We checked out of our hotel in Graz and walked to the nearby modern train station for our journey to Ljubljana, Slovenia. We were still plagued with rainy weather but we were blessed that the rain stopped during our walk. And my cold was getting better.
On the last train we had seats on what we think of as a traditional train. Once again we had a reservation but no seat assignment. We were pleasantly surprised to see that this train had cars with individual compartments with six seats in each compartment. We were able to get a compartment all to ourselves where we had plenty of room for our luggage. By the way, both trains had a restaurant car which we didn’t use.
This three and a half hour ride was not as scenic as the one from Vienna to Graz. But we enjoyed seeing the agricultural fields, rolling hills and dense forests.
We crossed from Austria into Slovenia. Sometime later, with a stop coming up, we saw a lady with eight children, between the ages of 7 and 9 years old, line up in the hallway outside our compartment, preparing to get off. Since it was the weekend, we assumed she was not a teacher but perhaps a mother with her children and some of their friends. The train stopped and when it started moving again we heard shouts of distress and immediately knew some children had not gotten off in time. Bill jumped up and went to where they were standing in shock and disbelief. Bill did not speak Slovenian of course and they spoke no English. Bill motioned for them to follow him and put them in the empty compartment next to ours. He motioned for them to stay. I watched them while Bill went in search of a conductor. It was a long train with many cars and he went from car to car saying “Does anyone speak English? Does anyone know where the conductor is?” With every passing second we were getting farther from their missed stop. He finally found two conductors sitting in a small compartment doing paperwork. They understood enough English to figure out the problem and jumped up and followed him back to the compartment. They took over and shortly we made an unscheduled stop at a very small railway station where the station master in a red hat was waiting outside. The conductors handed over the children to him and we were on our way again. Thank heavens Bill took immediate action. Hopefully they were all easily reunited. Imagine the horror that woman felt when she realized not all the children had gotten off the train! The automatic doors close quickly.
After all that excitement we reached Ljubljana, (pop 280,000) the capital of Slovenia. Bill and I actually visited here in 2016 while on a bus tour of Europe. Along with Slovenian, the people often speak English, Italian and more likely, German. Slovenia has a relatively low rate of tourism. In 2016, Ljubljana was awarded the title of European Green Capital and in 2017 this small country was named the world’s most sustainable country. We saw many people riding bikes. It is very expensive to own, and park, a car here. The city has a unique feel of both Central European and Mediterranean. It also felt like a university town with many young people walking around. Slovenia is part of the European Union and therefore uses euros like other European countries. Certainly makes it easy on tourists who do not have to exchange currency while in each country. Slovenia was formerly part of Yugoslavia, along with Croatia and declared formal independence in 1991. The city suffered a devastating earthquake in 1895.
There was so much to see here, all within walking distance of our hotel. And the intermittent rainy weather continued.
Closest to our hotel was the Old Town or medieval area of Ljubljana. The immediate thing we noticed is all the graffiti. Everywhere! Why so much graffiti on such pretty buildings? Why was it allowed? We were told they consider it an art form. Not encouraged but not against the law. They do frown on any graffiti that would be considered offensive or vulgar. After the first shock on day one, by the third day we hardly noticed.
There are several famous bridges in this area as the Ljubljana River curves and winds through the city. One is the Triple Bridge. The first bridge was built in 1842 and then in 1931 the famous architect Joze Plecnik added two pedestrian side bridges and furnished all three bridges with 642 stone balustrades and lamps, adding a Venetian flair. The architectural designs of Joze Plecnik are found throughout Ljubljana as well as in Vienna and Prague. The Triple Bridge connects the oldest part of town with the more modern area. We noticed that there is no graffiti in the newer, more modern section of the city.
The city with ornate architecture and cafe lined cobblestone streets has sometimes been compared to a fairy tale, complete with a castle on the hill.
Ljubljana Castle, standing on a hill above the city for about 900 years
A popular meeting place for townspeople is Preseren Square.
