12 September 2008

Day 11: Kočevje–Ljubljana

Happy (official) birthday, Maja!

Thirty isn't as bad as we all try to say that it isn't. Whatever that means. It sounded good when I first typed it.

Maja received today what she considers the most astonishing birthday present she has ever gotten: a DVD preserving transfers of her mother's 8mm film taken when she was pregnant with Maja, plus footage of Maja only a few days after her birth. Maja did not know of the existence of this film until she saw the video this morning. There was a lot of tears all around when it was shown (sad to say, I wasn't there). I wonder what my family will show to my nephew Diego when he is older, since I'm certain that my sister Colleen and her husband Armin have kept a good video record of her pregnancy and Diego's youngest days. I've certainly snapped enough photos of them.

Interesting historical note: Slovenia is the only country of the former Yugoslav states to have joined the EU. Croatia has applied for membership, and may become a member nation in 2010. After Slovenia, Croatia has made the best economic recovery of the former member nations of Yugoslavia. Other major European nations that have not yet joined the EU are Switzerland, Norway, and my beloved Iceland. Iceland's concern about joining comes from worries about access to fisheries and its natural resources, as well as the independent prosperity of the national economy. I love Iceland, but I don't have enough information to weigh in on whether it should join the EU or not. There's is something to be said for indepedence, I believe, and Iceland has always had a powerful strain of it, given its geographic isolation and the reasons for its original foundation, but multinational co-operation is also something in which I strongly believe. So I'm torn.

But I'm getting on a tangent again. Apologies. Right now I'm in Prešeren Square again (Prešernov trg), sitting at the City Café, which lies at one egde of the square. The sound system just staarting playing "I Will Survive", so I immediately switched to my iPod and put on Handel's Sarbande from Barry Lyndon to get into the more appropriate atmoshpere for the city. I'm slowy sipping from a Long Island Ice Tea, which is relatively inexpensive compared to the usual cost in in the U.S.—even with currency conversion. It's good to have a drink from my familiar stomping grounds rather than a Laško or a Union now and then. I remain a man of the hard alcohol cocktail, and not beer and wine, although I have learned to appreciate both much more during this trip.

Maja's mother dropped me off at the square this afternoon so I could explore on my own. I often like trying to see sites of an old city independently—there are things I like to linger over that other tourists would bypass quickly. Because of a smudge on my camera lens from yesterday, I was not satisfied with many of my Old Town Ljubljana photos, so I've revisted some of the spots. I snapped some better photos of the Dragon Bridge (Ymajski most) and I entered the beautiful Cathedral of St. Nicholas (Stolna cerkev sv. Nikolaja), rebuilt and redesigned in the early 18th century. The red-painted church in Preseren Square, with the Latin Ave, Gratia Plena over the doors, is the Church of the Annunciation (Cerkev Marijinega oznanenja), a Franciscan church. I also took some new photos of a breathtaking art noveau building in the square built in 1903. As today is Thursday, the square has become even busier, and the diners and drinkers will spend a long time relaxing at the edges of the Ljubljanica River, this little Paris-Salzburg at the crossroads of Latin, German, and Slavic culture. (By the way, I have now switched to Mozart's Requiem for my music of choice. Perhaps some Debussy next to savor the end of the nineteenth century?)
Ahh, the great crescendo in Debussy's "Sunken Cathedral" is now overwhelming me and putting me in a state of connection with elder Ljubljana. It's beautiful—I wish I could express in words the feelings that music such as this stirs in me, and in such an astonishing place as thie old city on the border of three cultures.

I'm trying my Slovene phrases again, after getting a bit of a lesson from Natascha last night at Net Café. She was more strict about the way I should pronounce phrases, while most people seem to just humor me and tell me that I'm doing "super," an English phrase that muscled its way into Slovene. I'm trying my best, and the majority of the people understand me on the first try. People tell me that it isn't necessary to try Slovene since most Slovenians know English, but I want to make an attempt to show respect to them and learn enough of their language to do convey things.

It looks like a concert is about to start in Prešeren Square. I'll finish my drink and go see what it is all about. The weather has started to turn a touch overcast, which I hope doesn't mean rain—I don't have a coat or umbrella for it, although the weather is still warm.

A storm definitely seems to be approaching us now. The concert in Prešeren Square was traditional dance and music; I'm not sure it is is Rumi (gypsy) or older Slovene-Croatian. I will have to ask Maja later based on the flag they were flying. My immediate guess is that it is Macedonian music. (Update: I was correct, it is Macedonian.)
I then moved down the river a bit to another café to have some red wine and tiramisu. This is where I am currenlty writing. The groups of older women next to me seem to be English, and it is rare to run across other English speakers here in Slovenia; most tourists are German, Croatia, or Italian. At least the wind has calmed a little. I went over to the three older women, who turned out to be Australian on an art tour that started in Venice and ends in Dubrovick. Of course, I pulled out the photos of Diego to show them. Now I'm eating some yummu tiramisu with a traditional red wine of Slovenia, Cviček (described in my guide book as "A distinctly dry light red wine—almost a rosé—produced in the Posavje region from both red and white grapes. Apart from the Tuscan chianti, it's the only wine made this way.")
Now I have had to move indoors, to the same pizza place that Jason and I ate at previously. I couldn't get over the selection available. I went for a traditional choice, what they call "Pizza American" because it's basically a pepperoni pizza. I decided to go for chardonnay this time, but maybe I'll have another Cviček later in the evening—I have discovered that I genuinely like it, which is unusual for red wine. And it's an authentic Slovene wine.

I really am enjoying this solo jaunt; I feel as if I'm truly interacting with the Slovenes and manage well. Right now I've gone to one of the more modern and socially active outdoor bars (the storm hasn't happened yet, maybe it won't) to try another glass of Civček. I've never liked a red wine this much, and I feel so European moving from café, trying pizza, tiramisu, and the local wines. Now I have to take a fifteen minute walk over to bus station and take the bus back to Kočevje.

Oh, and as I took a photo just ourside my covered table of a fabulous building, I felt a drop of rain. I guess the storm has arrived after all. But I can survive.

As I started the short walk to the bus station, the rain had definitely started, but remained a sprinkle all the way to bus to Kočevje. Once our bus got started for the hour-long trip, the downpour with thunder n' lightning started. A genuine Slovene thunderstorm! Awesome! Time to break out The Flying Dutchman on the iPod. The bus again dropped me at the same spot in the middle of nowhere, this time in the downpour. I dashed back to the house to find Maja already there, and Jason and her friend Lance expected at anytime for dinner. A warm welcome back after an exciting day.

Tomorrow—the party!
The famous Art Nouveau Urbanc House on one corner of Prešeren Square