Ljubljana +++

We are safely home in Florence. I took 40 minutes early Friday morning before our departure to walk around with my artist’s eye to see what beauty I might capture before our departure, and another bit to quickly transcribe my overall impression. I can tell that Slovenia, and especially Ljubljana, for me will become like Sicily after 2004 and 2008 – an enthusiastic if unanticipated elevator speech for lukewarm might-be tourists.
[If anyone wants to hear my still-valid Sicily elevator speech, shout out; I’ve keep it warm for years, and believe it yet.]
As for Ljubljana: go. It is lightly touristed, and a gem. If you are at all a travelly type, if you studied abroad or “done” Europe in the past but somehow missed it, put it on your short list.
[I am not in any way connected with any Slovenian entity, and give these opinions and exhortations freely and without reward or compensation.]
The city is in a flat part of a valley with a river that runs through it, and ample bike paths. 
The town is surrounded by snowcapped mountains.
The city is very progressive, full of art, especially bronze sculpture, and recycle bins and open piazze. 
I’ll take Slovenian impressionist painters of the 19th century for $1000, Alex.

The outdoor cafes serve coffee and espresso in the mornings, beer in the afternoons and evenings, with tons of outdoor seating and blankets at every chair. Many of them look out onto canals or the river.
The city really appreciates its outdoor festivals, and even when said air is 20 degrees Fahrenheit, there are still tons of people outside enjoying mulled wine, coffee, and beer and each other.
The beer and wine situation is superb.
Note huge vat of tapped, mulling wine behind Gluewein hawker. Strasbourg never saw the like.
The music and theatre situation seems omnipresent and easily accessible.
The medieval core remains cobbled yet lined with Hapsburg architecture and fine buildings that truly make you feel as though Gilded Age Vienna were just a stone’s throw away.

The Slovak and Teuto
nic influence is a welcome change from sunny Italy. The pastries become more yeasty and filled with jam, the pretzels appear everywhere, the beer served in large steins, and the Habsburg onion cupolas glitter over the cityscape.
Did I mention the antique and vintage bookstores?! In another life…
Ljubljana linguistics: I never liked the name on poetic principal as it reminded me rather of Jiffy Lube. Lubricant. Lube. Eck. Tourist literature indicated the name in fact means “most beloved…” hmm ok. Elsewhere in the castle I saw medieval reference to the town called Ludwigana. So which is it?
The Airbnb offerings are plentiful, central, and well priced. I’m posting a positive review of our four-day base next.
Umm if you like Indian food …I can say that Maharajah in town is outstanding.

And if you get sick or worse their healthcare professionals are attentive, efficient, and international.

Ljubljana. Go. Or I’ll call you and continue to tell you about it.

The city mascot: a dragon. Of course.

Ljubljana

The castles in Slovenia are incredibly family-friendly. They all have heating, Pergo floors, and ramps, plus new and modern exhibits that are courteously labeled bilingually in Slovenian and English. They are not expensive to visit and both content and woo seems geared to small children. (Looks like I have conveniently and quickly forgotten the Murder Hole incident.) 
We headed up to Ljubljana castle yesterday via a shiny new funicular and skated around quickly to see the watchtower.
View into Alps from castle tower.

 Castle courtyard.

Tower stair. Spot Victor yet?

Eleanor admiring the castle’s wooden nativity.
Ljubljana is full of holiday spirit and the Christmas market stalls are out in force, well lit and stuffed with chocolates, soaps, local felt, and wooden items.
My favorite booth: full of decorated candy and gingerbread.
We’ve been liberally enjoying mulled wine and kielbasa and french fries. Yesterday while snarfing said menu, Victor abruptly announced, “I have a wiggly tooth.” Sure enough, our firstborn’s first milk tooth is on its way out, with a second one close behind. I guess baby teeth are FIFO because they are coming out in the order they came in. I think. 2012 was a long time ago.
Site of momentous family announcement.
Last night we tried to make the 5pm electric train, but Eleanor was having none of it as she repeatedly attempted stroller-based swan dives and took off her shoes and socks. Jason took her back to Trnovo while Victor and I attempted to locate the Town Hall. We’d passed it earlier in the day but I forgot that it was across the river. We did ask a mom with a young child where it was, but the directions seemed a little unclear. I didn’t catch any reference to a bridge.
Victor and I quickly wound up in a large crowd that was being penned in by a temporary metal fence by Slovenian police (varovanje!) Who was it? Why, Father Frost would be along shortly in a sleigh pulled by Lippizaner horses. But would he? would he? “This is taking too long,” Victor moaned. It was getting colder as the wind blew off the river. Hmm a lot of people were here, and very excited. Where was he? We wait for 40 minutes and then folded. I am sure that to many of the people in the crowd a long wait to see a guy in a Father Frost suit was no problem – after all, they did grow up in Tito’s Yugoslavia. 
“For me, this wait is no problem,” a father told someone behind us in accented English, laughing. But for an American boy of five? Too long. Plus, new Legos at home.

