening if you could share a little bit about that?

Petra: Well, so far we’ve had a couple of months of lockdown in March, and then we were not hit as hard as the other countries, because you probably know that Italy had a total collapse of their health system, but we got really lucky. We didn’t have a lot of deaths and we didn’t even have a lot of cases because we pretty much panicked in March. And we locked down for a few months after that. We were one of the first countries in Europe to declare the end of the pandemic. And although we have a second wave now, it was kind of okay. We have mandatory mask-wearing and hand disinfection and we have an official ban on gatherings of more than 50 people. I don’t realize, I would say that in terms of how the world is doing right now, we got lucky.

Karthika: I think being proactive and just kind of looking at things right up front and taking a stance, sort of has helped quite a few countries beat it in away.

Petra: Yeah, I think here, part of it was that we had the governmental shift. It’s been confusing in terms of official regulations and recommendations because, once the government changes, everything takes a while to get back into a normal kind of working rhythm. But we got lucky because our medical staff and our doctors were pretty active on social media. And, when the pandemic was starting, they told us, stay at home, be proactive, don’t be careless, just do the normal prevention stuff and you should be fine. And I think the people were organized by themselves as well.

Karthika: Excellent. Now you spoke a little bit about Slovenia as a country. It sounds gorgeous even though it sort of looks like a chicken, but I think it still sounds gorgeous. Can you tell us what makes it special for you and others around you?

Petra: Well, I think the first part and like the most special part is the fact that it’s small because I feel like with big countries, with lots of people, it’s a bit hard to get diversity and to go around and Slovenia is small that you can go through the whole chicken in about four hours driving. Of course here are some smaller countries like Monarch or Venice, but we are fairly small now. And I think that this is the special part because we are located right in the middle of different geographical terrain. We have a bit of the seaside. We have some very nice hills. We have some mountains like we’re partly on the Alpine range. We have some nice lakes and nature. And the best thing about it is that because it’s small, it’s not overcrowded. And we have lots of nice smaller towns and even the capitol, it doesn’t feel much like a city.

Karthika: That’s amazing. I mean, the fact that there’s a lot of geographical diversity makes it kind of appealing to anyone, who likes different things.

Petra: Yeah. I think in terms of traveling, it’s diverse. a lot of people who come here are excited that they get to experience many different things within a few days.

Karthika: Right now, since travel has sort of changed much these past few months, and it’s constantly still changing and evolving. Do you see that impacting sort of your area and Slovenia in general?

Petra: Well, yes. I mean, there’s been good and bad, but in terms of good, it’s been nice to have my hometown which is usually full of tourists to go back to the locals. We were kind of reclaiming the city. We actually get to go outside in the summer and it’s not crowded, but at the same time the entire tourism economy has taken a huge dive and like all the tourist guides lost their jobs and half the businesses are barely getting through and everything. We’ve seen a decrease in tourism, but we’ve all seen an increase in local tourism because most of us used to go outside of the country for a vacation go somewhere else. And this year it’s been more staying at home exploring Slovenia and I’ve seen a lot of things I didn’t realize we had. And I remembered that we had some things that I haven’t seen since I was a child. So it’s good and bad.

Karthika: Yeah. For sure. Now if I were somebody else out there wanting to plan a trip, when things open up or, however long that takes, where would you take us? Give us sort of an itinerary on where to go, what to see, what to expect?

Petra: Well, I mean, I have a couple of blog posts on Slovenia on my blog if anyone wants to check them out. But otherwise, I would say that maybe you could start in Ljubljana, which is the capital, and take like a day or two to look. There are a very nice old town area and a very nice castle. Ljubljana is known as the city of dragons, which is awesome because we love dragons. We have a dragon bridge, which is like a 19th-century bridge that has some really big bronze dragons. They’re impressive. And you have some quite good museums too. There is one that has like the world’s oldest wheel, which is about 5,000 years old. It’s interesting because Ljubljana was built entirely on marsh grounds. The marsh grounds are wet and it’s really good for preserving things. The geology and the historical part is amazing, and this is why they could find the remains of a 5,000-year-old wheel because the swamp preserved it.

