2018 Grateful 47

Ah, no! Seriously, Tibor? Monday? Say it isn’t so! That was me on Thursday morning. We’d arrived down to the village the previous evening to find the house freezing. It was 5 degrees in the kitchen and there wasn’t a gux out of the boiler. Thinking we might have missed a simple reset button or perhaps needed to do something embarrassingly obvious to everyone but us, we called our go-to guy and then the boiler lad. Neither could help.

Tibor came to check it out on Thursday and said it was beyond resuscitation. A new one was called for. And it wouldn’t arrive till Monday. So four more days of being damn cold, with the lovelies due to visit on Friday for the weekend and no heat, no hot water.

Himself was called back to Budapest and I could have gone, too. But it says a lot about village life when I’d rather be here, freezing my ass off and nipping over to the neighbours for a hot shower, than in the flat in Budapest with every modern convenience at my fingertips. I spent Thursday evening on the couch with a hot water bottle and a blanket watching Season 2 of Doc Martin. Szilvi, she who gives a great home massage, arrived on Friday lunchtime as arranged and we managed to have a brief conversation. A bojler elromlott. Nincs melegünk. Nincs meleg víz. At least my Hungarian vocabulary is expanding; the silver lining in this particular cloud.

Undeterred, the lovelies came anyway on Friday evening after work, armed with heaters and thermals and the makings of some whiskey cocktails for that inner warmth. The kitchen got up as high as 13.4 degrees at one stage. We’d borrowed a noisy industrial heater and had the oven going full blast. For a brief moment, I was warm. Friday night, wrapped in winter woollies, as we sat around the kitchen table making the best of it, I gave silent thanks for the friends I’ve been blessed with. No complaints. No moans. Not one.

The next day, we headed over to Dobrovnik in Slovenia, for a walk in the healing forest. We had the place practically to ourselves. There was snow on the ground and a bite in the air. It was beautiful. I spent time at my four stations and came away feeling tired but content.

Healing forest Dobrovik Slovenia

A stop-off at Vadászcsárda (Hunters’ Inn) in Zalacsány on the way home topped off a lovely day and got me ready for Season 3 of Doc Martin.

Tomorrow, the heating will be fixed. My creature comforts will be restored. And another glorious week will begin. This day last week I was heading to the airport to catch a flight to Malta. Seven days later, I’m back from mass, hatted and scarfed and wrapped in a blanket, waiting for a chap to come quote for a télikert, a winter garden (the Hungarian term for a conservatory). If there’s any money left over after buying the new boiler, it might just be my next project.

 

 

2017 Grateful 6

I don’t think I’ll ever grow up. Not really. I might get a little more responsible, a little more sensible, a little more pragmatic, but at heart, I’ll still be that gullible kid who believes in magic, in fairies, in ghosts. I needed very little persuading when the lovely GZs suggested a trip across the border into Slovenia to Bukovniško lake and its magic forest. Not too clear about what to expect herself, she sold me on the idea of healing energy and curing waters.

Back in 2001, Dr Ilija Čosić (who, as far as I can tell, is a writer/professor from Novi Sad in Serbia) visited the lake and mapped the bioenergy and radiesthesy. [I had to check that one out: Radiesthesia is the science of using the vibrational fields of the human body to access information about other objects of animate or inanimate nature by establishing resonance with their energy fields, using specially calibrated instruments and a scale of qualitative measurement to decode this information.] He and his team of experts found more than 50 energy points clustered around two power lines that cross right where the church of St Vida (St Vitus) sits in the middle of the forest.

They focused on 26 energy points that are clearly marked for specific ailments. Stand or sit at any of these points, arms relaxed, palms facing the ground, and you will feel the energy manifested as a warm, tingling sensation or a cool breeze. And if you don’t feel anything, then that particular spot is not for you.