Near here is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation which was built in the 17th century and underwent renovations in the 19th century. The interior has six side altars. A glass fronted coffin contains the remains of Saint Deodatus. We did not go inside.
Dragon Bridge is one of the places we most remember from our 2016 visit. Built in 1901, there are four green dragons or gargoyles crouched on the pillars of the bridge and 16 smaller dragon statues, all appearing to protect the castle in the background. A dragon is on the city’s coat of arms and their flag. It is the symbol of the city, signifying power, courage and wisdom.
Continuing the theme of bridges, Cobblers Bridge was built by Plecnik between 1931 and 1932. It was once a covered wooden bridge providing space for cobblers’ workshops, hence the name.
The magnificent National Museum of Slovenia was built in 1888.
The Cathedral of St Nicholas was erected between 1701 and 1708.
The Town Hall was built in the late 1400’s and renovated in 1718.
It was late in the day when we walked around the large Central Market and they were starting to close up for the day.
We walked to the Ljubljana Skyscraper which would make New Yorkers laugh at the term “skyscraper”. Their skyscraper is a 13 story building built in 1933. When it was built it was the ninth tallest building in Europe. We took the elevator to the top floor where there was a viewing deck all the way around the building with nice views of Ljubljana.
Of course we couldn’t miss walking by the U.S. Embassy. Bill asked one of the Embassy workers walking outside why the flag was at half staff but he didn’t know. The building was first conceived in 1897 by Vienna architect Alfred Bayer, the United States Embassy opened here in December 17, 1999.
The National and University Library was certainly a strange looking building. It was built between 1936 and 1941, also a Joze Plecnik design.
Another famous bridge is Butcher’s Bridge. It is here that lovers seal their love forever with a lock and then throw the key into the river. The bridge is full of love locks.
Strangely, one statue nearby is of Adam and Eve, showing them after they were banished from the Garden of Eden. The bridge is named for the many butchers who once lined the bridge selling meat.
While looking for a geocache we found the Slovenian national anthem carved into the middle of a pedestrian walkway. Perhaps if we did that throughout the United States, more people would remember the words of our anthem!
One evening we went to dinner and our young waiter spoke such good English, I asked him where he learned English. Turns out he is a student at the University of Ljubljana and is studying computer science with a concentration in graphic design. He had a great time discussing computer technology and computer programs with Bill. He would have talked longer but had to get back to work.
The next day we were sitting on a bench discussing where to eat lunch and a lady in her late fifties quickly stopped in front of us. She heard us speaking and said it was so good to hear people speaking English. Three months ago she sold everything and moved to Slovenia. She no longer had any family in the U.S. but had aunts, uncles and cousins in Slovenia so she decided to move there. We chatted for over 30 minutes. She said she loves it there, but she sure seemed happy to hear English. She is taking classes to learn Slovenian. She said she misses her car the most. In Slovenia it is very hard and very expensive to get a driver’s license. You have to pay $1,500 to attend a mandatory drivers school and pass many tests. I think they just don’t want people driving in Slovenia.
Some thoughts on Europe so far:
- Everyone smokes too much everywhere – – Italy, Austria, Slovenia. They have cigarette vending machines on the streets and it appears any age can buy them.
- It is cheaper to order wine with a meal than a soft drink.
- Not as many European’s speak English as we thought. A misconception on our part.
- Slovenian men and women are tall.
- If you order tap water, and only tap water to drink, they charge you 50 to 75 cents for it. If you order wine or a soft drink, they will also give you tap water at no charge.
- A bottle of water that is not carbonated is called “still water”. Took us a while to figure that out in the grocery store.
- In Slovenia most stores, including grocery stores, and many restaurants are closed on Sunday.
- Whether in Italy, Austria or Slovenia, you will always hear church bells ringing throughout the day.
- If you try to eat dinner in a restaurant before 6:00, they will tell you the kitchen hasn’t opened yet. If you wait too late, the restaurants are all full.
- The description on the menu doesn’t always match what you get. Surprise!!
Next up: Train ride to Trieste, Italy and a two night stay there