Ljubljana: Difficult to Pronounce, Pleasurable to Explore

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View of the Triple Bridge,  the Ljubljana River, and Pogačarjev Square

Ljubljana:  I bet you can’t say that fast three times.  Heck, I can’t even say it once slowly.  (It helps, though, to know that the in Slovenian is pronounced like a y.)  However you say her name, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a gorgeous, friendly lady, and I was thrilled to make her acquaintance.

SLOVENIAN HOUSE VIDA

We had left Sežana and now were staying at the comfortable Slovenian House Vida on the outskirts of Ljubljana, a short convenient bus ride from the city center. This guest house has large rooms, some with kitchenettes, and a funky subterranean breakfast room decorated with antique radios and toasters.

Our first meal, however, was dinner not breakfast.  On the innkeeper’s recommendation, we booked at table at Gostilna Sokol, the best restaurant in town for traditional Slovenian food.  While we found the food in Sežana to have a Mediterranean influence because of its proximity to Italy, the food at Sokol didn’t have that same lightness.  This restaurant celebrates the land of game, sausage, dumplings, and gravy.

LJUBLJANA CASTLE

We rode the bus to town and got off to walk around the Old Town area.  Our way to dinner was artistically lit with the highlight being the green hue of Ljubljana Castle. This is an appropriate color as Ljubljana is The Green Capital of Europe 2016, an award it won for its “high environmental standards.”

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PLATO IN LJUBLJANA

We strolled by closed shops, wishing that this attractive book store had been open. On second thought, I am not sure I could have found a book in English here. For example, the book in the foreground is Platon, which in Slovenian is Plato. It still would have been fun to poke around.

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GOSTILNA SOKOL

Arriving at Gostilna Sokol, I shook hands with the cute chef who greeted us at the door. Inside, we found a warm, inviting room with white-washed walls, wooden tables and chairs, and knickknacks placed about, kind of like being at your Slavic grandma’s house. We found authentic Slovenian delicacy on the menu that was too “authentic” for our taste: foal. Other restaurants offered this local fare, too, but they called it horse outright.

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I was not too hungry and rather vegetable deprived, so I ordered the vegetable casserole, which actually was a very pretty, tasty vegetable terrine. Bruce’s dish won the “wow factor,” however. He ordered the game plate, which came with “deer medallions in . . . cherry sauce, stag stake (sic) with porcini mushroom sauce, wild boar with green pepper, cheese rolls, polenta, and dumplings.”  

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THE FOUNTAIN OF THREE CARNIOLAN RIVERS

Obviously, there was no room for dessert, so we began our walk back to catch a taxi, but we had to make one stop.  We took this “tourist photo” (We are tourists, after all!) in front of the 1751 Robba Fountain named after its famous creator. This major landmark is also known as The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers. It is a replica; the original sets inside the National Museum, safely  out of the harm of hot sun and freezing temperatures and snow. I like knowing this fact since Francesco Robbo bankrupted himself to finish the piece, so its preservation validates his sacrifice. I think Robbo would be pleased.

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CITY OF THE DRAGON

After a good night’s sleep, our husbands went to work, and Marcia and I went to explore Ljubljana by daylight. This is the City of the Dragon. According to legend, a ferocious dragon guarded the area, preventing any settlement here.  Then, Jason and his Argonauts of Greece fame encountered this fire-breathing beast and slayed him.  Local people were ecstatic and began to settle along the river. Look closely today and you will see the omnipresent dragon:  on the city’s coat of arms, on top of the castle tower; on the Dragon Bridge, on the flag, on souvenirs, etc. (Photo of a dragon sculpture on the Dragon Bridge from Ljubljana Tourism E-News Letter.)

THE TOWN SQUARES

Ljubljana has several attractive town squares, or trgs; historic buildings with architectural charm; and memorial sculptures, such as the one below of Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren. Marcia and I strolled by admiring the local color, but we didn’t stop because we were on a mission: shopping for souvenirs.

SHOPPING AT THE CENTRAL MARKET

We headed toward The Central Market,  which is composed of both a covered market and an open-air market, in a space between the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. Starting at the open-air market, we inspected a flurry of flowers, colorful  glassware,  beautiful leather goods,  art prints, and other tempting offerings.