I looked at the list of 26 energy points and made my selection. I didn’t want a conveyor belt experience. I wanted to treat the specifics.  I stopped first at No. 2 – just because stress is nasty. It was pleasant, but more because I was out in the forest rather than feeling any surge of energy. So, nothing I can’t manage myself, I thought. I stopped at No. 9 because I have cholesterol issues but I didn’t feel much by way of anything. I can stop worrying about that then.  Next I went to No. 15, the rheumatism and arthritis spot and after a few minutes in situ, my palms started to tingle and heat up. Damn, I thought, that pain I’ve been feeling is real. I then stopped at No. 24 – limb pain and muscle inflammation) – same thing. The full list is quite something and I’m sure something has gotten lost in translation.

1: Gallstones and kidney stones

2: Mental, emotional, stressful, depressive problems

3: General back pain

4: Leg ulcer diseases (arteries)

5: Small and large intestinal diseases, including hemorrhoids

6: Headaches, dizziness, vertigo

7: Respiratory diseases (trachea, lung inflammation)

8: Migraine problems and tension in the head

9: Diabetes, cholesterol, liver, pancreas, spleen

10: Skin diseases (inflammation, acne and psoriasis (psoriasis) [the recommended retention time on it is 30 minutes]

11: Strengthening the immune system

12: Vascular diseases (venous vessels) and varicose veins and knots

13: Chest problems, pleurisy

14: Cardiac vessels

15: Rheumatic diseases (rheumatism, arthritis)

16: Gastric, duodenal and colorectal inflammation (acid, ulcer)

17: Alcohol, tobacco, and drug addiction

18: Urinary system, prostate and fertility (inflammatory diseases)

19: Blood pressure

20: Eyes, ears and nose (inflammation), partly also of allergies

21: Gastrointestinal disorders (diarrhea and constipation, abdominal cramps and tension)

22: Respiratory allergies – bronchitis

23: Malignant or benign tumors

24: Limb pain (muscle inflammation and osteoporosis)

25: Strengthen and improve the blood count

26: Enhance life energy and increase frequency cell vibrations

The church of St Vida, at the centre of the energy lines, is like something out of a fairy tale. Back in WWII, there was a wooden structure on the site. During a battle not far from the chapel, one partisan managed to escape (they were hiding out in a local hunting lodge). Badly wounded, he crawled to this sanctuary. It was open then (unlike today). He didn’t expect to make it through the night but when he woke the next morning, all was well. Legend has it that he came back after the war and built the structure we see today.

Bukovniško St Vita's chapel

Not far from the church is the spring of St Vida. Bathing your eyes in the healing waters is said to improve your eyesight, and indeed local lore has it that many have been cured. Washing your hands and face can improve your skin. And drinking it is recommended to calm anxious nerves. GZs had done her homework so we’d brought empty bottles. But had we not, the information office has water cans for sale (when they’re open).

The lake itself is man made, and is about 2 metres deep. There’s a trail around it and a couple of picnic spots, too. It’s stocked with fish and fishing licences are available for purchase. All very relaxing on a cold November Saturday but I’d imagine it would be teeming on a hot week in August.

Bukovniško lake

Bukovniško lake

Bukovniško lake

As with anything good these days, there’s a caveat, a sort of disclaimer that says that one visit won’t do it. You need to come back a number of times within a short period. Not that I need much of an excuse to visit Slovenia. This weekend marks the beginning of a long-promised break, a chilling out period, time spent reflecting, reading, and writing. And if I can fit in a couple of more trips across the border – I’ll be even more grateful for the joys of village life and the access to other worlds that living so remotely affords.

 

PS There’s also quite a spectacular adrenaline park just at the entrance, one of the best I’ve seen. It would take about 2 hour to get around it and is suitable for ages 4 upwards.

 

Save

Save

Just over the road

What is it about men and maps eh? He’s at his happiest when he’s figuring out how to get to wherever it is we’re going. And that Friday in Slovenia, he routed us through Kamnik, for little other reason than it was there, and we wanted to avoid the traffic jams around Ljubljana.

