The Unhappiest Tour

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

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Flag of Slovenia  , Koper-Capodistria,
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Today, I'm on the Istrian Peninsula. Most of it is in Croatia, but a little sliver of Slovenia runs along it's northern shore. I actually arrived at Slovenia's bit of the Mediterranean yesterday. Exiting a little over 2km tunnel, I emerged into a dramatically different landscape. Suddenly, Slovenia looked like the typical pictures of Italy and Greece I'd seen on TV.

There were orchards, terraced vineyards, villas with red tile roofs perched on top of rolling hills, and even my first ever glimpse of the Mediterranean off in the background. After that, I was surprised how quickly I ended up on the shore. It seemed like only five minutes of driving and suddenly I was down at sea level with only a bike path separating me from the blue-green water.

It's interesting how different the area looked than Alpine or Central Slovenia. It really looked Mediterranean. This included both the natural features (shorter trees) and man-made structures. The older houses looked distinctly different from the newer, so I think the newer construction may have been a conscious effort to imitate the stereotypical "Mediterranean" style. Everything' was still written in Slovenian, although the second language was more likely to be Italian than English or German.

And by the way, no part of Slovenia that I've been in was anything like the Eastern Europe you see on TV. Slovenia was basically the same as Switzerland with respect to quality of hotels, food, roads, cars tourist infrastructure, and water drinkability. It was just a lot cheaper, more along the lines of what I'd expect to pay in the US for comparable products and service.

If you read yesterday's entry, you'll know that I challenged today to show me something as amazing as what I saw yesterday, and this morning did not disappoint. I went to the Church of the Holy Trinity (Cerkev Sv trojice) in Hrastovlje. The entire church was covered inside with relatively well-preserved frescoes from the end of the 15th century.

They were primarily meant to convey the stories of the bible to the illiterate masses. Accordingly, themes included scenes from Genesis, the Adoration of the Magi, the Apostles, the Resurrection and a few non-biblical items such as the Labors of the Twelve Months. Taken all together the paintings represent the explanation of the
mysteries of the universe for the medieval man.

I've mentioned before I'd read that most medieval churches were richly painted, but the paintings were removed by later clergy as religious tastes changed. The church at Hrastovlje did not escape this pattern. The frescoes were whitewashed, most likely sometime in the 18th century. Fortunately, in 1949 a local sculptor, Jože Pohlen removed the extra layers to reveal the decorations.

The most famous of the frescoes is the "Dance Macabre". The members of the procession run from a child up through the ranks of medieval society to the Emperor. Each person in the parade is accompanied by a skeleton, and the procession ends at a coffin. Interestingly, the skeletons are arm-in-arm with their reluctant companions, and appear to be chatting about the journey or their surroundings, like unappreciated tour guides.

Unfortunately, for you, no pictures allowed. As usual, they wouldn't have done it justice anyway, but I expect you can find some on the internet if you look around. Be warned, the brochure suggests visitors have a glass of red wine (for sale just outside of the church) before getting back in their car "so as to soften the significant lesson he got at Hrastovlje". Hmm.

The church took just a little over an hour, including driving time, so I had all of the afternoon free for my next stop. Walking back to my 3rd floor room from breakfast this morning, I promised my legs today would be an easy day, and this time I kept my promise. I went to the old town section of nearby Koper.

Koper is the largest Mediterranean town in Slovenia, which isn't saying much since there seem to be only three towns in total. Existing at least from Roman times, for more than five hundred years it was ruled by the Venetian Republic. The town was on a fortified island until the Italians drained the water from the area separating it from mainland Istria when they controlled the region between the first and second World Wars.

The town was fine but not exceptional. It was a decent stroll for a couple of hours, including a stop for some gelato (as ubiquitous as hay racks in Slovenia) and good pizza. Most importantly, it had no stairs or big hills. I passed up the chance to climb the clock tower. I'm sure another town will have one when I'm not trying to rest my stair-stepping muscles.

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