Dragon Town

Trip Start Sep 08, 2009
Trip End Nov 24, 2009

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Where I stayed
Zeppelin Hostel

Flag of Slovenia  ,
Monday, October 19, 2009

Hi everyone! When I last wrote we were heading to Ljubljana. Well, we got there safe and sound after a gorgeous train ride through mountains and snow. We had no idea the train would be going through mountains at all so when the scenery starting changing so drastically, we just glued our heads to the window and watched as we went higher and higher. We saw snow on the mountain tops and then ended up seeing snow flurries. Eventually we were at the highest point the train could go and the ground was covered in snow. It was so beautiful. It reminded us of the train ride last year from Lucerne, Switzerland to Como, Italy.

Although Ljubljana is the capital city of Slovenia it's a really small town! (Well, not Endicott or Omak small I guess, but still small.) Everything is within a 10 minute walk so we got to see pretty much the entire town while we were there. We stay at an awesome hostel called Zeppelin Hostel (music themed playing European VH1 nonstop). I think it just may be my favorite hostel we’ve stayed in. They had a good breakfast, spacious rooms, lockers, bedside tables, personal reading lights, towels, linens, warm showers, magazines and books to borrow (or take if you leave one of your own), and a really nice and helpful hostel worker named Damia. It may not sound like much to those of you who haven’t stayed in a hostel before but believe me, it is. And it’s always the little things that make things so much better in hostels. The first night we arrived, we ran into our British friends, Steve and Jen, from Vienna. We had stayed in a hostel room with them for a couple nights in Vienna and had no idea we’d ever run into them again. So it was funny that not only were they staying in our hostel, they were in our same room again. They’re really nice (Jen) and funny (Steve) people.

We spent our first day in Ljubljana just walking all around the city. We hiked up to the castle and got a good view of the city below and the mountains in the distance (yet surprisingly close to the city). We walked across all the cute little bridges that connect the two sides of town over the small river. One was the "Dragon Bridge," a green bridge that had big dragon sculptures perched at the sides. I liked that one. Another was the “Triple Bridge” designed by the famous Slovenian architect Jose Plecnik. We found out that he designed a lot of buildings and other things in Ljubljana. He died in the 1920s but really left his mark in the town. The next day we actually went to the house he used to live in, just on the outskirts of town. It was remodeled by him and had most of his personal belongings (including furniture he’d designed) inside. We went on a little tour and got to see what his life might have been like and what his inspirations were and how he came to design things in certain ways. It was really interesting. Both Andre and I really liked his home. He had a few neat inventions too, such as ways of heating rooms. I’ll try and get Andre to write about it because he would know how to describe it.

After only a day we’d pretty much seen the whole town and done all the things we wanted to do. We went out to dinner at an authentic Slovenian restaurant with Jen and Steve and another Brit from our hostel. Our server was the chef too, so that was pretty cool. Damia (our hostel guy) recommended it to us.

We spent the rest of our time in the town just hanging out and wandering around. We went to the markets, walked along the river, got outside of the main part of the city a little, and saw some cool Jose Plecnik architecture around the city.

The last full day we were there, we decided to rent a car. It all started when I’d read online (months ago) about these world famous caves in Slovenia that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I also heard about the Lipizzaner (horses I wrote about in the Vienna entry) Stud Farm. The sites are close to each other, but over an hour outside of Ljubljana. There were no direct train or bus routes so we had two choices: rent a car or not go. We found a cheap car rental place, got up at 6:30am, walked in the freezing cold (literally 31 degrees Fahrenheit) for over a mile in non-winter clothes and rented our car. Andre then drove us in our little European stick shift car out to the caves. We had to go on a tour with a bunch of other people in order to explore inside. They were amazing! One part of the caves had been discovered in the mid 1800s while it took another century for the other part to be discovered. We got to hike through all of it. If anyone has seen Lord of the Rings and remembers the part when they were in the caves and Gandalf had to fight the huge Balrog (fire-y monster)on that treacherous bridge- that’s what it was like. It looked just like that in the main part of the cave, bridge and all. It was over 90 meters tall (if I remember correctly) and had water flowing down below. (That’s how the caves were discovered- people were following the river). The river flows underground, through the caves and on until Italy. Other parts of the caves weren’t as tall but still amazing. They had really cool formations inside. And we were told the caves have existed for at least 200,000 years, when there was a big tectonic plate shift.