Karthika: That is fascinating. Wow. I did not know this and I love dragons too. I think it’s just something about the, I guess the mythology and the fantasy of it just gets to me.

Petra: Yeah, something is interesting about fire-breathing lizards, right? Ljubljana is right in the middle of the chicken, which makes it perfect for wherever else. You want to go and there are like a lot of things to see.

Karthika: One thing that I’m seeing, and perhaps as you mentioned, you’re seeing this too, is that travel is becoming more sort of grassroots, right? Sort of off the beaten path and, maybe hyper-localized sort of experiences. I would love to know from your perspective, as somebody who lives in Slovenia and travels in Slovenia. I’ll ask you a few questions and just sort of, you can answer them however you want. What is your sort of favorite restaurant and more why what’s appealing about that.

Petra: Okay. Well, there’s two of them that I would consider a favorite and the first one is a Korean food restaurant, which is not great for tourists who come to Slovenia because it’s not Slovenian food, but it’s really good. It’s really tasty. And like all their food looks nice and it’s fresh. I love it. And then the second one is called Sloven Skahisa which means the Slovenian house. And this is the one that I would recommend to visitors because they are doing Slovenian, traditional food. Like regional foods, like the typical foods that are, kind of specific to a region and they’re doing it with a kind of a modern approach, it’s traditional in cooking, but it’s made in such a way that it’s suitable for first opinions because it’s a little bit different and a little bit new. It is also suitable for foreigners because you get to try the things that we consider as local.

Karthika: So kind of a fusion, right?

Petra: Yeah. A little bit.

Karthika: Okay. What is typical, local Slovenian food? I mean, what kind of foods would you consider that sort of thing, like the Mac and cheese, or soul food, home, home food that you can have. Basically, comfort food, I guess that’s what I’m looking for.

Petra: Well, a lot of it, or most of it is meat, there’s different types of sausages and other meat stuff. But as for comfort food, it is struklji which is kind of like doughy, pastry filled with cheese or walnuts or different things. It’s like a roll, a nice dough that you take and then you cook it and you roll it with different fillings. This one is awesome. And the other thing is buckwheat. We use buckwheat a lot because it’s a traditional crop that grows around here. Okay. there’s like buckwheat bread, buckwheat porridge, buckwheat dumplings. It’s tasty. And then we’ll have some good cheese as well.

Karthika: Okay. I didn’t know that buckwheat was sort of locally grown. It is amazing how many things you learn when you talk to somebody else from different parts of the world. It’s amazing. Now, what is your favorite activity?

Petra: I have lots of favorite activities, but I think if you’re asking in terms of Ljubljana or like Slovenia, I would say that this is a hard one. Probably going out to a cafe with a friend or like going hiking somewhere in nature.

Karthika: So if I would have come to visit you would recommend going for a hike.

Petra: Oh, absolutely. We have lots of different hikes. I’m not a good hiker. I don’t like climbing up mountains, but I really like walking, flat walking through a forest or a small hill or something, but we have lots of mountains for experienced hikers as well. And we have some really beautiful lakes and national parks. I think that that is like one thing you have to do in Slovenia.

Karthika: Oh, I love mountains and I love getting to national parks and just I can get lost and I’ll be happy.

Petra: Yeah. I think we have a lot of that as well. And I think one thing if we’re talking about nature is that Slovenia has a huge population of brown bears and you can go into the forest in the south of Slovenia. And there are some photo safari tours where you can take photos of brown bears in their natural habitat.

Karthika: Wow. That sounds amazing. And that sort of gets me to my next question. I was going to ask you, like, are there any local experiences that people should try when they come to Slovenia? And this sounds pretty incredible. Is there anything else that you would highly recommend we do?

