Thursday, August 29, 2013
I slept like a rock and woke up without an alarm at 7:50,
feeling completely refreshed – Tom too! Amazing. Breakfast at
Turizem Loka is a great big German-style spread with tons of
cold-cut bacon and ham, multiple kinds of cheese, pate, hearty
breads, cereals, fruit, and many sweet pastries and spreads, also
coffee, tea, and juice, plus they fixed me a big plate of scrambled
eggs. The bacon around here, served practically raw, is pretty
disappointing – cured but not cooked, limp, and quite sad. The
other food was good and hearty, though.
After breakfast, Tom took me for a stick-shift driving lesson, my
previous stick-shift experience being limited to a few hours of
driving in Botswana six years ago. It was easier this time insofar
as I was driving in the right lane and operating the gearshift with
my right hand, but it was harder in that the roads in Botswana were
practically empty, whereas in Europe they're packed.
The driving practice went pretty well, I think, except at one
intersection where I was forced to stop facing slightly uphill, and
the poor guy behind me had to wait through two lights because of my
repeated stalling. Fortunately, Slovenians are pretty good-natured.
According to our guidebook, the harshest oath in Slovenian
translates to “300 hairy bears.” I bet that guy behind me was
hairy-bearing me up one side and down the other! In any event, we
had a nice drive through the countryside.
Our drive took us through cornfields and quaint little villages and
past monstrous "commuminiums" – our name for the huge, ugly
apartment blocks built during the communist era of Yugoslavia. They
might also be called "Titoville," after Josip Tito, communist
Yugoslav revolutionary and president for life.
In the afternoon we visited Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia,
population 280,000. With its pedestrianized Old Town, stunning
architecture, gorgeous river, and mountaintop castle, if there is a
more pleasant place to stroll in the world, I can't imagine it.
We parked in a narrow little parking garage under Trg Republike
(Republic Square), where in 1991 crowds gathered as Slovenia
announced its independence from Yugoslavia. The Slovenian
Parliament is across the street from the square, with an entrance
decorated with nude statues of Slovenes at work and play.
We crossed the Ljubljanica River into the Old Town over the
world-famous Triple Bridge, designed by Ljubljana's favorite
architect Joze Plecnik. I don't understand the hubbub about the
bridge itself, but the river is lovely.
Triple Bridge over the
Turning left after the Triple Bridge brought us to the Riverside
Market. The market stalls closest to the bridge have souvenirs and
trinkets. Farther along, you find the produce stands, fish market,
and other practical goods.
At the end of the market, we caught the funicular up to Ljubljanski
Grad, the castle above town, for expansive views of both the
picturesque Old Town and of huge, ugly, communist-era buildings so
unsightly they look like they belong in Montreal. Instead of riding
back down from the castle, we had a nice, steep walk back to
Lovely view from
Less lovely view from
We ended up at the base of the castle hill a couple of kilometers
from where we ascended and took our time wandering back through
more of the Old Town. What an idyllic day! Low 70s and sunny. The
view from Cobblers' Bridge, named for the shoemakers in this part
of town, was one of the most beautiful of the day.
There's a bustling outdoor cafe scene in Ljubljana, but after the
big breakfast, we weren't that hungry. So instead of a sit-down
lunch, we got some gelato to enjoy as we ambled along. I got
Nutella flavored, to be as European about it as possible.
Back near the Open Market, we stopped at a small storefront shop
selling nuts and dried fruit. We found no common language with the
owner other than “kilo.” I wanted a quarter kilo of cashews and
ended up with .1 kilo, which was more nuts than I thought it would
be anyway, so it was cool. The shopkeeper was very friendly. When
we communicated we were Americans (I'm pretty sure he asked), he
kept trying to sell us walnuts and pecans because they're from the
U.S. and would give Tom “viagra,” by which we eventually understood
that he meant “energy” (probably). Sometimes the simplest
transactions can turn into an adventure.
Willows lining the
The dragon has been the symbol of Ljubljana ever since Jason of the
Argonauts, the mythical founder of Ljubljana, slew one in a nearby
swamp. I know that makes no sense, but so the story goes. At the
Zmajski Most (Dragon Bridge), I performed a death-defying climb
over a concrete abyss in order to have my photo taken with one of
the dragons. Upon reaching the dragon, I saw that I could have
safely climbed up without crossing an abyss from the other
direction. Oh, well. No guts, no glory!
Jana of the
Polka music was invented in Slovenia, at least according to the
Slovenes. It could be true, because I saw several different people
playing the accordion while we were here. We sat by a fountain in
Presernov Trg listening to live polka music with the town drunks
until the drunks more or less ran us off. I guess we were sitting
in their private bum space.
Done exploring but not yet ready to leave Ljubljana, we sat under
some trees in Kongresni Trg and people watched while I wrote in my
journal. There's some cool buildings in the square, including the
headquarters of the University of Ljubljana and the Philharmonic
Ljubljanski Grad from
Back in Skofja Loka, we relaxed in our room awhile before dinner.
The pretty old church we earlier admired from our window has a bell
that chimes on the hour, the half hour, and the quarter hour as
well, but at 7:45 p.m., the bell goes full-on nuts for seven
minutes, and then there's another big show of freaking bells at
8:15! Jeez, how can anyone stand to hear these bells every day? I'd
be insane. Thank God they don't do this all night.
Tonight we met the proprietress of Turizem Loka, who speaks English
very well. She pointed us to an authentic Slovenian restaurant less
than a block away, Gostilna Pr' Starman. We sat outside and heard a cow
mooing nearby, so I assume everything was fresh. We ordered
rumpsteak s cebulno omako (with onion sauce) and beefsteak v
poprovi omaki (with pepper sauce), and as sides we got zelenjavna
priloga (mixed vegetables) and pommes frittes. Tom asked what kind
of mixed vegetables, and the waitress said “just mixed.” I ordered
it, thinking it might be something exotic. It was an enormous bowl
of peas and carrots swimming in butter. Everything was good and the
portions were very generous. We also had a couple of draft Union
dark beers, which were quite good.
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