We’re Learning How to Say Ljubljana

(This is the 11th post of our Croatia-Budapest trip, June-July 2014)

 For those of you who are keeping track, it’s Tuesday and this is Slovenia. . . Ljubljana, to be exact, and we have learned how to say it (mostly). But before we do anything else, it’s breakfast.

Ljubljana_Hotel Slamic Breakfast1

Juices, hot milk, cereals (both of the Looks-Like-Horse-Oats and the Other variety), fruits (prunes, for the tourists, of course).

Ljubljana_Hotel Slamic Breakfast2

The hot cocoa/coffee station.  I had hot cocoa every day, a lovely treat.

Ljubljana_Hotel Slamic Breakfast3

Rolls, meats, cheeses, yogurts station.  Americans don’t have many cold cuts for breakfast, but it’s pretty common over here.

Ljubljana_Hotel Slamic Breakfast4

Soft cheese and butter.  I liked the random way the soft cheese ended up, after several travelers had taken what they wanted.

Ljubljana_Hotel Slamic Breakfast5

And my favorite station of this hotel: a place where you could hard, or soft-boil your egg.  I used my timer on my iPhone to keep track, and had one every morning. Before we left for the day, we stopped and talked to the young man at the desk about doing our laundry.  At first we were just going to load it all up and bring it down to the desk, as he assured us that was the best way.  But we wanted to do our own, and asked him for a laundromat.  He had no idea.  Dave went upstairs and got his computer, and we did a search and on some traveller’s blog they had listed where the laundromat was.  The front desk guy was surprised.  We were happy.  But first we decided to take advantage of the clear skies (when we had woken up it was raining, but had cleared away) and head into town.

Ljubljana_graffiti by hotelOn the wall across from our hotel’s main entrance.

Ljubljana_church2The side of the slightly damp, but pink church.  I saw a sign in the hotel’s front office which promoted free walking tours, so we hustled down here, but there didn’t seem to be any group coalescing anywhere. We we pulled out our guidebook and followed Rick Steves’ walking tour.  Another time we checked in at the Tourist Office for another walking tour, but it was majorly pricey and we’d missed it by 45 minutes.

Ljubljana_church doorhandlesAfter realizing we didn’t have a tour, we did go in, but it was nearly time for mass, so quietly let ourselves out.  The interior was unremarkable, but I loved the doorknobs.

Ljubljana_city modelIn Preseren Square they have a car-sized model of the city; we saw this model-thing again in other cities.

Ljubljana_Julija bas reliefThe terra cotta bas relief just above the green doorway in the yellow building is of Julija, the unrequited love of the poet Preseren’s life, or so the tour guides say.

Ljubljana_Galleria1We were interested in the Centromerkur building, or Galleria Emporium as it’s called now, a beautiful building with a graceful glass fan over the front entrance.

Ljubljana_Galleria8 fan roof over doorway

Ljubljana_Galleria7 doorway

Ljubljana_Galleria6 top statue

Ljubljana_Galleria2

Inside a graceful stacked column and the grand staircase gives an idea of what it used to be like.

Ljubljana_Galleria5

Ljubljana_Galleria4

Ljubljana_Galleria3

I thought the plastic purses were interesting, but they were all out of our price range, so we headed back outside to enjoy the sun.

Ljubljana_Hauptmann House2

Ljubljana_Hauptmann House1

The Hauptmann House was the only building on the square to survive that 1895 earthquake.  A few years later, the owners repainted it in the Art Nouveau style using bright colors, as his family sold dyes.

Ljubljana_Cooperative Bank2

The Cooperative Bank, just up the street from the Galleria and the Hauptmann House is beautifully painted and decorated.

Ljubljana_Cooperative Bank1

ljubljana_horse fountain3We liked this fountain of chubby horses.  They look like a bunch of toddler-aged horses, playing in the water.

Ljubljana_horse fountain1

Ljubljana_Butchers Bridge1We crossed over the Triple Bridge to the Castle-side of town, and turned left and headed toward the Riverside Market.  This is looking down the river to the Butcher’s Bridge (and beyond that is the Dragon Bridge).

Ljubljana_Butchers Bridge2Fascinating sculptures on the Butcher’s Bridge, all nearly ruined by those hideous Locks of Love (when will these ever stop?) attachments.

Ljubljana_hideous Locks of LoveThe weight of the bridge can’t handle too many, the city cuts off a bunch every week, which are unfortunately replaced by more.

Ljubljana_Butchers Bridge3

Ljubljana_Butchers Bridge4We thought this looked like a bubble-gum-blowing sheep.  Apparently the sculptures were meant to be temporary, but people liked them so much, they stayed.

Ljubljana_market square7 stallsThe market has a decent display of vegetables, plants, and wonderful baskets, which quite frankly, I wanted to bring home with me.  Apparently Saturday is the bustling day here, as the market tables only covered half the square.

Ljubljana_market square6 baskets

Ljubljana_market square5 dairy vending machineThis was a vending machine, which sold fresh unpasteurized milk, among other things.

Ljubljana_market square4 scalesAnd next to it was a small scale, where market-goers could check the weight of anything they’d purchased, so they could verify what the merchant had charged them.