Petra: Well, I think there is the food that we mentioned and there’s lots of wine sellers and wine tours. If you like wine personally, I’m not a big fan, but we have that. And the caves, I think this is like a local experience. We have one cave, which is pretty famous, the Postojna cave other than that, we all have bigger caves and like less known caves. And there is one that is called Skocjanske caves and it’s like a cave system of probably more than a hundred kilometers. I’m not sure how long, but a trek through those caves is something that I would recommend to anyone.

Karthika: Wow. That sounds quite interesting now, do these all have local Outfitters that are sort of promoting this, or is it more like a tour based? And the reason I ask is that a lot of times, especially now, people don’t want to go to a crowded place. They don’t want to get into some situation where there isn’t a chance to do social distancing and things that they much prefer to do a smaller, more hands-on sort of activity. Lots of local Outfitters in Slovenia that can do these tours and things like that.

Petra: Yes absolutely. I mean, half of the things that are not on the major tourist lists are usually managed by some kind of smaller local societies or local tourist guides. For example, with the caves it’s like that because the one super famous cave is very organized. It’s very crowded. Usually, even now it has a lot of visitors, but all the smaller caves they’re based on local societies, and they’re the ones who take you there. And it’s all smaller groups for nature preservations because caves are pretty sensitive in terms of ecosystems and you have lots of authentic local tour guides who take smaller groups and they will take you through their city or town. I think in terms of Slovenia, it’s already small enough that it’s not overcrowded like the bigger countries. And then you have all these local things that you can find. If you go a bit outside the bigger cities and lots of tourist farms and lots of other kinds of smaller companies that do their specific things.

Karthika: Excellent. Now, do you have a well-connected, transportation system or is it pretty much renting a car a given?

Petra: Well, we have a public transport system and it is technically well-connected, but the problem is that buses are great that you can usually get anywhere if we follow the schedule and especially in the summer, it’s quite okay. But our trains are not the best because there are often some pauses in this schedule that are not supposed to be there. It would take you like three hours somewhere that you only need half an hour normally. Yeah, I mean, I would recommend that you try to go by bus or you try to go by train. But it’s always good to have a backup option. But then again, like I said, from the capitol to the other part of the country, it’s about an hour of driving. Again, it’s not that bad if the train is delayed, the only problem is when there is no train.

Karthika: Right now, in terms of weather, I should’ve probably looked this up, but in terms of weather, is it pretty moderate all year round? Or do you guys have a lot of different seasons as well?

Petra: Well, we get all four seasons, like the textbook kind of season in the summer. It’s 40 degrees Celsius sometimes it’s normally. But it is also more like 30 to 35, but sometimes it goes down up to 40 and in winter we usually get somewhere around zero or minus five. And then when it’s spring, we have like a proper green spring with flowers, orange trees and everything. It’s been milder in the last couple of years because of climate change, but otherwise we get all four seasons properly the way they should be.

Karthika: Awesome. And pre-pandemic, was there a particular season that you would recommend people avoid or can you kind of travel any season and you will still find something amazing?

Petra: No, I think all seasons are good because you get all sorts of experiences like in winter you can go skiing or you can go for other winter sports and in the summer you can maybe go rafting or swimming in the rivers or the lakes. Of course, fall and spring have their own charm. I think Slovenia is nice year-round.

Karthika: It sounds like it. And the fact that it’s, such a small country with a small population. I think where I live probably has over a million people and we’re like a suburb of Chicago.

Petra: Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s both a curse and a blessing.

Karthika: Yeah. I know it’s a personal opinion, but I am longing for experiences where there aren’t too many people, where it’s not crowded and it’s not like, ‘Oh, do this, check it off, move on. And do this, check it off, move on. I prefer taking the time and just soaking everything in rather than just going through a list. This sounds perfect. I just have to wait for the borders to open and, and travel to Solvenia.

Petra: Yeah. Let me know if you do, I would love to grab a coffee with you.

