Ljubljana in the rain

Our train journey from Zagreb to Ljubljiana followed the path of the Sava Valley with its fertile lakes and picturesque little towns (or at least what we could see of it through the rain) and led to a minor confusion when police got on the train at the border and asked to check our passports. Surely both countries are now in the EU? Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that: Croatia, which did not join the EU until 2013, is not yet a member of the Schengen Area for Visa free travel, while Slovenia, the first country to break away from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, enjoys full membership and has seemingly also prospered from becoming part of the Eurozone.

We booked into a comfortable hostel called the Zeppelin, not far from the station, and soon found out that the train timetables would necessitate staying on an extra night if we were to make our Budapest rendezvous with Zoltan two days hence. Online Interrail information is an excellent tool but there is no substitute for an actual human being at the booking office: a helpful one at least. I had been very keen to show Isobel the pretty little Slovenian capital as a contrast to the immense Imperial Cities of Budapest, Vienna and Prague but it seemed that some unrelenting rain might dampen our experience.

When we began our walking tour on the following morning, however, I did take care to brief her that under no circumstances was she to laugh aloud at the diminutive size of the famous “Triple Bridge”, proud centrepiece of the city and second only in its symbolic significance to the equally “bijou” Dragon Bridge a couple of hundred meters down the road. Tina, our guide, was as knowledgable as she was entertaining and helped us to dodge about seeking any available shelter while she pointed out the main sights. I hope we were able to pick up enough information about the distinctive traits of Ljubljana to prevent it from blurring into the confused muddle of Central European capitals that is the bane of so many travels to the region.

Although I’ve passed this way before, I particularly enjoyed the introduction to two of the most important characters in the recent development of the Slovene identity. We met the melancholy 19th Century poet France Preseren, whose unrequited love of the beautiful Julija inspired so much of the country’s most celebrated literature. Happily, he took enough time away from his lovestruck languor to compose the exuberant drinking song that later became the National Anthem. From the early 20th century onwards, the famous architect, Joze Plecnic, instigated most of the current appearance of ljubljana, with its distinctive, albeit small scale, combination of the neoclassical and postmodern. Although celebrated throughout Europe, he never lost his dedication to the city of his birth or his hope that it would one day become the capital of an independent Slovenia.

Unfortunately, this was not a tour on which to linger over the little bits of gossip but I did pick up one snippet that helped me to distinguish this country’s flag from the other horizontally striped white, blue and red emblems of the region. This one displays a three-peaked mountain in its crest, symbol of the Alpine landscape and reminder of the tradition that every true Slovene should climb the 2,800 meter Triglav at least once in their life. Apparently there is some sort of spanking tradition that takes place amongst the locals after a successful ascent, something that Grahame’s son failed to mention after his summit earlier in the year.

Categories: Europe

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