In part two of this series, I will be focusing much more on the sightseeing portion of the trip. If you are a travelling enthusiast or want to know more about Slovenia, then this blogpost is for you.
I had several days to explore Slovenia, and I made the most out of my time especially with the help of the very generous Melita Kordeš Demšar (the head of school). My first official adventure was downtown Ljubljana, and my excellent tour guide was one of their PE teachers, Lucca Jachme. We would have some excellent conversations about PE (we invented an introductory game before I left), on Slovenia, the United States, politics, and life in general.
We started with the parliament building, which had some very interesting statues on the façade of the building documenting the history and struggle of the Slovenian people.
From there we made our way to the main city park, where one of the first sites was an ancient statue dedicated to the Romans who lived in this area.
Across from the statue was a beautiful and somewhat imposing church, which served as the city’s largest convent.
It was interesting to see that they were setting up a stage in the park for an opera that would be happening later in the week. It was initially confusing to see a sphinx head placed on one of the university buildings. As we walked through the city, we could hear their booming voices as they practiced the music for the opera.
We started towards the city center, and we took a winding path so we could see as much as possible. Early on, there was a majestic fountain and then a statue that had many people stopped to take pictures of it (myself included).
Making it to the actual center, it was an interesting mix of old cathedrals and newer government buildings surrounded by statues and obelisks.
As we walked back and forth through the center of the city, it became apparent that a river runs around the city center, so there lots of bridges that one can cross to make it over. Each of these bridges had some type of name and story attached to it that honored something about Ljubljana. Usually the bridge was dedicated to some type of profession, like the “Butcher’s Bridge.” One of the more famous bridges was the “Three Bridges” area that seemed to connect the heart of the city together. Another famous bridge had locks all over it, which symbolized the love of a couple. Possibly the most famous bridge was the Dragon Bridge, which is the official mascot of the city. There is a legend that the Ljubljana river is where Jason (and the Argonauts) slayed a monster (dragon), which made him the first citizen of Ljubljana. There is also a cathedral to St. George, who slayed the dragon, so the bridge was made to honor both stories.
One of the more interesting statues was dedicated to Ljubljana’s most famous poet, Preseren, and the muse who inspired his work. His story is tragic and as old as time. He loved a woman and wrote her poetry to win her over, but she was much more wealthy than him and it was unrealistic that he could win her over. He was not appreciated in his time, and died destitute and alone. However, his work is now celebrated (one of his poems is the Slovenian national anthem), and they celebrate him every year.
I had to stop and take pictures of the cathedral dedicated to my patron saint, St. Nicholas. I noticed that on the door, there were areas that were incredibly shiny compared to other parts, which I found out were rubbed for good luck. I joined in on the custom as well.
One of the most impressive buildings in city was the castle that stood upon the highest point of the city (better viewing for protection). I took some pictures of it from down below, but several days later I would actually get to explore the castle and learn about some of its history.
The next big adventure would be swimming in the Adriatic Sea and visiting the town of Piram. While it was very small, it had huge importance back in the times of the Roman and Venetian empires. Before actually swimming in the sea, I was able to visit an ancient (1400’s?) small church on the coast, which was supposedly built on the sight that a shepherd witnessed St. Mary’s appearance.
As we continued along this coastline hill trail, I came upon a simple yet ingenious invention. It was a pole stuck in the ground with holes drilled through it. Above each hole was the name of a landmark. Therefore, when you looked through the hole, it pointed the viewer to the correct area to look.
The last sight along this trail was a natural landmark deemed, “The Living Sea Sculpture.” Through wind and water erosion, it made this dramatic sloped carving that shimmered in the light.
Slovenia has a tiny coast where one can swim in the Adriatic Sea. The majority of the coastline is owned Italy to the north and Croatia to the south. There are actually many Slovenians who live in Italy along the coastline (because Italy impedes so far over). Before actually getting to the coast, we passed giant salt mines that were incredibly important to the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers were literally paid in salt, and the expression, “this person is worth their salt,” comes from the importance of the mineral back in those days. Travelling only several minutes by car we came upon the town of Piran. Before getting to the town itself, we explored its imposing city wall. The wall also gave me a great photo opportunity of the town itself.
