Sunday, 22 September 2013

Ljubljana - Slovenia Sept. 2013

We arrived at Ljubljana station and we took what seemed the best way to our hotel, but it actually turned out more complicated after we discovered where it was. The Hotel Park is in a good location with easy access to the centre of the city and the railway station.

Ljubljana is a small compact city which is not surprising considering the whole country has only 2 million inhabitants. Emona was the Roman predecessor of Ljubljana and numerous remains of this past can still be seen.

One of the interesting features is the castle situated on the hill overlooking the city. There has been a castle there since medieval times and has gone through many renovations and extensions over the centuries. It’s only been relative recently that it has been given a new life as museum, dining and entertainment options, as well as these it also has a permanent exhibition on Slovenian history as a ‘Virtual Castle’ which presents the history of the castle itself. Both are well worth viewing.
View of Ljubljana from Castle

It was delightful walking along the river past the numerous ice-cream cafes and restaurants. A guided boat ride down the river proved interesting pointing out the importance of the various bridges, for example the Dragon Bridge and the Triple Bridge we also passed and some of the new architecture which is away from the centre of the town. The town centre has some interesting churches; the Franciscan Church of The Annunciation is a good example of early Baroque architecture, while on the opposite side of the river the Baroque Cathedral of St. Nicholas housing some charming frescoes. There are many other beautiful buildings in the city; however, it seemed that just about everywhere there was an enormous amount of graffiti which took a lot away from the city. We mentioned this to the guide on the boat and he said that they clean it up every two months, but most of what we saw had been there way longer than that.
Dragon Bridge

I decided to be crazy brave and hire a car for two days to see some interesting features away from the city. Why brave? As we drive on the left side of the road I have to think every aspect of driving in the opposite way.

We picked up the car early in the morning. I was given directions to get out of the city and onto the motorway. I was like a learner driver, stalling the car, not getting into the correct gear etc. but managed to get out of the city without causing an accident.

Our first stop was the Postojna Caves which are 53kms from Lubljana. The cave system runs for 27kms. Tourism to these caves has occurred from1819 which small carts on tracks pulled by people transported tourist into the cave system, now a more mechanical system with many carriages does the job. Amazing and stunning is the only way to describe the stalagmite and stalactite formations. I have seen many caves over the years but these were the biggest and most beautiful I have seen so far.

From there we went to Predjama Castle. First we decided to have lunch here and as there was a cafĂ© we decided to have a quick bite to eat. The person who served us must have learnt his serving skills from ‘Fawlty Towers’ he seemed annoyed that we actually wanted to order food and when it arrived it was less than average.

Predjama Castle

The castle itself was very interesting as it was built 800 years into a 123 metre cliff. It was used purely for defensive purposes as to live in would have been extremely draughty

We then went the Skojan Caves; this is a unique cultural heritage site and has been included on the UNESCO World Natural Heritage List. The cave system includes numerous caves and passages, collapsed dolines, natural bridges and sinkholes. Many parts of this cave system are only accessible to experienced cavers. The subterranean stream of the Reka River has created this cave system and has been known to flood the whole cave system. It is impossible to compare the two sets of caves we saw as they were very different, but were both spectacular in their own way and both were well worth visiting.

After a day of driving I was improving though I did tend to bang the wheels into gutter a number of times. We managed to get back to the city before dark and with beginners luck reached our hotel without too many dramas.

The next day it was to the lakes. I woke up to face another days driving, the day before I was confident in my ignorance, now reality had set in. We started out sure of our directions out of town only to end up on a different road out but found we were on the motorway in the direction we needed to go.

Lake Bled was our first destination, when we arrived it was exceedingly busy. I drove part of the way around the lake, around the town and it was impossible to find a park. We then decided after we had wasted enough time to continue to Lake Bohnj which is 75kms from the city.

Lake Bohnj is a very peaceful setting and many people camp there as it is a base for hikes into the Julian Alps. It is also famous for its cheese. We took a cruise around the lake which was very informative. The whole setting is a picture postcard.

Lake Bohnj

The Church of St John the Baptist is in a dominant location on the eastern part of the lake. It is thought to have been constructed in the middle of the 11th century. Both inside and out it abundantly decorated with frescoes that date from the 14th to 16th century. The church’s most famous fresco is found on the outside is that of St. Christopher. Though it is only a small church it has many features that make a visit worthwhile. We had a lunch at nice little hotel restaurant then headed for Radovljica.

Radovljica is a delightful little town which was easy to negotiate and more importantly found a place to park the car. Our reason for going there was the Apicultural Museum. This useum is housed in a beautiful baroque manor house in the old part of the town.

Bee keeping may seem a boring topic for a museum but the history and development as well as everything there is to know about bees is fascinating. Slovenia has been important in the development of bee keeping. The indigenous honeybee, the Grey Bee of Carniola has been exported to just about every country in the world. There is much to keep you occupied for a couple of hours. A delightful little part of Slovenian folk culture is the paintings on the front of the beehives which have mainly religious or humorous subjects.

We then decided to face Bled again thinking that we may be able find a park later in the day. So back we went and luckily we found a park. Down to the lake and this too was very picturesque with a little island in the middle on which there was a small church of The Assumption A traditional ‘pletna’ boat takes people across to the island. The boats are very similar to gondolas, except that the oarsman uses two oars at the back instead of one. We took this very pleasant ride and enjoyed visiting the church, which features a free standing bell tower and had to be rebuilt after an earthquake in the 16th century.

Lake Bled

By the time we had returned to the mainland it was getting late, Bled Castle which looks down over the lake from a rocky hill top would’ve been closed by the time we would’ve made it to the top so we decided that the outside view would have to do. Friends who had visited Bled late autumn and in winter have said the town is virtually deserted. After our experience of trying to negotiate the crowds in early autumn I would advise to either go on an organized tour (no parking worries) or go during a colder month.

Finding where we parked our car was a bit of a trial but we eventually found it and headed back to Ljubljana. It was later than the previous day so as we were heading into the city it was all but dark. We also had to fill up the petrol tank for returning purposes. We knew there was a petrol station just after we left the motorway, with the tank full we had to negotiate the city streets, some being only one way back to the hotel where we hired the car. After a few wrong turns and not having a clue where we were a ‘guardian angel’ must have showed me the way which had a sign with ‘Grand Union Hotel’ with an arrow showing the direction. Guiding the car into the designated car park I was relieved to hand back the keys.

On our last day in Ljubljana we went to the Art Gallery, which was rather disappointing considering it is a gallery of a capital city. We also went to the Slovenian Museum which was also unremarkable. We wandered around the town and just enjoyed a quiet last day. Early the next day we were off to Zagreb.

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