Thursday, September 21, 2017
Of all the cities we have visited, I liked the ambiance of Ljubljana the best. It has a very Western European feel, with lovely cafes by the Ljubljanica River, beautiful architecture and comfortable pedestrian streets. The people also seemed happier and friendlier. Or maybe the weather was just perfect. Regardless, it was a lovely place to end our trip.
It was a bit overcast early in the morning which was fine because we had a program indoors. It was on top of our hotel with great views of the castle hill.
Our lecture, or rather discussion, was led by Spela. She welcomed us to her country and pointed out its slogan --"I feel sLOVEnia" (the only country with "love" in its name). We asked her questions about her country and its relationship with its neighbors.
Slovenia is only half as big as Switzerland and about the size of New Jersey, with half the population at 2 million. About 270,000 live in the capital, Ljubljana. It is a rather homogeneous society with 90% of the population Slovene and Catholic. In spite of its size, the country encompasses 4 different terrains and climates -- from a 29-mile coastline on the Adriatic to the forested alpine mountains in the northwest topped by Mt. Triglav at 9,400 ft. Ljubljana has a moderate climate on the central limestone plateau and to the east is the Hungarian plain.
Historically, it was dominated by Germans for centuries. Slovenia became a part of Yugoslavia after WWI and declared its independence in 1991 through a referendum -- a big decision after being ruled by others for centuries. Germany was one of the first countries to recognize them because they are trading partners. (Yugos were exported there -- here is one we saw on the street -- still in service so I guess not so bad. Last one made in 2008.)
One of the reasons for separating itself from the other countries is that there was an unequal distribution of resources. By 1980, 60% of all Yugoslav industry was here, but only 8% of the population. Today it probably has the best economy of the Balkan countries, although it could be better. Unemployment seemed to be high in every country we visited. They have universal health care for which they pay about 50 euros a month. The one thing that amazed me was the free university education. Only 700,000 of the 2 million are employed and yet they can provide free higher education to anyone who qualifies. We definitely need to know how to do that. She talked more about Balkan relationships, but it gets very complicated.
Afterwards, Kleman, who is from here, took us on a tour. We walked through a back street and down to the iconic "Dragon Bridge," with its sculptures, so created because Jason of the Argonauts fame supposedly slew a dragon here on his way back from Thessaly.
Crossing the bridge, we arrived in the market square, which was established after an earthquake leveled a nunnery in 1895.
Near the market square are little scales in wooden kiosks marked Kontrolna Tehtnica which allows buyers to check whether the produce weight is accurate. Walking along the river we saw the Butcher's Bridge
and the permanent market stores which were designed by Jože Plečnik, a renown architect. After WWI, at the age of 50, he returned to his native city and developed a master plan, which included the market and triple bridges crossing the Ljubljanica River at Prešeren Square, named for a national poet.
All of the streets in the city center are pedestrian, which is quite refreshing. We visited the Cathedral
And the town hall on the left.
And looking back on the street with the town hall on the right and Cathedral in distance.
We made our way to Congress Square with its government buildings, where they were having a veteran's celebration. We made a circle and ended at Prešeren Square and the Franciscan Church.
Back to the hotel and then free time. I did a little shopping - bought some Idrija lace, a type of bobbin lace made in the Idrija area of Slovenia. Then I headed to the castle. I decided to walk up the hill and then take the funicular down - always need to get a good climb in and it was easy.
When I paid my admission, the clerk urged me to spend an extra 2 euros for a guided tour that started in 10 minutes. I thought sure, why not? It turned out to be the best decision of the day. The guide, an attractive young Slovene woman, led us to different stations around the castle where different actors performed short skits about significant historical periods, beginning with the Romans, then St. George the Dragonslayer, an Italian nobleman and his long-suffering wife, Napoleon and a nun, a female prisoner, and a city mayor. The acts were in English and amusing and I felt like I was watching a play. One actor (above and St. George) looked very much like Ryan Gosling. When I mentioned this to our guide, she laughed and said, "Everyone says that and he knows it!" Sadly, there was only one other on the tour and now my guide is another new friend in Slovenia.
After the tour I climbed to the top of the tower to get a better perspective of the city. It was a perfect day to do this and I captured some clear shots.
I was intrigued with the circular stairway up - new and very stable unlike many I've climbed. Running out of time, I managed to catch the next funicular down, always a treat. Views coming down. Then I ran across the square to the hotel to get ready for our farewell dinner.
Tonight we went to Restaurant Sestica where we listened to a small polka band and, for dessert, we had potica, a rolled pastry with walnuts, a traditional dessert here. Delicious. We said our goodbyes because most of us will be up and on the bus at 4 am to head to the airport. All flights to the US from Slovenia leave around 7 am. Ugh! But otherwise, a lovely evening and a great trip!