Sunday, May 11, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Day 20:  Ljubljana and SW Slovenia

After yesterday's rush and stress, we slept in today, rising mid-morning in time to get a bit of laundry done after breakfast and before lunch.  As we learned today, our hotel, the Grand Union, is apparently the place to stay for visiting dignitaries including George Bush, Sr and Bill Clinton.  (Bet they didn't get it at the bargain rate we did!)  As attractive as the classically decorated rooms are in this lovely 1905 Art Nouveau building, however, they are not equipped for guests who handwash their own clothes.  Digging deep into the resourcefulness bag, we finally devised a clothes line by winding our extension cord around a curtain rod with velcro strips to hold the hookless hotel coat hangers.  Having thus burned up all our breakfast calories with this mental exercise and returning to our plan for a stressless day, we sauntered downstairs to eat lunch in one of the hotel restaurants and order a car and driver for the afternoon.

Walking out the front door after lunch, we were met by Alexander, the dapper fortysomething owner of a local shuttle service.  A consummate professional with a flawless command of English, he ushered us into his spotless van and away we sped westward toward the village of Lipica (LEE-peet-suh), home of the Lipizzaner breed of horses.

"So the hotel clerk told me you want to go to Lipica," Alexander began.  "Are you sure?  Which of you is a horse lover?  Most people want to go to the caves in this area."

Assured of our equine interest, he drove us to the village while offering up an insightful perspective on his homeland.  A child of Yugoslavian diplomats, he spent his childhood in Tanzania and Italy, attending international schools where instruction was provided in English and returning to Slovenia shortly before a democratic referendum sparked a Slovenian split from Yugoslavia.  With very little military resistance from a disintegrating Yugoslavia, Slovenia entered into democracy peacefully, avoiding the ethnic violence that plagued other Yugoslav republics.  It is the only member of the group to join the European Union and NATO.

Our history lesson was interrupted when we arrived at the Lipica Stud Farm, one of the oldest stud farms in the world, and the birthplace of the Lipizzaner breed in the 1500s when Slovenia was part of the Hapsburg Empire.  Andalusian horses were imported from Spain and bred with a local stock to produce horses that are easily trained and extremely intelligent.  Lipizzaners are born black or chestnut, but an intentional genetically developed melanin deficiency fades the coat from dark to white as the animals mature.  (Pictured above:  Lipizzaner brood mare and her colt)
According to our guide, these horses spend 17 hours each day confined to their stalls.
More than 340 horses currently live on the farm, but our guided tour gave us a glimpse of only a few.  Other than the brood mares and their foals who were in a pasture, all the ones we saw were locked up in stalls.  In one barn, the mares' stalls had no gates, so each was tethered to the feeding trough in her stall by a two-foot chain.  After the tour, we planted a letterbox at the farm and returned to the van waiting in the parking lot.

"How were the horses?" Alexander asked.
"They're prisoners," Ken replied.
"I tried to tell you," muttered our driver.
Proud champion or prisoner?

But we still didn't want to go to the famous Skocjan caves as we have visited caves enough in the last few years.  "How about Predjama Castle next?" we asked.  Alexander declared it a good choice.

Predjama (prehd-YAH-mah) Castle is nestled in a cave in the side of a mountain, a perfect backdrop for the security-conscious nobles who built the first castle there in the ninth century.  Over the course of centuries, that small original fortress has been replaced by larger citadels, the current version a product of the 16th century.

Predjama Castle
By the time we toured the nondescript interior and planted another letterbox near the castle, we were ready to return to the city, only a half hour away.  The sneak peek we had of Old Town near our hotel had us hungry to see more of this stunningly beautiful city.  Slovenia's total population is two million and more than 10% of these live in Ljubljana, but it somehow retains the feel of a much cozier city.  Strolling around the square and along the river, one almost has the sense of being on the set of a movie.  Everything is so picture perfect, litter is almost nonexistent.  And it is not overrun by tourists.  But wait, the photos can tell the story better than we can.

As we were returning to our hotel, we heard some music decidedly not Slovenian as we approached Prešeren Square, the heart of Old Town's extensive pedestrian zone.  The singer is from Florida, and his back-up 'girl' and number one fan is from Israel, where they met.  They provided a surprising end to this interesting day with an unusual rendition of "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."
Knowing virtually nothing about Slovenia, we decided to visit the country solely because it lay on our projected path between northern Italy and Prague.  Now we have fallen for its charms and definitely intend to return and spend more time in this idyllic fairytale land, where the Alpine countryside is just as picturesque as the city.
SUNDAY, 11 MAY 2014
Daily Stats
  • Miles ridden:  126
  • Weather:  43° to 61°, partly cloudy, light rain
  • Letterboxes:  2 planted (first in Slovenia on Atlas Quest)
  • Lipica Stud Farm founding:  1580
  • Current number of Lipizzaners around the world:  ±6,000
  • Number of those in Slovenia:  ±1,000
  • Happy horses at stud farm:  (still searching for one)
  • Ljubljana population:  272,220
  • Ljubljanans who speak English:  272,218
  • Photo ops in Ljubljana:  89,175

Locks of love on pedestrian bridge in Ljubljana
Ljubljana's popular Dragon Bridge