Europe Travel Itinerary, 1999-2000:
This itinerary is intended to capture the day-to-day activities and impressions of our trip.
Click on the asterisks * next to the day to go to that entry.
Saturday, September 18, 1999; Slovenia, Ljubljana: *
Sunday, September 19, 1999; Slovenia, Ljubljana: *
Monday, September 20, 1999; Slovenia, Ljubljana: *
Saturday, September 18, 1999; Slovenia, Ljubljana:
Woke at 8:30 to the sound of a teenager group goofing off nearby. We got up and going because we were excited to be getting on into Eastern Europe. The highway was uneventful until we got to the boarder with Slovenia. The sky was beautiful and blue and the weather was cooler now that we were approaching the mountains. At the boarder, we stood in a moderate long line and we pulled out of it to change money from US$ to Slovenian Tolars, which are abbreviated SIT.
At the check point, we went first through the Italian check point. They only glanced at our passport covers and waved us through. Then there was about 100 feet of space, with a tax free shop, and then the Slovenian check point. There we were waved through with even a briefer look at the cover of our passports (they didn't even take them from Kathleen's offering hand).
Immediately we passed through a tunnel and had to pay a toll of 350 SIT. Good thing we'd changed our money. They guy at the toll booth spoke English to us before we'd said anything and then told us how to say 'Thank You' in Slovenian: Hvola.
The countryside on the way to Ljubljana was agricultural, but in a manner that looked strangely American. Large fields seemed to be cultivated by tractors and were crossed by high voltage power lines. Only the strangely shaped belfry roofs gave us an indication that we were in an Eastern European country.
We reached Ljubljana around 1:30 and made our way quickly and easily into the center of town. The traffic signs were utterly incomprehensible to us, having no Latin roots at all. The only one we recognized was the one that said 'Center.' Lucky for us.
At the center of town, we had driven across the tri-bridge before we knew what was going past. Parking looked like it was going to be difficult but then we found a spot off a side street. We quickly adjusted our computer spread sheet to determine that the tolars we had were worth about 1/177 of a dollar, and then headed off for the farmer's market.
We got the feeling that Ljubljana is not that large a town. The farmer's market was of a moderate size and the streets were mostly empty. Most of the shops were also closed, since we'd arrived after 1pm on a Saturday. Thankfully the tourist information office was open and the young woman there gave us maps and directions. We looked around for stamps and post cards and found them at a three story mall that would have made any city in America proud. The prices seemed comparable with the states as well. At their bulk food section we made ourselves a grab bag of nuts and what we thought were raisins. We walked six blocks down the main street toward a money machine wondering at the strange taste of Slovenian raisins before we realized they were dried cranberries.
Another visit to the tourist office yielded information on a good desert restaurant and the movies playing in town. We made ourselves dinner and then made the 5pm showing of the Mummy, in English with Slovenian subtitles. The crowd was mostly giggling, laughing local kids including one with a laser pointer. At the ticket booth, they took for ever in line because the boys were buying tickets for themselves and their girlfriends, but they had to reserve seats (which were displayed in green and red dots on a lighted board above the ticket window) and had to keep getting out of line to negotiate with the girls. They laughed at spots in the movie which we thought were tragic, proving again that humor is not universal. At the end, we thought it was typical Hollywood: too much gratuitous violence and the attempt to make both the Mummy (Imhotep), and the hereditary guardians of the city of the dead sympathetic didn't work because they were the ones who suffered the worst violence in the movie.
Afterwards we got deserts and a free Wall Street Journal at the Hotel Roth across the street. Finally we walked the old part of town and climbed up the hill to the castle. The old part of town was bustling much like Kathleen remembered Prague. The restaurants on the river were not overcrowded, and each offered ambiance cast by the candlelight shadows of their Romanesque and Alpine architecture. Then we walked up the hill to the castle, and to our surprise it was open. We thought there was some sort of hotel inside, though we later learned this was only a restaurant. Finally we walked the dark path down from the castle, passing groups of teenage girls singing in the woods. We found our van and turned in around 11pm.
