On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘Ljubljana’

Ljubljana – Oct 25

Today was another day of exploring so Chris arranged to have the car again. At first we considered taking the bus to Lake Bled but Chris found another Rick Steves recommendation for a day trip over the Vršič Pass to get there, so we decided on the car option. Glad we decided to do it this way. Lucille was going to run in the Ljubljana marathon today so she would not be joining us.

The breakfast area was inundated by all the marathoners staying at the hotel. So many lean, fit people eating healthy foods! We still managed to fill our plates with breakfast and lunch goodies, wished Lucille good luck and set off. Al, and Emma – the name given to our wonky gps unit, managed to take us 20 kms out of town in the opposite direction that we needed. Hard to blame Al, with all the road signs in Slovene. I certainly wouldn’t have done any better :(. But Emma should have known better.

After discovering our error and finding an exit off the freeway, we were off in the right direction. Such are what adventures are made of. We stopped in the little town of Indrija for coffee. It was Sunday and the town was pretty vacant but lots of people in the café/pub. It would have been nice to be there on a weekday as it is an old mining town, formerly the second largest mercury mine in the world, and I would have loved a mine tour.

A Sunday morning vacant town square in Indrja.

A Sunday morning vacant town square in Indrija.

Our route followed river valleys, first the Idrijca, then the Soca, through Tolman, Kobarid, Zaga and up to Trenta. A little past Trenta, the road starts climbing up the Vršič Pass, a steep (14%) twisty climb with 26 numbered switchbacks over 9 kms. The scenery was beautiful, with the snowy Julian Alps peaking through gaps in the rounded foothills bathed in fall colours. We pulled off the road at a small parking area to a path leading to a viewpoint in Triglav National Park, the only national park in Slovenia. We decided this would be a good place for a picnic lunch.

The entrance to Tregliv Park, the only national park in Slovenia.

The entrance to Triglav Park, the only national park in Slovenia.

No picnic tables but old fortifications are a good substitute.

No picnic tables but old fortifications are a good substitute.

The view down the Soca valley from the viewpoint. Pretty area.

The view down the Soca valley from the viewpoint. Pretty area.

Snowy peaks and fall colours.

Snowy peaks and fall colours.

The trip down the other side of the pass was just as steep – this time with 24 switchbacks, all of them cobblestone. I couldn’t help thinking about how exhausting it would be to ride that pass. We saw a few cyclists, all on downward legs, and it is supposed to be a popular bike route (especially if one is masochistic).

Cobble stoned switchbacks on the Vrsic Pass.

Cobblestone switchbacks on the Vrsic Pass.

We continued on to Lake Bled, a popular resort and tourist spot and home of the only island in Slovenia (!). We found a paid parking spot and started to walk the 7 kms around the lake. It was a leisurely stroll, with a bunch of photo ops of the Bled Castle perched high on a crag overlooking the lake and, of course, the island. We didn’t have time to visit either places but the walk was nice after sitting in a car for the last few hours.

Bled Castle, looking impregnable from this side.

Bled Castle, looking impregnable from this side.

The island church on Lake Bled, the only island in Slovenia.

The island church on Lake Bled, the only island in Slovenia.

We arrived back in Ljubljana at 6 p.m. and had a lot of trouble finding parking again. So we resorted to what proved to be successful yesterday – re-arranging the construction barriers by our hotel. Not entirely legal but it works. And soon after, just as happened yesterday, a car moved while Chris was watching. So he quickly took its spot, returned our barrier to its rightful position and all was legal again.

We met a tired-looking, but hungry, Lucille and went off to our last supper in town at Spajza, one of the top restaurants in Ljubljana. We were led to a back room, which we shared with 6 Norwegian marathoners. Another night of good food, good wine and great companions. The evening ended with more ice cream (a nightly ritual when we couldn’t get gelato), and our usual game of Wizard. And more wine. Ah…I’m going to miss Slovenia.

