This is the world’s cutest moutain town. It’s got a castle on a cliff, overlooking a lake with a church on an island. Along the lake is a park, where ducks gather to feed from old men tossing them bread crumbs. Apparently it is also verboten to sleep in said park, as the nice uniformed Slovene policija informed us. After dinner of turkey Ljubljana-style (beaten down, breaded and fried), we heard a traditional band oompah-ing their way across the lake. This is some serious Slovenia right here.
Off to Zagreb tomorrow for the day and an overnight bus to Dubrovnik.
Edit: found an internet cafe on, get this, Nikolai Tesla street in Zagreb.
They say that Ljubljana is now what Prague was ten years ago, and they may be right. It has all that Eastern European charm, the Habsburg architecture, the castle on a hill, the punked up kids in nightclubs, but with none of the Brits on stag parties and rampant prostitution.
Hannah and I meant to stay in the Hostel Celica, which was once a jail and is now an “art hostel”, but once again I booked it for the wrong night. Stupid off by one errors are why I’m not booking more than a few nights ahead on these freewheeling trips again. We stayed in the institutional but perfectly serviceable Hostel Tabor, which is a university dorm during the academic year.
Ljubljana is a beautiful city, with a great pedestrian zone filled with cafes along the river, and a nice urban planning mixture of historic buildings and new development. We strolled the promenade, perusing the weekly antiques market. Hannah kept wanting to buy old knives, and I beer steins, but we decided neither would travel well. Then we stormed the castle, where we found the inspiration for Trogdor the burninator. Then we got some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had; even though it wasn’t gelato, it fulfilled our church-sweets deal nicely.
At night we scouted around for a fast food restaurant that serves horse burger. However, the map we had was both precise and inaccurate, which made us do several laps of a garden park. We gave up and went to Jose Pena’s (Slovenia’s first Mexican restaurant!), but it didn’t satisfy my need for horse. Then, as we were wandering drunkenly home, we found it: Red Hot Horse! I strolled in and asked for a double horse, prosim. The guy asked “mustard or mayonaise”, but I thought he was speaking Slovene, so I responded that I wanted all the toppings. He rolled his eyes at me, but served me nonetheless. A horseburger franchise must be used to dealing with drunkards at all hours of the night. It actually tasted like a gristly hamburger, and I only ended up eating half of it, but now no one can tell me that I haven’t eaten horse (or pigeon, or rabbit, or boar, or sea urchin, or God knows what else I will eat on this trip).
Left Ruth for a flight in Rome, and H and I caught a train to Venice. Sat with some chatty Italian ladies, and I read my books and got excited about Istanbul. Hannah slept, as she is a champion napper.
Venice was lovely, but filled with tourists. Worth it for a gondola ride and an excellent dinner, but not for more than a night. Did the Rick Steves walk from San Marco to the Rialto, stopping at Harry’s American bar, apparently a favorite of Hemingway’s and inventor of the Bellini. Dinner at Osteria alla Botella, where H and I shared an incredible lobster pasta dish. She kept trying to reverse engineer it, and I look forward to her attempts, but I doubt it can ever be fully recreated. A thunderstorm at night heralded a cooler, or at least less humid, tomorrow.
Went to Shabbot services at the sole remaining synagogue, which was wonderful. We were separated by gender, which made me angry, but we both enjoyed the service. They had some different practices, but ended with Adon Olam sung to the same tune I remember. Very cool.
Then to the Peggzy Guggenheim museum, where we saw the fabulous art of all her fabulous lovers. Then back to the train, where we sat next to a Candian-Slovene couple and their multilingual, adopted Thai four year old. Globalization at work, right there.
Looking forward to being away from the tourist mobs, and a little further off the beaten path.
Take stereotypical photographs.
Monday, saw Mussolini’s vision of the suburb of the future at the EUR on Monday morning. A square colliseum, unwelcoming plazas, all dedicated to the power and the glory of the state over the individual. Lovely guy. Picked Hannah up at the airport smoothly, and went to the Jewish ghetto for dinner. Excellent carcioffi, and a stunning walk through the city back to our hotel.
Tuesday, went to Galeria Borghese and marveled at what man can do with marble. Then staggered through the modern art museum, and took a nap in its air conditioned splendor. Ate lunch with a combination of buffalo ham and mozzarella and vending machine treats . Kinder Bueno! Saw crypt near Barberini, where monk bones are arranged decoratively, waiting for the resurection. Then saw Il Incredible Hulk, which Ruth and Hannah loved, and I napped through. Had dinner near our hotel at Tino’s greek restaurant, where they literally did not stop bringing us food until we begged for mercy.
Wednesday, saw the Pope at the Vatican. We tried to sneak in without tickets, but that would have been an even surer way to hell than Judaism. They eventually let us in when the square didn’t fill after the big guy started talking. Saw the popemobile, but sadly no funny hat. Then to the Vatican museum, where we rushed by the art to get to the Sistine Chapel. Ruth took some verboten photographs, but they were worth the scolding.
Then the ‘Caesar shuffle’, from the Colosseum through the Forum, over the Palatine Hill and to the Pantheon. Got the Augustus’s newly restored house just at closing time, so no frescoes for me. Had lunch near hotel, at Perilli in Prati, which had an excellent antipasto buffet. Ruth and Hannah went shopping, and I returned to the hotel for naptime. Then, dinner at a place renowned for tripe, near Piramide. Very tasty sauce, but not so sure about the texture.
Thursday, took early train to Naples, then another to Pompeii. Well preserved and restored ruins, roads and bollards. Definitely a society of engineers. It was quite hot, and I’m getting sick, but it’s got to be good training for later. Then took the train back to Naples. Walked to the archaeological museum through the most stereotypically Italian neighborhood I’ve seen yet. Old women cussing out impudent young men on Vespa’s, gritty streets still recovering from the trash crisis, and simple but incredibly tasty pizza. The museum is poorly signed, but has an amazing collection of giant statues (the Farnese collection), and the mosaics and jewlery boxes from Pompeii. Also, a ‘secret room’ of erotic depictions, from the Lupanare (brothel). Train back to Rome, and another day successfully completed.
After another curvy bus ride, we arrived in Florence ready to see it in the daytime. We rocketed through the Duomo, including the archaeological excavation in the basement, saw the statues in the Loggia, and got shat upon by pigeons. I cursed them out in their native tounge, and they flew off in shame. I bought an excellent leather satchel at the market; the Indiana Jones theme song came on a nearby radio as I was picking it up, so I know it was meant to be. Now I can graverob in style.
Took a train to Lucca, a walled city recommended by Kali’s roommate Miranda. I concur. It’s significantly less touristed than other major sights, but just as charming. We biked around the walls, bike jousted in a former Roman amphitheater, climbed a clock tower and watched the gears as it rang, and almost rode a sweet carousel. I say almost, because although the tickets we bought directly stated no-reimboursable, they kicked us out when it became clear that we actually wanted to ride, not just take silly pictures. Apparently the ostrich was too delicate for my american ass.
We did a blitz trip of Pisa, stopping just long enough to take staged pictures, and then off to Rome. On the train we sat next to some american students, who managed to tell ‘I was so drunk and’ stories for two solid hours. You’d think that after getting one’s third DUI, one would learn to temper one’s behavior. But not Matt from Michigan State; cheers buddy, you make the rest of us look bad.