Dating back to the eleventh century, it’s right up there with Ptuj when it comes to being among the oldest towns in the country. With its winding, medieval cobblestone streets and not one but two castles, it also served the best coffee we’d had in the three days we’d been in-country.

It was Friday – and the place was dead. There were very few people around. The shops were empty, many of them closed. It was as if everyone was at a wedding that we hadn’t been invited to. With the main square undergoing major cosmetic surgery, we escaped to the relative quiet of the Church of St Jacob. Its plain exterior didn’t even hint at the magnificence inside.

I was particularly taken with one of the most human-like paintings I’ve seen of Jesus – perhaps with Joseph or maybe even with Jacob. I’m not sure. It’s next door to the Franciscan Monastery, home to an amazing library with 10 000+ books printed before the end of the 18th century…. and I missed it. I didn’t know it was there. Next time.

We ambled around, and found a museum, the birthplace of one Rudolfa Maistra (Rudolf Maister) – poet, painter, soldier, and military might. I was drawn inside because of the large picture boards outside telling a children’s story. Once inside, the woman behind the desk offered to show us a film of what had happened in the region during WWI. We’d both grown up hearing and reading about WWI from the Western front – and this was our first time to see it from the Eastern perspective. Fascinating. Really fascinating. Unfortunately, Maister’s books are not yet in translation but we were definitely educated.

When they were doing up the house to ready it for the museum, they found a stenciled pattern on the wall – and it’s given me ideas.

Given my thing for cemeteries, I’m raging I missed the Cuzak Meadow mass grave with the remains of several hundred soldiers and civilians, mostly Croats and Serbs, murdered on 11 May 1945, no doubt suspected of being collaborators who were fleeing towards Austria. Slovenia has more than 600 of these mass graves dotted around the country.  Slovenian historian Jože Dežman has compared them to the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Known in Slovenian as prikrita grobišča (concealed mass graves) or  zamolčana grobišča (silenced mass graves), they were kept under wraps from 1945 to 1990 during the Communist regime. Next time, I will be sure to pay my respects.

We motored on, stopping for a late lunch in the village of Motnik, drawn in by its two churches:  the Baroque parish church of Saint George and the chapel of Mary Magdalene. On the notice board by the closed tourist office, there was mention of a snail. But it was in Slovenian and only later did I discover that the village is the birthplace of Gašper Križnik, who made his name by collecting fairy tales and to this day is honoured by a fairytale festival (annual, I think).  One tale tells the story of a giant snail, which broke free of its chains and ran (yes, ran) through the country. The stuff nightmares are made of. On the outskirts of the village is its other main attraction – a double-hayrack with its intricately carved roof. There are eight apparently in the ‘hood, but this one, Vrbančev toplar – is the most impressive.

What we missed here were the fossilized remains of a pygmy rhinoceros that were discovered in a nearby coalmine (brown coal at that) in 1910. Who’d have thunk it?

Slovenia is a gem of country and one to go back to again and again. And why wouldn’t we? Sure, it’s only over the road. If you plan to visit, and are interested in exploring, this little guidebook is the one to bring.

 

Slap Savica

I send postcards. Handwritten. Probably illegible. I might forget to post them until weeks after I’ve been to wherever it is I’ve been, but I still send postcards. And I was dead chuffed to receive one from one of my nephews from Singapore – perhaps there’ll be two of us now, keeping the tradition alive. Anyway, on my last batch, I wrote from Slovenia and reckoned that God must have had Alaska on His mind when He was making that part of the world. It truly is spectacular. Granted, it has churches that Alaska doesn’t have and the mountains only look snow-covered (that damn karst had me fooled at every corner), and the lakes are very swimmable, but Alaska is certainly what comes to mind.

 

Bledded out, we moved further up the Bohinj valley in in the Julian Alps to Lake Bohinj. It’s part of Triglav National Park and the much-touted Slap Savica – (slap is Slovenian for waterfall I think). But first, the town or village which sits on the edge of the lake. Like nearby Lake Bled, it’s chocolate-box stuff. The arched bridge frames the lake and the 700-year-old Church of St John the Baptist with its beautiful frescoes. The church is open and entrance is free. What a novelty.