Ljubljana_market square3 berries

Ljubljana_market square2 broomsClever broom stand.

Ljubljana_market square1I loved the woman’s orange hair.

Ljubljana_colonade eatery button platesBut we were hungry now after walking around downtown and thought we’d try to find some burek, a filled pastry.  Well, actually, I thought we should have bought some on our way in, and when we went to look and just see what our options were, most of them were gone.  So we snapped up a couple from what was left, got a salad from another vendor, and a “Ljubljana Cake” from another stall.  We made our way to an area with tables and chairs and started eating.

Ljubljana_Lunch Burek and salad

Ljubljana_Colonade streetside It looked like a public space, but apparently not.  The owner of the bar/coffee shop came and chased us out of HIS tables and chairs.  We figured out that you could only eat where you’d purchased your food, so we settled into the tables in front of where we’d purchased our salads (and were not chased out).  The cake was a “meh” but we liked our cheese-filled bureks.  I wondered what the meat-filled ones were like.

Ljubljana_St Nicholas Spires

The two twin yellow towers bordering the market square were those belonging to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas.

Ljubljana_St Nicholas doors

The doors were created for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Slovenia in 1996, and contain elements of the city’s history, as well as notable events from Slovenia’s history.  This is the main door (and the side door is below).

Ljubljana_St Nicholas doors2

Ljubljana_St Nicholas interiorThe interior was beautiful–Italian Baroque, so the guide book says, and we enjoyed seeing it.

Ljubljana_St Nicholas large organ loft

Ljubljana_St Nicholas organ loftA smaller organ loft?

Ljubljana_St Nicholas embroidery2

Ljubljana_St Nicholas embroidery

In the chapel for St. Joseph was this beautifully embroidered cloth on the altar.  We’d not seen chapels dedicated to Christ’s father, so thought it interesting.

Ljubljana_St Nicholas detail2

Ljubljana_St Nicholas detail

Ljubljana_St Nicholas ceiling2

Ljubljana_St Nicholas outside niche

A pieta on the outside of the church, in a small niche.  We walked along the Castle-side of the church, and headed toward the Dragon Bridge.

Ljubljana_Dragon Bridge7

I think you can figure out why it is named this.  The dragon has been the symbol of Ljubljana for centuries, and this bridge was one of those earthquake projects mentioned before.

Ljubljana_Dragon Bridge6

Ljubljana_Dragon Bridge4

Ljubljana_Dragon Bridge3a

Ljubljana_Dragon Bridge3

Ljubljana_Dragon Bridge2

Ljubljana_Dragon Bridge1We cross the Ljublanica River and head back towards our hotel.

Ljubljana_Urban ArtMore interesting urban art.

Ljubljana_Triple BridgeLooking ahead towards the Triple Bridge.

Ljubljana_Colonade3

The riverside colannade, and the area where we tried to have lunch the first time (but were unsuccessful).

Ljubljana_Colonade

Ljubljana_streets1Looking back toward the center, going a different way home this afternoon.

Ljubljana_Art Deco Building2

We meandered, checking out the buildings.

Ljubljana_Art Deco Building2a

Ljubljana_Art Deco Building3

At one point, the city’s reconstruction committee declared that all the corner buildings should have a domed spire.  We saw this on many buildings downtown.

Ljubljana_Art Deco Building4

Dome, but no spire.

Ljubljana_Art Deco Building6

Ljubljana_Art Deco Building5

Ljubljana_Art Deco Building5aWe were making plans for this day because we were supposed to meet Dave’s sister and brother-in-law the next morning and tour the sights together.  So we thought it was important to get the laundry done today so it wouldn’t interfere with our touristing.  Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and with what we know now, we should have gone up to the castle on this sunny day and enjoyed the sights, saving the laundry for the time when it was raining (and for when expected meetings didn’t materialize).  But this is travel, isn’t it?  Trying to judge the best use of limited time.  So we grabbed our suitcases, got into the car, and armed with TWO maps, and screenshots of the city, headed off.

Ljubljana_Laundromat sign

It was in a strip shopping mall, just across from the most humungous shopping mall I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot.  It’s open Pon-pet and it’s one of those days, so we’re in good shape.  I also liked the named for Saturday (Sob) and Sunday (Ned).

Ljubljana_Laundromat1

Washers, with the blue circles on the wall.

Ljubljana_Laundromat4

Dryers, with the orange-red circles on the wall.

Ljubljana_Laundromat3

And we think this means “broken,” or “don’t use,” or “forget this machine.”  Soap is always tricky, but we figured out that soap was automatically added to the wash.  If we got it wrong, we had very well-rinsed clothes.

Ljubljana_Laundromat2Dave babysits the wash while I check out the shops. Nothing much, but I did pick up some clown candy, Ki-Ki, for our granddaughter, for she has that as her nickname.  Although one washer stops and we have to restart it, we finish with the laundry and happy that we’ll have clean clothes again.

