Lights Out Ljubljana

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Okay, so I'm technically not in Ljublana anymore, and they probably do have power, but "Lights Out Hotel in the Vicinity of the Airport" doesn't have the right ring to it. Yes, the power is currently out at my hotel (yay, laptop battery). It's raining cats and dogs (and fish and chickens, and I think I saw an elk go by at one point). The lights flickered on a few times as I made my way to my hotel room, so hopefully the power will be back on shortly.

Finding my way to my hotel room in the semi-dark was fun. This place is built like the Winchester Mansion. The stairs zig-zag through the building. There are ramps to half-floors and stairs leading to a few isolated rooms that might as well be a dead-end. Surprisingly, the open design of the stairways adds to the confusion as you stare through bars and hanging plants to hallways you aren't quite sure how to get to. The least confusing way up is to take the elevator, but I'd prefer not to be stuck in a Slovenian elevator when the power goes back out.

Thankfully, the mini-monsoon didn't start-up until I was already done for the day and heading back to my hotel. For most of the day, the weather was pleasant, albeit partially cloudy. It was good weather for taking my car out to explore the Slovenian countryside.

My first stop was a reconstructed Roman necropolis and road in the town of Šempeter. Necropolis might have been overstating it. Only four of the monuments had been reassembled, so it was more of a necroville. Still, I enjoyed it, but as we've established, I like looking at old things.
These ruins were along a Roman trade route stretching from Emona (ancient Ljubljana, weren't you paying attention yesterday?) to the Black Sea. They were burried when a nearby river flooded, protecting them from being harvested for stone in the Middle Ages (you remember that from Avenches, right?), and rediscovered by farmers in the 1950s.

I was the only single visitor at the time, but buses loaded with school children arrived at regular intervals to see the necropolis. There was a cafe attached to the visitor's center that seemed to do a brisk business selling lunch to the bus drivers while the kids took the tour.

The Roman road was a few minutes walk away from the necropolis, and it was protected by a locked gate. I went back to the visitor's center and they sent an intern with a key to show me around. She had been assigned to assist at the center for two weeks as part of her major in "tourism". She was also studying astronomy, but prefered tourism.

She was friendly, although not trained in Roman History, so she couldn't tell me much about the road I hadn't already read in the brouchure. I found out Slovenians start studying foreign language, often English, but German or Italian were prefered in some places, during elementry school. She seemed surprised when I told her most American school districts don't teach foreign language until high school. I don't know why that surprised her, considering how bad most Americans are at foreign language, unless they've got a bilingual family.

I used to feel bad about going to a country and not speaking the language, but I want to go to more places than I have time to learn the language for. Also, the guest house I stayed at in Japan had many guests from all over Europe, and they talked to each other in English. So if a German and a Czech talk in English together, I think it's fine for me to speak English with them as well.

I haven't gotten the "why don't you speak my language" vibe from anyone on my trips to Europe, although I've heard stories of that from countries I haven't been to. Almost everyone in Slovenia I've run into has spoken excellent English. Interestingly, the exceptions were in Ljubljana, not the countryside. One guy running a burek and pizza place in Ljubljana spoke German as his second language, and one woman at a bakery only spoke Slovenian. Although, the woman could have just been letting me practice my Slovenian. Apart from that, in most stores they greet me in Slovenian, then I order something and horribly mispronounce it, and they switch the rest of the conversation to English.

The Roman necropolis and road took maybe an hour, and I was back on the highway. This time I headed to Škofja Loka. I had to get farther off othe highway to reach Škofja Loka than I had to going to Šempeter. The roads in Slovenia aren't well labeled. From looking at Google Maps, I'm not even sure all of them have names. I discovered that the best way to navigate without a GPS is to figure out the villages you will be driving through and follow the signs to them. The villages themselves are well labeled when you enter and exit, and intersections usually have signs telling you which direction leads to which village.

Škofja Loka had a small old-town section with a few interesting buildings and a castle dating from at least 1215, but which had undergone several phases of rebuilding. An early center of Christian activity in the country, it's main claims to fame are one of the oldest examples of a medieval bridge and a monastery library with the oldest preserved drama written in Slovenian. Every seven years the villagers perform the drama (a passion play), although they just started (or restarted, it may have been done in medieval times) the tradition in 1999, so by my calculations they've only done it twice.

The castle was placed on a hill overlooking the town. Like many European castles, this one contained a museum. I had a little over an hour left on my parking meter, so I decided to check out the exhibits. Most of the descriptions were Slovenian-only with available multilingual brochures giving an overview of each room. The woman selling the tickets (she insisted she wasn't a guide) took me through a chapel with a series of altars saved from a church during WWII and the first room of the museum, telling me some stories about the historical town and its leaders to get me started.

The museum would probably have been more interesting to me if it had English plaques. I'll remember it more for its creepiness than it's contents. I was the only person in the museum at the time. It was an old castle, so the lighting was bad and the floors were creaky. It was late in the afternoon and the storm that followed me to my hotel was moving in, giving the light an unsettling grey tone.

The creepiest part, though, was life-sized, white sillouhettes and statues of people scattered throughout the second floor. The museum had motion-sensing lights didn't switch on until you had walked a good distance into each mostly dark room. The net effect was the statues would appear as "incorporeal" white forms at the edge of your vision. I have to admit I jumped a little when I saw the first one. It was a good warm-up for making my way through my mostly dark hotel, though.

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