Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ljubljana; a tour of the town

     "Who is that woman on the side of your building?” I ask Ivana as we trod towards the bus station. I don’t know where Base finds these people but for once I’d like a guide who is male, ugly and boring, and who guides me straight into the first local watering hole. Ivana - a striking specimen of Slovenian femininity - wags her head. “She’s either the battered patron of Slovenian women, or else I don’t know,” she says as we step onto the bus.

Ljubljana from the top it's highest building
Public transportation in Ljubljana works with a kind of credit card that the traveler may purchase at any of the many kiosks, and replenish at will. Swiping the card across a reader automatically deducts the fare. “You can travel anywhere in Ljubljana for 60 eurocent,” she explains.

I follow her into a high building and moments later we stand side by side overlooking the city. “That’s where we’re going,” she says as she points at the Old Town of Ljubljana, and steps forward. There are hidden traces of greatness in her gait. She halts at the ledge and stares ahead as one who’s learned to archive life’s great illusions.

Ljubljana Old City main street
 We speak briefly of the war. I tell her that I was born only two decades after the second world war had ended, but that I grew up very much with it. These people saw their world on fire that same time ago. The conflict in this region ended at the turn of the millennium, but it’s obvious that the fires haven’t all died down (
“It doesn’t really matter whether the good guys or the bad guys are bombing your building,” she says. “What matters is that you have no more building.”

She turns to me abruptly, smiles from ear to ear. “I drew up your chart,” she says as if I’m supposed to know what that means. It appears that Ljubljaneans pass their time with either skiing, drinking and smoking, or drawing up each other’s star chart, which then reveals essential details about a person’s character and potentials.
“Well, let’s have it.”
“You have a high disposition for drama and scandals in the family. And the world will soon be ready for your talent.”

The last part is striking because the exact same thing was predicted to me by means of a fortune cookie that came after a meal at a Chinese restaurant in Seward, Alaska. I was working on a cruise ship at the time. It was then that I fell in love with Alaska, and spent many an evening staring at its mountains from a secret crew-section of the aft deck. Alaska is a magical place and I situated my first novel there. That was 1992, and now this lady is telling me that the world is still waiting. I learn that I live in a patient world.

Ljubljana, bridge over the river Ljubljanica

Back at street level, we follow a main artery onto the Old Town. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the inner city is free of cars. Imposing buildings mark the edge of squares and wide streets, and everywhere is color and cheer. We stop for coffee at one of the many café’s and overlook the river Ljubljanica, or Little Ljubljana, that cuts through the Old Town.

The classic facades with their balconies and bow bridges below remind me of Venice, which is only two and a half hours away from here. I spent many a day there, wandering the squares and slipping into one church after the other. Like Venice, Ljubljana is largely catholic. But there’s also one Serbian Orthodox church. Since I’m headed for Serbia, I ask Ivana to take me to the Orthodox church. I’ll mark it as my gate onto a further east.

Ljubljana reminds of Venice

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