I wondered about the fresco of St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers. He appears on the outside walls of many churches in Slovenia but this one is different in that three layers are visible: the first dates back to c.1300, the second to c. 1400 and the third to c. 1530. Apparently, seeing St Christopher is supposed to bring you good luck on your travels for the rest of the day. I had heard that St Christopher was no longer a saint or the patron saint of travellers but apparently this isn’t so. Yes, his feast day has been removed from the Church calendar but he hasn’t been defrocked. He was one of 93 saints demoted in 1969 by the Vatican. As the story goes, he carried a child across a river – and the child got heavier and heavier as he was carrying the weight of God. But in the absence of historical evidence that St Chris every actually existed in the flesh and blood, he was dropped. But he’s alive and well and keeping travellers safe in Slovenia.

 

We drove the narrow, windy road up to Triglav National Park passing the cops as they doled out parking tickets to cars abandoned on the sides of the road. They made a fortune that day. We were headed towards Slap Savica. At the end of the road, there’s a parking fee to park your car as you can take it no farther. Then you hike up some to the entrance of the trail where you pay another €3 to walk it. Slovenia knows how to charge. Never massive amounts but irritating dribs and drabs … I’d prefer to pay a heftier park entrance fee than to be hit as I go along. Anyway, I huffed up the 521 steps to the waterfall, enjoying the view along the way and taking a breather ever 100 steps or so. There’s quite a bit of walking in between batches of steps so the glutes got a workout. But man, was I ever underwhelmed. One thing Alaska has in spades is waterfalls. Majestic, impressive beasts that do the term justice. Slap Savica wasn’t worth the workout. Not for me. But what do I know? Apparently, it’s ‘unique among world waterfalls – its watercourse is divided into two parts in the hidden undergrounds. The famous A-shaped waterfall normally comes into sight at an altitude of 836 m and is 78 m high.’ Am still not convinced. Perhaps it was the time of year.

 

Still, it’s a lovely part of the world. A picnic by the lake on the way back and a quick swim in the cool, clear, fish-inhabited waters, was a perfect end to a lovely afternoon. If I wasn’t otherwise occupied on 14 September, I’d be tempted to go back to the Cows’ Ball. Maybe next year.

 

 

Bled – simply bled

The Slovenian town of Bled is the stuff chocolate boxes were made for. I’d been hearing about it for years as it popped up on other people’s top places to see and having been, I think I’ve been the victim of over hype. Yes, it is gorgeous. And, yes, it does have a history. But it’s a victim of its own popularity.

At one stage in its chequered past, it was taken over by a bank:

From 1809 to 1813, it was included in Napoleon’s Empire as part of the Illyrian provinces, then it came once again into the hands of the Austrian Emperor who returned Bled to the bishops of Brixen for the last time in 1838. With the abolishment of the feudal system ten years later, the estate lost its character of a feudal economic and social unit. In the second half of the 19th century, Bled changed considerably. The characteristic villages of Gorenjska, which had been autonomous units ever since the Middle Ages, were united. Income decreased, and in 1858 Brixen sold the Bled estate to Viktor Ruard, the owner of the Jesenice Ironworks. He kept the castle, the lake and the usable land around it, and sold the rest to the Kranj Industrial Company. In 1882 Ruard sold the estate to a Viennese wholesale merchant named Adolf Muhr, and in 1919 Bled hotelier Ivan Kenda bought the castle with the lake – for the first time the property passed into Slovenian hands. In 1937 it was taken over by the Associated Commercial Bank and finally bought by the Drava Province. During World War II, Bled was used to house the German military and civil headquarters, and in 1960 it acquired the status of a town.

But it is tourism that it has to thank for its recent prominence. And kudos for that goes to a Swiss guy by the name of  Arnold Rikli. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, he recognised the benefit of the climate and the long swimming season. Rikli was one of the avante-garde for natural healing  and it’s to his industriousness that the town owes its stronghold as a tourist attraction.

