Grant McWilliams

Travel Trip Journals Europe - 2015 Slovenia - Part 2

Slovenia - Part 2

I'm a big fan of staying in each location for a full week. The reason is that if the weather turns bad chances are it will pass within the week and you'll still get to see the area without rain boots and a parka. We were staying in Ljubljana for 3 days following the most beautiful weather Slovenia has ever had in 100 years. The 3 days that we were in Ljubljana however, were not among the most beautiful days. In fact it rained every single day. Whenever the rain stopped we grabbed our coats and ran out the door to see Ljubljana in what little decent weather we had. Sometimes it worked but mostly it didn't. Thankfully though, we were in a wonderful apartment so staying in wasn't a hardship and we needed some downtime from our hectic schedule in England.

 

For our second day mother and I decided to go out to find breakfast. Behind Kongresni Trg a block further away from the river is a grocery store called Maximarket buried underground along with a small mall. For people staying in the center of town I recommend this store as it has most everything. I could have bought Fois gras there even. Not sure of the quality but they did actually carry it. I figured we'd get our juice there and we'd pick up some pastries from the Pekarna where they make Struklji, Krofne and Bureck.

 

Struklji is a fruit filled dumpling similar to strudel. I usually get a smattering of struklji filled with different types of fruits to see what people like. Krofne are filled doughnuts – some would call these a Berliner and resemble Polish Paczki although I don't think the fillings are as exciting as paczkis (no alcohol). Bureck is a type of pastry that is common in any country once ruled by the Ottoman empire. Different countries have variations on the name and you can get it from the middle east to England. bureck in Slovenia is their fast food – it's dirt cheap and always available. One meal of bureck will run you about $2. OK, so it's not fine food but you get kind of used to it after a while and it IS cheap. Bureck is filo dough filled with either meat or cheese. As much as I'd like to tell you the meat is the way to go it gets very greasy. The way they stretch the dough requires oil and when you add the oil It's very similar to what many cities have these days. from the meat it's too much in my opinion so I usually go for cheese bureck. If you're lucky you may find sweet bureck in the Pekarna's though. The Pekarna that we went to has had apple bureck in the past but were out when we walked in. Armed with various pastries and juices we returned the apartment to wait out the rain.

 

Scattered around at various locations in the city are the remains of the Roman city of Emona. There isn't a lot of ruins left but parts of the old city gate, some wells and a few walls still exist. There was a Roman military camp here in in the 1st century BC. In 14 ad the city of Emona was built and the modern Kongresni Trg is where the original Roman main square stood. According to herodotus Emona was founded by Jason and his Argonauts on their way through. Truth be told we don't really know when people started settling here but we do know that Emona belonged to Rome directly and didn't even belong to the province of Illyricum like most of the rest of the region. Illyricum of course named for the Illyrians that lived here before and during the time of the Roman empire. Taking into consideration Ljubljana's history as Emona it may seem like Ljubljana is an old city until you realize that people have lived in this region for around 250,000 years! 

 

It's clear that before the Romans started their persistent march east people lived in the are of modern Slovenia just from the artifacts that have been found like the oldest wheel and oldest musical instrument. The hill above Ljubljana which has hosted a castle since the 12th century actually had fortifications on it from about 1200 BC on. It's assumed it became a Roman fortification during that period before being used by every other group of people later as they arrived.

 

Later I analyzed our budget and realized that London hurt a lot more than I'd factored in and our budget was about half what we'd been running on so a few changes needed to be made. Near Prešeran square there's a little pedestrian alley called Knafljev Prehod with a few restaurants on it including one that served Tex-Mex of similar quality to what you'd have in America. Several years ago we ate there and the food was OK but if I lived in Ljubljana and wanted my burrito fix I'd definitely eat there. Also there's a tiny take out window with Pizzas for about 5 euro which ended up being our lunch.