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Ljubljana – Oct 23

We came down to breakfast to the sound of accordion music coming from the CD player. I guess there is just no way of getting away from it here. Shortly after we finished, Paul showed up to drive us all back to Ljubljana. Not before we had a look through the Firbas gift shop though. Another thing we discovered about Slovenia, besides having great wine, is that they also provide pumpkin seed oil at every table in addition to olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a salad dressing. Pumpkin seed oil is delicious! So a number of large and small bottles of the oil were purchased to take home. None of us have ever seen it in Edmonton.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and it would have been nice to ride but our tour was over, so we settled in for the 2 hour ride back to the city. Paul dropped us off at the City Hotel and left to meet up with Julie and Steve, who were also staying in town overnight before flying home to England. We arranged to meet up at 7 p.m. by the pink church and go for a group supper.

We were early for our rooms but were able to stow our bags in a back room before setting out for a sunny explore, in contrast to the wet one we had the previous week. The city looks far better in the sunshine and it was much busier and the market square was full of vendors.

A dry and sunny market square.

A dry and sunny market square.

We wandered on the riversides, back and forth over a number of the bridges. Most of the bridges, both pedestrian and vehicle, have some artwork displayed. Eventually, we found a food festival that takes place every Friday during the summer and this would be the last one of the season. Various restaurants had set up tents, kiosks and food trucks and were doing a booming business. Not only food though – you could buy beer and wine to drink with your food preference. It took us a while to find a sitting area large enough for us (almost- Lucille and I had to share a stool, 1 cheek each) and we ate, drank and people watched.

One of the 4 dragons, 1 at each corner of the Dragon Bridge.

One of the 4 dragons, 1 at each corner of the Dragon Bridge.

Adam and Eve exiting the Garden of Eden, one of the sculptures on the Butcher's Bridge.

Adam and Eve exiting the Garden of Eden, one of the sculptures on the Butcher’s Bridge.

 

The crowded food festival. Lots of locals and fiit-looking out-of-towners, likely here for the marathon on Sunday.

The crowded food festival. Lots of locals and fiit-looking out-of-towners, likely here for the marathon on Sunday.

We went back to our hotel and checked in, then back out again to get some info for the next few days and see the castle. We wanted to see one of the cave areas and, based on a Rick Steves recommendation, decided to visit the Škocjan Caves, about an hour south of the city. Combined with wanting to drive to Lake Bled on Sunday, we decided to rent a car for both days. Lucille wouldn’t be able to join us on Sunday as she had decided to be a bandit in the Ljubljana Marathon, i.e. run it without registering (she found out about it too late to register).

We took the funicular up to the castle and enjoyed the views from the top of the walls.

The castle funicular. We could have walked up but...it's a funicular!

The castle funicular. We could have walked up but…it’s a funicular!

View from the castle walls. The snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance. We would be there on Sunday.

View from the castle walls the snow-covered Julian Alps in the distance. We would be there on Sunday.

The fall colours looking down to the Triple Bridge and Preseren Square (centre of picture).

The fall colours, looking down to the Triple Bridge and Preseren Square (centre of picture).

As scheduled, we met the SimplyCyclingSlovenia group and went to a restaurant recommended by Paul. As often seems to be the case, service was chaotic but the food was good. We said goodbye to Paul, Julie and Steve and got back to our hotel by 11 p.m. Again with the goodbyes, this time to Gwen and Stan who were leaving Saturday. We would be getting up early to get the car and drive off and they didn’t want to get up that early. So now we were five.

Ljubljana – Oct 15

Still pouring rain in the morning. We went out anyway to go on the free city tour at 11 a.m. We met our tour guide at the pink church, the Franciscan church of the Annunciation in Preseren Square, across from the Triple Bridge. She was a PhD in Sociology from the University here (as well as a salsa dance instructor – the things you can do with a PhD in Sociology nowadays) and she was very good at explaining the history of the city, past politics, architecture, etc. We have noticed dragons everywhere in the city – statues, flags, the coat of arms, etc – and she explained that Ljubljana has adopted the dragon as the symbol of the city. This stems from the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts. At one point in his trek with the Golden Fleece, Jason passed through an area where he had to slay a dragon. The description of the locale is very similar to where Ljubljana now lies, so it is felt that Jason was the first citizen of Ljubljana. The tour was 2.5 hours long, just walking in the old part of the city and, though it rained throughout, was excellent. It also ended with a free tasting of the same types of Slovenian liquors that we had at the hotel, so that was an added bonus.

A wet dragon on the Dragon Bridge.

A wet dragon on the Dragon Bridge.

