Archive for the ‘History’ Category

This little hilltop hamlet situated 500 meters above sea level overlooks the Kvarner bay as a neat little gem. Unlike the much larger and populated town of Kastav this is almost bare and deserted other then a few touristic looking signs and shops around the St. Mark church and the rest of the town quaint old houses of locals who still live in the village. I could see it being much more of a tourist spot then it currently is and old stone buildings laying in ruin just waiting to be renovated into a agro-tourist (home cooking) style restaurant one day.

grad-veprinac A  view from the road


St. Mark church at the top of the hill.


One of the local houses made out of rocks to match the look of the old walls.


View of the bay and Rijeka city from the church of St. Mark courtyard.


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This hinterland of the Kvarner is the highlands of Rijeka. This foreboding and captivating area is the birthplace of warriors. I have friends who have served in the Croatian war of Independence (91-95) and said the bravest and ruthless fighters were from this area. Their ancestors are said to have fought and won both the Mongols in 1242 and Turks. the hilltop tow of Grobnik provides and perfect sanctuary and height advantage to the battle planes below and Platak mountain range keeping enemy from a fast retreat on the other side. Here are some pics I took on a recent visit to the top of Grad (town) Grobnik.

grobnik-1The castle tower and view of the valley once battle field earth that is now populated with towns of Cavle and Drazice.


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Collision Kolizej

Glancing Back Forward

Previously I addressed this subject in my article Save Kolizej. I wrote passionately after one of my first visits to the Kolizej site that reflects one questioning visitors thoughts on this matter, But I’ll address it a little more in depth here once more.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this wonderful city several times over the last several years, but I could not notice the apparent calamity of this building and the state of disrepair it has been allowed to fall into. It looks like a chipped tooth in an otherwise elegant smile of the city. The argument might be true in part that it is “just like so many others” in the time-period sense, I’ll let others more learned in the matters of history and architecture cover that angle in this book in their convincing arguments exactly how this space is of historical importance.

What I have to offer this project is this; I’ve traveled many world cities and cultures on half of our continents. I have developed a deep love for history and mortuary remembrances of times past, particularly in relation in our present lives. I see them as a commentary on contemporary life and recount our experiences in conjunction with our social behaviors and interaction in relation to them. The Kolizej stands out to me not solely for what it represents as a historical monument of the past, nor even it’s epic struggle for survival and adapt it’s functionality to benefit us in our present times, but also a deep-rooted signpost and reminder of historical respect. Sure Ljubljana might not suffer from one less historic building, but if this landmark building is simply allowed to be unilaterally erased what will be immune in future decades and centuries from other city development aspirations?

Ljubljana is not alone in this complex dilemma, yet it has a got a better running chance at setting a guidepost with this project then other cities have had in addressing this quandary due to the relatively small problem ratio to the city. It also helps to have so many other buildings of the historical city center being revived and remodeled in their old likeness. There is also a great pool of great minds and experts that have been making the case extensively on both sides of this issue that brings forth a healthy debate and opportunity for fresh ideas and inevitable lasting solutions at the highest level.

We all have heard the examples in the United States encountered in old cities like Boston and other New England cities that were blowing city block after city block away of neglected aging stone buildings in the 1960s before coming to the realization that contemporary history of this nature was worth something more then mere prime development real-estate, and instead opted to remodel many of the remainder into luxury housing and shops that both benefited the city through housing and tourism landmarks like the now famed houses of Boston’s Back Bay. San Francisco has also successfully renovated old warehouses into tech-savvy corporate office space for internet startups since the 1990’s, or choose simply protect and restore historical landmarks like the 1905 built Geneva Office Building and Powerhouse, that is simply a uniquely designed but terribly antiquated two story train junction center, historically it matters.

http://www.genevaofficebuilding.org/ .

Now, to use some examples a little closer to home. I remember in 1998 staying with friends in Budakeszi, Hungary (a small town situated 10 km to the west of Budapest, on the Pest side of the river Danube), there was this large socialist era factory compound wasteland called GANZ, behind the newly built Mammot 2 mall. It clearly was just a sprawling graveyard to times past and an intriguing yet desperate site that anyone would have excused to level and add modern and more functional housing or office facilities.

