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Published: August 20th 2020
When we walked out of our room, we saw that the Easter bunny had left mini chocolate eggs scattered down the hallway (as predicted by Manka). In the restaurant, a central table was filled with traditional special foods: a large knotted Easter bread, dyed and decorated hard-boiled eggs, and swiss-roll-style cakes with poppy seed and walnut-honey filling. The eggy Easter bread tasted rich and filling.
Onto the buses (suitcases fully packed) by 9:00, we took enough time in Bled
to see and photograph the incredibly beautiful deep-blue Lake Bled and the distant towering medieval Bled Castle
that looked down on the valley from a dizzying height. On this holiday weekend, hundreds of tourists were relaxing around the lake, absorbing the spring sunshine, or energetically walking and biking on the surrounding paths.
Through the hectic traffic we drove to the parking lot for the Castle, where we admitted to a special area for small buses. This shortened our walk up to the ticket area to join hundreds more visitors. Then we continued up and up and up on stairs and a path so steep my Achilles tendons protested.
The reward at the top was a series of terraces and courtyards
St Mary's Church
Pilgrimage to the island
affording spectacular views of the lake, forests and mountains. Way below, St Mary’s Church
looked pristine on its tiny island, once a pilgrimage site.
Bled Castle was first mentioned in documents early in the 11 century. Although built of stone, the exterior was dull white plaster topped by red tiled roofs on the round towers. Now a museum, no effort has been made to restore it to any particular time; rather, artifacts from its history were displayed and explained in the various sections of the castle. A lot of archaeological finds have been made in the area, proving that this precipice has long been used as a defence against marauding fighters. Our walk up to the defensive walls proved the overwhelming advantage of height in sighting and firing on enemies. The main building had three floors, and once that had been seen, I wandered to several of the smaller attached buildings. The wine cellar and the printing shop were now commercial, but one small tower held a wonderful display of the stations of the cross done as hooked-rugs in brightly coloured, modern graphic designs. Photographing these almost made me late.
Getting lost did make me late. In the maze of
Interior walkway of crenellated wall
Imagine the turmoil of shooting arrows under attack
staircases, small courtyards, busy shops, cafés and milling tourists, I could not find the right combination of stairs and descending pathways to get to the exit. In desperation, I finally just followed various sets of people in a downward mode until I saw Manka, who had come looking for me.
The road into Bled Castle and into Bled was loaded with kilometres of slowly moving cars heading towards their Easter Sunday outings. We were going the other way. Within an hour we arrived in the capital, Ljubljana
, through a landscape of graffiti-coated medium-rise buildings that seemed to be a combination of apartments and offices, possibly in the same buildings. As we moved closer to the old city and older-style buildings, the graffiti continued, something of a shock to me. Our Park Hotel
was pristine; it was too early to check-in, and we stored our luggage in a side room.
In warm sunshine we walked along a diagonal street to a street that was just behind the old water-front buildings. This pedestrian area was jammed with cafés where people were enjoying the holiday and the warm spring day. In the heart of the city we crossed the Triple Bridge
Country pate with cheese
...on crisp baguette and non-alcoholic beer
oldest remaining wooden building, now a friendly, hectic restaurant. On the patio under huge umbrellas, we joined in the leisure of good food and drink. My game paté with truffles, cranberry sauce and bread was delicious, although I could only guess that the game could have been venison and wild boar, because they are widely available in Slovenia. Union
non-alcohol beer nicely complemented this lazy repast.
Our city guide started by telling us we were in Fish Square
, which had long ago been on the river. A flurry of information followed from which I could retain mainly that Ljubljana had started on one side of the river and had spread to the other side when th wealthy started building large Baroque-style houses and institutions on the other side.
Two famous bridges connect them. The Dragon Bridge
was constructed in 1901 to honour Franz Joseph
, the Austro-Hungarian emperor; since 1919 it has been called “Dragon Bridge” after its four bronze statues that symbolize Ljubljana. The Triple Bridge was originally a single bridge in 1841. In 1932, two pedestrian bridges were added because of the heavy traffic. Indeed, other versions have served the population over at least a millennium. In 2007
the whole area was given to the pedestrians. The attractive triangular structure was designed by Jože Plečnik
, Slovenian’s most revered architect.
