Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ljubljana, Slovenia - Day 16

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!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Zagreb, Croatia - Ljubljana, Slovenia - Day 15

Wednesday, September 16, 2017

Our bus did not depart this morning until 9 am so we had a little time to walk around the city center. Here is Jelačić Square in the morning, where people catch electric trains to go to work. I walked a block to the green market, which was already in full swing at 8 am.

Back in the bus for the trip across another border, about 1-1/2 hours into the trip. Once again, it took about an hour combined to leave Croatia and to do a walk through at the border into Slovenia (checking passports and stamping). I thought these two countries got along well, but Klemen said there is a lot of friction because of some border disputes. And they are both mainly Roman Catholic.

As we headed into Slovenia, the landscape changed dramatically as we crossed the rolling hills of the Dilenjska region. Little villages along the way looked like they belonged in Austria. And we saw the little hayracks called kozolecs, which are unique to Slovenia and dot the landscape.

We had lunch in Kranj, a small village along the way. It had a very quaint downtown and was framed by these snow capped mountains, which I heard had just received snowfall a few days ago. What a treat to see. 

At lunch I sat with two women from our group whose grandparents on both sides came from Slovenia. They had hired a woman named Lilli to research their family, and she joined us for lunch. She was a delight and I enjoyed listening to her information about their family, including arranged marriages and out of wedlock births. She is also a tour guide, and I talked to her about helping me arrange a hiking trip back to her country. Now I have a friend in Slovenia.

After lunch our bus took us to Lake Bled, located in the Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region of northwest Slovenia. It is a glacial lake of 358 acres at 1,558 ft. elevation and a depth of 97 ft. What makes this picturesque environment with mountains and forests extra special is a castle on a hill and a church on an island.

The island has several buildings including the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary built near the end of the 17th century. The tower is over 170 ft. high. Boats go to the island but no time for us today.

However, we did have time to visit Bled Castle, a medieval castle built on a precipice above the city of Bled. 

It is believed to be the oldest Slovenian castle, first mentioned in 1011, but added to and renovated over the years. It had a beautiful chapel with frescoes, a museum and some great views.

I couldn't resist snapping this "outhouse" "inhouse." I think there might have been a hole in the wall outside sending the contents to the lake. I heard they did that in other castles but it went into the moat.

Then it took us about an hour to drive to Ljubljana. We checked into City Hotel, and, again, I had a very nice room with a view. We had dinner at the hotel and then I walked the short block to Prešeren Square, named for a poet from the 1800's who wrote their national anthem. Above is one of the architecturally beautiful bridges over the Ljubljanica River. There were lights on the street and on the castle. It was a lovely night to be out.