Monday, July 25, 2011

Part 7

Thursday, July 14

The first order of business today is to go and settle the bill for the apartment. When we got here, Miro - of the apartment rental agency - was very laissez-faire (or whatever the Slovenian equivalent would be) about settling up. He'd also said that their office could make arrangements for a rental car, transfers to the airport and just about any other thing we could think of.

Today's plan is to head over to Cerknica; the hometown of Marg and Helen's parents. And after that? Well, we'll just see where the wind blows us. The Europcar rental agency was across the street in the City Hotel (very nice lobby). The car was a VW Polo.

I haven't driven a standard in a few years, and the first challenge was to get up the ramp and out of the underground parking lot. I only managed to try and start the car "in gear" once, and even managed to avoid too much backsliding when I got to the top of the ramp and had to stop and wait for pedestrians.

It's a good thing we brought the GPS ... it would be tough to try and navigate our way through Ljubljana and enjoy the sights if significant attention had to be diverted to map-reading. We picked our way through the streets and soon were on the highway on our way to Cerknica.

Traffic on the 4-lane expressway was moving quickly. The volume and speed reminded me of the 401. Our little Polo was pretty well wound out at 125. At home, that speed would make us one of the fastest vehicles on the highway; sure, we'd be getting passed by the odd car or two, but nothing like the way traffic was moving here. A speed of 125 - 130 put us kind of mid-pack. We had plenty of speed to pass slower vehicles, but only moved ton the left lane when necessary, and then back to the right as soon as the passing was completed ... because, here comes someone cruising along at 150+!

At those kinds of speeds, it didn't take long to get to Cerknica.

There's not much to Cerknica. We'd read that it was (at one time) an somewhat important city along a trade route. But that was many years ago. When the railway came through, it went through another town ... and when the 4-lane expressway came through, it followed the railway. Cerknica became a bit of a backwater.

Both Margaret and Helen were working from memories of stories their mother told them. Perhaps a bit less-so for Helen, since she'd been here a number of years ago, but on that trip, she said they were chauffeured everywhere by relatives. To have to rely on your own memory made things a bit different.

We parked near one of the churches and walked up the street. Just up the road we found an old house with the name "Franc Lovko" barely visible on the front. This was the house where their mother had been born and lived until she left the country at the end of the Second World War.

We kicked around Cerknica a bit more, then got in the car and headed over to the local cemetery. The cemetery is very well tended. Each of the family plots has a large headstone engraved with the names of the family members. We found the Lovko and Skerl gravesites.

I was struck by how well kept the cemetery was. During our time there, several different people came to tend to different plots. Each grave had a small granite border around its perimeter and was covered not with grass, but with fine white gravel. In the centre of the cemetery was a monument to local young (and some not so young) men (and women) killed during the Second World War.

While I'm somewhat familiar (as any outsider could be familiar) with the events of the past twenty years - and the senseless violence that took place - I have difficulty understanding what happened here about 70 years ago. Some were fascists and threw their lot in with the Nazis; others were communists ... and still others were Slovene nationalists. All I know is that it took over 50 years for this corner of the Balkans to resolve whatever it was that had to be resolved. And while there may still be some who yearn for the days of Tito, the citizens have firmly hitched their wagon to the EU (for better or worse).

Stop fighting and be prosperous.

We got back in the car and headed for Piran.

Slovenia has only about 50 km of Adriatic coastline. Piran sits on a small peninsula that - at one time was considered strategically important by the Venetians. But history can wait, first thing is to go for a swim in the Adriatic.

We had to park the car in an underground lot and then walk down, down, down, down to the waterfront. The "beach" we found wasn't much, a concrete breakwater wall with a ladder to climb down to the rocks below. The rocks were slippery, so we had to be careful going in. It was a hot day, and the water was refreshing.

We weren't actually in Piran, that was a bit of a walk along the waterfront and up, up, up, up. We came into the town at St. George cathedral. The church's campanile was very similar to (albeit smaller than) the campanile in St. Mark's Square in Venice. The view out over the Adriatic was without equal. It was easy to see how the Venetians would consider this place to be strategically important.

We walked down, down, down, down through narrow alleys and eventually came to Trg Rartinijev ... the central town square. At one time, the square had actually been part of the harbour, but it was so well-protected that the water rarely flushed out. In 1894 the harbor was filled in and the square created.

The town's Venetian history is undeniable. We really felt like we were back in Venice as we wandered through the narrow alleys and passageways. We decided to split a couple of pizzas at a small place facing the square. After we finished, we poked around the town a bit more. We managed to find another swimming/sunbathing area ... which appeared to be far less protected for swimming than the place we'd gone. But I think that this was more the place to "see and be seen" ... the place where the cool kids were hanging out.

We headed back to the car and started down the road to Portorož.

Portorož is a real resort town ... with the big hotels and casinos, lots and lots of people and a so-so waterfront that supposed to pass for a beach. If nothing else, I can now at least say that I've seen it. I'd charitably characterize it as a mini-Toromolenos.

After our stop in Portorož (for ice cream - why not) we got back in the ar and drove back to Ljubljana. For supper we picked up falafals from a little shop in our neighbourhood. We took them back to the apartment and planned for tomorrow.

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