Monday, 12 April 2010

Beloved City

written 12th April

I am in danger of becoming a one woman tourist board for Slovenia but honestly, I am liking it more and more with every hour I spend here!

It is open, and clean, the roads are well maintained - even mountain back roads - and clearly signposted, there are clearly marked supermarkets in every small town which sell simply the best bread - even nicer than france! - the capital Ljubljana is small and pleasant with wide streets, clearly marked cycle lanes which seem to have right of way over cars, even on entering and exiting roundabouts and the traffic stops for both pedestrians and cycles in all the right places.  Even the police are nice, but more on that in a second...

We left our mountain eyrie and headed on down, past more alpine villages and fields full of scattered farmers, all raking the ground (not sure why, doing it by hand, seemingly randomly)

stopping in Zali Log for an ice cold beer in the scorching sun outside a little mountain restaurant - Union beer, which I can't stop calling 'onion beer' ever since I saw 'union soup' in a restaurant (albeit that was in italy) - simply bliss.

Sadly, it was after this point, when were were looking for somewhere nice to stop for lunch that we had our encounter with the police.  Not our fault - I maintain, and we think this was bourn out by the police decision - Will was driving on the slowish side of reasonable round some bendy roads looking for somewhere to pull over, saw a layby, indicated and pulled off the road, deliberately without stamping on the brakes as there were cars behind.  Woman behind did put breaks on, man behind her put breaks on, man behind him didn't and crashed into back of first man.  We were parked and didn't even know what had happened until all three others cars stopped and man at back started shouting at us.  Police called, woman drove off, man started shouting at police when they arrived, police started shouting at man - we think saying "it wasn't their fault, you didn't hit their car, there is no damage to their car, you shouldn't have been driving so close, what if a child had run into the road"  They took all sorts of photos and measurements of the other two cars - his was obviously bumped and scraped in several other places from other incidents), breathalysed the two guys and virtually ignored us, other than to politely ask for our documents and ID then telling us we could go (we we couldn't as blocked into layby at this point by crashed car and police car and decided that any error in manouvering out which got too close to either of those would be Not A Good Thing, under the circumstances).  Then everyone drove away, with bits of plastic falling off his car... ooops.  Still, as I maintain, not our fault,  Will checked mirrors and indicated, he was too close to the car in front to be able to stop safely in any unexpected circumstance, end of.

Still, we drove all the way to Ljubljana before stopping for lunch in case he was lying in wat for us somewhere...

Ljubljana is lovely.  full stop.  Nearly named 'Beloved City' (ljubljeni in slovenian) it is a smallish university city with everything you could wish for in easy reach; old town, new town, with river wending through it, typical streets, fancy churches, market, castle on a hill, funicular, free wifi in every bar or cafe.  lovely

Thanks to the LP and the clearly signed roads, we found the tourist office in the main station easily, obtained map and tourist guide and the knowledge that there were no free carparks in the centre of town and that the 4* campsite was right on the very edge of the map and €13 per person - ouch!  so we picked a carpark halfway between the station and the campsite, near the large cemetary in an area which looked otherwise empty and found the perfect place to stop.

Our plan had been a bit of bike maintenance - in changing my melted tyre, Will discovered that my bearings are so full of ick that it is a miracle the wheeels turned at all (not so Captain Slow afterall, sabotaged!) - and Austin has kindly lent us some cone spanners and lithium grease so and easy fix anticipated.  But not to be.  Front wheel spinning nicely but back wheel was discovered to have bent spindle - yet another prohibitor to my achieving any great speed either pedalling up hill or freewheeling down!  So we tucked the offending bit into a pocket and set off to walk the 3kms or so into town, hoping to get to the tourist office in time to ask for a bike shop - a town with this many students (albeit most of them seem to travel by roller blade) and cycle paths must have a bike shop.  What with one thing and another, we have spent more money on the bikes than the van and although we have used them several times for their intended purpose of allowing us to park on the edges of towns for free and cycle in, Will still thinks it would have been cheaper to take taxis...

We wandered through the cemetary, which its different 'streets' mostly flower and candle-decks slovenian family graves

but also an Italian soldiers cemetary and apparently a Jewish bit as well as other nationalities somewhere.  It was very well tended and a surprisingly pleasant place for a walk - as many other people were also doing - and it is clearly big business from the number of cars in the carpark and flower stalls around the place.

Anyway, in search of bits of bike, on this occasion we didn't even get as far as the centre or tourist office, when Will spotted a sign for a shop with a logo he felt looked like bike shop - no idea why, it had no indication of being connected with bikes from either the name or the logo! - but when we found the actual shop, it clearly was.  We went in, Will asked if she spoke english, she said no, he put the bit on the counter, she reached behind her, pulled out a shiney new bit, held it up against old bit, it matched, she charged us €4, we left.  Things are just not that easy!  As I say, I love this country!

Rejoicing in our success, we spent the rest of the evening wandering the typical pavement cafe strewn streets and river banks (felt very amsterdam like near the river) in the warm (t-shirts!) summer-like evening, watching people out chatting, drinking, laughing, eating icecream (mountainous icecream with bits of the flavour in, like italian stuff!) and a folkband by the river - just lovely.

Yesterday was sadly chilly and overcast but we set off anyway on our bikes for a tour of the town.  And it was like riding a different bike!  It may have been the flat streets, and obviously the greased bearings and straight spindle will have played a part, but I like to think the new mountain legs are also responsible for some of the new found speed (and freewheeling!) although the new mountain legs are still aching somewhat...

