Dateline: 09.59 30 Aug 1996
Location: Slovenia, Ljubljana, Dijas^ki Dom Bez^igrad
This is a new record - I'm going to stay in the same place for a whopping
3 nights in a row. A strange feeling. =) The weather remains
insistently overcast, but at least it hasn't rained. So far. Today I
shall explore the remnants of Ljubljana, tomorrow to S^kocjan, and then
it's time to hit the road, Jack. The question is how: the only couchette
from Ljubljana leaves at an entirely disgusting 3:20. If I leave on the
earliest evening train, it'll be ~2 in the evening before I get to
Venice and that would require 2 train changes and paying an IC supplement.
Now I can be proud of myself: I have successfully completed my first
100% Slovene conversation. Transcript follows.
YT: Yours Truly
BBtC: Babus^ka Behind the Counter
Act 1, Scene 1
Scene: The curtain opens. Enter YT who approaches a Delo newsstand,
(wo)manned by BBtC.
YT: Dober dan!
BBtC: Dober dan.
YT: Dve autobusni z^etoni, prosim.
BBtC: (hands over two bus tokens) Sto tredeset.
YT: (hands over 130 SIT)
Exit YT. The curtain closes.
This is the beginning of a long and wonderful friendship. (Not between
me and the babus^ka, silly...)
An odd thing happened to me yesterday. As I was stomping around Staro
mesto, a local in his 50s, out walking with his wife, came up to me and
shook my hand while uttering what I took to be Slovene civilities.
As quickly as he came, he left with a wave of his hand, leaving me
standing there astonished. What inspired that? Just thanks to an
obvious tourist (indeed, I have yet to be mistaken for a native here)
for coming to such a far-out and obscure place outside tourist season?
Who knows, but it certainly upgraded my impression of the people by a
Jump to next section on Ljubljana
And now, finally, those comments about Wien. The place is a sort of
positive feedback loop of eliteness: Wien is famous for its culture,
so all cultural events are staged there, so it gets more famous,
so it gets more events... all this concentration has served to make
Wien dirty rotten filthy stinking RICH and it shows, the concentration
of luxury shops inside the Ring rivaling that of central Geneva and
Paris' Champs-Elysées. The state's portion of the money has been
used to make buildings, monuments and statues of ever increasingly
megalomaniacal size, the Ring itself being host to half of them.
All one can do is sit on tram 1 and gawk in amazement as one pompous
edifice after another slides past; beautiful and impressive, surely,
but perhaps a bit too much after a while. As the high concentration
of tourists hints, and as has happened in so many other bigger towns,
the Center is not where people live and work, it is just a colossal
tourist attraction. The slices of "real" Wien shown on the way to
and from Südbahnhof looked very different indeed.
One interesting moment remains etched in my memory. I was on my way
to Hundertwasser Haus with Flavia, and to get there we took a tram
in the more suburby districts of Wien. Now, this tram looked mildly
like the old ones in Helsinki and so did the buildings around it (if
you ignored minor details like everything being written in German),
so for a brief moment I imagined that I was indeed back in Helsinki.
I maintained this odd fantasy for perhaps several seconds, until the
sight of an object wrecked it: I realized that, in Helsinki, you cannot
possibly have a traffic direction sign with "BUDAPEST" on it.
After this initial overload of granite, marble, glass, brass, cursive
writing and people in uncomfortable costumes the sight of Hundertwasser
Haus was a welcome relief: at last, a spot of random chaos amidst the
geometric perfection of the Center! Primary colors, splashed merrily
about a building of few straight lines with trees sprouting out of
the windows. But illusions of Christiania were soon enough shattered
when we stepped inside; oh, the same most distinctive style of architecture
continued inside alright, but the building's nooks and crannies were
stuffed with vendor vultures ready to spring on an unsuspecting tourist
with their overpriced wares. The gallery upstairs, mostly devoted to
Hundertwasser's work, had price tags attached to each picture showin
how much a poster copy would cost (in most cases starting at 3x my daily
budget here). I have a sneaky suspicion that this is not quite what
Hundertwasser had in mind.
This may have seemed like several pages of bitching, but the truth is
that I liked Wien and do plan to return to it. While the types of
art and culture favored there may not exactly be my cup of tea, the
city is beautiful, and the one-day blitzkrieg tour only scratched the
surface of it. And with a local guide leading the way (thanks Flavia!)
there were bargains to be found, like that delectable buffet deal at
a place whose name I unfortunately do not recall right now. Auf
wiedersehen, Wien, I will be seeing you again.
While I'm catching up, time for the eulogy to Praha, finally. While it
may be a sad thing to say, for me the only redeeming points were the
low price level and Radost FX (and perhaps the amusing subway as well).
The city itself was largely dirty, ugly, unkempt and lacking in greenery,
buildings either ultra-Gothic creations straight out of a vampire movie
or, more often, simply hideous concrete blocks. None of Tallinn's
old-town ambience, none of Ljubljana's small-town charm, just a big
East European city with all the problems of one. I must, however, add
a caveat emptor: I did only have one effective day to explore and that
too was under the haze of sickness, but I still caught most of Praha's
sights that day. I will be back, but only to Radost FX on a Thursday
In yet another trendy Christiania comparison, Lonely Planet Slovenia
entitles Metelkova "Ljubljana's version of Christiania [...] minus
the sleaze". In my opinion, making the connection between the two
requires a serious leap of imagination, but I will grant that the
comment is not entirely off base. Christiania is what happened when
some hippies got a chunk of forest and some warehouses to live in;
Metelkova is what happened when some punks got a chunk of industrial
wastelands and some warehouses to live in. Is it any surprise the
places turned out different? In a reverse of Christiania, Metelkova's
entrance is nice enough with the wackily-painted houses and greenery,
but as you go in it progressively declines. Christiania's cannabis-leaves
and Rasta flag graffiti is here replaced by "FUCK THE POLICE" and
anarchist logos. Piles of iron junk - shades of Tetsuo, come to think
of it - dominated the courtyards, and as I watched some punk on the
4th floor threw out a bucketful of plaster onto an already meter-high
pile on the ground. But I gather that whereas Christiania has been
around since the 60's, Metelkova is a product of this decade; so let us
see what this experiment turns out to look like in 2010 or so.
Today is effectively my last day in Ljubljana, my train leaving
early in the morning, so I shall attempt a summary. Where to start?
Despite my original "hear no evil, see no evil, write no evil" attitude,
I must confess that signs of decay are everywhere; I had to select my
postcards carefully to find angles where it was not visible. But the
decay is not conspicuous or dominant; in East Berlin you never cease
to be astonished by how UGLY and dirty everything is, while in
Ljubljana you stop noticing the flaking paint here or the rotting roof
tiles there... because what lies underneath is pretty. It is a green
city of trees, grass, rivers and fountains. It is a friendly city where
people don't all dress in shades of gray and wear the patented
toilet-guardian-in-DDR look. It does not overwhelm you with size
or pompo, it just sits there in the midst of a lush green valley.
Without a doubt I will be back... preferably not alone next time.
The day's budget