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Archive for August, 2006

A little walk around Ljubljana

lj67a61.JPGI’d only been to Ljubljana center once before, years ago and at that time it was briefly and at night, so I had a little time today to go down to the old town and see things for myself and explore.

It is a small yet very nicely arranged part of town with a rather vast and hilly park that we did not have much time to explore but it seemed very well placed and looked after with various recreational areas and open spaces.

In walking around the old town many things came to mind, the buildings reminded me more of Budapest (Hungary) then Zagreb (Croatia) which I thought it might share more in common, the walking street could have been a street from Graz (Austria) or many other southern German towns I’ve visited just in the layout and assortment of designer stores and boutiques. The cafes were something like you’d see in Italy or maybe Astoria road in Budapest with nicely tailored waiters and well planed ambiance. The river and little bridges reminded me of the canals in Amsterdam (Holland) with little water taxis and flowers hanging off the bridge. Ljubljana is definatly its own city, but certainly also a truly European city and there is testament to it every corner you turn.

We did not have time to have a coffee or something, but the prices seemed reasonable from what I saw even in the touristy up-scale old town, and the tourists are aplenty. I stood around for a minute and was almost hard fought to find a ‘loco’ that was not service personnel in the cafes or retail. For late August this town is doing great in bringing people in, some understandably Germans and Austrians on their way home from seaside holidays but also Asians, Americans and other nationalities communicating in various accents of English soaking up the last few rays of sun and summer days left in this culturally flourishing city.
Some pictures from today.

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Plano Maximus – A 3D version of the old town with the castle on the hill

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One of the many old buildings that are being carefully restored to their former glory, why don’t we build like that anymore?

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A sidewalk cafe, not one of the more elaborate ones but quaint and a favorite of locals and tourists alike.

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The castle on the hill over looking the town, I hope to be able to visit it some time soon

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The beautiful waterway that runs through town

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Capitalisation, this country has worked out a pretty good economic system and some are starting to see the fruits of it like this Bentley with Slovenian plates.

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Or this high-end Deli that beautifully restored the bottom of this building while the low income tenants above get economy class. There is more of a two class state then ever was before in the XYZone and Slovenia being already part of the EU is leading the way.

Note: I was only able to spend about an hour walking around and getting these shots so this is by no way an A-Z of Ljubljana but a small overview and first thoughts as I visit and see more I will blog it here.

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This is a funny link I found, I saw the show on TV but not this interview. It is of the Croatian singer Severina at a interview at Eurosong 2006, she had a spirited number in a red dress that you either loved or hated, it made it to the finals and finished 13th.

Click on the play button or read this rough transcript I tried to understand what they were saying, neither the commentator or Severina speak English very well and it is confusing but he seems to be hinting at things and she puts him right in his place, he should know better then to mess with a Croatian girl, Severina has a sting to her and gets the last laugh.

Watch the guy on her left as he is really uncomfortable, turns embarrassed, then relived once it is all over. What might have been a routine press interview was not and we got this great clip to show for it.

moderator: give us if you may…clear thought what are you are trying to transmit (a sexy image?)…your song is in Croatian, we don’t speak Croatian can you explain about your song…

…explain this if you please…

Severina: Ok,…um…you see…you probably all your life…have the same girl…same house, same shoes. But i like to complicate my life…because it’s my taste…we are different!

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PREDJAMSKI GRAD

predja1.JPGThis fabulous castle dates as far back as the 12th and 13th century–a magnificent sight to see jetting out of the rock cliff with a vast gaping cave below and the wide open blue sky above. I was incredibly fortunate to have gone to visit this castle on August 20th as they hold the annual “Erasmus’s Knight’s tournament” on that date. It’s a festival celebrating the times and lives of the place during the 16th century with knights, jousting, street bazaars and the likes as it might have been then. This was actually the fascinating bit as you are able to get hands-on with medieval weaponry, there was also organized games for kids, costumes, food and drink all in one of the most picturesque settings I think I have ever been to in all my life.

predja2.PNGThe castle is open most of the year but this one fair is only for one day so it was a bit of a mad scramble to get there as it seemed thousands of other people and hundreds of cars had the same idea as us and there was bad traffic for kilometers and frustrating parking on little field hilltops and village roads to get anywhere within walking distance of the castle and little hamlet village where most of these events were taking place. My advice is if you are driving to get there early and leave early as the roads are not made for heavy traffic and the organizers are naturally unwilling to make a lager state road there just for this one day event or mess with the natural beauty of the small country roads so you have to take it as part of the experience. But one look around from the castle bridge at the castle and surrounding countryside will make all the inconvenience seem small in comparison. I was not able to have time to visit inside the castle itself but I hear it is very well maintained and beautiful, guess I’ll have a good excuse to get out there again sometime.

