Trieste to Ljubljana by bike: Impressions, thoughts, hardships

by Simon Goodall

Both times I’ve planned to cycle between these two cities the weather has been against me. On the first occasion driving rain forced me to cancel. But this time it was the wind, blowing hard against me all day. 

It’s rare to face a strong head wind and a big climb at the same time. Usually, the thing you are climbing offers some wind protection. However, on this day the wind was blowing from the East directly through the narrow pass and down the other side as I was climbing up to it.

Getting out of Trieste is always going to be a struggle unless you stick to the coast. The city is surrounded by high mountains. My route direct to Ljubljana started with an hour’s push up cobbled back streets.

At the top of the hill you’re immediately at the border. Borders are always strange things. Thanks to Schengen, you don’t have to stop, but the change is immediate. The little towns only a handful of kilometres away from buzzing Trieste already look empty and poor. 

And windswept. As soon as I was into Slovenia I felt that wind in my face. Cycling across the flat plain towards Senzana was like going uphill. What was it going to be like climbing up those mountains in the distance?

It wasn’t long before I started to question my ability to get through the day. When I left the shade of the trees and was out in the open it was all I could do to move the pedals forward while standing on them. And I still had a long way to go.Crawling up a seemingly unending ascent towards the mountains I tried to get my mind to wonder from the task in hand and my anxiety about it. A motorbike wizzed passed me superfast, roaring full throttle. I never liked going fast in cars or motorbikes myself. The thrill and adrenalin was soured by a large dose of anxiety. I was always pleased when it was over, the danger was passed. I remember the unexpected sense of relief when, years ago, I sold my moped and saw it disappear down the road.  No more speeding through the streets of London. 

I was cheered up a bit when I overtook an older couple crawling up the hill ahead. I thought I was going slow, but they must have been half as fast. A scruffy looking pair with sandals and matted hair on old heavy frames piled high with camping gear. What a burdensome way to get around. I’ve tried it like that – once was enough. It’s not that taking a tent is bad, but it has to be a minimalist set up. They must have had an extra 40 or 50 Kgs to tug up that hill. I wondered if they argued a lot. I wondered if it was his idea. 

Trieste is such a beauty of a city. We should have spent the whole holiday there. The night before we’d strolled through the pedestrianised centre, over all the pretty bridges, had a stand up espresso, fine-dined on the endless free crisps you get with the beer and ended up in a really atmospheric craft beer place tasting exotic brews. I wonder if it’s cheap to buy a flat there. I love the way the women dress. Everyone has good taste and the outfits are very distinct from what you see – uniformly – in other European cities. It doesn’t look like they’ve been shopping in H & M. It looks like they’ve been shopping in boutiques that don’t have a new fashion each season, but really know how to do their existing lines well. Classic fairly conservative styles that fitted the subject well.

I had a cold and a hangover and by the middle of hour three I was starting to feel a bit feverish. I was sweating too much, and had a headache. When I took off clothes the wind made me chilly and my nose got runny. For no particular reason I focused on the town of Postonja. It was still over 30km away, but I felt that if I could get there I must have broken the back of the day. I could have a big lunch and a coffee and see how I was, where I was, if there was a train from there. 

Postonja is not a pretty place – apart from its location in the middle of a high mountain plain. It looks like a big industrial park. But it did have one open fast food joint that served me a decent chevapchichi. This, a coke, half an hours sit down and a long stretch and I felt somewhat recovered. No more headache at least. And it was, to my relief, pretty much downhill all the way from there. 

Through some more inspiring territory as well. Lush wide valleys with medieval turrets and pretty farmhouses. Many more motorbikers joy riding round the chicanes. I feel superior. They don’t really need to stop for lunch, they haven’t earned it. I bet I ate less than them. I didn’t dare overeat. Every ounce of energy was needed to complete the day. 

Perhaps the hardest part of all was the last flat 30km parallel to the motorway, with that wind still full in my face. I was pedalling embarrassingly slowly and I couldn’t take my mind away from the pain of it. I kept looking at my watch. At five I would allow myself another rest. Luckily Slovenia does great coffee and great ice cream. The Caramel King and double espresso I got from the service station at five past five was the best coffee and ice cream I’ve ever tasted – and I’ve tasted a lot. 

It worked so well that by the time I got to the city I felt good again. Ready for the lucky find of a craft beer and burger festival taking place right in the centre of town. I had two burgers a few beers and stumbled back to the famous youth hostel in a prison. It’s been refurbished and looks even more swanky than previously. My cell had a very comfy single bed with a huge twisted polished pillar of wood twisting up to the ceiling and supporting the bunk above. After two burgers I couldn’t sleep and I lay there trying to imagine what it would have been like to be an inmate. It was impossible to imagine it being unpleasant, though I guessed the prison guards weren’t as easy on the eye as that friendly girl at reception. There was a Slovenian hip hop night taking place in the club next door which didn’t sound great. 

Ljubjada, Slovenia. Photo by Diego Delso

Ljubjada, Slovenia. Photo by Diego Delso

Slovenia is covered in great cycle paths and as I cycled out of the pretty city the next morning I was soon on one, heading up towards lake Bled with that same wind still there, but on my back this time! I shot up the valley and didn’t stop till I was all the way at Kranjska Gora and ready for one last climb over to Villach and the train home. 

 Simon Goodall is an English writer and marketer living, working and cycling in Munich, Germany. Read about his adventures around Germany and Europe, here.

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