Ljubljana_BTCityWe head across the street to BTC, or BTCity, mainly because these are our daughter’s initials and we want to try and bring her back something.  BTCity is a series of free-standing malls (I think there were seven), with other giant box-type stores around the perimeter.  The website tells me that there are:

  • more than 450 stores
  • more than 8,500 parking spaces
  • Market BTC
  • Atlantis Water Park
  • Sports Centre Millenium
  • Casino Rio
  • Multiplex Colosseum and XpanD
  • type of pubs, cafes, pub, restaurants, pizzerias, pastry shops

Truthfully, I wished I’d visited the Market, but we drove around, unable to figure out this place.  I think most of the parking spaces were filled, or so it felt from the amount of cars everywhere.  We were looking for something with the BTC logo on it, and finally stopped in at the mall office, but couldn’t find much more than a shopping bag.  They did give me a Frequent Shopper Card with the logo on it, but I was supposed to sign up for an account, which I wasn’t going to do.  So the nice young woman behind the counter filled in some phony name and handed me the card.

Ljubljana_Elna sewing storeI did see a sewing shop, but knew I wasn’t going to carry a sewing machine home on the airplane, so we kept going.  We hoped to have dinner earlier this night than the previous nights of 9 p.m., so decided to head back to town, dropping out laundry (and car) off at the hotel and heading back toward the pedestrian center.

Ljubljana_fabricsWe pass another shop, but I didn’t go in either, given my experience of buying foreign fabric: paying double the cost for American-made goods.  I now wish I’d gone in there, as we never had another chance.  This, too, is travel.

Ljubljana_Justice grillwork

We walk along the main drag, checking first one restaurant then another, but by seven p.m. we were seated at Julija’s, at an outdoor table.

Ljubljana_Julija restaurant street

Ljubljana_45Julija Restaurant2

Ljubljana_Julija restaurant ESEWe share a salad, then I have the goulash over polenta (below).

Ljubljana_47Julija Restaurant goulash

Ljubljana_46Julija Restaurant fishDave has the stack of vegetables with fish.  Our table was next to a table with a young woman and a middle-aged man.  I never could totally figure out their conversation, but she was from Slovenia (as she talked about where she was on Independence Day, which was the next day, Wednesday, and when we found out that nearly the whole place shut down) and he had a British accent.  It seems that he knew her parents somehow.  At one point they were discussing the new Google self-driving cars, and he noted that it was a remarkable invention.  She agreed but said that it would only work in America, because “Americans are basically lazy.”

Ljubljana_julija dessert(for dessert, some strudel and some ice cream, drizzled with honey)

Ouch. As Dave and I walked after dinner, I asked him if our export of our youth culture had so permeated what others thought of us that they couldn’t get past the stereotypes.  But is it a stereotype?  I don’t think I’m particularly lazy, nor my husband, nor my family.  But why has this image percolated into her brain?  I liked it better when I couldn’t understand the people next to me, I think.

When we returned from dinner a jazz band was going full steam downstairs, the sound echoing up into our hallway with our room’s window directly over the place where it was playing.  We walked up the stairs with a tall young man, and I said “No sleep tonight.”
He said “Oh, it’s Ljubljana.  This won’t last long.”
I asked him why not and he replied that “Slovenians like to go to work in the morning, so they don’t stay up late.  Not like my country,” he said.  “I’m Serbian, and we go twenty-four hours a day, never stop.”

And so this is travel, too.  Learning not only about yourself, but about others’ as well.  (As long as they speak English.)  Back in the room, we can hear the jazz and with our windows shut, it’s not too big of a problem.  We settle into our nightly routine of checking emails, touching base with our lives back across the world.  I realize I am more than happy to be in one hotel for three straight nights, the string of one-night stays we’ve just done having worn me out.  We relax, the music fades, and these tired tourists fall to sleep.

Next post: A rainy visit to the Castle and where are they?

Arriving in Ljubljana

(This is the tenth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

Ljubljana_1

We found our way to our hotel (check the front Croatia page for hotel info) and since it was nearing dinner time, we dropped our luggage and walked toward the main part of the pedestrian downtown, walking over this poem (?) of brass script, embedded in the pavement.

Ljubljana_2 Carrying our Rick Steves guidebook, we know that this statue caused quite a stir when it was unveiled, because of the nearly nude woman at the top.  Preseren was Slovenia’s greatest poet, and the reclining figure was thought to be his muse, yet for the first few years they covered her up with a tarp each night.  Now it appears that most folks don’t pay her (or him) much notice.

Ljubljana_2a

Ljubljana (loo-blee-ana) has quite a few buildings decorated in the Viennese Art Nouveau style, and judging from our pile of photographs when we got home, we seemed to take a picture of most of them.  When Ljubljana was hit by an earthquake in 1895, the citizens took advantage of the rebuilding funds from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to remake the city, and we loved seeing all the decorative works.  I only wish we’d had a bit more sun, as a lot of the photographs are rather flat-looking in the gray (and often rainy) skies.

Ljubljana_3 Church

This church is kitty-corner from the statue, and anchors the square.  It was closed, so we kept walking along, looking for a place to eat.

Ljubljana_4 Street SurveySurvey-takers in bright green caps and green socks/shorts.

Ljubljana_5Julija Restaurant1

We made our way to Julija, or Julia Restaurant, a popular place.  Across the street is restaurant named Romeo (as in Romeo and Juliet), but we didn’t go there.  I liked their wall of cracked tiles and beautiful blue plates.

Ljubljana_6julija restaurantSalad!  It looks like a typical delicious salad, except for. . .