Karthika: Absolutely. Now, as a local and the fact that you are a travel blogger as well and we talked about how traveling has changed much, have you found yourself discovering Slovenia in sort of a different view and what are some places that you’ve experienced that you did not think about? Or you do not remember from earlier and now you have kind of fallen in love with?

Petra: Yeah, that’s interesting because part of our government’s measures to stop the pandemic from affecting the economy too much was that we were given tourism vouchers that we could spend on accommodation. It was 200 Euros that we got to spend on any kind of hotel, hostel or anything registered as a hotel. And 200 Euros is quite a lot when you can only play for the night. And this year, my boyfriend and I went to a fancy four-star hotel that would normally be out of our budget. And we went to the most touristic part of Slovenia, the famous cave that I mentioned earlier. It was amazing because I haven’t been there since I was a child, because that cave is like the synonym of over-tourism. Everything is very commercial. It’s very crowded. And this year we just went there. There were very few people and it was gorgeous, and I’ve forgotten that it is popular because it is awesome.

Karthika: That’s amazing. And this is proactively from the government for anybody, or you have to be associated with the travel industry?

Petra: No. It’s for anyone who is a taxpayer. But it does have its own problems because it is only focused on the hospitality industry. But overall, I think that it has helped keep people at home and it has helped kind of kickstart the tourism industry. All in all, some measures were good, some were bad, but this one was, let’s say decent. Because more people stayed at home and they help to support the hotels that would normally be dependent on foreign travelers. at least some of them, some of the businesses made it through because of that.

Karthika: It is kind of sad to watch and kind of experience smaller mom and pop shops that just can’t make it. And as much as you would like to help, sometimes you don’t know what’s the right thing to do. And an initiative that’s coming via the government seems to have some thought, and some effort to put into getting the country back on track, is quite commendable.

Petra: Yeah. I mean, it’s better than nothing. I’m just a little bit like, how would you say I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get something similar for our arts and entertainment industry because our culture has taken an even bigger dive than the tourism industry. After all, there is a ban on huge gathering, you cannot have any kind of events. And of course, these people are the ones that are dependent on people going out on going to the movies, going to the theater or to a concert. I feel like that part got a bit neglected, but at least I’ve traveled. The industry is kind of getting by because of these measures.

Karthika: Right. Are there no virtual events being done?

Petra: Well, there are some, but you know how people are. They want to go outside, they want to sit in the theater or the movies. They don’t want to pay for something online because you have to have streaming services, you have to have Spotify. It not the same.

Karthika: Yeah. That is true. I mean, especially after being home for long durations of time and doing everything online, the last thing you might want to do it again. Like watch a concert online, even if it is, at a distance and you’re away from the stage and away from people you still want to get out.

Petra: Exactly. Yeah. That’s why I think that at least with the vouchers you could only pay for the accommodation. You still have to pay for the food or activities. It kind of forced the people to spend their money in Slovenia instead of going somewhere that would be cheaper out of Slovenia because the accommodation was paid for. And then if you were a bit careful with the food, at least you could go somewhere, but then again, for some people, they still couldn’t afford that. It’s like a double-edged sword.

Karthika: For sure. Now, the next couple of questions are sort of your perspective, if you will. Feel free to share whatever you feel like, especially since you are in the travel space, and you’ve traveled before and, likely to travel in the future. Where do you think travel and the travel industry is headed, knowing all that we know so far and having gone through all this stuff since March.

Petra: Well, I mean, it’s hard to predict, but I think that it’s going to bounce back in some kind of form that it’s going to be similar to what we had before. But I think we are not going to see very cheap commercial flights because all these safety measures that need to be put in place. All this economic impact is going to end up in higher prices because all the airlines had to let go of a lot of people, some airlines went bankrupt and all of them are probably going to have to implement additional safety measures, which means fewer people on the same flights, more disinfection masks, and everything. I think that it will bounce back, but it will be more expensive for quite a few years to come. And I think these safety measures are here to stay because I don’t think that the global response to this pandemic is going to be the same in all the countries, which means that some countries might end up stuck fighting a more severe version of this pandemic. I mean, it’s already happening. Some of them got hit harder and some of them got hit a bit less. And I think that’s going to be a problem for traveling because every traveler is a potential spreader of the virus and we don’t know who he/she is and there needs to be something to kind of mitigate this risk. And I think that this is where traveling is going to have the biggest problem, but I think people are used to traveling and I think it’s good that we travel and that we expand our horizons. I think it will bounce back. It may just be a bit more expensive, a bit more local, perhaps a bit differently organized for a while, but hopefully, it will kind of remain as open and not completely exclusive.