Anyway, we had a lovely, if a bit chilly, day, wandering round.  We went first to a little secondhand bookshop to off load all my old books now that my parents and K&A have kindly supplied new ones.  Will has been moaning about curb weight and threatening to throw the old books in the bin ever since I got new ones but I have been resiting as I think it is sacriledge to throw books away, even if someone them are trash.  The bookshop lady was in complete agreement with my standpoint and surprisingly overjoyed to receive such bounty and couldn't quite believe that I didn't want any money for them (she wasn't authorised to buy books, only the manager) I was merely happy to see them go to a good home.  And a good home I believe it was.  We have a poke around whilst waiting to be served and it was a treasure trove of all sorts of things, arrange by subject not language and it smelt properly book musty as all good old book shops should.  To Will's dismay - acquiring new books was not in the plan! - she started hunting round for a book she could give me as a gesture in return, but unfortunately she didn't have anything about Slovenia in english so we left, significantly lighter and feeling like a good deed had been done :)

Wandering on, we nibbled our way round the tourist market; bread,

cheese (from a stall with an acordian playing farmer for extra authenticity!), cured meats, sausage and herbs in pots, coming away with some delicious slovenian sausage for dinner at some point.

Round the fruit and veg market,

and flower market

where there was also, somewhat to our surprise, a milk vending maching!

yep, raw, unpasturised milk from a slovenian farm, in a vernding maching that you decant either into your own bottle or one you buy from the next door machine - how random!  and onwards to the walking tour.

Starting with the town hall, we caught two minutes of a tour which explained that the dragon that is the symbol of Ljubljana (or Slovenia, not sure) is representative of the green river (either the Soca, the green river we saw on our first day, or the Ljubljanica which flows through the town, again, not sure) which people believe is a dragon which protects the city (or the country), the mists on it being the steamy breath of the dragon.

There is a dragon bridge to protect the town anyway, whichever river it is meant to be :)

We also found a fascinating display of adverts and other film and art work, from the 88th Art Directors Awards which seemed to be an award ceremony for international advertising in all its forms, including a film of the TV ones.  some of them were really good!

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and found the Cathedral with its fabulous frescos (people actually praying in there so no pix),

the Baroque pink fairy cake that is the Franciscan church which its marvelous altar piece sculpture, the triple bridge (an old bridge with two more recent side bridges added by a famous Slovenian architect who seems to have designed most of the city (including the cemetary) as well as a lot of Prague),

the university

and up to the castle - walking up the steep windy path, no funicular fun for cheap van dwellers :)

Sadly not very good views as too many trees in the way but looked to be several free exhibitions to come back for in the morning.

And so to dinner and a small back street restaurant which was highly recommended by both the LP and a freebie guide we picked up.  Tucked away in a side street in an old district south of the centre, Pri Skofu was everything we had expected and more - best meal of the whole trip so far in fact!!

There is no menu and a friendly waitress with perfect english asked us what we wanted, assuring us that everything was home cooked from fresh ingredients.  We asked for 'traditional slovenian food for people who don't have very much money' and got

Biftek s Tartufi (steak in truffle sauce with slovenia gnocci)

Sirovi Struklji (some sort of potato pancake thing with cheese)

Regratova Solata (dandelion leaf salad with egg - I know, me eating leaves!!)

and Cokoladni Mus - simply the best chocolate mousse I have ever had - didn't last long enough though.... ;)

accompanied by some lovely slovenian Cabernet Sauvignan

as I say, simply >i>the best meal we have had so far.

We spent yesterday wandering the castle - not much to see, but the shop was nice

and there was some random 'art'  including this piece in a cellar building entitled 'Revelation' with some twaddle I couldn't force myself to read all the way through about "wax in explicit cubic form" and something about representation of earthly life connected to salvation or some such thing - who knows...

and then, with rain clearly heading in, on to the park

where Will pandered to my ridiculous whim for a horse burger from the HotHorse kiosk - delicious!  much better than beef burgers!  McD's is missing a trick here (as well as a lot of moral indignation I suspect... ;)

and so onwards.  We stopped for a break in Iski Vintgar - a pretty gorge just south of the town

and then headed on up and over the mountains, through forested roads, down a couple of random wrong turns and finally ended up parked for the night on a deserted forest road.

sadly raining today - but still doesn't spoil this wonderful country! - so caves and other delights today then on to the coast where it is apparently warmer according to the slovenian radio station that does news and weather in english every half hour!


  1. You are doing a brilliant job of selling Slovenia! The fresh raw milk machine is very unexpected.

  2. I wouldn't mention that burger to Em if I were you (she has made it clear she'll dump me if I eat horse, so I think your friendship would not survive... though on the other hand, she has less justification for dictating what you eat, so maybe it would be less of an issue?) Either way, best avoided.

    Re bike shop: I suspect Will could tell based on the picture of the bike in their logo/name, as well as the word "servis", maybe the cardboard cutout of the man on a bike by the door, or perhaps just the man outside, with a bike? Either way, I think you're overstating the difficulty of identifying this bike shop as such...

    Slovenia sounds nice. Am held up waiting for parts at the moment so no car progress, am sorting out my garage instead by building a big workbench.

  3. Hi!

    I found it great that you like my counry! If you are comming back dont hasitate to write me an email on also if you have any unexpected problems here.
    I have seen you also found Hrvoje (well he found you) and Ive&Tereza from Drniš! VW bus community from former Yugosalvia is wathing every step of your. good trip and good luck!
    Klemen, Ljubljana, Slovenia