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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia
COUNTRY FACTS Pop: 2,010,347 Area: 20,273 sq km Gov't: Parliamentary Democratic Republic Religion: 57.8% Catholic, 2.3% Orthodox, 2.4% Muslim, 23% Unspecified View Map
Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia , October 8, 2003  

Slovenian Flag SLOVENIA


October 7. BUDAPEST - ZAGREB - LJUBLJANA  It was another mad day of travel across two borders.  We caught a 6:45 am train to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.  It was dark when we got to Budapest's newer, and not so nice, train station but we had left enough time to get something to eat before we had to board the train.  All of the cars were half smoking/half non-smoking which sent us to the end of the train in search of a smoke free place to sit.  We found one and by the time we reached the border there weren't many people left on the train at all.  

It was about a five hour journey to Zagreb and based on the information that we had read we weren't really interested in spending much time there.  When we got off the train we immediately got a schedule for trains on up to Ljubljana, Slovenia and carefully gauged how much time we had to scour the city for money.  We hustled to get to the tourist information center (not such a helpful one) and with directions to the National Bank Rob set off on that errand while I prodded the tourist information lady for more information on buses to Slovenia and, if need be, lodging options in Zagreb.  There weren't any affordable places to stay.

Catching up with Rob I found him visiting some special office inside the National Bank.  I waited at the security desk for him to return. When he did he was totally frustrated with the total lack of help he'd received.  It seemed that the Croatia National Bank wasn't all that interested in providing services to collectors.  For non-circulated paper money we were directed to another office where they wanted some $400 for a non-circulated set of bills that were only worth a fraction of that in face value.  Feeling defeated we just headed for the bus station to get the next bus out of town to Ljubjana.  It was a large bus station, more like a little busport, and we easily got on the bus leaving at 2:25.  In retrospect Zagreb wasn't such an unattractive city from what little we saw of it but it wasn't a very inviting place. 

Ljubljana was a pleasant surprise, a darling little city with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains.  The bus station was just a row of bus parking spots in front of the train station where we found a well set up tourist information center.  They gave us a list of lodging options in the city and said we jus had to pick one and they would call it for us.  We selected a couple of the low end places but the guy at the desk quickly replied that they were full or closed.  He then readily offered up a standing reservation he had a the Park Hotel and gave us his business card which would guarantee us a good rate.  The Park wasn't raved about in LP but it was in a good location and we only planned one night and weren't feeling very picky.  However, we were a bit suspicious at how quickly the guy at the tourist information center had directed us to the Park so we didn't show his card when we arrived.  Little to our surprise we got an even better rate.  It was a Spartan hotel but very clean and neat, a definite step up from our place in Budapest and cheaper - but the showers were down the hall.

With what left of our afternoon and evening we explored a bit of Ljubjana's charming old town area.  The green copper dragons perched on either end of the "Dragon" bridge were our favorite ornaments of the city.  For dinner we a nice pizza dinner, and ended the day with a tasty scoop of Italian gelato. 

October 8. LJUBLJANA  The buffet breakfast at the hotel was filling and one of the only complete breakfasts we were ever offered in Eastern Europe (not counting that buffett the Russians called breakfast).  The hotel checked our bags for us and we set off to see as much of Ljubljana as we could in a day.

The downtown tourist information center had given us the address of the National Bank the night before so that errand was painless.  Rob found a very patient teller who carefully went through her stacks of bills to find him some crisp notes.  We then set off in search of a couple of book stores to find a more in-depth guide book on Croatia (where we hoped to spend a good deal of time).  A well stocked travel book and map store helped us out.  With our errands out of the way we stopped to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee at a cafe along the river, near the Cobbler's Bridge.  Looking across the river and up we could see Ljuljana castle peering out over the city.  That was our next stop.

We walked up the hill to the castle, working up a good pant by the time we reached the top.  The castle was redone and now housed a museum but gave us a view across Slovenia's capital city to the snow capped mountains in the distance.  From up high the mountains looked far off but when we were walking the narrow old town streets of the city they occasionally came into view and the lower perspective made them appear to loom over the city.  Keeping up a pace we hiked down the other side of the hill to where the old town vegetable market was still bustling away in Old Town.  Crossing the unusual but appealing triple bridge (1931), where the original single bridge was added on two with a bridge on either side that created a sort of spoke effect across the river, we entered the town Center and snaked through the streets to take in the various bits of Art Nouveau buildings and other architectural highlights of Ljubljana.  As the capital of Slovenia, Ljubjana seemed like a city with authority and commerce but the variety of architecture, compact size and scenic river it have the romantic feeling of a little Prague.     

The weather was lovely and we were torn between staying longer in Ljubjana or moving on to the coast of Slovenia but finally comitted ourselves to going.  With the day getting away from us we inhaled some tasty panini sandwiches for lunch and rushed to catch the 2:25 bus to Piran (we were shooting for the 3:00 but the 2:25 left late and we just made it).  We arrived in Piran just before 5:00 and barely made it to the accommodation office before it closed.  It was a good thing we had gotten that 2:25 bus!  We landed a fantastic little apartment on the first floor of an old building, right in the heart of old Piran.  The next best alternative would have been the nearly as expensive hostel.

Doris, the German woman who owned the building with her husband Löte, came to get us at the booking office.  She was a casual and friendly lady, chatting us up as she gave us directions to her home through the winding alleyways of the town.  The apartment was more than we had hoped for and any reservations about having left Ljubljana were gone.  It was a studio apartment that was newly redone with a well equipped kitchen, bathroom, cable TV and comfortable furniture.  And, it was spotless.  Doris and Lote lived on the top floor of the building and below us was a small restaurant.  They came down to welcome us with some grappa and wine.  They were pushing the grappa, a local drink acquired from Piran's shared history and close ties to Italy (Pirano in Italian), but we opted for the wine.  Lote used to work in construction for a large hotel chain and had traveled extensively.  He had remodeled the building and this was where they were planning to retire, at a not so very old age I might add. 

Doris and Lote recommended some good places to eat in Piran, including the restaurant below for burgers and sandwiches. We took their suggestion for a dinner spot along the water and ate at Bife Ivo while we watched a gorgeous sunset over the Adriatic Sea, Croatia just across the bay to the south and Italy across the Adriatic to the west.  It was beautiful, a small piece of paradise.  And, the grilled squid and risotto were scrumptious.

SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24