Monday, March 11, 2013

Slovenia Bound

The day after my sister and niece left back in November, we departed on our Thanksgiving trip - a driving trip with friends to Slovenia with a little dip down into Croatia. Thank goodness we have a good, little traveling baby because in hindsight, I have no idea what we were thinking in planning a trip that included 10+ hours, twice, in a car with a three month old. The potential for disaster was high.

We drove straight through to Slovenia for a two night stay in the capital, Ljubljana, and really had no idea what to expect. A little brief Slovenian history...and location since I had no idea where it was until we decided to visit it...Slovenia borders Italy on the northeast corner, so it's an easy drive. The country was ruled by the Habsburgs  until the 1900s, then became part of Yugoslavia after WWI. Slovenia gained independence from Yugoslavia only in 1991. The country is gorgeous! And so clean!

Here in Naples, we are so used to seeing buildings that are falling down or have peeling paint or are only the shell of a building. Add to the fact that Naples alone has a population of about 1 million and another 3.5 million in the surrounding urban areas means urban problems. When we travel outside Naples, we almost always land in our destination city and immediately say, "Wow, it's so clean." Naples has made great strides in the trash filling the streets problem, but you can't have 4.5 million people, their houses, their cars, their trash, their stuff and not have run down neighborhoods, cracked roads, litter, and the like.

So in Ljubljana, we were delighted to see beautiful, fresh buildings that were still old (about 100 years or so), wide pedestrian streets with smooth stones, a river running through the town, and some of the friendliest people I've encountered in our European travels. Extremely friendly and welcoming. After dinner on our first night, I returned to our hotel to feed the baby and get her settled while the others continued to explore the town. I asked at our tiny hotel's front desk if I could have a glass of wine to take to my room. She informed me that she would bring it to me, and proceeded to show up to room with a tray of light snacks, wine, napkins, and a chocolate. We encountered this sense of welcome everywhere we went. At our top restaurant pick, we went in to make a reservation during the day. As the afternoon wore on, I got concerned about our very large stroller in this very small, six table restaurant, so we stopped in a couple of hours before our reservation to see if the stroller was going to be a problem. The man we talked to said, "I have your table already set up - four adults and a stroller, right?" We looked at the table and saw that the stroller would completely fill the one aisle in the restaurant, so we showed him our stroller - his reply:  "The stroller is big, but I am small. There is no problem." And Nora slumbered away that night while we ate a delicious dinner at Marley & Me.

Ljubljana has a few sights to see, but we mostly just enjoyed walking around the city center. There is a castle (there's always a castle) high up on the hill overlooking town, so we walked up to it. There is a museum we ignored, a flower market open in the dead of winter and selling the most beautiful blooms, a church with amazing bronze doors, and tons of shops that run the gamut from artsy and independent to a large, department store. In Ljubljana, I was also introduced to the work of the masked, French artist, Invader, who places small mosaics of Space Invader figures in cities around the world. Ljubljana has been "invaded."

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