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Dr. Charles Silverstein, our Travel Editor, is a licensed psychologist in New York City. He is best known for having presented the case for the deletion of homosexuality as a mental disorder before the American Psychiatric Association. He is also the founding director of two gay counseling centers, and the founding editor of the Journal of Homosexuality.

He's author or co-author of six books about gay life, including the three editions of the popular Joy of Gay Sex, contributed chapters and articles in professional books and journals. He is considered an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of relationships between men and problems of sexual disorders. Further information about him and his practice may be found on his website:




Travels in Slovenia

How would you like to travel to a European country where:

1) The police force is tiny because there's virtually no crime, so they'd have nothing to do.

2) While almost all students and many adults ride their bicycles to school or work each day, no one locks them. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bicycle lock for sale.

3) Most people speak English well.

4) You can drink the water.

5) You'll virtually never get a hostile response to a question anywhere in the country.

6) There are charming medieval cities and old castles to visit everywhere.

7) Museums are uncrowded and inexpensive.

8) The cost for hotels, meals, and public transportation are very low.

It's not England or the traditionally visited countries of Western Europe I'm talking about. Eastern Europe has opened up to tourist travel and they are now experiencing a renaissance of tourism. And now is the perfect time to go. While a number of Eastern European countries fulfill the above requirements, the one that I'd visited with my friend Judy was Slovenia.

Slo … what? No, not Slovakia, the eastern part of the former Czechoslovakia, now a separate country. Slovenia is the northernmost section of what was previously Yugoslavia. It's the most economically prosperous and politically stable part of the former Yugoslavia. And it's delightful.

But let me tell you some reasons not to go there. Avoid it like the plague if you require:

1) A hot night life dancing at gay discotheques.

2) A hot night, dancing virtually anywhere.

3) A vibrant and confident gay community.

4) Anything that's expensive.

There are no non-stop flights from the United States to Slovenia. One must first fly to another European capital and from there to Slovenia. That can be an advantage if you’re allowed a stop-over when you land in Europe. We took Czech Airlines and that allowed us to stop-over in Prague for a couple of days.

Slovenia has fewer than 2 million people, and its capital Ljubljana (pronounced Lū-ba-na) is one of the smallest capitals in Eastern Europe. Its central old city, Stero Mesto, most usually called “old town,” is beautifully sited on either side of the Ljubjanica river, and this area is the center of activity for tourists as well as the local population. There you'll find many of the restaurants, antique shops and streets to stroll in every direction. The area is a stroller's paradise. Besides the shops that line the streets, there are weekly markets with a variety of old stuff to sell. Bargaining is required, but do so gently -- there are no hard sells in the city.

The river itself is beautiful as it meanders through new and old sections of the city before it travels out to the countryside. Of course there are boats available for tours of the river. No reservation is required; just show up where you see a crowd forming. Old town Square is also the place to get a "train" ride to the old castle above the city and its museum. You can't miss the train; it's in the center of the square. It takes you to and from the castle on a regular schedule.

While there are buses everywhere, we never took one. That's the advantage of a centralized tourist area. We stayed at the Hotel Lev, the only five star hotel in the city and the most expensive. While the rooms were ordinary by United States standards, the service was exemplary. Even in this five-star hotel, the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff was palpable. There are cheaper alternatives and any guidebook will tell you about them. (Lonely Planet’s Slovenia was my travel bible.) There are only about six hotels, and a couple of hostels. All of them are within walking distance of old town and the museums, but not the zoo or Botanical Gardens, which are a taxi ride away.

A note about honesty is appropriate here. No one ever tried to cheat us in any way, charge us more for merchandise, or tell us "the meter doesn't work." The entire country will treat you with honesty, in contrast to a place like Prague, where overpriced everything and cheating the tourists has been raised to a national sport.

Five dollars will buy you a fine lunch, and $10 will do the same for dinner. You can pig out for $15, but you'll find it hard to spend $20. Almost all the menus are in both Slovenian and English, and at times when we didn't know what a dish consisted of, waiters patiently explained how it was cooked, including all of its ingredients. They would sometimes even offer to bring us snacks of various dishes to see if we wanted to order the whole dish. No one was ever impatient with us.

