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. Decisions, decisions...

Now I can be proud of myself: I have successfully completed my first 100% Slovene conversation. Transcript follows.

Dramatis Personae

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)
BBtC: Hvala.
YT: Hvala!

Exit YT. The curtain closes.

The End

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 few points.

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 night.

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
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