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Published: September 12th 2014
KJ In The Old Square
Which is next to the other old square which is next to another old square......
Our train passes westward through southern Croatia. A country that hangs like a gibbet over Bosnia/ Herzegovina which lays just a few klicks to the south. In the Croatian village of Slovanski Brod we see some upper-story windows haloed with deep pockmarks punched out by the automatic weapons fire that Serbs had trained on defensive snipers who were positioned in the attics of homes on the southern edge of town. On July 15th of 1992 Bosnian refugees who had taken shelter in Slovanski Brod's soccer stadium were subjected to artillery barrages by Serbian forces in Bosnia. Dozens of civilians were killed and maimed. Business as usual. Serbia has a bad vibe to it. Men dressed in faded-Adidas track suits and cheap leather jackets wander aimlessly through the train to Belgrade. Many take long pulls from cans of beer and chain-smoke acrid cigarettes pulled from pale blue packs while they squat, silently, in the loud swaying junctures between rail coaches.
We had left Macedonia the day before. Our ride from Skopja to Belgrade was supposed to have taken nine hours. It ended up being thirteen hours. By the time we arrived in Belgrade our reserved room was no longer available and
Polona and Miha
Good People. Great hosts.
so we spent an hour scrambling to find a new place to crash. We got to sleep at 11 PM and pulled out at 9 the next morning, happy to be out of drab, sad Belgrade. Our eleven-hour long train ride to Ljubljana was a much nicer affair. Beautiful train with spotless bathrooms, smooth track and running right on schedule. We crossed the border into Slovenia at sunset and traced our way along a wide river. On the opposite bank we saw perfect little towns; their buildings set side by side like ceramic Christmas village houses arranged by a loving hand. Our train arrived in Ljubljana right on time. There to meet us were Polona and Miha our Couchsurfing hosts. We prefer couchsurfing whenever we're heading into uncharted waters. There's nothing quite like having a local to show you the ropes and point you in the right direction. Saves you a whole lot of time not to mention the money not spent on hotels. The very best part is living and talking with the natives. Hearing their perspectives about the countries they live in and the places they've gone to. Polona is a High-School English teacher and Miha is a
classical pianist. Beethoven Sonata type. They are both fluent speakers of English. Wonderful people about half our age but totally our equals when it comes to travel experience. They had just returned from SE Asia a few weeks before we got there. Over hot mugs of tea; we talked about drunks in Laos and Vietnamese mini-van rides and then KJ and I headed to bed, happy to be off the train at last.
Ljubljana is the capitol of Slovenia and Slovenia is an EU member. The place reeks of money. Cute as a button. ATM's spit out crisp, new Euros by the bushel. A beautiful old city dominated by a hill-top castle. A river, criss-crossed with whimsical bridges, runs through the middle of it. The cobble-stoned squares are lined with outdoor cafe's and trendy shops. Open-air fruit and vegetable market. In the evenings bands set up shop on the old lanes playing ragtime music and blues. Tourists cruise the river in broad-beamed wooden boats with their cameras perpetually pointed upwards to capture the copper-sheathed, onion-domed towers as they float by. A well-preserved town that reminds me a great deal of Salzburg architecturally but Ljubljana also has a kitschy side
Slovenians eat their main meal when we would eat lunch. It's all very confusing.
to it like Prague. Window boxes overflowing with brilliant, scarlet Geraniums and rainbow-hued Impatiens. Lots of statues and beautiful fountains. Old Roman foundations. There's a little bridge festooned with padlocks. Lovers inscribe the locks with expressions of devotion, attach them to the bridge and throw the keys into the river. I guess you have to start somewhere.
The people of Ljubljana are kind and respectful. English is spoken and natives will go out of their way to lend a hand whenever they see you standing on a street corner with a city map in your hands held upside-down . The outer precincts are blessed with street-side beer gardens where one can spend hours over a cup of coffee or a stein of Pilsener beer. It seems as if everyone owns a dog and you'll often see people walking their hounds through town or cafe grazing with a pooch snoozing at their feet. Artsy areas offer wine bars and books to read while you imbibe. The food is very good and very starchy. They like their meat in Ljubljana including Boar and Bear. I cannot remember the last time I saw Bear offered on a menu but here it is.
We spent a Saturday afternoon in the old city. So many weddings were going on that day. Karen and I wandered into a wedding reception, drawn by the loud folk music and enthusiastic hand clapping. People dressed in traditional costumes including Lederhosen were dancing up a storm. All over town men were gathered at small pubs in varying degrees of inebriation killing the time between the wedding ceremony and reception. Big smiles all around.
Polona had just taken on her new teaching job the day before we arrived. I couldn't believe that she still wanted to host us given the stress she had to be dealing with because in Slovenia; The teacher is responsible for everything from curriculum development to instruction to discipline. She was charming nonetheless and she even did our laundry for us unbidden which is like.... a couchsurfing first! Hell. If a couchsurfing host makes you a morning coffee it's considered a big deal.
I told Miha that I really wanted to hear him play but since he lived on the 4th floor I didn't think I'd be able to sling a Baby Grand up there by the time KJ and I had to
They were playing 'Country Joe and the Fish's' "and it's one, two, three what're we dying for?
depart. ( I had carried it about half way up, but there was a narrow place in the stairwell and I was having a dickens of a time getting it around the corner with the damned lid falling open all the time!) Miha comes from a long line of musicians. Miha's brother plays the violin. The kind of people who dedicate their lives to mastering one thing because they know that life is barely long enough to do one thing and do it well. One day close to our departure Miha gave me a flash drive. On it was a set of recordings of his performances. There were a half-dozen of he and his brother performing together. It was amazing. To look at this young man and to hear what flows through his hands left Karen and I flummoxed. He is, without a doubt, the best musician that we have ever personally met.
The kids arranged for our transport to Vienna and babysat us on the curb until out tardy driver showed up. Hugs all around and promises to meet again somewhere, somtime. New friends and experiences and happy times and in a place called Ljubljana. Who wuddathunkit?
What Used To Be Known A The 'Butcher's Bridge'
Because they used to slaughter animals here and execute prisoners nearby.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Mark Twain
We are in Slovakia now. I'm busy writing copy for Vienna and Bratislava so they should be out soon. A few more days here and then north to Poland to see our boy. Shouts to Mel and the baby and the Gutierrez family who I hope had a great August in Gallicia and John M. and Dina (who finally wrote but not to me) and to all of the private defense contractors who are about to make a ton of money on the ISIS thing. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! Is this a great country or what?
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