Opinion: Trip to the Balkans – Part 1

1800 km by car across the Balkans (Part 1)

By Fazal Bahardeen, CrescentRating

Part 1- My stay in Bled in Slovenia

On the 28th of May I arrived in Lubjiana for what was the first stop in a series of workshops on “Halal Friendly Travel” to the Travel & Hospitality industry of Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Apart from the very productive discussions we had at these places to make Muslim travelers feel comfortable when visiting these countries, it took me on a fascinating journey of around 1800 km on a car across Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

It was my first visit to the Balkans and was struck by the natural beauty of the region. They all have plenty to offer; great views of nature, beautiful mountain ranges, sprawling valleys, historic old towns… really great places to explore!

The workshops were organized by our main partner for promoting Crescentrating in the Balkan countries, the Halal agency of Bosnia & Herzegovina. In Slovenia and Montenegro our host and local partners are a company by the name of Papilot, a Slovenian company who are passionate about promoting Halal, organic, environment friendliness and social responsibility in almost everything they do. The workshops in Slovenia and Montenegro were organized by them. They also took the trouble of driving us from Bled to Podgorica and then to Sarajevo covering a distance of around 1800 kms.

I landed around midnight at the Ljubljana airport. Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia. It is a simple small airport. I was picked by our host and driven straight to the Hotel in Bled, a beautiful small city around 25 Km from Ljubljana. The hotel, Grand Hotel Toplice, is located in one of the most picturesque settings in the region; by the side of the famous Lake Bled. It is around 2.1km long and 1.4km wide

The images here are some amazing views of the lake that I could capture on my iphone. Right at the top of the hill is a medieval castle. In the middle of the lake is a small island called the Bled island with a church; the only Island in Slovenia! Bled is one of the most popular holiday resorts in Slovenia. The World Rowing Championship will be held here in 2011.

To my pleasant surprise the hotel had taken the trouble of placing a prayer mat in my room. However, they did not have Qiblah direction marked in the room. Since we got to the hotel in the night, finding the Qiblah direction was not straight forward. I still do not fully trust even the iPhone compass inside of a hotel room with many magnetic distractions!

Next day morning we had our first workshop on Halal Friendly Travel in the Balkans! We had a good mix of hoteliers and travel industry professional and had a good discussion on the needs of Muslim travelers and what it takes to make hotels / destinations Halal friendly. There was definitely an interest from the participants to understand better the needs of Muslim travelers. Hopefully this will lead to more Muslim travelers being able to explore these beautiful places with peace of mind.

We also had the Imam of the Muslim community of Bled at the workshop. According to him the Muslim community is around 50,000 strong in Slovenia. The total population of Slovenia is around 4 million. There are prayer places in most of the towns. Generally they are houses turned into prayer places so that the community could get together for salath and other community activities. Slovenia also has a Mufti. From what I heard, plans are underway to build a masjid Ljubljana.

I also had a chance to meet an entrepreneur from Slovenia who is very passionately developing environment friendly products for farming, herbal based treatment for many illnesses etc. “Plant of Earth” is the name of his company. Another gentlemen I met was from a company called “thinkgreen” who are into packaged raw and processed vegetables and leaves. Slovenians seems to be very much into the area of developing an “Eco – friendly” lifestyle.

Insha Allah I hope these discussion will lead to making Slovenia more accessible to Muslim travelers, so that they can explore and “feel” Slovenia. The tourism tag line of Slovenia is “I feel Slovenia”. It is a beautiful country with many things to offer for travelers to enjoy and relax. I just spent only a night and half a day in Slovenia. In this short time I must have only seen a minute part of what it has to offer. But what I saw was impressive!

After our workshop in the morning of the 29th, we started off on the first leg of our journey to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. it was a great decision by our host to go overland across the region rather than fly. I finally traveled around 1800 km across this beautiful region and it will remain as one of my most memorable trips. Insha Allah in the next few days I will try and share as much as I could recollect of the trip.