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Flower vendors with merchandise vendors in the background

18TH-19TH CENTURY BEEHIVE PRINTS 

Marcia chose a lovely red wallet bought directly from the artisan who made it, and I became enthralled with the story of the beehive prints and bought two of those. Folk artists began painting the front of beehives’ wooden panels in the mid-18th century.  The artists produced more than 600 religious and secular motifs.  The belief was that if each hive had is own individual art work, then this would help the bees’ orientation.  They would always be able to identify their home.The prints show slices of 18th and 19th-century Slovenian life that are still relevant today.  While the religious motifs are serious motifs, there are light-hearted, humorous one like the one I bought.  We have beehives in our yard, but we aren’t the beekeepers.  Our friends, Steve and Fran, are. I bought them a print of a couple dancing next to the beehives.  I  then saw this print and immediately thought, “Oh, there’s Bruce and Connie bearishly eating the honey, and Beekeeper Steve is behind the tree.”  Gotta have it!

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TEMPTATIONS AT GALLERY RUSTIKA

I also was on the lookout for something to take home to share with my herb group friends. I found dried lavender products, but those are ubiquitous all over the world; I wanted something different. We sought out Rustika, a gallery which features the country’s largest selection of high-quality Slovenian handicrafts. Delicate lace linens, hand painted wooden products, kitchen witches, and corncob dolls tempted me, but the artisan chocolate grabbed my attention.  There were several options with unique combinations of chocolate, herbs, and fruit.  I settled on an exotic one I had never seen before, Chocolate with Apples & Tarragon, which I will happily serve at a future luncheon for my friends.

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DINING AT THE CENTRAL MARKET

We were lucky to be there on a Friday when Pogačarjev Square  hosts scores of food vendors serving all sorts of international delicacies. I had seen pork dishes, like stir-fried pork and pulled pork, served on the street, but I had never seen a whole pig staring at me.

La Caja China

La Caja China

We strolled past Chinese food, Thai food, and African food, deciding to choose traditional Slovenian food instead–kinda.

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We didn’t have the courage to try the tripe stew.

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Veal with peas, truffles, and vegetables (yes, truffles from a street vendor) tapped Marcia on the shoulder, and stuffed pepper with mashed potatoes and tomato sauce wrapped me in its comfortable arms.

fullsizeoutput_1d8dThus captured, we ordered glasses of excellent Slovenian wine for only three euros each.Time slipped seamlessly by while we ate our lunch, people watched, and enjoyed our hostess Ljubljana, a gracious, modern lady.

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One of the many wine vendors

RETURN TRIP?

It was then time to return to our lodging. Marcia bought some red and amber votive holders as we left the open-air market. Unfortunately, we never had time to visit the covered market.  Return trip?  I hope so.

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Prešeren Square

Slovenia: Navigating the Challenges to Experience the Beautiful Bounty

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NAVIGATING BUMPS AND CURVES TO FIND APOLONIA GUEST HOUSE

Looking for lovely verdant mountains, beautiful red flowers and fragrant purple lavender, rainbow sherbet sunsets, surprising wine finds, and friendly, helpful people? Go to Sežana, Slovenia, and experience  all of this and even more. We checked in to Apolonia Guest House to enjoy comfortable beds; large, spacious, well-appointed rooms; and  bountiful five-star meals.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Finding Apolonia was our first quest.  As most people know, GPS is helpful, but while it gets you to the right neighborhood, it doesn’t always get you to the right address, especially when the houses are not numbered in sequential order. In this case, the GPS had us turn about one-fourth of a mile early, and we found our hefty Peugeot station wagon (the “gun boat”) navigating up a steep hill on a narrow lane, only to arrive at a dead-end. Then we had to turn around (full left rudder, full reverse thrust) without scraping someone’s front porch, car, or fence, proceed up another lane, only to find ourselves boxed into another dead end.   We repeated this process again . . . and again . . . and again.  We finally crept to a house without a number, thinking we had found our destination, so we stopped.