On a brief trip there again in 2004 my friends wanted to go for an “outing” with their small kids to a new park, I went along. What I saw as we walked the familiar streets was Millenáris Park, a rejuvenated and wonderful building and park area replacing the industrial cold feelings with that of warmth and sunshine on that summer morning. I never believed it could still be possible while maintaining its original warehouse look that was genuine as the brick walls and iron stairs before me while inside one of the warehouse-turned-pavilions on the park. For they had left everything in tact structurally, just brought it to the public and the new century with some ingenious remodeling, ground level lake and rolling grass lawns.


Similarly this city of Ljubljana gave new life to a warehouse complex that is now the BTC complex, though it has a much more commonplace feel and no art value to the city except that of a pop culture multiplex cinema.

The two projects are very different in size and scope however it is my hope that like the Millenaris Park, Kolizej can symbolically raise from the ashes like the mythological Phoenix and advert destruction with some foresight, initiative and vision to be a torchbearer for architectural heritage and preservation while still serving a public service. It was originally intended to house protectors of the city and how fitting it would be for it to once again protect and preserve the history of the town by its own continued existence. It should be a beacon landmark of hope and endurance that the city can show off in its entire original splendor to the many visitors of the city right along side its other attractions.

To use a military barracks example truer to the project at hand is the old military base located behind the train station in Croatia’s northern city of Varaždin. It was used for many years to house displaced people during Croatia’s war for independence (1991-1995) and then later those needing temporary asylum from the Kosovo conflict of 1998. It was not until the city bought it from the state and renovated the building and grounds in 2006 that it became a state of the art student dormitory facility. Not only providing the city an opportunity to clean up the cultural and social eyesore that the base had become but a service and a source of revenue base to accommodate students at a prime location in town for boarding, and a source of pride for the city and educational faculties that the city is so renowned for.

I had the opportunity to visit the grounds prier to this transformation while supplying humanitarian aid to the government led agency running operations for those living there in 1999 and again in 2001. I must say it was cave-like in its design and scope. Low entry stairs, narrow dingy halls with shadowy life forms peering out from dank rooms divided by musty blankets that made up the temporary dividers between beds. Cardboard or rags poorly sealed up the widows broken glass as well as the holes and cracks in the plastered walls. A grim sight for a building to be in, and a tragic state of humanity’s forgotten people, though unfortunately not too different then conditions afforded the low-rent tenants of the Kolizej these days and the weather beating the building itself is suffering through neglect.

Gone are all those feelings and so are the foreboding outer walls and barbed wire, renovated and refitted to the times whilst still looking all of its dignified age and original charm behind a bright new coat of paint. Included are swipe card security door access systems providing an up to date security system and a modern looking central entry metal canopy adding a bit of flare. Don’t they say life only begins at retirement?


Examples would be incomplete without another and perhaps only other living example (surly Kolizej is the largest and most intact of the two) of the rather obscure Austrian innovator and architect that designed Kolizej, that of Graz’s own son, Jozef Benedikt Withalm (some historical writings call him Johann) and the famous city landmark Eisernes Haus (Iron house) that he designed, built (1847-1948) and owned to house a large café house that became known as Café Meran until he sold the building. While the size and use is different, there are visible comparisons and architectural similarities. Eisernes Haus is newly renovated and annexed to a large and modernistic “Kunsthaus”, a space-like art exhibition hall completed in 2003. Eisernes Haus had been drastically renovated and changed over the last century but still resembles outwardly Mr. Withalm’s vision and reinstated is the rooftop terrace that he had originally built, clearly a reminder of history and his contribution to the city while at the same time providing it with a current and functional service relevant to the people and visitors of the city today.


