I had visited Slovenia in 2005, seeing the Spanish Riding School’s stud and training facility at Lipica and the Postojna caves. It is to my shame that I believed that this was the best that Slovenia had to offer and the journey from Croatia to Hungary would merely be a transit. I was wrong.
The capital of Slovenia is Ljubljana (referred to by the group as Lubijubi!) has always sounded to me like a Soviet prison. This is so far off the mark that it simply can’t be measured. Ljubljana is a small but elegant gem. It’s mixture of Austro-Hungarian and Germanic architecture, both cobbled and wide streets, the quant market; all in the old town make this a must visit. It is rich in history.
The people are warm and welcoming. They are unassuming; recognising that in European terms their country is no big hitter. The economy is as weak as those in Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Italy. But there has been no request made or offer given of financial support.
A quarter of the city’s population is made up of students, but this does not make for the more usual traits of late evening revelry as seen in Western European cities. The atmosphere is joyous but calm, the streets are clean, newly installed promotional screens set at eye level are left undisturbed.
Ljubljana is a place that one would just like to live in.
One and a half hours away from Ljubljana by public bus is Lake Bled, a place I nearly visited in the late 1980s but put off due to the unrest that eventually led to Slovenia’s independence. Although a foggy morning when we left the bus station at 8am, by the time we reached our destination we were met by sun illuminating blue skies.
During the summer months the promenade abounds with thousands of tourists; those either staying in local hotels; coach loads shipped in for the day, or those making their own way. But in early October the paths are almost deserted. Two hours of gentle meandering will circumnavigate the lake. A short detour up a path will give you spectacular views across the lake; though heavy rain and fallen trees prevented this.
But even the views from lakeside are breathtaking. The small church on the central island reflecting off the lightly rippled waters, the castle sitting atop the hill, the mingling of swans and ducks… It’s an oasis of calm in a country whose heartbeat must never rise beyond mild exertion.
My ‘transit’ complete, we moved on or back to Hungary and Budapest. Having spent twenty-four hours here earlier when travelling south, this was somewhat of a re-acquaintance. With two full days in the city, something of a luxury on this trip, and the sun shining, further exploration was called for.
The views from the palace and adjacent church, looking from Buda across the Danube to Pest, were enthralling. The parliament building, the church spires and domes all make this a fascination landscape. The Opera House and St Stephen’s Church on the other side of the river are impressive when viewed close up. The main thoroughfare, Andrassy running from the river to Heroes Square is UNESCO listed.
Unfortunately, my recovering knee, injured whilst in Tirana, went again thus forcing me into a taxi and back to the hotel. My misfortune was softened by the actions of fellow travellers who rushed to my aid with pain relief and knee braces. The next day, hobbling in a way that probably looked comical but still painful, the rucksack was again raised and off we set for Debrecan.
Debrecan…a name that I pronounce with a certain Francophone flair (see next blog to understand why this isn’t so stupid!). Hungary’s second city has to be honest not a lot to say for itself. The principal building is Nagytemplom Church, currently under reconstruction. The city has a modern tram system as have many of the cities visited thus far. It has wide boulevards (french again!) with a strong cafe culture.
But our hotel, the Grand Aranybika, was something out of the Communist heyday. The large public reception areas with high ceilings and chandeliers meant that for once we didn’t stand outside whilst being checked in! And my bedroom: spartan in furnishings but so large that I required both a map and light snacks if journeying to the bathroom. Watching the television from bed would have required the use of my camera’s zoom lens…if the television had possessed an aerial cable. This last point was all the more amusing as I had been handed my very own television remote control by the smiling receptionist when getting my key (I think she knew the irony of this).
Hungary satisfied, Romania beckons…