26.06.2013 - 26.06.2013 24 °C
As you gathered from the last blog post by Abby, we are now in Slovenia. I am not sure if it is some sort of coping mechanism that caused Abby to skip over the details of our entrance into this tiny country or an attempt to spare her parents from any ridicule by our reading public.
We were only in Slovenia for three minutes and a police officer flagged us down. As I rolled down my car window, I was told in clipped tones by the female officer to produce my car registration, driver’s license and passport. I had no idea why our car had been selected from many others to be pulled over. Maybe it was an insurance check as occurs with amazing regularity throughout Turkey; or maybe as with our entrance into Ireland we still needed to have our passport stamped even though we were entering the country via another European Union country; or maybe my law abiding driving style just did not match the French license plates on the outside of my car. In the end I was quite happy how a Canadian passport seemed to measurably soften the demeanour of the law enforcement officer. My being an ignorant Canadian seemed to explain everything. My new-found Slovene friend explained that to drive on any of the highways in her country, one needed to purchase a decal for 15 Euros and display it on their car windshield. All the highways work on electronic tolls. We just needed to pull off at the next petrol station 2 kilometers down the road and purchase a decal and all would be forgiven.
As I pulled away from the police road block, Muriel cleared her throat and said, “By the way, I just remembered what Stella told me a couple of days ago, you need to purchase a decal right at the Slovenian border for driving on the highway.” Thanks for that timely bit of information, Muriel!
As with most countries we have encountered, their national borders although political do reflect changes or differences in geography. Slovenia is heavily forested and the landscape quickly becomes much more mountainous, and towns more scattered as a result. As if to emphasis the fact that we had passed from one independent nation to another, the weather quickly changed from the simmering 33 degrees and sunny skies of Trieste, Italy to the epic rainfall and cool 14 degrees of central Slovenia.
Chicken-shaped Slovenia is about two-thirds the size of Vancouver Island and has a population of 2 million people. It was part of the former Yugoslavia and has only existed as an independent state since 1991. We have decided to stay in the state and cultural capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, which has a population of just under 275,000.
Our accommodation is another testimonial regarding the benefits of booking private accommodation through a website such as Airbnb. I say this not only because we have a clean, well-equipped and stylish apartment but because we are once again staying in environs which help us better understand how the locals live. Our apartment building is in a neighbourhood quite near the outskirts of the city. Our drab, grey, cement five-story walk-up is one of a half dozen such buildings which stand in the midst a sea of several dozen even more austere eleven story apartment buildings which seem to house at least 200 apartments each. It is hard to believe that our building was constructed in 1988; its style and that of all those around it looks more like the utilitarian Soviet style construction of the 1960s. Fortunately, our apartment on the inside has been modernized right down to the exterior windows.
There is a large recreation centre in the midst of these buildings, and numerous green spaces, play areas and a river with wide footpath nearby. The grounds are not particularly well groomed (no garbage just a little bit of graffiti) and the area smacks of large scale bureaucratic social planning right down to identical supermarkets located just a few hundred meters from each other. Despite this, the neighbourhood feels vibrant and friendly with young families everywhere and every balcony teeming with a multitude of plants and a good amount of drying laundry.
Today we drove into the downtown of Ljubljana to explore. We discovered a beautiful European style old town situated along a tamed river. We have heard some call this city a mini Prague or Budapest without the crowds. Since we have yet to see these two other cities we can only say it has some architecture reminiscent of Paris, and other structures that seem vaguely Austrian with a touch of Italian and Spanish influence thrown in from the 1800s. It is a university town where supposedly one in seven residents is either a student or shares some association with the university. The entire old town section is in wonderful repair and is entirely geared to welcome tourists without the usual tackiness. Ljubljana is all about the arts and food. There are countless museums and galleries, market stalls, and talented street musicians and artists. Almost every night of the week there are open air concerts in the downtown and it has a festival schedule that may exceed what Vancouver and Victoria offer combined. The river in the middle of the old town is forded with nearly a dozen bridges of a variety of styles. There is a cobbler’s bridge complete with shoes dangling overhead, a butcher’s bridge with metal statuary that looks vaguely like they may have first been used as props in some sort of chainsaw massacre horror movie, and the aptly named Dragon’s bridge, and then the highlight, a stone triple which consists of one wide bridge and two smaller parallel pedestrian bridges.
Restaurants are legion in this area of the city, each seemingly brand new and most of them having tables that overlook the river. Despite the historic architecture, Ljubljana exudes a very youthful energy. You really feel it’s the center of a new country that is reveling in its heritage and inviting the world in, but on Slovene terms.
After a few hours of strolling old town, Muriel suggested we walk fifteen minutes to a different neighbourhood called Metelkova City which features alternative art, most made from recycled materials. This “artistic” locale came into being when squatters took up residence in the old former Yugoslavian military barracks in 1993. Our walk to this area of the city took us through non-descript neighbourhoods with featureless apartment buildings. The closer we got to our destination the more graffiti appeared on the buildings and the more derelict the streets. The atmosphere was not helped by the quickly blackening skies that were announcing the arrival of another thunder storm. What greeted us on our arrival were graffiti ridden alley ways almost devoid of people but populated with an assortment of sculptures made from scrap metal. Even by squatter’s standards, the area seemed in decline. Needless to say we did not linger and hightailed it back to the old town but not quite fast enough to outrun the incredible rainstorm carried by the black clouds above. Within minutes the entire city was a ghost town, with people ducking into buildings for refuge. We, however, ran as fast as we could back to our car lest we stumble into another urban wasteland. All in all, it was a very pleasant first full day in this new country.