 

The island on the lake, with its chocolate-box church is stunning. The castle, perched atop a near cliff is breathtaking. And at night, when the lights come on around lake, it’s fairy-tale material. We ate out both evenings. Once in Ostarija Peglez’n  – a gem of place with a seafood platter so big we both winced at the thoughts of doing it justice. But we did. It’s busy so reserve at table if you plan to eat between 8 and 9pm. The following night, we went for meat – at Grajska Plaza. It’s a little more relaxed and the waiter was in fine form. We had to wait for about half an hour for food as it was all cooked to order and the reasonably priced cocktail menu made it worth the wait. A lovely spot right by the boat dock. They don’t take reservations but there’s a fairly quick turnaround. To get a lake-view table, best leave it till 9-ish.

We rented a boat to get out to the island – €20 for an hour but if you go about 6.30, they’re not too pushed about time, as long as you’re back by 8pm when they close. I felt a little cheated though, as once out there, it was a €6 admission fee into the church. And as a practicing Catholic, I hate paying into churches. Am happy to leave a donation towards the upkeep but don’t make me pay to light a candle. Anyway, we’d left it too late so I had to settle for an ice-cream, which was worth the trip itself, even if I did have to take on a dozen loud hyperactive seniors from China to keep my place in the queue.

As you row out to the island, you get to see some rather fabulous houses that have an unrestricted views of the boatloads of tourists being ferried back and forth in a new take on the Venetian gondola – the pletna boat.  

Bled is lovely. Beautiful. Quaint But it’s way too populated for my liking. We turfed up about 4.30pm on a Wednesday and didn’t have any traffic delays but when we left about 10.30 am on Friday, there was a 3 km tailback coming in to the town, and when we’d arrived back the previous evening about 5.30, there was an even longer tailback leaving. A popular spot. Time your comings and goings to avoid the frustration. And be warned, hotels charge per person not per room – so do the math.

Next time, I’ll do my homework. I can’t believe I missed these cemeteries, assuming, of course, I’m taking gravesite to mean graveyard… perhaps it’s a lot more subtle – the kind you have to trip over to see.

A number of gravesites are well known: Žale – the site of the modern day cemetery (archeologically excavated in 1894), the park at the current Vila Bled (1929), the necropolis in Želeče (1937), the large necropolis at Pristava pod Gradom (1948 to 1951), the gravesites next to the current parking area below the entrance to the castle (1960, 1968) and the necropolis on Bled island (1962 to 1966).

It’s a lovely spot, Bled, but be prepared to share.

 

I feel love

Slovenia has it nailed. It’s taken the LOVE in its name and turned it into a complete marketing campaign that makes efforts by the Hungarian Tourism Board look half-arsed at best. Many years ago, I was in a car with three generations of Slovenian males. All spoke excellent English and I just assumed that they’d each spent time abroad. But no. None of them had ever lived anywhere else. And why would they, they asked, somewhat incredulously, when Slovenia has it all.

They say that when God was creating the world, he gave each country something special, be it lakes, mountains, volcanoes, whatever. He must have gotten a little fed up with all this creating because when it came to Slovenia, he gave it everything: mountains, seas, lakes, waterfalls, valleys, great wine … and the list goes on.

We were en route to Lake Bled when, as often happens on road trips, a sign took my fancy. Ptuj. How would you even begin to pronounce that one, I wondered. (I asked: it’s p-too-ey). Himself had a vague notion that it was the oldest town in the country, so we detoured.

And he was right. As is his wont.

We went to the bank to change some money and were laughed out of it. Despite being neighbours, they’d no interest in Hungarian forints. I was a little taken aback but hey – their call. We found a less discriminating ATM and armed with euro went for a coffee, the first of many mediocre brews we’d have over the next few days (this despite the Coffee Stories fest the town hosts each year). Slovenia might have it all in terms of natural beauty but it has yet to master the brew. The loos in this place were quite something (and it was a nice place), with some unusual wall art going on. You had to pass through the gents to get to the ladies where the picture of a women baring her bits over the urinal might have tempted a weaker man to linger. Interesting to say the least. But these two strikes were it. It was all up from there.