It is my hope that the people of this city and the world will understand and appreciate contemporary history within their city at least as much as a passing visitor and somehow come to a consensus with this location in relation to proposed projects, and that Kolizej – in the form we know it now – will live on, at least though this century renovated and cherished as a sample of valor and overcoming adversity, as the Slovenian people have shown throughout their history. They may have been downtrodden by others, abandoned and obscured, but were never out, and neither should be the buildings of historical importance on Slovenian soil.

Birds taking the opportunity to rest on the open windows

Red light, green light, which way will it go?

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opatija-3-ri07hr-jw.jpgOpatija, truly a gem in the jewel-studded Adriatic coast. With the city of Rijeka being the main port of Croatia (and previously a main port and shipping artery in the former Yugoslavia once Triest was handed over to the Italians after WWII) Opatija became the place where the rich and industrialists went for peace and quite, just 12 kilometers from Rijeka it has long provied this service among locals and tourists alike as a nice get-away town for weekends or just a walk by the sea and coffee at a seaside café. In some ways it reminded me of what Trogir is to the other main port town of Croatia, Split, thought they are very different apart from that they both serve their larger cities needs for peace and fine dining in their unique way and historical treasures and architecture.

opatija-4-ri07hr-jw.jpgA friend and I decided we could no longer just look out at the sea but we wanted to see and feel it and walked along the coast just to smell the sea air and hear the waves crashing would have been enough to make our 5 km walk worth it but we also found quant harbors and old villas and alleys starting in Volosko and on into Opatija along the seaside that really made it a wonderful Sunday afternoon walk just wonderful. We did not make it to the heart of town, though I’ve been there before and will defiantly visit there again this was just a nice seaside walk and yes, (as I’d have it) exploring old abandoned villas like ‘Villa Irena’ that tragically looks like it burned down quite some decades ago (no signs that I could tell that it was ever electrically wired as a modern home) and all three wooden floors collapsed inside of itself. Surly it must still be worth millions with the grounds and location and the owners or city are presumably just waiting for a good offer for it and it will be restored to its former glory or better and serving as a hotel or private estate like it once was complete with seaside access and roman yard sculptures.

opatija-9-ri07hr-jw.jpgThis part of the coast is doted with hotels and these villas dating and named after the various ones who happened to be occupying it at the time built, you see names suggesting Italian, Germanic (Austro-Hungarian) and even Russian (though they never occupied), we even found an Albert Einstein street, and much of the architecture follows a similar pattern thought it also includes the much less glorious socialist era and strictly convenience styles that are just ugly boxes and built with poor materials but thankfully this town was spared the worst of it and is balanced out with many, many artistically created structures of the early 1900’s like much of this area.

I’ll end this with pictures from today of this beautiful place.


The main road through town.

Villa Irena

Another seaside villa


A castle of a place, currently a hotel.


Shoring up success, a new villa to be.

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This is the text to a special report I was putting together with video footage but being a new year and an important time of reflection I will add the text here now with pictures and then the video when it is completed.

Save Kolizej

‘You don’t know what you got till it’s gone’

This is Kolizej palace.
lj-kolizij-palace-06-jw.jpg Built in 1845, and originally used to house both enlisted troops and officer quarters.

At the time it was built it was on the edge of the city but now as the city’s grown it has become a part of Ljubljana’s vibrant city center.

Like much of this city it has gone through the last two hundred years when most of this city was new or being rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1895. It went on to see three wars and a city siege come and go.

It is still here.

Some might say barely, it has new trendy neighbors and a few small tenants but mostly it is just a casualty to the evolution process of this city, and more currently the capitalist influx the country of Slovenia is experiencing now that it is a member state in the European Union.

You see, as big and historical as this is in the big picture this building is not up to the times. Developers can build cheaper then to renovate, so this sits, for now.

It is currently in private hands and this real-estate is set to go through the roof in the coming years meaning that it is just a matter of time before these walls see the broad end of the wrecking ball or hear the hiss of the explosives, and just like that, history will be over.

There are already plans in the works for a shopping mall and cinema to rise here in it’s place.

You might wonder why any city would not cherish this building more. The only conclusion is that there is so much here in Ljubljana that this one sadly means so little.