When we left the caves, we drove out to the “Lipica Stud Farm.” It’s where the famous Lipizzaner horses are bred, raised, and trained. It’s a beautiful farm area with hundreds of horses. We got to see a performance before touring the grounds. The first part of the performance was mid-level trained Lipizzaner doing fancy footwork to classical music. It was beautiful and very skillful. Then we saw a couple horses came out in dressage pulling carriages in fancy formations. After that, higher trained horses came out; their riders having them do a bunch of fancy stuff also. Finally, the “high school” Lipizzaner came out. When they came out, their riders weren’t on them, but walking along side of them. From the ground, the riders had the horses (3 of them) jumping around, one foot at a time (like skipping), in sync to the music, and each other. Then, the riders had them bucking over and over on command. Then the fanciest tricks came around when the riders (from the ground remember) had the horses rear up on their back feet and hold it for quite some time. The most impressive move came when one of the stallions had to rear up on his back feet and then jump, kicking his legs completely straight out behind him. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen a horse do! Andre took a video of it so we will try to upload it soon. (Internet is becoming less and less available as we move south.)

After the performance, I was completely in awe and really excited to be there. We then went on a tour of the farm and saw a young horse in training, the stables with mares and geldings, a pasture with mares and their young foals, horses pulling carriages, etc. There were even a bunch of farm cats so of course I found a small kitten to play with. I loved being at the Lipica Stud Farm and really want to go back one day. If anyone has questions (Mom) about the horses I can hopefully answer them. I’d go on but not everyone is a “horse person.”

The next day we were heading to the train station and we saw something exciting: We were walking down a street and I was holding my camera, jokingly telling Andre I was ready with my camera at a moment’s notice if we saw anything cool. Literally, about a minute later, we walked by Ljubljana’s version of SWAT officers with bullet proof vests on next to their SWAT van in the middle of the main square. We were wondering what they were doing and found out within a few seconds. All of a sudden, we heard a young guy yelling and looked over and saw a few late teenage/early twenties kids in sweatshirts looking across the square. They looked like Slovenian gangsters, in a way. We looked to where they were looking and saw over a dozen guys who looked like hoodlums running toward them, from another side of the square, yelling. Right then the first group lit up a bunch of flairs and the two gangs starting running at each other, about to start a violent fight. Everyone normal person in the square just went taking off, running away as fast as they could to get out of the way. As this was going on (all within a few seconds) the SWAT guys went rushing into the center and started taking out the hoodlums with their billy clubs (those stick things police officers have next to their guns). The hoodlums all ran away and the SWAT guys ended up arresting one (maybe more but we couldn’t tell because there was so much to look at all at once). I ended up being able to film most of it on my camera because I just happened to have my camera in my hand at that moment (after Andre had been making fun of me). It was really exciting. We were probably standing in a really dangerous area when the whole thing went down but we were too intrigued to move. I thought a huge riot was about to break out when I saw the flairs (turned into mini fires on the ground) and the guys yelling. But we think it may have just been a rival gang sort of thing, maybe involving two fan sides of a soccer game that was going on locally. We think that because after about 5 minutes of leaving the square, a group of about 30 hoodlums ran by us, heading toward the main square. Then a minute later at least 10 cop cars and SWAT vans flew by us. Even though we saw a bit of action, we must have missed the main event. I just hope no innocent bystanders got hurt.

When we got to the train station, we weren’t really sure where we were going. We wanted to go to Rovinj, a beach town on the northwest side of Croatia. But we found out there were no trains or buses going there that day. So we took a train to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, instead. The weather was supposed to be cold in Rovinj anyway. And who wants to go to a cold beach town?

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