Plans to connect with friends went awry, but seeing as our hotel in Ljubljana was already booked we decided, “What the hey,” and took an overnight anyway.
Driving from Vienna toward Slovenia is largely, well, boring. There are glimpses of the alps once nearing Graz, but the most photographic moments always seem to be obscured by either a passing truck or a group of trees.
I keep maps of the castles and ruins in our neighboring countries; whenever possible we would rather take a picnic break on the grounds of a castle or in a local restaurant than along an autobahn roadside stop. On this trip we settled on Sevnica, the childhood home of Melania Trump and reachable via some passes that are listed as “roads” on most maps. At several points I was certain a logging truck would appear from around one of the tight curves, and that would be the end of things. (A word about Slovenian drivers, if I may. The posted limit of 130 kph is but a suggestion to these wacky Slovenes.)
The little village of about 5,000 is discreetly proud of the former Melanija Knavs. There is no tacky tchotchke to be found, just bottles of their local and award-winning Blaufrankisch wine and a few other local products with the label, “First Lady.” The reason for most of this has to do with copyright issues filed on behalf of Melania Trump, and I think it’s splendid. Here there is Klimt junk overload, from the lighters to the magnets to the whisky glasses and tote bags, so we found it refreshing that the souvenir offers are limited. (And the chocolate is heavenly!)
The village also has a castle overlooking the River Sava that we toured, and its restorations after years of Communist “maintenance” are as impressive as the view from the balcony. Just below the castle is a pleasant Gostilna (Gasthof) where we shared a satisfying board of salami and accoutrements. Sevnica is noted for its salami production, even hosting an allegedly, “Men Only” festival for the sausages. Interesting, we thought.
Sevnica is also the home of Kopitarna brand shoes. My Slovenian friend introduced me to their house shoe some time ago and I was excited to purchase a couple new pairs of these fab shoes that do not create that ghastly “flip-flop” sound in the house from the factory store. The company even created a special edition, “White House” slipper for Melania that they sent her: dark gray with a fluffy white pom on each!
From Sevnica we motored to the capital, Ljubljana; we have visited the capital twice before, but never in gorgeous spring weather. On Fridays the main square hosts an “Open Kitchen” with stalls featuring numerous city restaurants. It being near dinner the crowds were crushing, and the queues to purchase food were as long as any at a typical Women’s WC, so Tony and I wandered away from the scene along the river in search of a, “more civilized” dining experience, finding the last streetside table at a restaurant whose menu board drew me like a moth to a flame with its offer of fresh caught Branzino served with truffle-garnished whipped potatoes. The waiter tried to tempt me with, “The coast is only 45 minutes away, so the fish are fresh daily,” but I was already hooked. Pun intended. Thanks to my Slovenian friend also sharing her wine knowledge with me, I confidently selected a wine from the Goriška brda region that stretches into Italy, and it complemented our heavenly and slightly extravagant dinner beautifully. A shared dessert of warm apple strudel capped the evening, and we strolled leisurely back to the hotel.
The following morning dawned bright and blue, and we hurried through (a delicious) breakfast to explore the Central Market, giving a nod to the stately dragons on the bridge that serve sentry to the city en route. To say that I am a fan of farmer’s markets might be an understatement (Tony would likely call me “obsessed”). When we lived in the U.S. our weekly market was a more chicy-mhicy social event than an actual place at which to gather provisions; plus, it was not dog-friendly. I find the markets overseas to be equally as social, but without the pretentions and of course being dog friendly.
As we approached the square I was a little let down, spying perhaps twenty stalls and two food trucks. Then, as we walked closer it felt like Christmas morning: dozens more stalls with the brightest flowers and freshest fruits and vegetables spilling into the adjacent square, each of them beckoning me with my camera and my pocketbook. The spring greens, many of which are not easily found in Vienna (like the variety of radicchios) were stunning; so stunning, in fact, that I bought enough to enjoy salads for four straight dinners this week. Spring has sprung in Central Europe, so a host of Bärlauch (wild garlic) products, along with edible flowers and other treats, cozied up in the cooler bag I had remembered to bring for the drive home.
For everyone’s shopping entertainment, dancers and musicians from the Kras region wearing their regional dress. The woman staffing the information booth spoke English, so I asked if it would be possible to have the group pose for a photo. She was happy to ask them, and they were happy to pose!
Just when Tony thought “we” had finished, I spied people coming and going from a nearby covered market, more like a store. We ventured forth to discover the Central Market’s butchers and cheese vendors. Jackpot! A few kilograms of Kranska Kolbasa and blocks of a cheese we like in Shopska salads were crammed into the tote. There’s “safety in numbers,” the saying goes, and the number of items in my cooler tote could not have been any safer.
Even if you don’t speak the language, queues formed by the locals are always a sign of something good.
We dragged our goodies back to the hotel, emptying the mini ‘fridge and refilling with the perishables, then returned to the old city to add to our collection of Slovenian wines.
This store intrigued me. No identifying window dressings, yet a fair amount of foot traffic. I peeked inside to discover a fabric store, with women buzzing about selecting material. Who knew!
Dogs live the good life in Ljubljana. I counted two dog bakeries in the old city alone.
Though the doors on St. Nicholas Cathedral may look like Ghiberti’s in Florence, they actually date to 1996, to mark both the 1250th anniversary of Christianity in Slovenia as well as a visit by Pope John Paul II.
With check-out fast approaching, a final walk past a sight that would be an epic win in a game of Yugoslavian Trivial Pursuit: the former country’s tallest skyscraper, reaching an incredible ten stories! Too funny.
All that was left to do was load the wagon and hurry home with our bounty. Another lovely weekend accomplished.