Sunday, September 19, 1999; Slovenia, Ljubljana:
Woke at 9:30 and commenced a lazy Sunday morning, doing some e-mail, reading the paper, and eating Muesli and a protein shake. As we were getting ready to walk the old town and take photos in the overcast light, a man accompanied by a woman with a small girl stepped up to ask us a question. At first he spoke Slovenian, but then when we said we didn't understand, he immediately switched to English.
He wanted to know how much to buy a van like ours. We told him about 4-5000 DM, and also told him we'd be selling ours in a year if he was interested then, we could contact him. This got us talking and sharing 'what do you do' type details. Before long, we found ourselves invited to lunch, and though we weren't hungry, we jumped at the chance.
Our new found friends, Edo and Mateja and their daughter Delphine, were living in student housing for free because Mateja is a zoology student. Edo had many alternative ideas about health and spirituality and kept telling us that he was trying to create a movement of spirituality he called 'Whole Blood. ' He had once run for 1,000km and had a religious experience which lasted 14 days as a result. He said it was important not to run in a competitive mode, but be gradual and gentle with the body and eat and drink a special combination of sea water and other nutrients. They were both way into eating and drinking sea water -- we had salad with a sea water dressing and it was delicious.
We tried to help with some ideas of magazines to approach with ideas, and how to publicize his ideas. The notion of experiencing enlightenment after 14 days of training and running through the pristine Slovenian countryside did indeed seem to be a marketable one.
They treated us to showers as well, and by 6:30 we had had a relaxing day, sitting and conversing through a fall shower storm, Delphina's nap and occasional 'terrible-twos' tantrums.
We drove back to the castle planning at first to get quick shots of town and drive off. But we were seduced by the aesthetics of the restaurant and other renovations there. Two balloons navigated past the castle hill, their burners lighting their insides as they drifted slowly away from town toward the mountains. Eating pasta in the parking lot we heard the ubiquitous 'boom-sh-boom boom' of teenagers gathering to socialize around their blasting car stereos. We spent two hours at the restaurant catching up on itinerary, reading and sampling Slovenian wines.
We slept in the castle parking lot.
Monday, September 20, 1999; Slovenia, Ljubljana:
Woke around 10am after finally getting to sleep some time between 2 and 3am. The castle parking lot turns out to be a prime hang out for the freshman class at the university. They played their boom-boom music and smoked and laughed and hollered right into the darkest hours of the morning. It rained during the night and that may have been the only thing to have cleared the place out.
After breakfast we used the castle's facilities and paid 300 tolar for access to the clock tower. From the top there is normally an incredible view of the town and the surrounding mountains. But the weather was low-hanging clouds which obscured even parts of Ljubljana, and so of course the mountains beyond were shrouded in mist. We arrived just before noon and got to listen to the bells going off at half a dozen different bell towers around town. Each one ringed the bells without restraint or thought for the ringing in the other towers, creating the sort of symphony that birds create when they chatter in groups of a hundred.
We walked down the castle hill and hit our tourist spots: Zmajski most (which is the bridge with the dragon statues called the Mother-in-law bridge because the dragons have long tongues), the Stolnica (Ljubljana's main church with an amazing set of bronze doors made to commemorate the pope's visit in 1996), the post office, the old part of town, an ice cream store (very good ice cream and very generous portions -- we were glad we only ordered double cones), and the internet café.
After surfing the web for two hours, checking out ways to promote our webpage, realizing we didn't have meta-tags (which we'd thought we'd done), checking out the one ring site for news about the Lord of the Rings movies, and looking at air fares to Egypt, we returned to our van. Ljubljana is such a nice place, it made us wish we could see more of the rest of Slovenia. But we were also anxious to get on our way.
We got on the road, stopping at a grocery store to spend down our tolars. Then we jumped onto the ring road and headed in the direction of Maribor, which by coincidence had been visited by the Pope the day before. Kathleen drove and Henry read the opening chapter of 'How the Irish Saved Civilization' by Thomas Cahill aloud because we were both interested in his assessment of why the Roman empire had fallen. The weather turned unpleasant, with fog and rain, so we pulled over at a rest stop in Trojane. It had a triple terraced parking lot that looked very expensive. We thought we might be approached by the establishment of the bar or the hotel that we'd seen as we drove in. But the rain came more strongly and we figured we'd be fine. We finished the first two chapters of the book as we drank most of a bottle of Italian Lambrusco.
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