Ljubljana and Lake Bled

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June 25th 2008
Published: July 15th 2008
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Ljubljana to Lake Bled

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We arrived in Ljubjana and Carmen directed us to a closed off area with steel bollards blocking the small cobble stone streets. Obviously, changes have been made to the city and the old part of the city has been closed off to traffic other than to cyclist, skaters and pedestrian traffic.

We ended up trying to work our way around the traffic road under the castle by way of the tunnel and came out on the other side of the old city but still couldn't get into the restricted area because of the bollards.

Di managed to ask at another hotel and got direction and we ended up coming in exactly the same road that Carmen had brought us BUT this time the bollard in the road were dropped and we could drive in. The hotel was just 50 meters away from where Carmen had dropped us off.

Walked our luggage to the hotel and carried it upstairs to the rooms.

Roger and I had to park the car in the suburbs to avoid the 25 euro daily parking fees inside the old city. It was a fair drive around but only 400 meters back along roads by the river the car could not travel.

Jan and Rodger got an executive room with a study, a large bathroom and a wide bedroom. Helen's room was sufficiently large but we got a shoebox. Helen’s and our rooms had bathrooms and toilets but they were in separate places along different hallways. Our toilet was so squashed it was like getting into a packed aircraft seat with the forward seat pushed back and the tray table out. It was made more amusing because the height of the door was eye level so I clipped my head as I went in. Of course, it was so tiny wiping one’s bottom was a contortion that even Houdini would be proud of. The shower and hand basin were in a room like a broom cupboard. It was almost comparable to the Cosmos Hotel in Hong Kong an old Intrepid haunt It was 1.5 m in length and 1 m wide. On the first night we couldn’t get any hot water so they gave us a key to an unused room which turned out to be a luxurious suite. We made the most of it and washed hair and clothes etc. which was later difficult to do in our shower.

But the hotel was unbelievably well appointed - a little along the lines of the Observatory Hotel in Sydney, of truly gracious charm but for our economy room, with not enough room to swing a mouse

They in fact belong to the same exclusive chain that Lillianfelt is listed as one of their partner hotels.

We settled in, looked over the charming breakfast area and lounge and set off down the street for dinner where we found restaurants operating in the middle of the cobblestone streets.

After being away from Greece for a week and a half, we ordered Greek Gyros chips and salads and returned to the hotel.

The hotel layout and position is also a little reminiscent of the wonderful old Fossard Hotel in the centre of Buenos Aires and we are about the same proximity to the activity of Florida Street as this hotel is to the walking malls, the river and all of the activity.

Here the streets are paved in small square cut orange sized cobblestones with sidewalks of smooth flat stone which are generally covered with restaurants if the streets were wide enough or, if not, then the streets are lined with tables and chairs and umbrellas and the pavement are clear for walking.

It is a truly charming town.

We breakfasted at the hotel in the breakfast area which was elegantly setup with a large and extensive smorgasbord piled with a range of cereals, fruits, cheeses, including Roquefort, extremely finely smoked salmon, a whole leg of smoked Dalmatian (maybe Slovenian) ham covered in a cloth and you could cut shavings of the dried smoked ham off to the thickness and the quantity you required. There was the mandatory selection of breads and yogurts jams etc.

Jan and Rodger, after their Plitvice Lakes walking experience, took the gondola up to the castle, Di Win and Helen walked up the path to the base of the hill which then went up the hill to the castle, perched overlooking Ljubjana town.

The road was steep and the castle appeared through the trees. It is not a glamorous castle but a functional one and beautifully situated above the town.

We visited the shops, the clock tower, which had a twin helix DNA, spiraled staircases with one spiral going up and the other going down. From the top, the old city is laid out below you - you can see the river, the cobblestones streets, the plazas, and the delightful building limited to the three and four stories and away from teh old city the taller buildings of government and the university which is still a low rise campus.

The castle was last used, so we gathered, back in the C16th and C17th and since then it is a museum, arts centre, theatres, restaurants, display centers and you could not wish for a more impressive stage for a production. It would be wonderful for Hamlet. Juilio Iglesis is coming in July.

In the Museum sector, they put on a half hour three-dimensional film on Ljubjana, which started in 570 AD and then worked its way through to Independence in 1991. It commemorated each of the pivotal events in history of the city from Roman, Venetian, Hungarian, Serb, German, Serb and finally independence. I thought the Independence was a peaceful transaction but the film records the Serbs shelling the city for 10 days, starting one day after Independence was declared on the 25th June 1991. The independence celebrations were held yesterday so we missed it! Slovenia’s transition to independence was less traumatic than Croatia’s but even so, we understand there is still disputes on the boundries between Slovenia and Croatia.

In the film they recored an interesting characteristic of Slovenia’s attitudes in that their most famous bronze statute is one of their poets, and on the declaration of their independence, they put up statutues of their most famour seven musicians. There is even a statute of a cardenal over looking one of the squares. This we thought an endearing touch to publically commerate their artists rather than their politicians and soldiers.

The old church at the castle had curved seats and were the most uncomfortable we sat on. The area was light foiled and there were old painting/frescos on the wall. As we sat, in walked a group of technicians and begin pointing at the walls and the painting and it sounded as if there was a restoration planned.

We slowly walked all over the castle, had lunch and then walked down the very steep path back to the town near the gondola track and then walked down the back road to the city and wended out way through the markets and the churches.
St Nichols’ church was impressive with massive Bronze doors at the front and the side entrances. Inside it was beautifully painted, light filled the main section but the paintings were so depressing...There’s not too much joy in Christian church murals.

