edited by Eric
What do a Milkomat, Lipizzaner horses, a jail-turned-hostel, and dragons have in common? You can find them all in Ljubljana, Slovenia! In planning this trip, we wanted to visit places that were new to Eric and I as well as experience countries that we love with the boys. Slovenia was new for all of us, and we were unsure what to expect on our first visit to the former Eastern Bloc. It is a country undergoing changes, summed up very well by the graffiti below.
Ljubljana is a beautiful university town divided by the Ljubljanica River, easily crossed by its many bridges, including the Triple Bridge, the Butchers’ Bridge, and the Dragon Bridge. Dragons are the symbol of Ljubljana, ever since Jason the Argonaut allegedly slew one in a nearby swamp.
All roads seem to lead to Preseren Square. France Prešeren is considered Slovenia’s most famous poet, and like many writers he experienced unrequited love and much turmoil in his life.
Ljubljana was struck by a devastating earthquake in 1895, and as a result, many of the art nouveau buildings were designed by one man, Joze Plecnik.
Fortunately much of the medieval town center escaped destruction, and the cobblestone streets and shops leave no doubt that one is in old Europe.
There also are some unfortunate examples of the Socialist Realist style left over from when Slovenia was part of communist Yugoslavia.
The willow trees on the banks of the Ljublianica were festooned with new bright green leaves, and strolling around the capital was one of our favorite things to do. The inhabitants of this gorgeous city were strikingly attractive and friendly, and gathered on the banks of the river in the evenings at many outdoor cafes.
We stayed in a quad room at Hostal Celica, the former jail. Our room was in the attic, and the sloped ceiling along with the remarkable smallness of our quarters may have also had something to do with the amount of time we spent on the street. Everybody under the age of 30 speaks perfect English, courtesy of American television shows, making the fact that we don’t speak Slovene a non-issue, even if it was embarrassing.
During our first wander around the city, we stumbled upon the outdoor market. We feasted on juicy red early strawberries, and admired the flowers made out of dyed palm fronds for upcoming Palm Sunday. Much to the boys’ delight, there was a vending machine called a Milkomat smack in the center of the square. We were intrigued, and upon closer examination, figured out that you can insert 10 Eurocents to dispense a bottle (glass or plastic), then for the small sum of one Euro, the machine will fill your bottle with a liter of ice-cold, fresh milk. We haven’t seen a Milkomat before or since. Wouldn’t it be nice to see those in schools instead of soda machines?
Along with milk and strawberries, we ate some other delicacies including goulash for Eric, roast pork for Nate, buckwheat crepes with a ricotta cheese-walnut filling, and ricotta dumplings in a creamy saffron sauce for the lacto-ovos.
The Cathedral of St. Nicholas built in the Italian Baroque style was stunning.
The cathedral was designed by Andrea Pozzo and construction began in 1701. Pope John Paul II visited in 1996, and new carved bronze doors were commissioned. One set of doors commemorates the six bishops of the diocese (could be a Roald Dahl illustration), and the others tell the story of 1250 years of Christianity in Slovenia.
The Serbian Orthodox Church was more mystical, lots of gold, Cyrillic script, no pews, candles floating in water, and images of a pregnant Mary in bed in active labor. The church is dedicated to Cyril and Methodius, brothers who invented the Slavic, (Cyrillic), alphabet and also converted the Slavs to Christianity.
The Ethnographic Museum was vast, and being short on time, we did not do it justice. The videos showing Slavs performing everyday tasks like baking bread, traditional dress, and political memorabilia serve as a time capsule and definitely expanded our knowledge of what it means to be Slovene. The City Museum gave us an understanding of the history of Ljubljana from the time of the Romans until present day.
We took a day trip to Postjona, about an hour outside of the capital. Its claim to fame is a system of caves discovered about 200 years ago. The caves were beautiful, and the tour educational. Poorly behaved tourists from a country that starts with “Ch”and ends with “a” persisted in taking forbidden flash photos of not only the stalagmites and –tites, but also of the endangered blind salamanders. I guess when one isn’t going to be thrown in jail for breaking the law, some people tend to go a bit overboard.
Our wanderings also took us on the funicular up to the medieval castle which dominates the city…
into the Town Hall with its Renaissance courtyard…
through the City Hall Museum and by the world’s largest digital watch…
past evidence of the Romans, including a sarcophagus in Congress Square…
the gingerbread style U.S. Embassy…
and still had time for relaxing…
The natural beauty of Slovenia, graciousness of her people, and incredible architecture make this a place we hope to visit again.
History of Slovenia
Edited by Mom
Did you know that Slovenia wasn’t even on maps until 1918? I sure didn’t until I checked Wikipedia, um, I mean a credible and verifiable source. Due to its central location and access to the coast, the area now called Slovenia was populated very early. The Romans conquered present day Slovenia in 10 BC (shocker) and held it until the 5th century AD. Under the Romans, the ancient Slovenian city of Ptuj developed along a trading route heading up toward the Balkan lowlands. At its height, Ptuj was inhabited by 30,000 people, making it a large city for its time.
In the 6th century, Slovenia was populated by the Slavs, (what a coincidence as “Slovenia” means land of the Slavs). In the 8th century Slovenia (just like poor Hungary) came under the control of the Franks, and had been completely absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) by the 9th century. As soon as Slovenia was absorbed, Christian missionaries set about converting its population to Christianity (and hey, they’re Catholic today so I guess it worked). Slovenia remained under German control from the 10th to 13th century (if you’re confused the HRE pretty much means Germany) and in the 12th century Slovenian trade and commerce began to flourish once more.
Just when everything was starting to look good for sunny Slovenia, they were conquered by the Habsburg dynasty in the 14th century. As if the annoying Habsburgs with their crazy rulers weren’t enough, the Slovenians were constantly threatened by Turkish invasion. Fortunately, that never came to pass. Martin Luther’s reformation also took hold in Slovenia, but as they were controlled by the heavily Catholic Habsburgs, it never made any headway. In the 18th century Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (aka evolved Habsburgs). Napoleon conquered part of Slovenia in 1809 in an attempt to weaken the Austro-Hungarians. After Napoleon’s fall, Slovenia was absorbed back into the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1815.
After the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved in 1918 (following World War I) the Slavs joined together with the Serbs and Croats to form a new state headed by King Peter I. King Peter I didn’t like the name Slovenia and renamed the country Yugoslavia. He was assassinated, and his cousin Paul took over as regent. Paul signed a treaty with the Axis powers in 1941, but was overthrown in a coup. After being occupied by the Russians, Slovenia became part of Communist Yugoslavia, and was led by a man named Tito. Industry and the economy flourished under Tito. You may recall the Yugo? Many Slovenes resented how their prosperity was redistributed to the less fortunate parts of Yugoslavia.
After Tito’s death in 1980, Yugoslavia began to break apart, and in 1991 the Slovene parliament passed a vote to make Slovenia independent. Yugoslavia attempted to invade Slovenia several times, but these all failed, and a ceasefire was negotiated by the EU.
In 1992, Slovenia’s independence was recognized by the EU, and like many former Communist countries, their transition to capitalism in the 90’s was rough on the economy. Slovenia joined NATO in 2004, and today they have a strong economy (compared to the rest of Europe) and a population of 2 million.