A spry, elderly woman came running our of her house, shaking her head with a grin, and saying,”Apolonia? Apolonia?”  With her gestures and simple English words sprinkled with Slovenian words, we ascertained we were in the wrong place, but we could drive on a grass lane on the side of her house that led to Apolonia’s back yard.  Unfortunately, the neighbor on the other side didn’t seem so happy about this solution.  She also was in her yard with her two German shepherds, who were furiously barking. She, not smiling, was loudly speaking Slovenian to the nice neighbor, about what we could only surmise:  she didn’t want us driving on the grass lane that also ran directly in front of her house. But why?  It had rained, so was she worried that we were going to get stuck in the mud?  Or was she concerned that we would leave ruts in her yard? Was everything okay, or had we started an international incident? Not understanding Slovenian, we didn’t have a clue.

The battle had already begun, it was too late to retreat, so with full speed ahead,  we turned the gun boat around (again) and started down the lane. We avoided the soggy areas, but the uneven terrain bumped us like white-capped waves. The dogs incessantly barked as we bobbed and bounced to our parking place at Apolonia’s back entrance.  Hearing the cacophony, our gracious hostess, Marissa, came outside and greeted us warmly in English and then spoke kindly to her two neighbors in Slovenian, soothing the one’s concerns. The battle, therefore, never escalated into full war.

With some embarrassment, we learned that if we had ignored the GPS and stayed on the main paved road for another couple of minutes, we would have seen Apolonia’s sign and parking lot.  We would have missed out on some great local color though.

If we had never found Apolonia, we would have also missed out of some of the best meals of our entire trip.  We arranged for talented Marissa and her equally talented daughter, Manuella, to cook for us the night of our arrival.  We started the evening with drinks on the patio to  watch the glorious sunset.

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WHERE ARE THE LIQUOR STORES IN SLOVENIA?

We supplied the spirits, but finding liquor and ice in Slovenia proved to be an education.  Grocery stores and gas stations sell liquor, but in limited qualities; they don’t sell bagged ice at all. Schnapps and other flavored liquors are easy to find, but gin is very difficult.  The smaller the market, the less the selection, and the selection is never very large.

In fact, we gave our GPS another chance, this time to find us a market, and we were taken to the little town of Dutovlje, population of 517, about 8 km. away.  In the centre of this charming village is the picturesque church of St. Jurij from the 15th century, which was a stronghold of the Knights Templar. Dutovlje also had a tiny market and a delicatessen selling gourmet cheeses and meats.

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In the market, the liquor selection was also tiny, but we did find Jim Beam Black Label, which made one of us happy.  We then left town and stopped at a gas station on the way back to Apolonia, but there still was no gin, so we bought vodka made in France: Jelzin. Supposedly, this vodka is named after Boris Jelzin (Yeltsin), the first president of the Russian Federation, a politician with a checkered reputation.  I can say the same thing about this vodka, which three of us drank garnished with lemon slices.  I love Absolut Citron, so how bad could this vodka creation be?  Pretty bad, actually, when you are hankering for Absolut Citron. Pretty bad, actually, when the only ice you have is what your innkeeper gives you from her limited supply: eight small cubes for four people.

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DISCOVERING DINING NIRVANA

So-so cocktails were followed by a most memorable dinner.  The first course was the best ravioli we ever had.  The homemade pasta was stuffed with mild goat cheese, covered with a silky rich sauce, and garnished with crispy prosciutto, and chives and basil from Apolonia’s garden.

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This course could have been a meal in itself, but the second course was a not-to-be-missed harbinger to autumn.  Wild local boar glazed with a wine sauce was complimented by crispy baby potatoes, home-grown roasted zucchini and carrots, and a drizzle of dense balsamic vinegar. A  perfect repast deserves a perfect drink to accompany it:  in this case a nice bottle of Slovenian red wine.   Ahhh!

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The dessert, a coffee mousse, floating in a decadent coffee-based sauce, was the last course, a perfect last course–one that transcended us into dining nirvana. Feeling happily enlightened, but not lightened, we said our good nights, retreated to our rooms, and dreamt of Sweet Slovenia.