There are some truisms about food. Restaurants in central tourist areas knock out too much food to be more than adequate, and that's as true in Ljubljana, as anywhere else, although we never had a bad meal. Off the beaten track is where you'll find the best food, frequently down a flight of stairs (or up one) and into the basement of the building. Of course getting recommendations from natives about restaurants outside old town is best. Don't be shy about asking; people in Ljubljana love to help. Miran Šoling, the head of a local gay group took us to one where the food was outstanding.

For museum goers, Ljubljana, and all of Slovenia, is an extraordinary experience. The museums are almost empty. The same is true of the country's castles. There was always a fee -- two or three dollars at most, although collecting the money is always casual. Again, guidebooks will advise you about the location of museums and castles. Just remember that like all of Europe, they are closed on Mondays. Some castles close on other days as well.

Another truism is that driving in the countryside is wonderful. But cars aren't cheap in Eastern Europe. Ours cost about $400 for seven days, plus the cost of gas and toll roads. Even though the country is quite small, one could easily spend two weeks driving around. An alternative is a rail and bus system that is very efficient and inexpensive.

Here are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Lake Bled is about 45 minutes away by either public transportation or car. It's probably the most famous lake resort in the country. It is very beautiful and within the lake is a small island with its own castle. But Lake bled is very crowded and filled with bus tours, and I usually shy away from crowds, so I spent little time there. But it is very beautiful. If you want to stay over, reservations are a must.

Just a few miles from Lake Bled is Triglav National Park. If you’re a climber, this is the place to be. You'll also find a beautiful drive over the Julianne Alps here. Maps and information are available in the tourist office in Kranjska Gora, where we stayed for the night. There’s absolutely nothing to do there, except walk through the town. That should take you about five minutes (if you walk slow). But it is the jumping off place for climbers, skiers and those who want to drive over the Vršič Pass which leads to the other side of the Julian Alps. Driving over the mountains is easy, if a bit tiring from the curves in the road and it brings you to the valley on the other side of the mountains traveling south toward Italian Trieste.

We stopped (and you should too) in Kobarid a sleepy town with an important museum that dramatizes the suffering of soldiers in the mountains during one winter in World War I. Americans are quite ignorant of the fighting in this area. There's also a historical walk that takes you to the defensive positions on the mountains.

Traveling south from Kobarid, one has many choices. Horse lovers are magnetically drawn to Lipica, the home of the dancing horses of Lipica that perform all over the world. There are daily tours of the stud farm, and weekly shows available. A bit further southeast are a series of extensive caves, the most popular being the cave at Postojna. From there one can travel east in Slovenia (and to more castles), south to Croatia or west to Italy. Just be sure that you buy good driving maps. The ones given out at tourist offices are colorful but far from helpful.

Judy and I spent some time with the gay community in Ljubljana, what little there is of it. It’s in it’s infancy when compared to the United States and Western Europe. We learned that the AIDS rate is quite low and that medical care for AIDS patients is excellent – what one should expect in a country that has a 45% tax on income. Homosexuality became legal in 1976 and the age of consent is 15. Although small, the gay community has held a Gay Pride parade for the past four years, and they’ve had a gay film festival for twenty years. They’ve recently boycotted American gay films because of their hatred of Bush.

We learned that cruising areas included Tivoli Park behind the Modern History Museum and the parking spaces in front of the sports center. One would expect that Old Town is another cruising spot.

There’s only one gay bar in Ljubljana, actually the only gay bar in the country. It’s only open on Friday and Saturday nights. The lesbian bar in an adjoining room, is open only Friday. The bar is called “Tiffany,” and it’s the brain child of Miran Šoling, who works hard coordinating many of the gay activities in the city. Go-Go boys are imported from Romania; they’re not local. There are also drag shows. The drinking age is 18.

Judy & I had a meeting with the staff of the National Hotline. Their experiences mirror the problems of early gay liberation in the United States. The need money, good marketing and advertising. Otherwise, they have the energy and resolve to make gay liberation a success in their country.

The gay community has provided an excellent website about their organizations and activities, called the Slovenian Queer Resources Directory: www.ljudmila.org/siqrd/rk-e.php Slovenian tourist sites include: www.slovenia-tourism.si, www.burger.si/SLOIndex.htm, and www.ljubljana-tourism.si.

Want to ask a question about Gay travel or submit your own travel stories? Email your questions or submissions to Dr.Silverstein at: psychs@mindspring.com.

photos by Dr. Charles Silverstein


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