A Travellerspoint blog

June 2013

Lake Bled

By Hannah

overcast 14 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Lake Bled with island church

Lake Bled with island church

We delved into Slovenia's natural landscape today. After exploring the urban Ljubljana (I'm still struggling to wrap my tongue around that name) yesterday, it was nice to get a feel for the Slovenian outdoors.

Lake Bled is gorgeous, and has a perfect little island in the middle of it. An idyllic church and bell tower reside there, tolling every half hour. The lake is home to numerous ducks and swans, none of which were very shy. The last of this year's cygnets and ducklings were paddling about behind their mothers. The baby swans are nearly as big as the fully grown ducks, and they know it, too. We took a stroll around the lake's perimeter, and enjoyed the cool temperature, thinking back to our sweltering week in Italy and appreciating the overcast skies even more. Everything looked green and lush and alive. We drew out the walk significantly with all the time we spent taking pictures. Afterwards, we had a picnic lunch at the lakeside, and watched some fishermen cast their lines into the fish-laden waters.

We made a brief stop at Lake Bohinj, another beautiful mountainside lake just twenty minutes from Lake Bled. We popped our heads into a small chapel named for the patron saint of travellers, St. Christopher. People believed that if you saw an image of St. Christopher, you will not die on that day. I feel like they missed a chance to try for immortality. The paintings inside were unusually grotesque and creepy, but aside from that the church was quaint and traditional.

It look us less than an hour to go from forests and lakes to the centre of town. I'm still getting used to how small Slovenia is.

Posted by KZFamily 13:57 Archived in Slovenia Tagged lake slovenia bled Comments (4)

Vibrant Ljubljana

by Ben

semi-overcast 24 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Ljubljana: Triple Bridge

Ljubljana: Triple Bridge

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.

Ljubljana square

Ljubljana square

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.

Ljubljana: alternative art area of Metelkova

Ljubljana: alternative art area of Metelkova

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.

Posted by KZFamily 13:37 Archived in Slovenia Tagged slovenia ljubljana Comments (3)

To Slovenia via Trieste

BY ABBY

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Miramar castle by Trieste

Miramar castle by Trieste

Today was yet another travel day and we were all a little sad leaving our house this time. Today we would be crossing over from Italy to Slovenia. This would be our last time in Italy, as far as this trip goes, so we knew we would all have to keep on the lookout for one last gelato stop.

We saw the grandmother one last time on our way out and she bid us farewell. From here we set off to our midway destination, Trieste. We stopped five minutes from the town at a castle to go to the washroom. We thought about popping in for a few minutes, but then we decided against the castle and stuck to our plan of going to the city.

We spent our time in Trieste wandering around the streets and shops mainly, and every once and a while we'd look down at our map to find a specific location. The town is located on the water so we were able to walk by the boats and look at the ocean. There weren't very many green spaces, but the ones that we found we took advantage of by eating gelato in one, and resting up a little in the other. We got a little lost on our way back to the parkade, but thankfully a friendly Italian lady was able to help us out. Before heading to our car we stopped at the train station for a washroom and a grocery store. We stocked up for dinner as in Slovenia it was Independence Day and we were pretty sure that we wouldn't be able to find any open stores.

Trieste

Trieste

We crossed the border over to Slovenia, and soon enough our GPS announced that we had arrived at our destination. It took a little looking to find out what apartment building was ours, but our host's friend had decided to wait outside for us, so it was figured out in no time. The man showing us the place was very friendly and helpful, giving us some information about the town we were staying in and what we could do here. The apartment is very nice as well. It's organized and clean, and there is a comfortable amount of room. We're also on the top floor which is a bonus, and we have a balcony from which we can see the car park and a bit of a view.

In the evening Hannah and my parents watched a movie called My Left Foot, while I read and caught up with my friends. Tomorrow we will be heading downtown and walking around the streets there.

Posted by KZFamily 13:24 Archived in Slovenia Tagged travel italy trieste city castle slovenia Comments (1)

Venezia

By Hannah

semi-overcast 24 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

San Marco Basilica

San Marco Basilica

I have been anticipating our visit to Venice for quite awhile now. I've always had an affinity for Venice, ever since I read The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke years and years ago. When I saw it for the first time last April, I was not disappointed. I love its meandering alleyways and canals, its decrepit beauty and faded mystique. It's the perfect city to wander about in and truly get lost, whilst still maintaining peace of mind because you know you'll be able to find your way out of this maze due to the hundreds of signs, both official and graffitied, pointing you towards San Marco Square.