Karthika: Yeah, I get it. And I can completely relate to what you’re saying, because travel is something even beyond going to a place. I mean, you never really go to a place and be in an isolated bubble. You are interacting with people, you are interacting with the community, you are interacting with the culture in so many different ways. And you’re better off just because of that. Even if you are doing a fully catered travel, there’s just something magical about. We want to go to different places. We want to experience different things. it’s probably never going to completely go away, but it’s going to look and feel, very much different. And maybe it’s good. The fact that it is more local, it is things that we’ve done in our childhood, that we’ve completely forgotten because we’ve looked at other shiny lights and objects. And now we’re coming back to our roots.

Petra: I think that one of the things that will hopefully happen is that over-tourism might be a bit mitigated because of this. Because I know that cities like Venice that have gotten hit by this problem a lot in the past years have already considered some restrictions or some measures to keep the tourists from overriding the city again. Perhaps traveling will become more, let’s say mindful, cause you will think about the place you’re going to impact and the people that you’re interacting with. It’s not just a thing that you check off the list, like you said, it’s about the people and the culture.

Karthika: Right.

Petra: I hope that we all just keep kind of a positive mindset about travel and what that means and it will end up being good in the long run.

Karthika: Oh sure. I hundred percent agree. Now what are your travel plans? I know you said you’re exploring more of Slovenia and where you are, would you mind sharing what your sort of long-term travel plans are?

Petra: Well, this year I wanted to go visit my friends in Sweden because I lived in Sweden last year for my studies. But this fell through the roof. Hopefully, I was thinking of traveling to more remote destinations, like the Faroe Islands or Alaska, or perhaps doing something like a long trek or a long walk. I was thinking of maybe coming in at the Santiago Camino or the King’s way in Sweden. Because I think that this is a bit of an opportunity to focus on the travel that is less connected to people and more connected to longer more remote routes and destinations. I’m thinking that I will stay away from the cities for this year and next year.

Karthika: Yeah, they all sound amazing. And I’ve been researching a lot about Santiago the Camino and it sounds so fascinating because there’s so much history there. There’s a lot of cultural connotation to it as well, which is interesting. You can be trekking and not have to interact with huge crowds too.

Petra: Yeah. That’s the thing. I’m not religious, but I’ve always been fascinated with this trail because I think that it has much historical background and as you said, the cultural value in amazing. I always wanted to do it and I figured, okay, well, why not this year? Because everything else is going to be potentially impacted by this pandemic risk.

Karthika: Do you have access to like traveling to close by countries as in are the borders open for you?

Petra: Yes, we can go to most countries. Well, some of the countries are now requiring quarantine upon arrival because the number of our cases is rising. It’s the start of the school year and we are sending the kids to school. The next two months are going to be a bit turbulent, but yeah, we can go to most of Europe. But I think Asia is closed mostly right now. And Slovenia has been pretty stable with our cases up until September.

Karthika: Oh that’s good because here in the States we have been restricted in the countries we can travel to. I am from India and for me it is a 22 hour flight to get home. So I don’t want to be sitting in a closed space for that long for sure. But I do miss home and miss my family. I can’t wait to go back home.

Petra: Yes, I can imagine.

Karthika: Well, thank you so much Petra. This has been amazing. And I learned much about Slovenia and, it has been a great history lesson.

Petra: Thank you for having me and for this opportunity.

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