The symbol of Ljubjana is a castlle with a dragon flying over the top and there are lots of paintings of St George. The symbol of Ljubjana’s dragon has a griffin head but long swerling body and tail. There are lots of children’s books in bookshops with dragon tales and several with stories of how to look after a dragon if you hatch it from an egg.

We wandered about the markets filled with fruit sellers, crafts displays of all sorts from timber to tablecloths, and restaurants and bars spilling onto the roads.

The bridges of Ljubjana are charming, buskers have rights to one - the “dragon egg” bridge but either side of the bridges are filled with restaurants, cafes and bars. On the previous occasions we saw jugglers but today there was a pseudo African dancers and musicians playing stringed instruments and drums and chanting while an African and his son danced a slow, modern, kung-fu style of gyration which entailed swerls and leg kicking- really not that attractive but the music was funky and entertaining.

Just across the river is the university and there seem to be a large building above the 5 story limit which we presumed are government offices. Rodger said the Parliament buildings were just past the Uni.

In the hotel sitting room they have liquers from the local producers for tasting. There were plumb and pear snaps and a couple of deep red cherry and plumb liquers that were absolutely superb. We headed off for Win’s birthday at a restaurant over the river which looks back on the castle and had a great seafood spread. Rodger and Jan had presented him with a bearthday card which wished him a “beary happy bearthday” and give him a little bear and bottle of wine and a monsterous slice of Slovenian custard slice, which we have been looking for but unable to find.

Di got Win a bera and Helen a pair of sox to go with the blades so he than throw out his holey ones.

Slowly wandered back through this very gracious little city, return ed to the hotel and sampled the wines and snaps and liquers and sent off some photos on the web.

Tomorrrow we head for Lake Bled for the day.

Regretably it was overcast and sprinkling. We followed the map out to Lake Bled. Lake Bled is about 50 km from Ljubjana and it takes about 45 minutes to drive through the beautiful countryside that is so reminiscent of Switzerland and Austria with it deep green valleys, pine trees and three stories houses with alpine roof lines.

We arrived at Bled and did a drive around the lake and Rodger suddenly remembered that this was where the World Cup Rowing as held last year. The course is still laid out in the centre of the lake; the lane numbers are strung across the fining line and the tall concrete judges podiums and grandstands are in the area. The finishing line leaves less then 100 meters from the finishing line to the pub on the edge of the lake, where we imaged most of the rowers would be heading after their race.

We had lunch by the lake and could just see the church on the island in the lake and the fairy like Castle astride a high rock promenade that juts into the lake. Unfortunately, it was overcast so the photographers were frustrated.

We walked around the lake until the girls could get both the church and the castle in the same photo frame.

The water was crystal clear and we could see a squadron of large carp drifting off the shallows, their dorsal fins breaking the surface of the water, a large cat fish cruised along the bank looking for food and there was a family of whites swans with four squat grey signets preening themselves by the judges tower.

I climbed the tower and all of the chairs, desks, and electrical gear was either ripped out of the walls or broken. It is all locked up and it would take some effort to get it repaired. It was obvious that they don’t hold any competitions here now. We didn’t see anyone rowing, but it was 2.00 pm and any sane rower would be at the pub until 5.30.

We continued our drive up to the castle and walked up to the entrance. On the way up a group in C16th clothes came down the hill. There was a small drawbridge and a keep with views over the lake and the town, the island in the middle with the church and the restaurant and pub at the finishing line.

Above the keep was a beautiful restaurant, which had held what appeared to be an official function. The views from the castle, in spite of the overcast conditions were beautiful…quite like a fairy land.

The castle was now essentially a museum and recorded ancient evolution of man. There was historical costumes and clothing implements of farming and of war from early man development to the C14th . A section of the museum was reconstructed in keeping with the living condition of the past including a delightful long drop built out over the wall of the castle which was the longest long drop we’d seen.

After driving around the lake, we returned to Ljubjana. The new highway was completely packed with traffic coming from Ljubjana heading for the weekend to Lake Bled. Parachutist were dropping hear a small airfield and there were markers around and flags and wind socks hear the drop zone so we guessed ut was a competition.

On the way into Ljubjana there were bicycle tracks on the edge of the road and an occasional inline skater cruised the track with cyclists and an occasional electrical cycle. In Ljubjana there were a few people skating but they all told me they keep off the cobblestones. A few skated and carried their sandals in their hands, and two young guy, whom I meet in the middle of the night said they were doing a pub crawl !

At the hotel, we meet some of the members of the SK Jaguar Touring Club. They said there was 15 on this trip but every two years there is a major rally and every alternative year a group do a trip themselves. They were leaving that morning and were organising how to get their cars out of storage by tomorrow. One of the cars was worth over 500,000 Euro and they wanted them out of harms way and out of the weather.

By now, it began to bucket down and we had a few more liqueurs on the house and chattered to the Jaguar club members. They said that next year’s trip, which will entail some 60 cars, will start in Rome and head to Turkey then into Easterner Europe and up to Russia before coming home. Last year they headed to Norway and into St Petersburg and across the Estonian and Latvian countryside back through Germany into France and home.

There was no reprieve in the rain so we headed to the expensive restaurant opposite. It was artistically set up with alcoves with small tables and the ceiling was decorated with table setting.

We ordered out last speciality meal of spit roasted lamb, veal and pork, a duck and a bottle of a recommended white wine which was relatively ordinary but the meals were flavoursome and stupendous in size; each meal was capable of feeding three hungry teenagers.

We slowly worked our way through the meal because of it size and because we were all fascinated with the roof decorations. The rain eventually stoped and we wandered home completely bloated.

We packed and in the morning, we brought the car around to the street next to the hotel. The bollards were down and the Jaguars were all parked outside hotel and attracting a lot of attention. We loaded up and took off towards Venice where we spend three days.

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