Ljubljana_7pumpkin seed oil. . . the pumpkin seed oil they brought to dress it, and for us to use in dunking our bread.  A regional specialty, we really enjoyed it.  It’s kind of a deep greenish-red color, if that’s possible and while the pumpkin flavor briefly checks in, it’s not ever-present.  And you can get it on Amazon!

Ljubljana_8julija restaurantDave ordered Štruklji, a kind of dumpling filled with cottage cheese, and topped with bacon and a sprig of thyme.

Ljubljana_9julija restaurantBut I had the winner of the night: pasta, asparagus and mushrooms.

Ljubljana_10 fountain We knew it was supposed to start pouring at some time this evening (having checked and rechecked our weather apps at the hotel), so we walked around that evening, enjoying the sights.  this fountain is at the edge of a large, rectangular plaza in the University District.  One of the realities of a new place though, is that you don’t have your bearings and we simply thought “nice fountain,” without recognizing how it fit into the landscape or the orientation of the map.  We simply knew that we were walking along the river, which was in the pedestrian section of town and that we’d eventually find our way home.

Ljubljana_11 bridge Ljubljana has several bridges that span the Ljublanica River; this is the Cobbler’s Bridge, and is distinguished by its pillars.

Ljubljana_12bridgeThis view is toward Preseren Square, and the Triple Bridge, which is yes, three bridges all together.  One day we saw a young female tourist doing an interpretive dance to the accordian player and his singing group, complete with belly dancing moves, backward bending-over-moves and basic I’m-having-a-great-time moves.  It’s where a lot of people gather.

Ljubljana_13 three bridges

Ljubljana_14 church and pavementI was interestested to see the lights of the zodiac on the ground, embedded in the pavement in front of the church.  A crackle of lightning marked the witching hour and the first drops of rain started falling just as we made it back to our hotel.

Weather Forecast Ljubljana

Next up: Ljubljana’s Marketplace, and the Tourists Do Their Laundry and Find a Giant Shopping Mall

Lake Bled

(This is the ninth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

We woke up in Buzet and saw this. . . Ljubljana Weather Report. . . so thought we ought to again advance our plans by a day and head to Lake Bled that day, instead of exploring the southern part of Slovenia, like we’d wanted to.

Slovenia_1 road

Slovenia_2 lawnmowerAfter passing through passport control, we stopped at the very first gas station we saw to buy our Slovenian Freeway Pass, having been warned by several to do so. (scene is out the backside of the gas station.)  In fact our innkeeper in Plitvice said that there would be two fines if we didn’t have it and got caught: one from the Slovenian authorities, of roughly 150 euros (like $225) and then the rental car company would charge us because of the hassle of finding us and get their money from someone in the States.  I had also read about it in two guide books, so there was no question about whether or not we would have a pass on our window.  Dave came out from the teensy place, affixed the sticker (15 euro, about 22 bucks) and we kept driving.

Slovenia_3 roadside shrineI loved the freestanding small buildings that were roadside shrines to Mary, to Jesus, and various saints.

Mast Road SignAbout two exits after we got on the freeway with our spiffy new freeway pass, we left to go “wandering” our way through the countryside, on the way to Predjama Castle, andfound we were driving on the Mast Road, a farm-to-market road through the countryside with some historical significance.  We know this because half the sign was in English!

Mast Road Map SloveniaWe found the town “13” on the above map, V. Brda, with its interesting, but closed church.

Slovenia_4a town of Brda

Slovenia_4b town of Brda

Slovenia_5 town of Brda2

Slovenia_Landol

And in Landol, this little chapel is dedicated to someone named “St. Jost,” but again, was closed.

Slovenia_chapel and toll house

But next door was this building, which apparently served as a toll house on the road.

Slovenia_6Back on the road, we followed the signs to Predjama Castle, noting all the fallen trees from the ice storm as we drove.

Slovenia_6aRight around this corner was a small accident, a fender-bender, but the people involved had put out the glowing orange triangles signs on the road and they all had donned orange highway safety-type vests.  That would explain the package I saw in the trunk of our rental car, of which the car agency said nothing.  For the record, I had asked them about the Slovenian freeway sticker too, and again, the two twenty-somethings that ran the place kind of shrugged their shoulders: “eh?”

Slovenia_7 Predjama Castle1We parked and walked about ten paces and here it was–just like all the guidebooks said: an old castle tucked into a mountain.  The guidebooks also said the inside was “forgettable” so we didn’t pay to go in.  The outside is pretty striking, though.

Slovenia_8 Predjama Castle

Slovenia_8a Predjama Castle

Slovenia_9 Predjama CastleA faded crest painted onto the side of the castle.  I love the graphic punch of the black-and-white shutters.

Slovenia_10 harvesting logsWe heard lots of chain saws going, and saw this at the bottom of the little lane.

Slovenia_10a harvesting logs

Slovenia_11 roadside shrineWe turned left at Jesus and headed toward the motorway/freeway.
We’ve got to get our money’s worth out of this pricey car sticker and were ready to get to Lake Bled, hoping to arrive before any storm.

Slovenia_12 Lake BledWe parked, found (a cheap) lunch, and then Dave decided he wanted to walk AROUND Lake Bled.  So we did.