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Lake Como: Soaring Seaplanes Since 1913

Aero Club Como, 1913

The Wright Brothers flew the first powered controlled flight in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North, Carolina.  A scant 10 years later, the first seaplane base in the world was founded at Lake, Como. Aero Club Como is still flying high, training pilots in its seaplane school, which is the largest in Europe and the oldest in the world. In addition, Aero Club Como is operating the only seaplane base in Italy.  In fact, the only other seaplane bases in all of Europe are in Scandinavia.

Seaplanes: Lords of Lake Como:

Lake Como is a Y-shaped lake encompassing about 56 square miles and plunging to a depth of about 1500 feet. Sailing vessels from the sublime to the ordinary skim across the lake’s surface: yachts, ferries, sailboats, windsurfers, kitesurfers, and paddleboats. Villas and palaces hang precariously off the sides of the mountains, which welcome both bold- blue and whispy-smoky skies. Overhead, seaplanes lord over all, surveying their kingdom, knowing all is good on Lake Como.

Day #6: Last Call for Fun at AirVenture 2016

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SITES AT THE SEAPLANE BASE

Come see what I saw on our last day at AirVenture 2016.  We checked out of our delightful B & B and headed a few miles down the road to the Seaplane Base.  People from all over the world visited the site and marked their hometowns on the map below.

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We found the Seaplane Base to be an idyllic location, one that you could fly to and then camp at if you wanted. Many people took that option, but what was the big draw this year?  What attracted so many, from so far away?

THE MARTIN MARS

Answer:  The Monster of All Flying Boats–The Mighty Martin Mars!  This behemoth, owned by the Coulson Group, is the world’s largest flying boat to be flown operationally. This aircraft, one of five built at the end of the World War II, first served as a troop transport by the U.S. Navy for several years. One of the aircraft was destroyed in a fire, and the other four were then sold in 1959 to a British Columbia forest consortium and converted to fire tankers. Two out of the original four planes had long stints fighting forest fires. The other two had accidents that permanently grounded them.

PRIVATE COLLECTOR KERMIN WEEKS

Kermit Weeks, the owner of Fantasy of Flight Museum in Florida and the largest private collector of aircraft in the world, was part of the crew flying the Martin Mars from Vancouver Island to Oshkosh’s Lake Winnebago.  Weeks felt that the aircraft is so special that he told the local news station that he “. . . believe(d) I’m being part of history” especially since he had his “doubts on whether the airplane will continue flying.” Weeks put his money where his heart is because the local news also reported that he bought his seat on the flight deck by paying the $40,000 fuel bill for the eight-hour flight. Like Weeks, Martin Mars fans came great distances to view this massive machine.

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PROBLEM ON THE LAKE

Some flew close to the aircraft to get an up close and personal view, while others on the shore were artistically inspired. We all looked forward to the promised tours of this historical flying boat.  One problem: Where were the boats taking fans out to the Martin Mars?

Oops! The flight crew had an engine issue when taking off on the lake. They made a cautionary landing in shallow water, which poked a hole in the hull.  No tours today!

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HANDSOME IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

We then found other things to do.  My favorite was the meet and greet session with the  pilots from the Canadian Geese Flying Team. These handsome guys were straight out of central casting:  drop-your-jaw gorgeous.  (Or maybe I was just tired of looking at airplanes all week!)  My husband obviously didn’t share my sentiments about needing a change of scenery because here he is admiring a Searey.

HUMOR AT THE BASE

We noticed we had other options for entertainment too as we strolled by “Naka Beach.” Everyone else strolled on by too, so nothing scandalous to report here.

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I will report that seaplane pilots obviously have a sense of humor.

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WHICH WAY TO GO?

Our time is finished at AirVenture 2016, and in case we hadn’t gotten our aviation fix, the sign post below points to other aviation sites to explore.  We are sated, so we don’t take a detour.  Instead, we are off to Milwaukee to catch our flight home.  We had a fun time playing with airplanes, but that fact didn’t hold true for the trip home. We got stuck in Atlanta overnight, but I am not going to share those details. Why end a happy story with a horrific conclusion?

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