Thursday, August 19th, Ljubljana, Slovenia

We had another walking tour with Barbara on this morning.  She told us a couple of Slovenian words, thank you is Hvallah and garbage is smiti. Slovenian language is difficult to learn because they use a dual tense in addition to the singular and plural tenses.  Apparently there are only two languages that use this dual tense.  Having said that, Tatiana can communicate with them as both Russian and Slovenian are Slovak languages and many of the words are the same or similar. Immigration is low here maybe because the language is more difficult to learn and also because taxes are high. Barbara says there are a few immigrants from Turkey but most of the population is Caucasian. The average take home pay (after taxes and benefits) is 1,000 Euros per month. Most of the population is Roman Catholic. There is only one Siberian Orthodox Church (sometimes called Eastern Orthodox) and only 2% of the population is Serbian. 60% of the land in Slovenia is covered by forests. Many different species of mushrooms grow wild and are picked and sold in markets. The restaurants have many wonderful mushroom dishes to select from.

Slovenia is one of the youngest European Countries. In 1990 Slovenia escaped from the arms of socialist Yugoslavia and became independent in 1991. I believe but may be wrong, that independence was done peacefully after a referendum.  In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.  Slovenia’s culture has been the result of the blending of the Slavic, Germanic and Roman cultures as they had been occupied for more than 1,000 years by the different European political interests. In the 16th Century Protestants translated the bible into the Slovenian language. These were the first books of the Slovenian language. But later under Austrian Rule a law was passed that the leaders would pick the religion for their region. Slovenia was ruled by the Habsberg family from Germany. They were Roman Catholic so all churches had to be Roman Catholic. Protestantism was banned and all their literature was destroyed.

Ljubljana was a Roman settlement started around 1,000 BC and was called Emona. After the downfall of the Roman Empire, the Slavs came to this area during the immigration period of the 10th Century. They lived in small villages on top of the ruins of Emona. The Slav villagers would only join together in times of danger for better protection. Otherwise they lived peacefully in their small villages, farming. Later the Slav settlements eventually developed into Medieval Ljubljana.  During Medieval times they built a castle up on the hill and people settled in homes below between the castle’s hill and the river for protection. There were bridges over the river to the settlement. The people had to pay a tax to cross the bridge so people started settling on the other side of the river to avoid the tax. Hence the city of Ljubljana grew on both sides of the river. (Maybe this is where the saying “Wrong side of the tracks” came from only it was “Wrong side of the river”)?

According to Barbara todays society in Slovenia is changing.  Young people are waiting much longer before getting married. First they get their education (university is free provided you have good marks), they may even buy a house first.  Many couples live together and have a couple of children before getting married. Because they chose to marry later, they no longer have large families usually only one or two children.  Just like in CANADA!

It was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the city centre.  The city is easy to get orientated because it is small, only 270,000 people so it is smaller than Victoria, BC. We passed the opera house from the 19th Century which is very beautiful. At the first city square on the poorer side of the river stands a statue dedicated to the poet Dr. Frances Preseren.  This poet’s mother wanted him to study Theology but he went to school and studied law instead (John was happy to hear this). Anyway, after law school he came to Ljubljana to open a law practice. He was very poor and struggled with his business. When he was 35 years of age he fell in love with a 16 year old girl. The young girl’s family wanted nothing to do with Preseren, he was not a suitable husband for their daughter and she married someone else. He spent the rest of his life mourning (and drinking away) the loss of his true love. He dedicated his best poetry to her. As I said he drank alot and one of his poems says something like “Let’s drink to the brave young men, let’s drink to this, let’s drink to that …..” etc. but one part of the poem says “Let’s drink to all the Nations who want to live in freedom and peace with their neighbours”. This section of his poem is now in Slovenia’s national anthem!!

One item we all enjoyed was that the city centre is pedestrian traffic only and it was busy.  Because there were no cars it made for a very pleasant walk around the city centre.  One of the main bridges is actually three bridges. The first (middle) bridge was built as early as in the Roman period.  Later during 1929 the architect Joze Plecnik added two bridges one on each side of the central stone bridge which was reconstructed in 1842.  This created the Triple Bridge, a unique feature of Ljubljana.  The architect Joze Plecnik was born in Slovenia but left to study architecture in Vienna and Italy. He was asked to come back to be a professor of architecture in the first university of Ljubljana. When he came back he wrote in a letter to his brother that he found Ljubljana to be an ugly city and he dedicated the next 40 years of his life improving the looks of the city by designing beautiful buildings and bridges.

During the Socialist Rule of Tito when religion was discouraged Plecnik who was very religious didn’t work very much. But he won an award for his architectural work which included a large sum of money. He took the money and used it to buy materials for an ornate Bishop’s Chair which he then gifted to the Catholic Church. This was his way of snubbing the government. 

The city happened to be replacing the cobblestones over the central bridge of The Triple Bridge which interested Russ immensely. He watched them for awhile and they even let him put in place a couple of the stones. He was so happy he gave all twelve of them Canada hats. While Russ was repairing the bridge, John and Terry were being interviewed in the square by a surveyer on how they liked the city.

On one side of the square was a pink church called the Church of the Annunciation and attached to it is a Francescan Monastery. On the other side of the street is the first department store built in 1903. Then across the Triple Bridge we entered into the Medieval Section of the city built in the 12th Century. This was the castle side of the river. There was contemporary art designed by art students hanging from wires placed high up over the centre of the streets.  Big lips, fish, runners, musical instruments, etc.  They looked a little weird floating in the air in front of all these historical medieval buildings.  But it did create a fun ambiance for the area. 

Along the river there was  a market selling everything from crafts, flowers, fruits, vegetables, clothing, absolutely anything. One interesting item that was sold were candles, large candles in hurricane glass. These are used instead of flowers at funerals or placed on grave sites.  We bought bee hive covers that were painted to tell a story.  John bought a lawyer story where two people are fighting over a cow.  One is pulling on the poor cow’s tail and the other is pulling the head.  The smart lawyer is sitting on a stool milking the cow!! Cute.

We toured Saint Nicholas Church which was originally built in the 15th Century and restored in 1701.  There were these immense bronze doors at the front of the church which were recently made in 1996 when Pope John Paul II came to Ljubljana.  These doors tell the religion history of Slovenian. Starting with the Roman Empire and ending with a bust of Pope John Paul II. The sides of this church have incorporated actual Roman tombstones into the walls. We walked to another bridge called the Dragon bridge because it has two huge dragons flanking each side of the bridge, on both ends. Dragon is the symbol of Ljubljana and there is a dragon sitting on a castle in their coat of arms.

Next we took the venicular up to the castle. This venicular reminded me of the first hill up the roller coaster only everyone is standing in a gondola car and not sitting. The cable car is glass and the view over the city is amazing. At the top of the castle you can see for miles. The river Sava runs down to Ljubljana but it has seven different names because it snakes around and goes underground at some points then comes up again at a different point. Years ago the people thought these were different rivers and gave each section that came above ground a new name.

We had a full day of touring and got to relax over dinner. To start off this dinner we had a wonderful sparkling deep red wine from Turan.  Beautiful!

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