We took a forty-five minute train ride to the city, and then boarded a crowded vaporetto that took us to the Rialto Bridge. Gondolas floated down the Grand Canal, laden with tourists snapping photos and jabbering away to each other in various languages. Each elegant vessel was manned by a burly Italian man with a long paddle, a couple of whom even serenaded their passengers as they went. After taking a few pictures ourselves, we headed off to see San Marco Square, which, as I mentioned earlier, was very easy to find.

The San Marco Basilica was beautiful and imposing, its numerous domes and intricate facade barely impacted by the scaffolding marking the spots where the church's restoration was underway. The size of the line that protruded from the basilica was enough to put us off going inside, especially since three of us had seen it before. It was definitely a "book in advance" sort of thing that we'd missed the mark on. We strolled around the square for a little bit, admired the famous clock and bell tower, and then continued to walk through the bustling city of Venice.

Glassware

Glassware

We bought snacks from a bakery, and sought out a square where we could sit and enjoy them. There were a number of pigeons out and about as usual, and though most people find them rather annoying, one small toddler thought otherwise. We watched as she made a game out of chasing individual pigeons, all of which decided to run instead of fly away, thus prolonging the pursuit. She stumbled about, screaming with laughter, and her parents seemed quite content to leave her to it until they saw her picking up pieces of bread that the pigeons had been pecking at and toying with them near her mouth. Then she was whisked off, and our entertainment was gone. The pigeons seemed relieved, though.

The majority of Venice's buildings appear to be shops selling glass and masks. Sometimes a shop will sell both, which was always an exciting twist. I never got tired of poking my head into these stores. The rainbow of delicate jewelry, tableware, chandeliers and figurines each glass shop holds is always beautiful and interesting to me. Mask shops, on the other hand, are always a little darker and more mysterious than glass shops. The eyeless faces refuse to simply be admired, and will leer back at you. Some were glittery, intricately painted things, while others were adorned with feathers and leaves. Most were smooth, oval faces, but long beaks and cat ears would loom out of the shadows as well. I bought a small, painted mask on my last visit, but didn't have enough room in my bag this time around. I have this idea that I'll return someday with the sole purpose of purchasing enough ornate masks and glass statues to decorate my entire house. Either that, or I'll return periodically and slowly build up an impressive collection of these Venetian ornaments.

We stopped for lunch at one of Venice's many overly expensive restaurants. Everything on the menu cost about 30% more the moment we sat down, so we reasoned that it was like paying for a seat, and therefore settled in and made as much use of it as was reasonable. We had pizza and calzones, both of which were good, if not quite as good as the prices suggested they might be. After lunch, we hopped on a boat to go see the islands of Burano and Murano, known for their lace and glass respectively.

Burano

Burano

I'd been to both of these islands before, though stayed only briefly on Murano. I'd seen a brief glass blowing demonstration, poked around the attached shop for a bit, and then headed off to Burano. Needless to say, I was more familiar with this island. I had encouraged my parents to take us here, remembering it as a quaint and colourful place. The rows of multihued houses were just as bright and cheery as they had been the year before, reminiscent of the rainbow of clapboard houses in St. John's, Newfounland. There was plenty of lace being sold, as well as gelato, specialty pastas and glass. The streets and canals of Burano are much more open than those of Venice, but it is still easy to get lost, though not necessarily in a bad way.

Murano is much less outwardly polished than Burano is, but it makes up for it with what's inside. I think that the Muranese keep the best glass for themselves, and rightfully so. Often we weren't even allowed to take pictures of these masterpieces. One notable collection of figurines was a painstakingly crafted orchestra, all in powdered wigs and red tailcoats. The tiny glass conductor lead nearly fifty tiny glass musicians, who I imagined were playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons or a Beethoven symphony. I wanted to take them all home with me, but the size of both my bag and wallet prevented me from doing so.

We rode the ferry back to Venice, and decided to walk to the train station rather than catch a vaporetto. When we finally arrived at the station, we discovered that we'd missed the last train by fifteen minutes, and the next one wouldn't be coming for another hour and a half. After a few frustrated attempts to try and find an earlier one, we accepted the fact that there were far worse places to be trapped. In all honesty, I didn't really want to leave. I'm quite sure I'll be back. We used our last hour in Venice to buy and eat our last Italian gelato.

Posted by KZFamily 11:09 Archived in Italy Tagged burano venice italy beauty murano decrepit Comments (4)

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