Inhabited since the Stone Age, the town has retained its charm and has capitalised on its history. The juxtaposition of old and new was amusing: ancient Roman tombstones forming a backdrop for motorbikes and camper vans. Love it. We did climb up to the twelfth-century Ptuj Castle but didn’t go in – the view was worth it. And had the old, narrow cobblestone streets been able to speak, they could have told a story or three.

A visit to the Tourist Information Office had us pencilling February 11, 2018 into the diary as the town has its Kurentovanje festival – something similar to the Hairy Man festival at Mohács in Hungary. Definitely one for the books, if we can find accommodation. Apparently it attracts close to 100 000 visitors each years. Nothing like having to plan ahead. And when I go back, the country’s oldest wine cellar is also on my list of things to see. It has a wine that dates back to 1917.

The town is also home to good wine. And apparently produces a Sauvignon Blanc that rated first among lesser equals earlier this year. Another note to self for 2018.

Salon Sauvignon 2017 took place in Ptuj on 20th of May. Dominican Monastery hosted 64 Winemakers from Slovenia (far the most), Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, France and New Zealand, who offered a chance to explore, evaluate and enjoy 120 samples of Sauvignon Blanc. 

The church was impressive and yet, over the course of the next few days, it would lose a lot of its impressiveness when compared to a chorus of others that thread through the country. The countryside is rife with religious houses and places of worship. It could give Malta a run for its money when it comes to roadside niches. That said, this one comes with its own guitar-playing, football-loving singing priest. That’s hard to beat.

As a reminder of how things are in Slovenia (it’d been a while for me), the stop-off at Ptuj was a great start. The people are lovely – very helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. They realise the importance of tourism to their livelihoods and know how to work their service accordingly. English is widely spoken, too, and there’s plenty of information available in multiple languages on what’s going on.

Speed limits vary according to the type of motorway – it’s there’s a shoulder, you can do 130 km/h. If not, then the two-lane highways are 110 and country roads are 70. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be hearing from the authorities. Don’t forget to get your toll pass before you cross the border – €15 for a week – as the fines for not having one are pretty steep. And do wander off the motorway. There’s no telling what you’ll find.

The sacrifical rose

IMG_2393There is something strangely evocative about this picture. In Slovenia, in the Karst region, they plant rose bushes at both ends of a row of vines to attract the bugs and keep them away from the grapes. Rows and rows of crucifix-like vines, each with a blazing bush of red roses topping and tailing it. We give roses to symbolise so many things: red for love, passion, respect and courage; yellow for friendship, freedom, and to welcome home; pink for sympathy, admiration, gratitude or appreciation; lavender for lust and love at first sight; and white for sincerity, innocence, secrecy and pure love. And and yet, in this corner of the world, roses are sacrificed for the greater glory…that glory being wine!

I’ve been nurturing a fondness for Hungarian wine and, although I am far from being expert in these matters, I became quite quickly attached to Slovenian white. So much so that I lugged a three-litre flask of it home on five trains and two buses! There’s dedication for you. Once a year, in the Karst region, Slovenians celebrate ‘eight’. Years ago, in old Empress Marie-Theresa’s day, she allowed farmers to sell their produce, tax free, for eight days each year. Now, villages take it in turns to rotate the ‘osmica’ with one farm in each village hosting eight days and nights of food, wine and music. Everyone contributes. It’s a great night out – home cured meats (cured in the wind rather than smoked), cheeses, and fine wines and liquors all oiled by some local musicians. How strange it was to hear Country Roads in Slovenian… but even though the words were different, the music was still the same! A lot like going to mass in Budapest!