 

Ljubljana is a big enough city that they have ethnic restaurants so you can have Greek, Mexican, Chinese etc. There aren't a lot of these choices but they do exist. However when we're in another country we try to eat as much like locals as possible.  

 

Last year when we were in Ljubljana my daughter had a friend named Maja (pronounced Maya) who took us to a traditional Slovenian restaurant called Gostilna Vodnikov Hram. I'm glad she did because Vodnikov Hram wasn't in the guidebooks and didn't show up on the online reviews either. In Slovenia the name Gostilna has been registered to represent the traditional Slovenian restaurants similar to a Tavern or Croatian Konoba. I've eaten at other Gostilna's before but Vodnikov Hram is by far the best. Thank you Maja!

 

At the Gostilna Vodnikov Hram we had Porcini Cream Soup in a bread bowl which is as good as it sounds. Porcinis are my favorite mushroom and to make a soup out of them and serve it in great Slovenian bread is very nice. In areas like Ljubljana Porcini mushrooms are much cheaper than they are in Seattle. I probably couldn't afford to make this at home. 

 

We also ate Wild Boar in Hunter's Sauce with baked potatoes and cranberry sauce. Wild Boar is very popular in the area and has a more meaty flavor than pig I think. This is a very hearty Slovenian staple and also very tasty.

 

I however, did not order either of these things for myself – I came here for the Carniolan Sausage. Yes, I had a lowly sausage with sauerkraut – oh but what a sausage it is! I've had it before and both it and the kraut are awesome. I've gone to the supposed “Bavarian” and German sausage places in Seattle where they create original style sausages like the old country but they're mediocre at best. Carniolan Sausages are quite simple to make but it must be the ingredients they use in Slovenia because they aren't “hot doggy” nor are they the texture of ground hamburger either. They're deep and meaty and I don't know how else to explain it but – smooth. The flavor isn't sharp or bitter or boring, just smooth. The Kraut can be described the same way – flavorful but not sharp and bitter like the stuff you get where I live. I've gone to Ulies Sausages in Pike Place Market where he imports very bland limp German sauerkraut and is proud of it. This is much better than that. I'm not a fan of kraut but I really enjoy what comes with my sausage. We also ordered a pasta with more porcinis! What's better than porcinis? More porcinis! Very tasty.

 

I've mentioned the laid back attitude in Ljubljana before but I have to mention it again. If you have a high stress job go on holiday in Slovenia. I mean that. It's as if nothing matters here, people are friendly and pleasant, have a great sense of humor and are…. at peace. One might say serene even.

 

On the way back to the apartment we wandered the cobblestone back streets of Ljubljana and then crossed the Cobbler's bridge stopping in the middle to marvel at the lit up art nouveau and baroque buildings of Prešeran square. I took photos of the illuminated buildings reflecting off the river but I'm not sure why as I've taken the same photo many times before. I guess it's an impulse, when you see something so beautiful you just can't help but attempt to capture it's essence for safe keeping only to be brought out later when you feel a million miles away.

 

Just about any day in the summer there will be music playing somewhere in Ljubljana. Sometimes it's traditional accordion players, sometimes it's a quartet from Madrid and even on year there was a one man band from Dallas Texas! In the three days we were in Ljubljana we heard several different types of street musicians but it was the local accordion players that we chose to support. There was a group of musicians all dressed up in Renaissance ere costumes wandering the streets playing music but they were from Spain. They sounded just fine but it felt a bit odd to be giving a group money for entertaining us with music and dress from....  a completely different culture than the one I chose to visit.

 

The next day we got up with the intention of seeing the oldest wheel ever found on earth which resides at the Ljubljana City Museum but upon finding out that it's not in normal rotation (pun intended) we canceled those plans. Our backup plan was to see the world's oldest musical instrument possibly created by neanderthals which happens to live at the National Museum of Slovenia. You get the idea that people have lived here for a really long time. However, there wasn't much else in the museum that we were dying to see so we decided against that plan too. The rest of the day was set aside to relax and enjoy the rain pattering on the roof.