Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Slovenia: Everything in Ljubljana

Bubbles in the historic district.
We arrived in Ljubljana by train from Zagreb. The international crossing meant only that the train stopped long enough for passport control officers to give us our Croatian exit stamps and our Slovenia entry stamps. What we had crossed wasn't just the Slovnia-Croatia border, it was the Schengen Line, which encircles a number of European countries.

If you're within the Schengen line, you simply whiz across borders as if you were going from Indiana to Ohio. The effect is that there are no noticeable borders between Spain and France or Slovenia and Italy, but there is between Croatia and Slovenia, just as there had been earlier in our trip when we crossed by bus from Montenegro to Croatia. (Croatia was also the only country we visited that doesn't use the euro; its currency is the kuna.)

Another effect of the Schengen Line for Americans is that our automatic 90-day visas aren't good for each country, per se, but for everything within the line. If you're planning to be in Europe for more than 90 days, even if you're traveling among different countries, you may need to apply for a long-term visa while you're still in the U.S.

Once safely within Slovenia and the Schengen Line, we disembarked in Ljubljana, now home for much of the year to our friend Ray, who once lived full time, as we did, on Tilghman, Maryland, a little island in Chesapeake Bay. He's in Ljubjlana because it's an amazingly pleasant city ... and because his young twin grandsons, his daughter-in-law and his son are there.

Ray played tour guide during our four-night stay here, meeting our train and walking us to our hotel, Vander Urbani Resort, a small hotel in the heart of the historic pedestrian zone. It's in a restaurant district right on the Ljubljanica River, just upstream from the city's iconic triple bridge and practically in the shadow of  Ljubljana Castle, which overlooks most of the city. Visiting a place where you know someone leads to a much greater understanding of the place than we usually get when our only guidance comes from Fodor's and TripAdvisor.

Highlights of our Ray-guided time here included taking a funicular to the castle, walking in the old town, and hiring a car and driver to take us out of the city, to the northwest corner of the country and to Lake Bled and to Triglav National Park, Slovenia's only national park. It takes up about 3 percent of the country and contains, among other things, the Savica waterfall and Mount Vogel, a winter ski area and a stunning landscape in summer.

Slovenia is a prosperous country. About 75 percent of the population live in homes that they own, and most are mortgage-free. In the United States, by contrast, about 67 percent live in their own homes, most with mortgages. The streets of Ljubljana teem with BMWs, Audis and other luxury autos. A taxi is as likely to be a Mercedes E-class as it is to be a Volkswagen.

One spot Ray strongly recommended is the Movia wine bar. Movia is a major producer of Slovenian wine, but its wine bar sells the best wines of other producers as well. If you are a Champagne drinker, you may know that in the traditional method, Champagne bottles are briefly opened to clear the neck of sediment that collects during  bottle fermentation. This is called degorgement. The bottles are then topped off and resealed. Movia doesn't do that, and it turns opening a bottle of Movia sparkling wine into something of a show. The bartender unwires the cork, holds the bottle under water in a small pan or tank, and quickly pops the cork before pulling the foaming bottle out of the water. The sediment goes into the water propelled by the same CO2 gas that sends corks across rooms, and almost all the wine stays in the bottle because the water doesn't give it a vacuum to flow into. I think Bill Nye would love this place. And the sparkling wine is very good! As are almost all the wines we sampled here during two visits. Slovene wines, which are often not very expensive, tend toward secondary (non-fruity) flavors, a taste Americans usually associate with expensive European wines.

At Movia and elsewhere in Slovenia, wine lists have a category we don't see in the U.S. It's "orange wine," which is white wine fermented in contact with the wine skins and sometimes even the stems. The labor-intense process creates a wine with the freshness and acidity of a white, but with satisfying tannins like a red. Orange wines are generally a bit more expensive than similar-quality red or white wines. Food pairings are about the same as for white wines. A must-try for oenophiles visiting Slovenia. (As is Movia Wine Bar.)

We arrived by train, but we left by bus, to Piran, a resort town on Slovnia's 47-kilometer-long Adriatic coast. The bus depot is near the train station and we easily rolled our bags there when our time in this jewel of a city came to an end.

Here are some photos.
A view from Ljubljana Castle. Much of the way the city appears today
is thanks to the work of Joze Plecnik, who led a rebuilding effort after
an earthquake in 1895. 

Dragons guard both sides of the entrance
to the city's Dragon Bridge. There's another
pair on the other side of the river. 

A short funicular connects the castle with
street level far below.

The surprisingly simple courtyard of the castle.

The tower is the main point of  a castle visit.

A double-helix stairway means people going up in the tower  never meet people going down.

Quiet during the day, this street was packed every evening we were there.
To the left, diners have views of the Ljubljanica River. Look up
to the right and you might have a glimpse of the castle. Our hotel
was on this street. In the distance is the Franciscan Church, which
is mentioned in later photo captions.

Ljubljana's tree-covered Tivoli Park, seen here from the castle,
is a way to get out of the city without leaving the city. 

This building caught my eye on the train coming into town and I was
happy for the chance to photograph it from the castle. I assume it's
a residential building, covered with sliding panels to control sunlight
coming into the apartments. I think the panels have louvers
or slats to allow for ventilation, but that's just a guess.
Much more interesting than common shutters.

Lake Bled is one of Slovenia's most photographed places, with a small castle perched
dramatically atop a rock and deep clear water.

View from a window in the castle.

Bled Castle's beginnings are lost to time, but Romanesque
elements mean it was already old when its history began
to be recorded in the 11th century. It has been altered over
the centuries so there is no unifying theme. These frescos
are in a Gothic chapel.

The church on Lake Bled's island has its own "once upon a time" legend of a grieving aristocratic
 widow and an underwater golden bell that still rings. 
Before cellphones, I guess a lot of people who tarried
ended up spending the night in the castle.

I bet more Slovenes than foreigners visit and vacation at Lake Bled. 

Our next stop on our day-long outing with Ray and a very pleasant driver was Slap Savica, a
waterfall. A long uphill hike brings you to where water is endlessly draining from underground
lakes higher in the mountains.

Below the falls, the water goes
underground again (though
not at this precise spot).

A great disappointment was that we didn't encounter any of the region's White Fairies.
I don't think I would have been even slightly afraid.

A gondola takes us up Mount Vogel above Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park. At the top of the
gondola, a sign said the elevation was 1535 meters, less than a mile but we were going higher.
The next leg was a chairlift.

A mountain biker carries his bike on the chairlift. I could
not see how it was attached to the chair.

These are called the Julijske Alpe (Julian Alps).

Food awaited at the top of the mountain.
We had the sour milk with something I'll describe as a
barley porridge. Our driver recommended it and ate his
quickly. Jane, Ray and I weren't so hungry.

Bronze nudes of men, women and children adorn the country's
parliament building, which dates to 1960 when the country
was still part of Yugoslavia.

Ljubljana's most famous church is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Despite its posted hours for
being open to tourists, it wasn't whenever we tried to stop in. The Franciscan Church, shown here,
is almost as big, is right on the river and is more prominent in views of the city, partly because
of its pink exterior color. St. Nicholas is yellow and surrounded by buildings on three sides.

The ceiling at the Franciscan church.

Between us, Jane and I did all four
tastings, though it did take two visits.

During our first visit, there was only one other couple,
and this bartender had time to discuss the
wines, even those from other producers. On
our second visit, the place was packed, and
he was working by himself. 

This was my first tasting, the reds.

Important and unimportant figures from the history of Ljubljana are assembled
in this unique installation at the city museum. Visitors are allowed to walk
though the exhibit to see the items more closely. 

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