IMG_2436

The youth hostel in Pliskovica is perfectly sited for travelling across the border to nearby Trieste. The village itself is lovely – one street that winds its way up hill and down vale. Stunning views over the Karst region and that sense of homeliness that you miss when living in the city. On Saturday night, we headed to Piran and to get there, we cut through Italy and back into Slovenia again.  The borders have gone now; just empty sentryboxes and lone barricades. Piran is what some call the Dubrovnik of the North Adriatic – but that description only helps if you’ve been to Dubrovnik. It’s a coastal town with stunning views across the water to Croatia. And there’s a boat connection to Venice… a link that might explain the Venetian Gothic architecture.  Fresh fish is the thing to eat and the wine… while not of the same calibre as that of the farm near Pliskovica, was lovely, too. I’d like to go back.

I was asking BB, one of the Slovenian lads on the trip, if he’d lived abroad. He hasn’t. He’s travelled a lot, but has no desire to move abroad; no desire to live anywhere else because in Slovenia, he has everything. Mountains, beaches, forests, caves, cities… and you know, he has a point. It’s easy to see the attraction. It does a weary heart good to see a people still in love with their homeland, still passionate about its story, eager to share its today while happily looking forward to its tomorrow. It truly is a magical place.

Kdo? Kaj? Kje? Kda?

K-doh? Ky? Key-vay? K-day? Doesn’t make it any easier does it? Simple questions though, if you know Slovenian. Kdo – who? Me. Kaj – what? Passing the time until my lift to the country. Kje – where? Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Kda – why? En route from Budapest to a work weekend for the European Scout Region’s adult resources group – too much info I know. In a nutshell, I had about six hours in Ljubljana before being picked up and driven to the final destination.

The last time I was in Ljubljana was in the 1980s when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. I was backpacking and had met a chap called Tomas on the train from Trieste. There were no hostels in the city then and I couldn’t afford a hotel. He took me home to his mother, who lived high up in an apartment block about two hours by train from the city. The middle of nowhere. To get to his flat, we had to call to each of the  neighbours first and my rite of passage was diluted by thimbles of some very potent liquor. I was rat arsed by the time I met mum and she freaked when she heard I was Irish (we had a bad rep in those days). She calmed somewhat when he explained I was Catholic and that it was the Protestants who brought the bombs! Something definitely got lost in that translation.

IMG_2247I didn’t spend long in Ljubljana then; and six hours this time wasn’t a lot either. But it was enough to get a feel for what’s a rather small and compact city. I loved it. It’s the sort of place that reminds you of lots of places – considering most of it was destroyed in the 1895 earthquake, it’s retained much of its elegance. For one who is usually drawn to the older parts of  town, the opposite happened here. Yes, the old town is lovely. But living in this part of the world, I’m in danger of becoming inured to lovely old stuff and it’s good every now and then to rattle the cage and look towards the new. Like Metelkova City.

This club complex includes a youth hostel that was a prison and is a fine example of reclaiming old space. The result is fantastic. The self-described ‘autonomous culture zone’ was born in 1993 when a group of artists, musicians and war refugees squatted in what was the former Army barracks. Spraypainted to within an inch of its life, it’s gobsmacking! And some of the sculptures are what nightmares are made of. IMG_2245 You can’t help getting the feeling that someone, somewhere is giving someone the finger. It’s too way out to be generally accepted, tucked away as it is just five minutes’ walk from the train station. I headed in that direction because I’d heard of the Hostel Celica – the old jail house turned youth hostel. I planned to be back in the city Saturday night to get an early train Sunday morning, so I needed a bed for that night. I rather fancied staying in one of their cells – partly to see if  my ghosts had been fully laid to rest and partly because it was different! It was full… and anyway, I never did make it back to the city …another story.

My ‘direct’ train from Ljubljana to Budapest on Sunday, the one that involved no changes… or so I was assured when I booked it, actually turned into five trains and two buses. Quite the experience. Maybe I unknowingly trod on something in Metelkova… something that temporarily removed the order from my life and inserted in its place a sort of controlled chaos.