The city of Ljubljana’s attractions read like the perfect wish-list any city would dream of having in their gates, here are a few examples.


Countless buildings showcasing the glory and splendor of early 20th century architecture.


One of the oldest train stations in the region.


A grand post office dating back to 1846 – that’s when the mail still came with horses’ attached.


A beautiful river (the Ljubljanica) running through the old town.


A medieval hilltop castle.


Even Three Bridges for the price of one.

These are just a few of the things to see around here, but can we really fully celebrate them knowing that other historical sites are not as celebrated to their potential?

I wonder what wiser men would think.

lj-kapital-palaz-06-jw.jpgWith vision, ideas and proper care, past history and future successes can live side-by-side. They can co-exist.

It is possible to leave history in tact for future generations, if for no other reason then to show them that we care. That the beginning of the 21st century is not just about making big money and globalization.

That is the greatest legacy one can leave on a city and its inhabitants.

That is the lesson of Kolizej Palace. Will it take learning it the hard way?

They say you don’t really appreciate something till you no longer have it. An 1800’s Mansion blown to smithereens and carted off as land-fill seems like a pretty expensive way to learn historical appreciation.

There is another way, it’s called save Kolizej!

This site encourages all constructive comments, criticisms or alternate views on these writings. Please feel free to express your feelings on this article for other readers by leaving a comment, thank you. – Justin W.

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Resolutions: To add value posts to this site. Visit more interesting and unusual places and people in the XYZone. Report in-depth on social and personal issues effecting everyday life in these nations and not just tourist sites. To make blogumentaries and video blogs on my travels in the XYZone.

Predictions: Slovenia will not benefit from the Euro currency in the short term, salaries will not increases though prices will, retailers will be the big winners.

Croatia will make progress on being accepted to join the EU by 2009, will continue to sell state-run assets to the highest bidder.

Serbia will adjust to it’s new size and lack of sea-side tourism and continue to make reforms quietly while still keeping it’s balancing act and east-west juggle.

Kosovo will not resolve the independence issue this year.

Montenegro will feel the full implications of being Europe’s smallest independent nation and will not begin to reap the benefits of it in this year as much as in years to come.

Overall I think it will be another growing year for the region, Slovenian is fully “graduating” from the school of democracy with the implementing of the Euro and will be faced with finding it’s place and roll to play in greater Europe. I’d liken it to a student finding a first job, it will not be as easy as first perceived in finding the trust and interest from others but it will find and gain experience and go from there, it has an impressive record, it just needs experience and that only comes with time.

The other nations will continue in their respective “classes” of making deadlines and meeting the conditions set on them by the UN, NATO, and the EU council. It will continue to be a time of molding and will be interesting to see what concessions of national identity and nationalism their respective parties and Parliaments make in exchange for European benefits.

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lj-euroclub-jw.jpgYes, tonight at midnight there will be cheering and fireworks ushering in not only a new year but a new currency.

Slovenia is the first new EU nation to change to the European money since it joined the EU back in 2004, with only 2Million people and a national GDP of approximately $35.2 billion (nearly Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates personal net worth), it is a milestone accomplishment for this small nation.

This will not be a story of a princess turning back into a swan or a maid, because this is no fairytale but midnight it will come and this Cinderella story of sorts will be in the history books as a Euro country.

Being a small country with few people they are trying to make the transition quick and I commend their efforts that I’ve seen in awareness however on delivery I have yet to see any real change except the checkout lines going slower as they have to take both currencies and often give you change in both as well and balance the difference with a pocket calculator!

The night of the 30th I was in town and went to an ATM and made a withdraw, I was surprised to see the software program was still in local currency and the money that came out was also local SIT, in other countries that switched I was told they made it so that it came out in Euro on the first day, but this is a long New Year’s weekend and I really doubt they will have the program and money bins changed by then or even in the days afterwards. They have active actions to get SIT off the street but then still give it to you is kind of counter productive other then to create a mass spending spree as everyone keeps trying to get rid of their SIT, but at least for now it seems like a viscous cycle.

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