Fear and loathing in Venice Or, No Grandi Navi

Some might say they had warned me and they were right. However, I wanted to take a look at Venice on my way from Trieste to Munich, although I had a foreboding that I might not be alone there on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Indeed, I was not! 🙂

Lemmings of tourists from all over the place crowded the alleys. Vendors had plenty of “all original” glass beads, Venetian masks, magnets, postcards, ice cream, puppets in robes etc. on display. No alley that doesn’t go without the capitalistic promise of an everlasting memory attached to a fridge or lamp or cupboard or what not… or so the delighted lemmings thought and made me stumble over them in their abrupt group stoppings in front of kitsch shops.

Seriously, how overrated can a place be? Of course, I took most of the nice pictures that every virtuous tourist does. I used my elbows to punch my way to the first row on Ponte dell’Accademia. I waited patiently until I was in line for a quick shot at the Canal Grande, down at Campo Salute. I even waited in line until it was my time to cross the Rialto bridge with a multitude of other people. All more or less happy to be there, it seemed.

What a pity, I thought, that all this once grandeurish town is being subjected to decay and capitalistic exploitation. What  a beautiful backdrop it once must have been to stories like Romeo and Juliet. Or Voltaire’s Candide. Or Byron’s „Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage“: „She looks like a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean, / Rising with her tiara of proud towers / At airy distance, with majestic motion / A ruler of the waters and their powers.“

Of course, it’s difficult, maybe even impossible to maintain the “tiara of proud towers” over centuries. And standing in water. Hoards of tourists, however, will only add to the quick and fierce decay, which has only a fading memory of patina and elegance. It’s sadly rotting. Its soul being sold to the multitude of people that are being swamped over the city with each cruise ship harbouring there. To the city itself and to those who adore the “sea Cybele” I wish from my heart that the citizen’s campaigns I saw in the streets will be successful: No grandi navi.


Hospitality or, A country to cuddle

Slovenia is lovely. Like they say here, it even has love in its name. 

Talk to the people and you get an idea of what unpretentiousness can be like in its best version. I encountered a wealth of hospitality on all sides. And most people here seem to be very laid back. Relaxed. Not to be shaken. Proud of their country in a shy and delightfully ironically distanced way. I find them cuddly with their Slavic rolling ‚r‘ in their accent.

It started with my host’s mother with whom I drank orange juice and ate cookies while she told me everything about what to visit in Ljubljana. 

It continued with the tour guide who helped me find someone to take me in their car to Piran. It never worked out because the guys never replied to my messages. But how nice of Tevz to remember my plans even after days and to send me screenshots of several options to call.

Then there was the guy in the tourist information. I asked for alternative ways to get to Piran and Trieste on the same day. He shared his cookies with me and recommendations of where to get the best coffee in town. Maybe I’ll send him a postcard from Piran. 

And finally I need to mention Sandi, the most versatile advisor on balkan craft beers. THANK YOU!

​Life in the streets or, When does the outdoors close?

Life in Ljubljana seems to be happening mostly outdoors. Even the tiniest cafĂ©, bistro or restaurant seems to have a terrace. There are also benches to sit on all over town. Just so. People sit on them. Just so. With the inevitable ice cream or without. People use the benches. People enjoy being outside. There are even blankets and toys for children in some cafĂ©s and nobody seems to mind the children’s laughter and playing. People gather. Friends meet. Strangers talk in cafĂ©s over shared tables. Place is too crowded? Doesn’t happen. 
Sounds like a dream. Unreal. Laid back. Until the open public space becomes awkward. Like tonight. 

I was served my nachos with various dips when a woman approached my table. A pedestrian. Mid fourties. Clad in unobtrusive beige and mud tones. 

Woman (speaking Slovenian, I assume): Przlkavoskoleinkjbibjhebrjt? 

Me: What?!

Woman (pointing to my nachos): What is this?

Me (completely caught by surprise): Nachos. Like crackers.

Woman (a bit daft): What?

Me (something between unnerved and unfriendly in my wish to start eating): Mexican wheat crackers. 

Woman (mumbling): I want to try them…

And then she reaches out to my bowl of nachos!! 

Like a shadowy thin arm that reaches through the window into a children’s room by night. And before she can grabble at my food, I hold on to my bowl of nachos for dear life – half crouching over it – in fear of germs, reaching out a single one for her to take. 

She eats it, mumbles something in a foreign tongue and vanishes. 