Slovenia_13 Lake Bled

Slovenia_15 Lake Bled

They do have some houses on the shore of Lake Bled.  Here’s one, with a beautifully painted upper story.

Slovenia_16a Lake Bled

And another, with sort of a hunting lodge flavor.

Slovenia_16b Lake Bled

Slovenia_16c Lake Bled

The hunting lodge house comes complete with a (cute) stuffed animal.

Slovenia_17 Lake Bled

In the middle of Lake Bled is this small island.  It seemed like we stopped to take a picture of this about every five feet.  Soon it got to be a joke, trying to frame it with bits of trees and leaves, making a vignette.  This is one of about 25 that we shot.

Slovenia_18 Lake BledDAE

Slovenia_sculling craft

At the far end of the lake the pavement widened and we found the rowing club (with lots of sculling shells laying out on the lawn).  There was also a place to go swimming, but you had to pay to get in.  We kept walking.

Slovenia_19 Lake BledAfter this boardwalk, we saw a few more casual beaches, and then found a small quiet place to strip off our shoes and put our feet in the water.

Slovenia_25 wading spotThe lake is a clear beautiful aqua blue, and I’m told on many days the surface is as smooth as glass.  A storm was coming in, so we had had a lot of breezes and a ruffled surface.  We visited, relaxed and soon pulled our feet out of the water and put our shoes back on.

Slovenia_14 Lake BledIt must have been a good spot for wading (there were two other teens right near us) for we saw this sign just after we got back on the trail.

Slovenia_20 Lake Bled IslandThe island from the front.  There’s a tale that if you can ring the bell three times, gold coins will fall out of your hair.  No, that’s not quite right.  If you can ring the bell, all your children will be rich.  Hmmm.  Maybe if you ring the bell you’ll have True Love?  Good Fortune?  That you are a gullible tourist? (Pick one.)  So it would be quiet on the lake for a while, then a boat of tourists would arrive and we then hear the clanging of the church bell.  You have to pay for the pleasure of getting your good fortune, so someone is doing okay, judging from the amount of bell-tolling we heard.

Slovenia_Tito Villa BledWe’d heard that Tito, the leader of Yugoslavia (when there was a Yugoslavia) had a summer house on the lake which had been turned into a hotel and conference center.  Our guidebook gave us the particulars and we walked up the grand set of stairs from the path to Villa Bled.

Slovenia_23a_Lake Bled Tito muralWe found our way to this conference room (in panoramic view, here) with a mural from the Communist era, where all the workers looked happy (and like they worked out a lot at the local gym), and the peasants were singing songs along with the soldiers, who were also — in some places — holding hands with each other.  Solidarity, indeed.

Slovenia_22 lake Bled Tito

Slovenia_23 Lake Bled Tito2Okay, there was an occasional Bashing Their Heads In With Rifles scene, but don’t let that deter you from the specter of a victorious Yugoslavia.

Slovenia_Tito Mural

Slovenia_view from Tito's patio

View from Tito’s patio.

Slovenia_21 Lake BledView across the lake.

Slovenia_26 lake Bled Cream CakeYou can’t go to Lake Bled without have a piece of their cream cake.  Tired after three hours of walking (we were taking the scenic pace), we plopped down on the patio of a hotel, and ordered one piece and two forks.

“Everyone does that,” said the waiter.  “And then they order another piece.”

We did too.

Next up: Arriving in Ljubljana

Beautiful (and Quiet) Buzet

(This is the eighth post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

We pulled away from House Tina, and took the country road north towards Karlovac, where our proprietor had been living in a camp during the war.  Along the way we lots of houses with bullet holes and shrapnel damage, but there were equally as many all spiffed up with new plaster, paint and new roofs.  Croatia seems to be putting the war behind them.

Karlovac Shopping

First, a stop at an Interspar store where we saw (from right to left) a clear plastic “can” with aluminum pop top full of clear lemon-water.  I didn’t buy it and looked for one the rest of the time we were over there and never saw it again.  It was very cool.  We also saw a Jane Fondom workout video, right next to a Jane Fonda workout video.  And then a very cute red-checked Croatian bag of KiKi candies, which I also purchased, along with supplies for our lunch.  I wonder if foreigners come over here and go gaga at our packaging.  Do we have any cool packaging?

Croatia1_freewaysights

It’s time to get on the road and get going.  This section of freeway, which traverses from east to west across Croatia also has lots of tunnels, but their names are beside them on signs, not over them in fun writing.  The terrain is hilly, wooded and in many section on the western side of the country we saw many fallen trees.  Apparently there had been a big storm and the temperatures suddenly dropped, freezing all the rain/ice onto the trees, cracking them in half, toppling many.  The damage was extensive.

