Monday, August 28, 2017

8-24 Montana … or Slovenia?

Once again I was totally ignorant about a country. 

Yes, I had been to Yugoslavia in 1969 while traveling the world on the International Honors Program. And yes, I had heard that the country had fallen apart in the 1980’s after Tito’s death and that after struggling with ethnic wars and desires for independence had emerged into seven countries. I’d already enjoyed one of the poorer ones – Macedonia – and was about to partake of a richer one, Slovenia. Why? Because  Eva I met while gardening in Bulgaria was from Ljubljana, Slovenia  and the name just sounded too cool to miss. And because Cisco and Cat from Canada had told me of a conference to be held in Maribor, Slovenia. Sign me up!

So, I emerged from the airplane in Ljubljana, looked around and was convinced I’d landed in the mountains of Montana (actually that's what a local told me, getting off the plane.)

A  capital city, yes, but surrounded by forests, streams, lakes and mountains! And as I left weeks later I swore I would return. 

Ljubljana… isn’t just the name itself enchanting? 

I’m almost reluctant to share my enthusiasm out of fear that hordes of tourists will clog the medieval streets as they are in Prague. Maybe this is the new Prague? It surely is just as beautiful. And because it is smaller much more walkable and manageable. I could find my way to the gardens and not get lost, like I had in Prague.

If you go, take a walking tour. Take three walking tours like I did! The Medieval Tour reveals living habits and sights, including the hang-man’s house and the always visible castle. The Communist Tour dispels any illusion that Tito was a just nice guy. He was better than Stalin of course, and protected the conglomeration of areas that he called Yugoslavia from Russian control but he still tortured and murdered his perceived opponents.

And then just wander by yourself and be amazed at the beauty. 

Why is this place so special? Well, it was here that Perseus of the Golden Fleece, with his Argonauts,  killed the defending dragon and found his way back home. Its churches were never destroyed by the Turks – somehow it defended itself from those marauding invaders who captured little boys and turned them into janissaries. The swamps were drained and channeled into a managed river, now lined with cafes and music. (Although it is said that a dragon still guards the city!)

It is a very livable, safe and apparently happy city. 

The down-town is free of cars. Instead of dodging traffic, people walk, bicycle, and use scooters and wheel-chairs. Really! If I had to travel without legs this is where I would use my arms to navigate! I even saw a bicycle wheel-chair in which the lady was using her arms on pedals out in front of her to zoom along! Outside of down-town there are bicycle paths, bicycle traffic signals and slopes beside stairs, for bicycles. 

It is a playful place – see the downtown mist installation. 

See the lyric poet France Preseren gaze longingly across the square at  his unfulfilled love, Julija. (And his muse above, whose breasts were discreetly hidden by trees from the church goers.) 

Enjoy walking by the river and special briges day and night,

And enjoy Tivoli Park just out-side the down-town where families lounge on the grass, picnicking and listening to music.

But the real reason I would encourage you to visit is the architecture and city design. 

Google the Sloven architect Joze Plecnik,  who also worked on the  Prague Castle,  parts of Vienna and Belgrade and of course his home town. He built  buildings and embankments, churches and a cemetery and so much more. His design gives this special city a unified sense of beauty that I have never seen in my travels. 

See his National Library that looks like a Turkish rug, woven from bricks. The inside is constructed to lead you from the darkness of ignorance to the brightness of enlightenment!  

And this Triple Bridge, adapted for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. None of this was destroyed in the war. And no Communist concrete ugliness mars the old elegance. 

And once you have explored every nook and cranny of magical Ljubljana, protected by its dragon,

  ... take a bus to the surrounding countryside and understand why you could mistake it for … Montana!

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