The couple sitting next to me are rolling on the floor laughing. They apologise, saying that this was not a common Slovenian habit to great strangers. We giggle for a while and clink glasses over the absurdity of the moment.

Guess I’ll go back to the place with the mischievous advisor on the assorted craft beer.

Bikeaholic – or the fun in fixing a problem together

​How could I ever spend a day without riding a bike? Inconceivable. The MTB holiday in southern Italy earlier this year left no wishes open. But what about Slovenia? 

It’s easy to travel the country by bike. Or so I am told. However, I failed to do the proper preparations. Meaning I am going to do a bike tour tomorrow which has nothing in common with my actual craving for adventurous, mountainbikey downhill gravel roads. It’s more a city tour for people who like the awkward, off the beaten path sides of a city. 

Thankfully, Ljubljana is a modern city that supports a leisurely and sporty lifestyle for its people. There are numerous bike stations strewn over the car-free inner city. Everybody seems to be either jumping on or off a bike and I thought: I want that too!! 🙂

Having downloaded the necessary app, I approached the nearest bike station. It works like the rent-a-bike system in Munich and probably many other European cities (as a Bonner I wouldn’t know): you subscribe somewhere, log in to some system and enter the retrieved code into some machine and – pop – you can take a bike from the loading station. So far, so good. I was confident to have grasped the system.

First approach: unsuccessful. Why? Subscription online had failed. How did I find out? Not until two cappucinos and some political talks with Gregorij later.

Gregorij passed me on my rattling try to free a bike and was so good as to explain to me what I had done wrong (actually I still don’t know it, but now that it works, who cares?). He knew because he had done the same mistake. Great, it was hot and we got talking over a couple of cappucinos and an hour later we stood at the very same station again. This time I was equipped with a card that had to be purchased for two euros and whose purpose still eludes me. But somehow we got the machine working – probably due to pure persistance in hacking in our customer numbers and pins in seemingly random order. 

Oh the fun to swing my leg over the saddle and to sink into a cushion-soft seat… Urghs.

The bike is heavy like a beer-horse. Nothing like my sweet and slender 13 kg bike at home. The funny part is: once it got going, it was fun. 

Until you need the brakes. Try the brakes. Nothing. – Wait! Only one handbrake?? Oh, maybe RĂĽcktritt … no RĂĽcktritt??! How does this antique work? I had passed into the car-friendly zone of Ljubljana and panicky headed for the next bloody bike station. 

Guess, I can do some bike relief days for once? Maybe the bikes in Trieste will be worth another blog entry. 

Until then I further indulge in the slightly makeshift, close-to-hipster-but-more-artsy-edgy charm of Ljubljana and join in the all-embracing chilliness.

Food and wine

​First dinner in Slovenia. I love discovering a country through its dishes, its smells and particular herbs and seasonings. From the balkan I expect a menu rich in meat, heavily flavoured, buttery. Traditional vegetables. Nothing fancy like sweet potatoe fries or vegan diet.

While strolling through the streets along the river Ljubljanica, I ignore the burger places and pizzerias, bent on finding a place that serves Slovenian food. 

There it is. A lady with a stack of menues piled on her arm invites me to have look at their day specials. The place looks decent enough and a glance at said specials tells me I found the right place. For a brief moment I consider ordering the horse gulash but can keep myself in check. The venison gulash it will be. Not too experimental, but something I wouldn’t necessarily order, let alone cook back home. 

With it I order a glass of Slovenian red wine that is advertised as a specialty from the karst region. I should’ve stopped there, realising that karst is a stone formation that holds no minerals and such but lets all the good stuff dripple through the cracks into the groundwater that transports it off. Nothing left to nourish the plants. Probably that happens to all good stuff in karst that usually makes soil fertile for growing crops and wine. 

Of course, that only occurs to me after I sipped the first drop. SOUR! Gee, how extremely dry and sour that wine is! It crumbles my tongue and makes my lips dry. Funny enough though, it also tastes darkly fruity a moment later. It smells heavy and leaves a surprising warmth in my mouth.

The gulash is very fine and richly seasoned. Meal and drink go well together and I thank the waitress for her authentic recommendation. 

However, with still 25 degrees outside I crave a more summery treat now. I remember the wine casa I passed earlier that day. People sit outside on stairs, tiny wooden tables stand between two people that hold not more than two wine glasses. I enjoy the mediterranean flair. People walk by on their leisurely night walks through the streets, the castle above town is lit up and Ljubljanica peacefully flows underneath the bridges. I order a fruity Chilean red wine and lean back. 

Hello Slovenian lifestyle.