Croatia1a_freeway sign

Not too many freeway signs–mostly beautiful countryside.  It reminded me of driving through Halifax Canada with long straight highways bordered by trees and fields.  Croatia has a toll system for their roads.  When you enter them, you draw a ticket from the automated machine and then drive.  After a while you see the Autocesta gates and you stop to pay for what you just drove.  This is more modern: no coins are thrown in a basket, instead you whip out the bankcard and they swipe it and present you with your card and your receipt.  Drive on.  At one Autocesta, we took in the scenery:

1AutocestaCroatia_cow

1AutocestaCroatia_train and pizza

croatian main roads

We drove from the blue dot (Plitvice Lakes National Park) up to Karlovac (red circle), then took the A1 West to Rijecka (green circle), where we promptly got sort of lost, but Dave kept driving and I kept flipping back and forth on my printed-out Google maps and frantically searched my map book, but somehow, someway, we made it through that spaghetti-ed freeway system interchange, heading into Istria.  And then we paid a monster fee for traveling through a very very long tunnel.

Istria Road Map

From Rijecka (green circle), we finally made it to Buzet (violet rectangle).  Istria was part of Italy until 1947, when it was scooped up into Yugoslavia, and there it stayed when Croatia split off and kept it.  Besides being known as a place for truffle hunting, wine drinking and possible early birthplace of the Glagolitic alphabet (kind of like that old claim “George Washington Slept Here”), it resembles in many ways the hilltown areas of Italy.  Some more deft driving and map-following and we glimpsed Buzet on top of a hill:Buzet7c_town from below

We drove up and looped around through this gate, the “Big” Gate:

Buzet Big Gate

On the right is what we saw coming up, and the view on the left is what we saw later, coming down.  Yes, it was interesting.  We found our hotel right away (after that hard hairpin turn to the left just inside the Big Gate), drove past it looking for parking, drove up and around the town, holding our breath on the narrow streets, then flipped around and came up again, through the gate and parked in front of Vela Vrata, our hotel.

Vela Vrata Hotel with sign

Vela Vrata_front door

We thought we were in Italy, really, except that everything was written in Croatian and they all spoke that as well.  Whenever I’ve been in Italy, I’ve been able to pick up a word or two to add to my pathetically small working vocabulary.  This time I didn’t pick up ANY words in Croatian, nor Slovenian, nor Hungarian.

Vela Vrata_room

Our room was sweet, the window shut against the day’s heat.

Vela Vrata sink

I’ve never been so excited to see shampoo, soap, and drinking glasses.  And more than one washcloth and towel.  We felt like we were in the Buzetian Waldorf Astoria.

Vela Vrata Window

View through the bathroom window.

Vela Vrata_bedroom window

And we opened up the bedroom window, to see the countryside.  We retrieved our luggage from the car, then Dave had to go and repark it “down below,” in a special lot just for the hotel.  We turned left onto a street that looked like it would work, except at the bottom there were stairs.  Nope.  Back up the car.  Around that bend there was another street, but I urged Dave just to park the car in the little parking lot below and we would walk up.  We did so, and found a little pocket park with a fountain, a family and some benches where we could eat our lunch, purchased in Karlovac.

Buzet1a_little town square below

Buzet1a2_lunch

What is it about European bakeries?  The breads are fresh, delicious and available.  We’d bought “picnic” supplies and enjoyed our lunch at this little place.  Our unstated, but previously assumed goal was to drop our stuff in Buzet and take a driving tour of the Istrian Peninsula.  This was rapidly being scaled down to drop our backpack in our room and take a walking tour of the small hilltown.

Buzet1g_overlook again

This is the view to the “front,” just below our little park, of a church and its cemetery.

Buzet1c_tiny door in wall

The route back up to our hotel (really just a couple of long city blocks, but strung out into switchbacks and up a hill) passed by some gardens.

Buzet1a3_flowers

Buzet1f_ochre wall

We walked to the right, up behind our hotel to explore.  It’s not a large hilltown, and the Sunday afternoon was quiet.

Map Buzet Istria Croatia

Here’s a map we got AFTER our walk, when the tourist agency with erratic hours finally opened.  Lots of things were noted here, but we used our guidebook to sort of guide us around this little town.  Our hotel is just across from #6, the South Bulwark, and you can see where we parked our car (the large red P).  While I do post this map, try to ignore it.  Just go with us on a traipse around a little town where you don’t speak the language, are tired from driving across the country, are happy with having had such a good picnic, and have two cameras to record everything (one for this blog and one for Instagram, later on that night).

Buzet_ESE

Buzet2a_building

These cobblestones were slippery and uneven.

Buzet2_colorful doorway

Buzet2a_old building

Buzet2b1_more towers

We saw two possible churches, but both were closed.

Buzet2f_laundry1

For some, it was laundry day.  And everywhere were potted plants, lush and full.

Buzet2e_scissors

I need this scissors sign to hang outside my sewing room.

Buzet2d_museum sign

My sister Christine was in China, and her Instagram feed was full of visits to museums.  I joked that she goes to museums and we see the sign for one.

Buzet3_house

And around every lane you could see the edge of the hill drop off into the green valley below.

Buzet4_church door

St. George’s Church (#21 on the map).  Nothing was open.  Nothing except our hotel and the bar next to it.

Buzet3_graffiti

We walked up to the top of the town, the church abutting the old crenelated city wall.  Buzet has credentials back to the 16th century, but I think the graffiti is newer.

Buzet3g_old town wall

The other side of the church, with a lone bell in the wall.

Buzet3_view from back of town

The view from atop the city wall.

