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Published: January 19th 2008
From the tower of the castle
It happens every year. In the last half of November all the old friends keep in touch and decide where to spend New Year's day.
The tradition of going somewhere abroad has been going on for a while now and it all started in 1999 when we went to Prague.
This year was doomed by indecision: someone wanted to go back to Spain, after the great experience of last year in Madrid. Others were opting for somewhere closer, since everybody was lacking time and I was the only one on a long vacation.
Umberto had this brilliant idea: Ljubljana, the capital of neighbor Slovenia.
Unfortunately only three of us made it there: myself, Umberto (Umbe) and omnipresent Claudio (Gillo).
Getting there from Venice is really a piece of cake: about two and a half hours driving.
The Italian highway network is really expensive, but it provides a good service. The road surface is as smooth as a billiard cloth and the speed limit is remarkably high compared to the American standard: 130Km/h, about 81mph (the highest speed limit I ever saw in California is 70mph on Hwy 5, the highest in America I saw was 75mph in Wyoming).
Designated driver: Umberto,
Toasting with Umbe
driving his Mercedes A Class, a high-end city car.
Slovenia is now part of the European Union and employed the Euro as currency. This well-deserved conquer for them lead to the discontinuation of the customs office between Italy and Slovenia. Finally!!! I could not believe my eyes. How many times I was unable to cross the border and had to turn around! How many times! The number one cause for them to deny the entry was expired id. I know that it seems stupid, but if frequently happened that one person in the car had it expired and found it out only after the officers check.
This time I crossed the border with Gillo and Umbe: I was rejected, in two different situations, with both of them. Once Umbe had an expired ID, no excuse (we abandoned him in Bibione, a summer destination not far from the border where he used to rent an apartment for the whole summer with some of his friends). Once, with Gillo, we were driving a car without the frontal plate number because it was lost the day before. We tried to replace it with a temporary paper one, but they didn't appreciate the
A really quiet wine bar
effort... However I am truly happy to see that Europe is actually becoming a union of friendly countries. We don't have a common language, unfortunately, but most of the young people can speak English and I never remember having communication problems anywhere inside the EU.
The lodging was a 4-person room inside a hostel, Alibi hostel to be precise. There are two of them, one downtown and one maybe a mile away and the latter is where we stayed. Thanks to Umbe (JK!) we had to pay for one extra person and one extra day... but it was worth it.
We didn't really find any snow on the street, even though the temperature was pretty low: -4 celsius (about 24F) when we got there and I guess it never broke 0 celsius.
I should mention that Umberto had been in Lubiana before and he really knew every spot of the city: this greatly helped, since plenty of bars and clubs were discarded upfront following his (hopefully right) suggestions.
Right after parking the car we walked downtown; the city is stylish and in-line with other Austrian and German cities (I initially said the style seemed vaguely Italian, but my
Ciccio with the Dragon, the symbol of the city
friends immediatly corrected me...).
About 300,000 people live there, most of them are students (source Umberto) and disappear for the winter holidays. Right next to the city center there's a hill with the Lubiana castle, which gives that touch that makes most of the European cities unique.
The way to the castle is short but steep, but it can be covered in thirty minutes at the most.
Three squares were embellished for the occasion: in one of them there was a stage with unkown bands that seemed to be popular there...
The 3-day vacation was based on eating, drinking and walking - and I think we did this superbly.
The amount of bars in the center is considerable, but we all noticed that there is somehow a lack of restaurants. Maybe, like in Italy, it's not very common to go to diners and restaurants. What I really reckon nice in Italy is that whatever pub you go in, you find food. Decent food: sandwiches, french fries, sometimes main courses. We always had the idea of going to the pub and sitting down, with a server to take your order. I clearly remember that food was always ordered, since there was
Garden of the castle
often somebody in the gang who hadn't had dinner or who just felt hungry. Well, after travelling quite a lot around the globe I can tell that this happens almost exclusively in Italy. The Saxon idea of pub is a counter where you go pick up your order and a few tables, no server, no food. American pubs are the same, even though sometimes you do find food and most of the rest of the world seems to do the same.
Having said this, finding a decently-unexpensive meal in Lubiana was not easy, at least for us.
The night of the 29th we dined in a little tavern, where the food was good. Most of the restaurants I saw could host only few guests, i don't want to exaggerate but I'd say no more than 50.
We walked in the city a lot, stopping here and there to drink some wine or some tequilas in a presumably Mexican place that Umbe knew. We encountered a multitude of Italians, understandable given the vicinity of the capital to the Italian border (most of them loud and annoying).
The second day went really fast. The lunch was a hug horse-burger that I
Greedy-ciccio eating the horse burger (at least 1 pound of meat)
enjojed, since I didn't eat horse for a long time being forbidden in US (I am probably cursing at this point for most of the American readers). We also tried some shopping in the booths all around the city, but I was the only one that ended up buying some puzzles. One of them consists in two metal shapes entangled one another and the goal is to set them free. I think Gillo untied it in 30 seconds at the most.
Later in the day we catched a cab that - for 24 euros - brought us to an industrial area outside Lubiana!! Umbe was furious and, at one point, I thought he was driving us somewhere to rob us!
The night ended up in a sort of "lounge" where we were tired and I didn't even have the strength to finish my beer.
The New Year's eve we woke up late and we decided to walk to the castle. I didn't exactly know what to expect from it; the walk was fairly short, as I mentioned, and once we got there I and Gillo went on the top of the watchtower, having a pretty sight of the city
Just a shot from the city center
altogether. We took the funicular railway to get down to the city, it was fun.
Midnight was spent, as we are accustomed, outdoors, in one of the main squares. There was a band that sung also and Italian song, Zucchero to be precise (Zucchero may have covered that song as well, AFAIK, but they sung in Italian). The countdown in Slovenian was fun, I don't even know what number they started it from.
And that's about it, that's how we spent the three-day vacation in Ljubljana.
Thanks to my friends that, once again, put up with my never-ending complains about weather, drinks, food, walking, ...
I hope next year we'll be able to continue this ongoing consuetude and visit some other european capital.
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