Thursday, August 29, 2013
Ljubljana

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.

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Village church

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.

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Commuminiums

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.

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Slovenski Parliament, Ljubljana

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.

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Triple Bridge over the Ljubljanica River

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.

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Riverside Market

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 town.

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Lovely view from Ljubljanski Grad

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Less lovely view from Ljubljanski Grad

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.

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Shoes indicating Cobblers' Bridge

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Ljubljanica from Cobblers' Bridge

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.

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Willows lining the Ljubljanica

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!

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Jana of the Argonauts

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.

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Polka time!

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 Hall.

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Ljubljanski Grad from Kongresni Trg

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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Stayin' Alive in Ljubljana!



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