Buzet3_town well1

The regular camera records the town’s Big Well (#17) in the center of the city, but the iPhone camera catches the light differently, giving a different look:

Buzet3_town well

Buzet3_timbers on side gate

Buzet3f_town gate3

Buzet3c_DAE

The views were expansive, but as Dave noted, “Italy seemed to have better land use management.”  Yes, we’d look out over a sweeping valley and see a bunch of high rises, or a quarry, or a car factory.  The old Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was a part, had its emphasis on industry and building mostly likely due to its roots in Communism, and the powers-that-be probably thought that a factory was a far better use of land than keeping a view or maintaining its agrarian heritage.  It was kind of startling sometimes, as Italy’s hilltowns are surrounded by buccolic landscapes on all sides.

Buzet3e_exterior side gate

The backside of that gate we just came through. This was the “Little Gate,” (#15 on the left side of the town), whereas the Big Gate (#2) was on the lower right side.

Buzet3h_flower

Buzet1k_countryside

Buzet1e_overlook from road

Buzet overlook

Vela Vrata_hotel sign

We came back to the hotel. An afternoon nap seemed like a good idea in this equally sleepy hilltown.  Forget getting in the car and driving around.

Buzet1m_overlook from front side

Soon it was dinner time.  Really it went like this “It’s 8 o’clock already??!!” We walked back down to our car.

Buzet1n_little gate

Buzet5_Pizzeria dinner

Pizzeria Jezic had about nine hundred options, but luckily a young couple helped us figure out what to get.  We opted for a salad (our standard) and a pizza.  We told the server we would split the pizza, so it arrived, neatly cut in half on two plates. The World Cup was on the television, but since Croatia wouldn’t be playing until the next night, Monday, June 23rd, the town was not as drawn in to what was being televised.  The game was on in the bar as we walked up the hill after dinner, but the dining area in front of the hotel only had two guests.  We remarked on how quiet the town was when we checked out the next morning, and the manager said, “Oh wait for tonight when Croatia plays.”  We were glad to get a good night’s sleep in the beautiful Vela Vrata hotel in beautiful Buzet, Istria.

I woke up earlier than Dave the next morning, and recorded this from the bathroom window.  You might have to turn up the volume to hear the singing birds.  We showered, dressed, packed up and headed toward the breakfast room.

Vela Vrata pool

First stop: the swiming pool.  I’d heard about it on the web and I wanted to see it.  I kept thinking how much my sister Susan would like to do her laps in this place.

Vela Vrata_breakfast buffet1

Vela Vrata_breakfast buffet2

The breakfast buffet included hot and cold dishes, including some strange things that we passed right by.  But it was a nice breakfast room:

Vela Vrata_breakfast roomThe use of air conditioner was not apparent, a change from the guest rooms in the hotel, and finally the server/attendant opened up opposing windows to give us a breeze through the hot and stuffy room.  We poked around places on the way back to our rooms, reluctant to leave such a nice place, but happy to go again.

Buzet overlook

We walked our luggage down to the car, remembering a large plaza we’d seen the day before (below).

Buzet8a_War Dead Memorial

Somehow Dave made his way there.  We think it was a memorial to those who had died in the war.Buzet War Dead Memorial

Buzet8e_War Dead Memorial

At the center was this strange bowl-shaped object, with the signs of the zodiac on the top and bottom and faces all around the equator of the thing.  We assumed, by the look of the light fixture on the inside, that it was some sort of beacon to memorialize the place.  We never saw it lit the night before (the pizza place was sort of near this).

Buzet7a_Nardoni Dom

We felt like Croatia had been scrubbed of Communism and its relics, finding only this place with some obviously heroic logos from that time.

Buzet7b_town Communist marker

And then again, it could be about nothing, one of the drawbacks of using graphics instead of language to make your way through a town.  We were headed for the Slovenia this morning, and to find a place to buy our “sticker.”  Apparently it was a necessary item to drive on Slovenian highways, and we were warned in two guidebooks, as well as by our host at House Tina.  He said we would get a fine of 150 euro (about $225) if we didn’t have it, and then the rental car company would fine us too, just for the hassle of having to track us down and bill us.  We were on the lookout as we made our way north.

Next up: Slovenia and Ljubljana

House Tina (Plitvice Lakes, part II)

This is the seventh post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

1002mapPlitviceNP

At the end of our Plitvice hike, we made our way to the car and headed north on the highway towards House Tina, a small hostel recommended by travel guru Rick Steves.  It looked new on Trip Advisor (an online source we use for finding hotels; I write under the name Letterpress) and we found it without too much trouble, using the map printouts from Google Maps that I’d printed out at home.

House Tina_front door

 It reminded us of homes we’d stayed in on our honeymoon in Austria.

House Tina_sign

The hostel designation is an interesting one, for the standards they have to meet are different than those of a hotel.  For example, there is no soap in the shower, nor cups in the bathroom.  We’d brought along a travel bar of soap from Hotel Vrlic in Split so were good there, and used our water bottles for cups.  I was happy they had towels, after learning about this, but extra amenities are not required.

Hotel Tina_Milan

Milan, the “owner-manager” with Dave.  He lives there with his girlfriend and together they run the place, but her family owns it.  They employ local girls to come in and clean and do laundry, which was in the garage area.  When we walked by one time, the doors were open and it was quite a set-up with several washers and dryers, folding tables, iron and cleaning supplies all arranged on shelves.