A very wet and largely empty market.

Lucille, Chris, Gwen, Stan and JoAnn in a very wet and largely empty market.

The castle on the hill. The view from the tower (on a clear day) is impressive.

The castle on the hill. The view from the tower (on a clear day) is impressive.

The store with free samples of Slovenian liquors. And, for once, I like the graffiti message.

The store with free samples of Slovenian liquors. And, for once, I like the graffiti message (from the song “Nature Boy”).

After the tour, because we were chilled and hungry, we went to a coffee shop (actually a tea shop) for soup and coffee. Prices and service are much better here than in Italy. This is a university town, with over 60,000 students in a city of 265,000 people, and we dramatically up the average age of any place we go into. Tuition is free in Slovenia, even for undergraduate university, so it is a highly educated populace, especially in the city. Almost all people under 50 speak at least some English, which is helpful considering that Slovene is a Slavic language with different vowel and consonant pronunciations than the romance languages that we are familiar with. We are slowly learning a few words though. Na zdravje (cheers) is a popular one with us!

Supper was at Julija, a more expensive and fancy restaurant than last night but with the same quality food. JoAnn and I went back to the hotel afterwards while the others went to find a flamenco bar that Chris had heard about, about a 20-minute walk away. I like live music but that really wasn’t my cup of tea, especially walking there in the rain that had started up again during supper. The group reported that it was a good time though.

We will be back in Ljubljana in a week, after we finish with the cycling. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative.

Verona to Ljubljana – Oct 14

Al and I hung around the hotel in the morning. At breakfast, we said goodbye to Alan and Thelma, who were leaving on their own journey. I had arranged with Paul, our guide for the next week, to pick us up at noon but he arrived a little early, at 11:45. No problem though – we managed to gather everyone up and, after saying goodbye to Darryl, we hit the road. It was Paul’s first time in Verona but he had a gps, which is highly recommended for this labyrinth of a city. We drove for about 2 hours before encountering a torrential downpour. Paul said that he had been driving in that since early morning and that it had been raining in Slovenia for days, so much so that rivers were topping their banks and flooding. He said we wouldn’t ride in this stuff. Actually he said that HE wouldn’t ride in this stuff. If we wanted to ride then we would be on our own. I assured him that none of us is that masochistic.

We arrived in Ljubljana at 3:30, in only light rain thankfully. Paul dropped us off close to our hotel, which is in the pedestrian-only part of the city, and we arranged a pickup time for Friday. We would have the rest of today and tomorrow to explore Ljubljana before we travel to northeast Slovenia to start cycling.

We carried our bags a few 100 yards to the Allegro Hotel, a quaint boutique hotel. The receptionist offered us samples of traditional Slovenian liquors – honey and blueberry – while we waited our turn to check in. Nice touch! Our room is small but sufficient. The others have better layouts and Lucille and JoAnn have the “family” suite on the top floor – 2 separate bedrooms with another double bed and a single in the living area.

Our twin room - small but comfortable. Didn't spend a lot of time in the room anyway.

Our twin room – small but comfortable. Didn’t spend a lot of time in the room anyway.

The hallway outside our room. The stairs led to Lucille and JoAnn's huge "family" suite on the floor above.

The hallway outside our room. The stairs led to Lucille and JoAnn’s huge “family” suite on the floor above.

We wandered around in the rain after dropping our bags off – thankfully the hotel provides umbrellas – and stopped into a bar for a pre-dinner drink. Paul had told us that Slovenia has 2 main beers, Lasko and Union. A few microbreweries have started up but their products are not widespread, so I tried the Lasko. Not bad at all! We found a restaurant that Doug and Karen had recommended (I had also read a good review of it before I left home), the Druga Violina (2 violins). They named it that because it sits across the street from a music academy, hence playing “second fiddle”. Clever. The restaurant hires intellectually disabled people and trains them to work as servers. It gets subsidized by the government for this training so the food prices are significantly lower than other quality restaurants. And quality is was! A great meal that everyone enjoyed at a very reasonable price. We wandered back in the rain at 11 p.m., stuffed as usual.

I prefer darker beers but this was quite drinkable. We had yet to discover how good Slovenian white was was.

I prefer darker beers but this was quite drinkable. We had yet to discover how good Slovenian white was was.

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