What was your background before you got involved with Slovenia?
I’m a broadcaster – mainly radio. In 1979 I started as a DJ in a local radio station in Northern Ireland where I made something of a name championing local punk music. Then to the BBC for 23 years as a Radio Ulster producer. I spent time in Radios 1 and 4 in London. Back in Belfast in 1999 became the first BBC NI web producer. In 2001 was appointed Editor New Media and managed a large team producing web, mobile, social media, and even some early experiments in interactive TV.
Just before moving to Slovenia, I had spent three years in a youth media project training young people to produce their own films and run social action campaigns. We campaigned for lowering the voting age to 16 and against “punishment” beatings and shootings which are still carried out by paramilitaries in Belfast, almost always against young people.
Davy Sims on a frozen Lake Bled
How did you get involved with Slovenia?
This is a bit of a story, but I’ll try to keep focused.
As a radio producer in BBC Northern Ireland, I was given a dream job to produce a travel and holiday series. It took me around the world. Slovenia had been top of the places I wanted to visit for a few years. I had been sent a copy of Lonely Planet’s first guide to Slovenia and was entranced. My first visit was as a travel reporter in 1996.
A young Rok Klančnik arranged my first visit. We got on really well and stayed we in contact. We caught up when he visited Ireland, I visited him in Slovenia and when he when he was Director of Communication at the World Tourism Organization in Madrid.
Then, one Friday night in 2013 I was on Facebook and a post popped up saying Rok had died. I was shocked – we had spoken on the phone a few weeks before. He said he was ill but had brushed it off like it was ‘flu.
By Monday morning I was on a flight to London then Innsbruck (I couldn’t get a flight to Slovenia at short notice). From Innsbruck by train to Munich then the overnight to Ljubljana. It was an 18-hour trip from my home to Kranjska Gora for Rok’s funeral. As I stood in the silence you only find when the world is covered in deep, deep snow, I thought about how beautiful Slovenia is, the opportunity Rok had given me through our friendship and that my wife Dawn had never visited the country. I decided to change that.
Later that year, on Dawn’s first visit after staying a few days in Ljubljana, we drove to Bled. It was a perfect sunny day, we had lunch in Vila Bled. Later as we sat at the lake shore Dawn said, “I could live here.” And I said, “Well, why don’t we?” By the following May, I had resigned my job, we had sold a big house and bought a smaller one, found a wonderful apartment in Mlino and had moved. The plan was to stay six months.
You spend about half the year living and working in Slovenia. Where do you stay, and what keeps you busy?
We rent in Mlino – 200 metres from the lake shore. The first six months was intended as a one-off. I get bored easily so before leaving contacted Eva Štravs who was then the head of Tourism Bled. She too had been a friend of Rok. I offered to help manage and develop their social media as a volunteer. I did that and toured the country from Ljutomer to Piran.
We were only home in Ireland a few days when we decided we would go back to Slovenia the following year form another extended stay. That time I started my own website Lake Bled News. Bled Tourism does a fantastic job promoting the region and the country outside Slovenia, but I felt there was a need to provide up to the minute information about where to go, what to do, reviews, previews for people during their visit. But also, I wanted to provide a hub for people who visit and want to stay connected to Bled. The website was a tremendous success (no, not financially) but I had to close it when I returned to Belfast. It needed to be “of the day” and to do that, I needed to be in Bled. But the Twitter account is still running (@LakeBledNews). It’s a community of Bled fans.
You’ve written a guidebook for Bled, about how long did that take to finish, and do you keep it updated?
When I got back to Belfast (actually, it’s a town called Holywood on Belfast Lough) I was bored and missed Slovenia terribly. I had already written a “how to” book on podcasting published through Amazon. I still had all the Lake Bled News website assets. They formed the basis for the book. The idea was very simple – make it “insider”, first person, conversational. Provide the deep level of detail a local can provide, not like a travel journalist reporting back on a destination.
Before publishing, I spent a week in Bled fact-checking and updating. Many very good friends in the town let me know about changes. I also get info from Bled MojaObcina.si, Slovenia Tourism and other sources. As the book is printed to order, I update information as I get it. Not quite as good as a website, but changes are more easily made than in standard bulk printing.
Total Slovenia News readers can download a free PDF of the Special Edition here.
Wine seems to be another of your interests. What do you find exciting about Slovenian wine?
Yes, I like Slovenian wine: the countryside where it grows, the style and atmosphere of a St Martin’s Day Walk. Everyone has their “happy place” where in their imagination, they can project themselves. Mine is sitting outside Vinoteka Zdravljica on a warm sunny day looking up at the spire of St. Martin’s and Bled Castle with a glass of Malvazija.
You have a Bled Stories podcast – which episode would you recommend to first time listeners?
If someone is planning to visit Bled or the Gorenjska region for the first time, the interview with Domen from 3glav Adventures is a good place to start. You will hear some history, family stories, and about adventures you can take with his team.
The podcasts are hosted on my blog www.davyvsims.com where I also write about anything that interests me. Looking at the homepage right now, it seems rather Slovenia-obsessive. I also write about world music, podcasting and radio production, and more recently web analytics which I will be teaching in Dublin for a few months next year. I’m trying to listen and read my way around the Mediterranean – that’s on the blog, too. (And, yes there is a section on Slovenia.)
Davy and Dawn
What are some of the pleasures of living in Slovenia, and some of the challenges, and how have you coped with the latter?
Where to start with the pleasures? The people – we have made so many friends so easily in Slovenia. Almost everyone has been warm, open and encouraging. The young woman in the Mercator in Mlino who gave me a word or phrase to learn every day, Mojca at Bled Festival, Janez Fajfar the Mayor who I have known 20+ years, Lea at the Castle. So many others – too many to mention. Then there is the climate, which Dawn particularly enjoys.
Language will always be a challenge – I speak very little, but people will always help you if you just try, especially in Bled and Ljubljana where English is a bridge language. It was harder when we spent time in Murska Sobota. Slovenia has one language and 37 dialects. But as they say here "Vsaka vas ima svoj glas".
Do you intend to keep splitting your time between the two countries, or do you think you’ll end up living full time in Slovenia?
Living full time has been the long-term plan. Our third extended visit – a winter stay - was when we were going to make the decision. But the stay had to be cut short for family reasons. And for the same reason, we only manage two or three visits to Slovenia each year. We hope upon hope we will be able to move there sometime.
Finally, some recommendations in Slovenia for our readers?
Ljubljana Restaurant: Choosing one restaurant is tough but I’ll suggest Manna Restavracija, Eipprova ulica 1a, 1000 Ljubljana. It is also conveniently near the Sax pub.
A night away: Špacapan House, Komen 85, 6223 Komen, The food! The accommodation! The climate! – It is really a restaurant with rooms. And a first class restaurant, too. Dawn also likes Kotnik in Kranjska Gora.
A museum: Pokrajinski muzej Celje, Trg celjskih knezov, 3000 Celje, Slovenia. The ceiling!
Restaurant in Bled: Pri Planincu – The pizza! The traditional cooking!
Event: There are lots of events in Bled each year. I love Okarina, Festival Bled and Folk Music Hit Parade but the accordions (harmonica) event in early summer is extraordinary, unique and really should not be missed. When hundreds of accordionists stand on the lakeshore and play. Here’s a video to give you some idea of what it’s like.
And if you’d like to read or listen to more of Davy Sims on Slovenia, or any of other of the topics he’s interested in, then do visit his website, which is full of informative and entertaining work.