House Tina_beds1

Upstairs we had a “double,” which was two twin beds pushed together.  We were used to this from our travels so were not surprised, but the construction of the beds (by a local carpenter–very nicely done) had a piece of trim which kept the beds about 4 inches apart, even when pushed together.  There was a fan in the room, but no air conditioning.

House Tina_bathroom window view

The house was fully booked and we were the last to check in.  Our room was in the front, overlooking the front car park area and the fields beyond.  This is the view from the bedroom window.

House Tina_cabins

To the side of the car park area were two family-style cabins.

Hotel Tina_landscape2

Hotel Tina_Google

Of course, the first thing we do is check to the internet, getting the code from the hotel owner and syncing up all our devices.  We liked the news from home and had fun uploading to Instagram every day, seeing people’s comments.  I realize that the advent of electronics and access to the World Wide Web has severely curtailed my journal-writing from these trips.  I rue this development, but sometimes I’m just too tired to do anything else.  When Dave and I first started traveling, there was no way to book hotel rooms on the Web (it didn’t really exist) so we’d travel around all day, stopping about 4 p.m. to find our hotel and dinner.  The evenings were relaxing as we hadn’t “touristed” ourselves to exhaustion, which I think we do too much of now.  Of course there is always this desire that runs strong in my husband’s DNA to see one more sight, knock off one more attraction, drive a few more kilometers.  The old system was a nice counterbalance to those urges.

One lovely surprise about House Tina was the chance to eat dinner on site.  Tired from walking, I thought this was bliss, so after we got settled, we went downstairs.

House Tina_amazing salad

Around the side of the house was an outdoor patio and across the lawn was a massive outdoor barbeque set-up.  It was obvious that this place, of recent construction, was built solely for accomodating tourists.  Sorry about the photo above.  We were so hungry that we dived right in before remembering to take a photograph.

House Tina_grilled meats

We could have grilled meats or grilled fish.  I chose one and Dave chose the other and we shared.  Both were excellent.

House Tina_grilled fish

Thankfully Milan boned the trout for us.  He later sat down and told us that all their food was locally sourced.

House Tina_rice with sauce

He called this risotto, but we called it rice with gravy.  After he cleared away the diners’ plates and got things down to a dull roar (there were about 5 rooms full that night), Milan joined us and we were able to get some more of his story.  As a child, he moved to Karlovac with his parents to wait out the war, staying in a refugee camp there.  “That’s where I learned all my languages,” he told us, as he learned to converse with all the different nationalities of soldiers stationed there.  The family lost their home to the war, but later in the conversation we found out that they had re-established themselves, also running a tourist guesthouse a few miles away.

The guesthouses generally open up around Easter and stay open throughout the summer and some stay open into fall.  At Christmastime, sometimes they re-open, but then are closed during the winter months because of snowfall, as “it’s hard to get food up here when there is all the snow” he said.  When Easter coincides with the school holidays, everyone is happy, but when Easter is early, then they have to hire “the girls” early only to have nothing for them to do until school gets out.  (I’m thinking this must have happened this year, otherwise he wouldn’t have mentioned it.)

Milan had mixed praise and scorn for those run guesthouses, as “it’s an easy way to make money, and no one has cows or farms any more.”  He alluded more than once to the easy-money making thing, and sometimes it was wistful, as if he were witnessing a sea change in the life of his fellow countrymen and wasn’t entirely happy about it.  But he himself eschewed farming for this “easy money.”

We talked about Bosnia-Herzogovina and I found the distinction between those who had government jobs (“mostly relatives of the men who already have government jobs”) versus the rest of the population generated some harsher judgement about those who were the government fat cats.  We’d read about this before coming — the clearly feudal system of regional governments taking up most of the country’s cash flow.  “But the floods will bring us together again,” Milan insisted.  “We donate clothing, money, our time to help our brothers.” Clearly there was some desire to put the divisions of the war behind him, and he felt that working together to fix the effects of the massive floods would be a tool to equalize them and bring them together.  We don’t often get the chance to talk to those who live in these countries, these towns, making assumptions as we go.  I don’t believe that one dinner table conversation will give us an accurate depiction of life there, but his willingness to talk to us about his life was helpful in understanding this country in which we were spending time.

We joined an Australian couple at their table for more visiting, finding out that they were taking three months to travel around and see the sights.  And here we were trying to cram it all in to two-plus weeks.  No wonder we were exhausted every night.

Hotel Tina_breakfast room

The next morning we went down to the breakfast room, where Milan served us “happy eggs” from local chickens, the scrambled eggs a rich buttery yellow.

Hotel Tina_jams

Hotel Tina_toaster

We could also make our own toast in this fabulous machine.  Jams and Nutella plate (above-above) were available, as well as juices.

Hotel Tina_eating area

And of course, Croatia memorabilia everywhere in honor of World Cup Soccer.

House Tina_key

We paid and turned in our key.

Hotel Tina_car hood

And saw Milan’s car, all decked out, as we pulled out.  We were our way to the Istrian Peninsula.

Next up: Buzet, a hilltown on the Istrian Peninsula