Side note: I feel very self-conscious yelling “Tito!” at Victor – Eleanor’s nickname for him, which she has since outgrown, but which still gets trotted out in excitable moments.
Tito: two loose teeth!
The other Tito, d. 1980.

Slovenia: People Abroad

We made our move this morning from Bled to Ljubljana in car. A very short car ride! This is not a big country. With just 2 million people and a lot of forest and mountains, the distances to cover are not great, yet they offer much by way of quality scenery. We are settling in to our Airbnb rental home in the stare mesto (old town), across from a size M church with an XXL campanile – the Trnovo Church.

Trnovo Church, outside our front door. 

 Vic mugging on Eippurova ulica close to our house

 Picturesque brewery a few steps from where we’re staying

International graffiti – a perennial draw

A few observations about people abroad:

Slovenes dress more like Americans than do Italians. I was startled to see adults in daylight wearing two-piece sweatsuits. Our children look less vagrant than they tend to do by comparison in Italy. People are bigger here, probably due to the unofficial “every meal meat” policy. Plus pastry as often as possible. There’s less coffee. In fact, hardly any espresso!

It was very easy to pick out the Italians at Bled for their neat fits and nice glasses. And nice hair. And nice everything. It’s not that the Slovenes did not also have nice down coats and Desigual suede boots and new jeans. But everything just seemed to not fit as well.

Italians always look extra sparkly no matter where they are. Please, Italy, rub off on me. Let me age as graciously as an 80-year-old Florentine grandmother spinning through town on her bike with her friend in a down coat and lipstick, 10,000 steps per day and varied groups for dinner each evening while Chianti pours modestly!

Ok… back to Slovenia…

Our Kinderhotel in Bled

As I picked my way down the hill from the hotel to the lake with Eleanor in a borrowed stroller, we came across a rather large group of Americans who were as perplexed as we were regarding the stair situation in Bled. We mumbled something to each other regarding outcroppings of rock on the slanted dirt path. The assertive middle-aged father promptly asked me where I was from.

“We live in Italy,” I said.
“Oh!” he replied. “We live in Belgium.” He gestured to his wife, children, and a very tired looking mother in law who was making her way uphill with an oxygen cart and a walker. (Excellent advance research, people.) “Why you in Italy? Military, or business?”
“Neither,” I replied. “Academia.”
“Well, happy new year to you, too!” He turned around and started talking to his family again.
It took me a moment to realize what had just happened. I laughed.

I appreciate a little “welcome to destination X” trivia myself. Slovenia, as I regaled Jason with smartphone-channelled wiki help in the car, was the first former Communist country to go straight-up EU. Its annual per capita is >$32k. It is a wealthy country here. With that population of just 2 million, there is no danger of any Slovexit. A Prussian history has given them, no doubt, a well-fortified education system, as Slovenes were the most literate and well-educated immigrants to come through Ellis Island, at an impressive 90%. Ljubljana definitely maintains a smart intello vibe with its 50,000 students.

Victor and I had a post-sundown saunter into Ljubljana center together tonight, walking on a wide sidewalk down a main arterial. He trilled numbers and destinations as the busses purred by, all electric, all full. Congress Square was decked out for the holidays in lights as a band completed a soundcheck for an imminent concert.

We hit the H&M for a few things (also learning that “moski” means “men,” which is fun), got some money out, scoped out a kiosk to buy our new vijneta prior to setting back out for Italy on the 30th, and did some legwork on how the buses work and where to buy tickets. We also saw the electric train doing its loop. I love that our children are seeing firsthand how and where things are different, and good, and that the world is a welcoming and varied place. Vic’s urban calm and confidence really struck me tonight as I watched him move through crowds, his bright green and yellow Oregon stocking cap in place under his hood. Wow, I thought, he sees things and he just wants to try, try, try. He was practically ready to hop onto a bus without me. I pointed out that we had not paid great attention on the way in and so were not exactly sure which number to take (9, as it turns out, direction: Stepanskij Naselje). He booked the return 1.5k with me in the dark with nary a fuss nor a whimper. That’s my boy! I thought with pride.

 Bridge next to where we are staying

 Stare mesto – centro

  Stare mesto – centro

 Stare mesto – centro – Congress Square with Ljubljana castle in background

“Mommy, do you have any tissue?”
“Gahh! No, Victor, I am so sorry, I forgot. Use your mitten, we can wash…”
“That’s ok, mommy. I already licked it.”

[I am a hopeless shutterbug – making up for years as a young traveller who was to shy to take any pictures, and too poor to afford decent film or hardware!]