Piran was beautiful, but I was shocked by how small the space between the buildings and the streets were. Cars could not fit through the small alley like corridors, only bikes and specialized trash vehicles. While beautiful, many find it difficult to live there especially for how expensive the property is. However, the having the sea right at your doorstep with instant access provided by the harbor, it is easy to fall in love with the town.
It was incredibly important for the Venetian empire because its lighthouse pointed the way towards the Venice, and it was an important trade hub along the way. This brought riches to the town, which was evident by all the gold within its cathedral. The statue on the top of the cathedral served as a weather vane that helped sailors predict good and bad sailing weather.
I was impressed by the statue they had for the composer and musical artist Tartini. There was a small restaurant right next to the statue that might have the best seafood Neapolitan pizza on Earth (due to its proximity to the sea and Italy).
On my second full day of sightseeing, I chose to see Postojna and Predjama, which were not very far from each other. Postojna is famous for its world famous underground cave system. To get there, we travelled by open a trolley/train system, which went much faster than I thought it would (almost roller coaster fast). Besides its obvious beauty, it was amazing to feel the temperature difference of going into the cave. On the day I visited, it was very sunny and hot (90 degrees or so), yet in the cave it was in the 50s, but incredibly humid. Postojna is the ultimate field trip destination to go see examples of stalactites and stalagmites. This is also home to a unique amphibian called the “human fish,” which is born with eyes, but quickly loses them living inside such a dark environment. They kind of look like miniature dragons, which is another reason Ljubljana is known for its dragons. Here are some photos of the underground world.
Predjama is the home of the “Castle in the Mountain.” It is literally a castle carved into the side of a mountain! As you can imagine, this significantly adds to its fortification and impregnability. Besides the fact that it is an architectural wonder, the tour guide had tons of great stories and facts about the castle and the people who used to live there and defend it. My favorite story had to do with Erazem, who was a hero who helped defeat the Turks defended Slovenia, but became a villain when he (accidentally) slayed the friend of the Slovenian king. He lived in the castle and became a Robin Hood figure by raiding caravans from Vienna. He was able to elude capture, and the impenetrable castle withstood sieges because it had hidden tunnels for food to be smuggled in. His death might be the most legendary part of his life because he died, like Elvis, on the toilet. Late at night, a betraying servant gave a signal to the Austrian army to fire upon the unfortified outhouse while Erazem was inside. The catapult rocks that decimated the outhouse and killed Erazem were still there to this day. Here are some pictures of the castle.
On my last day of sightseeing, I went to a small town called Maribol to get wine from the oldest living wine plant in the world, which is estimated to be over 500 years old. To put that in context, it is twice as old as the United States! It survived invasions from the Turkish Empire; it survived multiple fires and pestilence, as well as two World Wars. The wine itself was a mellow red with a pleasant earthy flavor.
Another town I visited was Žalec, and its claim to fame is that all beer made in Slovenia uses hops exclusively from that region. Hop growing is so important to this area that it is celebrated openly in the city park, where they feature hop pikes and other tools used for hop growing, as well placards that shared a rich history of the process. In the center, there is a monument that has metal spires emanating from the top. Inside, if you placed your microchipped beer glass inside, it would automatically pour a beer for you.
I was able to visit Castle Bled, which had one of the most scenic pictures from its wall. The castle sits atop a tall hill next to a lake, and in the lake is a tiny island that holds a small cathedral. The only way to access the cathedral is by boat or by swimming to it.
Finally, my last night was spent exploring the castle that overlooks Ljubljana. The cityscape was simultaneously modern with all the lights, but still had an old world charm. My tour guide Gregor (also a student of mine from the weekend) did a fantastic job giving me interesting facts and tidbits about the castle and its history. Like Luca, we also had great side conversations, and I appreciated the time he spent with me.
None of this would have been possible without Melita. Her hospitality, generosity, and wisdom made this a trip of a lifetime. I really appreciated our road trip conversations about Montessori philosophy, and it was an honor working with her and her students.