The old city centre was picturesque, with buildings from several architectural eras. Right by the Triple Bridge was a distinctive pink and white Baroque Franciscan church, the only major building undamaged by the huge 1895 earthquake
. Our guide told us that the national flower is a carnation, and the church is honoured with that shade of pink. A few other smaller buildings were also pink.
Nearby, a department store’s Art Deco style was incongruously splattered with the modern posters of Banana Republic. More satisfying was a large central hotel in the same style. A long, symmetrical white and blue building, adorned with Baroque statues, turned out to belong to the Agricultural Union, a sort of credit union and professional association. The University of Ljubljana building was very similar to a chateau in France, except for the incongruous digital countdown clock for its centenary later this year. On a steep hill, presiding over this impressive architecture was Ljubljana Castle, dating from the 11 century.
We went inside the Town Hall, which dated “only” from the 19 century. The inner
courtyard was delicately decorated with graceful arches and sculptures. The dragon symbol of Ljubljana seemed quite worn. A sculpture of Narcissus was by Robba
, the same artist who had created the much-lauded Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers
outside. I preferred Narcissus
, a more intimate artwork.
The magnificent Baroque Ljubljana Cathedral
was closed to tourism for Easter Sunday, but we entered just to soak in the extraordinary ornate beauty, while the Catholic members of our group took a moment for contemplation. Huge devotional paintings, gold and silver fittings, and heavy wooden pews gave great weight to the sanctuary. Outside again, we marvelled at two heavily carved doors that commemorated the 1250th
anniversary of Christianity in the Slovenian territory in 1996: one was dedicated to the visit by Pope John Paul II
; the other memorialized the six twentieth-century bishops.
By the end of the tour, my brain was sludge. We all seemed to need a nap, so only Ann went with Manka to the famous Cacao ice-cream shop some distance away. The rest of us walked easily back to the hotel (where there was also ice cream). Elizabeth and I had a nap, then I did my final pack, leaving out only a few clothes for the evening
Dragon Bridge 1901
First concrete bridge in Ljubljana
Ten minutes before leaving for our farewell dinner, we met in Bill and Ginny’s room to rehearse a silly song Bill wrote to perform for Manka in tribute to her excellent guiding. Sung to “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, each of us had one line that characterized ourselves, with everyone joining in on the chorus, “Please may we have more ice cream”.
The drivers took us close to Sokol, a large Bavarian-style restaurant filled with wood, including the tables. I ordered blood-sausage, a rarity in Calgary now, accompanied by shredded white turnip and excellent sauerkraut. Red wine for the usual six drinkers. I wanted to try the walnut honey roll, partly because it was unusual to find a non-dairy dessert. Six of us shared it.
No wonder that in the performance of our song, my line was “no milk, please”. Manka and “the boys” (Tomas and Paul, our drivers) laughed uncontrollably. So Manka could have a copy of the song, we sang the last long verse while she videoed. The slow walk back to the hotel in the soft air was the perfect ending to our tour.
April 22 Monday
at 5:00 am my taxi driver displayed the straight-faced mordant humour I have experienced a few times in Slovenia. Claiming not to be sure of the way to the airport, he drove smoothly and expertly through the empty streets. When I asked how long he had been driving professionally, he said 26 years, and then said that he owned the company and preferred the early morning hours when there was no traffic. Also, he told me about language
in Slovenia: there are 48 official dialects. People from one valley to the next speak differently amongst only 2 million people. His wife came from a town 30 km away from his home, and uses words that he doesn’t always understand, especially after she visits her family. His own children speak a slightly different dialect because they have grown up in Ljubljana.
As the plane to Frankfurt gained altitude, I saw for the last time the long valley we had just visited. Slowly the lifting plane revealed layers of mountains that led to the Alps at the skyline. View map of trip.
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