Friday, July 01, 2011

Slovenia: Enchanted

When Thursday morning rolled around, we said our family goodbyes, wishing each other bon voyage and safe travels. We all took separate directions: some home, others to Austria, Rome, Venice and us to Slovenia.

Off to my 26th Country!

Slovenia lies only 2 hours away by car across the curve along the Adriatic Sea. Since Slovenia is in the EU, no passport check was required.

As we made our way to the first stop, Predjama Castle, I looked out in awe at the landscape. Lush forests, perfectly situated villages in valleys with picturesque church spires. We wound our way through the lush forests to the Castle. What a magnificent place!

The Castle was built into a large cave network almost 600 years ago. It went through various stages of growth but became a major stronghold due to the caves under the castle that led through to the other side of the mountain.

Before venturing into Helm's Deep, I mean Predjama Castle, we ate at a great restaurant with a castle view. Thankfully, English is spoken most places we've encountered, so ordering has been easy. A glass of wine, polenta, potatoes, and salad, then up to the castle. Five flights of stairs up and down, through recreated rooms and marvelous overlooks. Stone and wood perched carefully along the cave. Ferns and moss grow, water drips though, and you smell the earth. No living history, ie people in costumes, but there were models posed, so that appeased me. (See my entries on Hampton Court + Helsingor Castle back in my July 2008 blog about my childlike joy for people in costume...)

We then made our way through various photo shots and made our way back to the car. Next stop: Prestranek. Margaret had visited a horseriding school there back in 2001 , and she wanted to see us again and show us. I was the 13 year old girl who loved horses, so I loved it. While more aged and run down than it was 10 years ago, it still held its charm. A few kids brought their horses to pasture after their ride. Beautiful creatures...

Then, off we went to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. We are staying at this cute little hotel in a quiet area north of the center. We checked onto our rooms, and I immediately fell asleep. A few hours later, we drove into the city centre, where finding a parking spot was like being in Wrigleyville. We finally found one and made our way to The Three Bridges.

As we walked, we saw a jazz band at an outdoor cafe, crossed dragon bridge, meandered past busy cafes along the river, all as the sun set and lit up the buildings and sky. Finally, we made it to three bridges, a great convergence of three little bridges in front of the church. A big festival must have happened that day as red streamers were hung all around and a band looked to be packing up.

Such a romantic place to be without my amore. I felt sad and wistful all at once, mingled with a little guilt that I was infringing on the romance for Dad and Margaret. So, if you are looking for romance to surround you, bring your love here to Slovenia. The country just evokes romance at every twist and turn.

We then enjoyed a gorgeous meal along the river. We sampled some wonderful Slovenian red wine, and I enjoyed my risotto with mushrooms (the orange ones, chartrelles or something) and fennel, while dad and margaret each enjoyed different raviolis with local mushrooms. Such a perfect meal by the river with people enjoying the beautiful summer night.

Day 2:

Margaret finally heard back from her friends Mehmed and Monika in Metlika, so we left bright and early to drive to the southwest corner of the country. Another beautiful drive as we passed through village after village worthy of photo adoration. This country is so small that it takes only an hour to get from the center to the edge.

We arrived in Metlika and were once again flooded with hospitality. We had turkish coffee with Mehmed as we waited for Monika. He showed us photos from his daughter and son's weddings. His English is not great, and as our Slovenian + Serbo-Croatian is nonexistant, we were thrilled when Monika came.

After some snacks and morning coffee, off we went to explore Metlika. They took us up to the castle and center, only a short walk from Mehmed's house. The castle had been burned down or partially destroyed 15 times by the Turks, which led to the formation of Slovenia's first fire brigade. The simple museum was a treat. Wonderful video on the area in English and great displays about Slovenian history for over two thousand years. We then drank wine in the castle restaurant/bar. Margaret had loved the ice wine she had 10 years ago, so I joined her in it.

Then, off to lunch at a wonderful local restaurant for another full meal. On my end: red wine, grilled vegetables, mixed salad, fruit in moscato, then a dessert wine from walnuts. Everyone else had meat and cheese, so they were probably even more full. The waiter brought us out the dessert wine on the house, which was lovely but none of us finished.

Then, Mehmed drove us to Monika's plot of land where she has the most delightful plot of land where she has planted an orchard. She also has a tiny one room cottage where I'm sure I could hibernate for a few days and write. We picked ripe cherries from her tree, the sour cherries soft and warm from the sun, melting in our mouths.

Then, it was back to her house for some more turkish coffee and to taste her homemade liquoure from her fruit trees. Sour cherry was my favorite. So more chatting and then time to go.

As we wanted to head to Otocec Castle just to see it, we made our way on the 40 minute or so drive. When we arrived at the castle, we couldn't get anywhere near it. We had stumbled across Rock Otocec, which I can only say looked a lot like the Slovenian version of Lollapalooza. People were parked and tailgating, many were making their way to the castle, music not wafting but pulsing from beyond the castle walls and trees.

So, back in the car after I tried a photo and came back to Ljubljlana for a quiet night at the hotel.

Tomorrow: north to Lake Bled and maybe a bit further north. Then, to Venice in the late afternoon!

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