Published: April 23rd 2008April 17th 2008
...conducting our post match interview in the tunnel at the Maksimir Stadium
Zagreb - another dot on the travelblog map, but cheating a little bit I fear. Zagreb was only the eventual destination of this trip, but it was more of a circle of exploration courtesy of the by now usual cheap flights from Ryan Air. The parameters of the trip were the start point of Klagenfurt and the return journey from Graz 8 days later.
The whole concept of the trip was in the hands of the punctuality of our chosen airline - a delay and we weren’t going to get much further than Klagenfurt by the end of Day 1 and the consensus was that we weren’t thinking of too many nights spending Schillings. The plane arrived on time and the efficiencies of the local Klagenfurt taxi firms allowed us to make the railway station in time for the train to Ljubljana.
Slovenia hadn’t gathered enough financial muscle to enter the Eurozone at this point, so we were looking for substantially more value in our next drinking venue than had been the case at the bar in Klagenfurt Railway Station. After the expense of a taxi in Austria, we made Mont drag his bag a few
Drinking and thinking in downtown Zagreb
hundred yards around the streets of Ljubljana to the Park Hotel. A more recent edition of a well known travel guide describes it as “a high rise budget place”, in which the one star rooms are “grim and bare”. If you look at it in more positive terms - it’s fairly close to the station, there isn’t that much in the budget choice in the centre of the city, high rise can mean a view, there was plenty of breakfast and in the days of Slovenian Tolars it was cheap. I suspect things have probably changed for the worse in the latter category.
The centre of Ljubljana is fairly compact, the main social scene being either side of the River Ljubljanica under the Castle. It was a warm evening and the whole town was out promenading down by the river as only southern Europeans do. The promenading is obviously thirsty work so we made use of the regular refreshment stops that come in the form of the many open air cafes and bars fronting on to the river area. After research and avoiding the universal desire to serve us an imported Heineken or similar, we rejected the local Ljubljana
brew Union in favour of Lasko from the central Slovenian town of the same name - it became known as Goat Juice thereafter due to the design on the bottle. We wiled away the rest of the evening drinking too much red wine and eating excellent pizza in Ljubjlanski Dvor.
The best place to get some bearings and check out the panorama of the city is the castle. The choices to get there were a car - not an option, walk - after the red wine, not an option, or take the tourist tram We chose the latter and surveyed the city for the venue for our afternoon entertainment. The excitement of the Division 2 clash between Svoboda Ljubljana and FC Aluminij was not enough to muster a full turn out of the travelling compliment, as two decided that the bar next to the ground held more appeal. In retrospect, it was probably a correct decision
The crossing into Croatia on the train to Zagreb was fairly straightforward . The Croatian border guards didn’t feel the need to dismantle the train ceilings to check the roof spaces for stowaways, as their Slovenian counterparts deemed necessary on the return
Mont catches on to the secret of Croatian tennis - the skills acquired in a Zagreb department store never did surface at the Valley Road School of Tennis
journey to Celje. Zagreb itself has faded largely from the memory, partly due to a lack of digital photos of our sortie round the city centre. There was very much a different feel in the air than had been the case in Ljubljana - more business like in a certain sense and with a lot of people wandering around who looked like they had just come out of the military. We did a lot of aimless wandering around and as we are prone to, wandered as if by accident past a number of sporting venues. The Maksimir was very blue, quite open and not as intimidating as the reputation that preceeds it. The players were just coming in from training on the pitches that flank the stadium and seemed somewhat bemused why anybody would want to visit on a non-match day. We followed them into the tunnel area and held our own impromptu press conference in front of the post match advertising boards. Fedders explained his teapot theory to an absent Croatian media. Sadly, we were unable to repeat this feat at the mighty NK Zagreb later in the day. After Mont’s disappointment about the group reluctance to pay a
Statues outside the Slovenian Parliament Building
king’s ransom to watch Moloko play live later in the day - obviously Sing It Back was bigger hit in Croatia than we’d previously realised, we set him loose as the next Goran Ivanisevic in a department store in the city centre.
We headed back into Slovenia and Celje for their UEFA Cup game against Maccabi Haifa. Celje is at the crossroads of Slovenia and seems to be expanding in an industrial estate sort of way. The tiny Old Town is attractive enough, there is a distant view of the castle, the Hotel Europa was a good place to put your head down for a night, but after that the options are somewhat limited. NK Publikum Celje had relocated to their new ground - the Arena Petrol - in industrial estate world on the edge of town. This was clearly a factor in it’s rise as a sort of new National stadium, but very inconvenient for a pre-match refreshment. The ground was best described as half-complete and nearly full, but we acquired a ticket as the local word was that it would be a sellout. A couple of hundred extremely nervous Haifa fans penned themselves (and the team bus)
...posing with a Green Dragon
into the “away cage”, as though expecting rockets to materialise out of the night sky. They didn’t, their hosts behaved impeccably and Haifa hung on for a 2-2 draw after 2 goals from future Baggie Robert Koren.
Maribor was bigger than Celje, substantially smaller than Ljubljana and very small for a second city. We eventually got billeted at the very comfortable Garni Hotel Tabor out near a sports complex about a 20 minute walk from town. It was described as an industrial city, but the view across the Drava River towards the town on our walk into the centre was anything but. As with Celje, the entertainment options were a little limited. However, we managed to amuse ourselves for a couple of hours with a personal guided tour of the National Liberation Museum housed in a fine ornate villa near the Ljuski Stadium. The museum’s own flyer suggested that they’ve had 2.5 million visitors, but that particular Thursday in October was restricted to just us. As luck (or extremely good planning) would have it, a UEFA U17 qualifying tournament was just about to kick off at the home of NK Maribor between Portugal and Slovenia. The Portuguese followed their
usual tactic of blinding all with their fabulous skill and turning the match into some sort of exhibition, before conceding a daft late equaliser. The recommended night out by the locals was a trip to a jazz club called Satchmo’s by the Drava - quite where the Hungarian gypsy music turned out by Romano Drom fitted in with jazz is anybody’s guess, but the beer was cheap and the conversation with our new found Slovene friends (and passing Serb) was good. A visit to nearby Ptuj (pronounced by the locals as though you are about to spit on someone) is the most recommended trip in this part of Slovenia, so we took a local bus to survey it’s prettiness.
We were running out of time and thought it best to head across the border to Graz and our flight. Due to a bout of ill health (which I am pinning down on a pizza with an egg in the centre), Graz won’t live forever in the memory. The Stadium of Arnie (named after the Governor of California and former local) seemed a little artificial, as indeed did the performance of Sturm on that Saturday afternoon. The pubs of Graz
Stadion Ljudski Vrt Maribor
....Huddersfield Town from this view
that Saturday night will go down as a good advertisement for the abolition of smoking!
There are more photos below