There did not seem to be any public transport so arranging a trip will have to be planed through a tour agent or personal/rent car. We went to the Postojnska jama (caves) in the afternoon but to really absorb it all I’d recommend one day each especially of you go there for the tournament event too. I was with a bunch of friends and just caught a ride but I would have loved to have taken more time at the tournament and castle.

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POSTOJNSKA JAMA

postjn1.JPGThis is a fascinating place of unique nature set in the rolling hills. About an hour south from Ljubljana and only about 9 km from Predjamski grad is this amazing underground world of caves and passageways that are just spectacular. The tour is guided, but I found it was not nicely balanced with useful tourist information and facts and times of quiet walking to take in the wonders of it all. The train ride was anpostjn2.JPG interesting touch as I’ve never heard of that being done on cave tours before; it felt kind of like an old mining cave experience. It was rather fast but an amazing way to take in the sights and well lit formations and vast spaces underground. Again I did not find this place very back-packer friendly as most of the traffic was prearranged tour busses, campers and private cars and there was not any public transport connections around that I could see. Hitching a ride might be a bit iffy too as there are planed tour times and they only let you in the cave then. There is a local hotel at the foot of the cave, but it looked more like a health retreat for elderly, but there are probably private accommodations with locals in and around the small towns if it came down to it, but with a car it is easy to do it all in one day and be back in Ljubljana that night again as we did.

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Čevapi

cevapc1.JPGThis is a rolled strip of ground beef (and/or mixed with ground pork), deliciously spiced. Much of the local food here is rather bland, but sinking into a čevapi is simply rich and flavorful with paprika, pepper and other spices. Usually served as fast-food in local snack shops, though you can find it on the menu in mid -range restaurants and grill houses, as well usually served with either a large bun toasted in the meat’s juice on the grill or with pomes (French fry like deep fried potato wedges) and dices of fresh onion and ajvar (a red paprika dip). You can find the spice mixture in just about any store or supermarket that caries packaged spices and you can trick out your own packet of minced meat for a grill with friends, or get ready-to-cook ones with the spice already mixed in and cut into strips. It really doesn’t matter how much you make you will never seem to have enough of this finger-licking good stuff, it really is that good.
I once was making it for some friends coming over for dinner and two of them came a bit early and started snitching and before long had eaten the whole kilo of meat that I’d just made between them and I had to rustle up something else for the rest of the guests – argh! But that’s just how good it is. It makes a great meal meat or just a good beer snack with other meats and salamis; it can be cooked on open flame or frying pan, though it is really the best for grills or barbeques during the summer months served hot and with a cold beer.

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Rakija

rakija1.JPGThis is a fruit brandy much like the German Schnapps, often a homemade drink (moonshine) that is often offered while visiting older people’s houses as it is often made by them or a relative and no one really can give you an exact alcohol percentage on it but it generally starts at 40% proof and up. Many people say it has healing properties and have it around for “medicinal” reasons, though it is also a popular drink among older men and there are even some small distillers that actually market it, some even creatively adding a preserved fruit in it. Most commonly made with pears, plums or occasionally apples I’ve tried a few different ones from different regions, but it really is just like drinking turpentine or polyurethane, it burns the whole way down your throat and can’t be good for your internal organs either. It does make you relaxed and sometimes a bit light in the head and I can see how people think it is soothing and healthy though it is not really my kind of drink. It is a good cultural experience and way to show your host you are willing to try their brew and survive it if even with tearing eyes after saying “čivali“ (cheers) and giving the shot glass a bottoms up.

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ck-roma-kids2-august06-jw.jpgToday I went with part of a local NGO and they had a lot of extra clothes and toys and had been hoping to visit the Roma (gypsy) village I wrote about before so we finally made time for it and took two truckloads of useful items we had for them including clothing, bedding, winter blankets, household items and toys for the children.

Again I was impressed with the orderliness of the children. We brought school supplies and cuddlies for them and they patiently waited their turn, the younger ones even holding hands waiting their turn while the school-aged kids got notebooks, pencils and erasers for the start of school next month.

ck-roma-kids-august06-jw.jpgAnother thing that struck me was how appreciative they were for the simplest of things as they really live a simple life on the margins of society, while public school is provided for they do not have much else and used toys, dolls, tricycles, and new toothbrushes were like having an early Christmas for them.

We also distributed donated glassware to each of the 15 households that make up this “village” as well as fresh milk and childcare material in the local language for each family.

It is always fun to visit this place as despite there ethnic background and lifestyle they have found their own way and created for themselves and there families an island of hope and understanding free from crime, drugs and substance abuse so rampant in other gypsy villages and even some sub-circles of society at large.

We were inspired too by the improvements they’ve made even since our last visit as the village elder who started this village who is a builder added a bathroom and living room addition to his small house to improve the living conditions as they have 11 extended family members that until now had to trek to the outhouse in the forest.

This is the first such bathroom I have ever heard of in a gypsy village and he hopes to repeat the idea to the other houses in their community and has appealed to us for donated bricks to be able to make this a reality sooner for the other households too before the winter months set in.

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