Friday, November 14, 2008

Ljubljana, March 1990

Ljubljana is a lesser-known artistic gem of a city. These pictures were taken in March, 1990 about a year before the Ten Day war that established Slovenian Independence and I have often wondered how that war and the strife in Serbia and Croatia touched the lives the people I met there. Dragons are the symbol of the city because, according to Greek myth, Jason and the Argonauts sailed up the Danube after finding the Golden Fleece in Colchis. Jason slew a monster in a lake between present day Vrhnika and Ljubljana. Dragon sculptures grace the whole city. All I really wrote about in my travel journal of a sophomoric 20-something a were the tall handsome men. My journal wouldn't be anything like Eat Pray Love. Maybe a better title would have been  Wander, Drink, Flirt.  Or maybe Drink, Flirt, Behave-Stupidly followed by Wander, Wander, Wander.

This is the marketplace. Countless stalls lined the square selling fresh flowers; daffodils, roses, narcissus as well as fruits, vegetables, herbs, sweaters, baskets and pottery. We stayed with a woman who looked a bit like the vendor pictured above. She rented rooms in her lovely little cottage with an overgrown garden and a little shrine covered with ivy. She was a diminutive person with a broad, warm smile. She wore a black kerchief on her head, a woolen shawl tied around her waist and heavy black woolen socks. She moved so slowly I remember, even when she spoke. German was our only common language. My abilities are usually only good enough to find out someone's zip code, but my friend was able to discern from her the admonition, "be sparing." Yeah didn't make much sense to us either.

This is Ljubljana castle in the background. A year later it would house a TD, (Territorial Defence forces) air defense unit.

There were relatively few American tourists in Yugoslavia in 1990 because countries were just starting to open up after decades of Soviet control. Two young women (one of them six feet tall) attracted some curiosity and this became more pronounced as we traveled further east towards Hungary. Lacking the proper transit vista, we were unceremoniously dumped off the train late at night in downtown God-Knows-Where Yugoslavia. There was a little hotel not far from the station where a large group of people gathered to celebrate the Festa della Donna (like Mother's day). Two very nice women vouched for some young men willing to drive us the 30 KM to the border station in Gorbican where we could obtain vistas. "They are nice boys," they said in lightly-accented English. We had no Yugoslavian money left to buy a train ticket or a hotel, so I guess we thought our best bet would be to get the vistas, then come back to wait for the next train. All I wrote in my journal of course was that one of the boys was good looking, but now it strikes me as an extraordinary kindness. 
We made it safely to the border station and left all our stuff with the boys, who remained in the car and drank. They only had an hour to spare so they asked us to hurry. The Hungarian vistas were relatively easy to obtain. My companion had struck up a conversation with an Italian truck driver whom I was trying to ignore. When they informed us that our vistas were only good for crossing then and there, he offered to drive us in his 18-wheeler to Budapest. Only one of us was allowed to cross back over to get our stuff. I volunteered, yelling "You better love me for this." This apparently earned me some derisive snorts from the Hungarian soldiers who were yelling "Bye-bye, I love you!" after I had run off. I ran the entire way, knowing that the Yugoslavian boys who had helped us would need to get going.  At one point I heard a loud shout and the sound of a rifle being cocked so I slowed down to a walk. Only then did it dawn on me that I was running from one communist border station towards another at full clip in the middle of the night. Later Alberto (the Italian truck driver) informed me that he had heard about someone being shot dead for doing the exact same thing. I guess the important thing is that we made it to Budapest safely (after sharing a meal with two middle-aged Italian truck drivers in the kitchen of a recreation hall in rural Soviet Hungary while a wedding reception took place outside) and that the kittens will not be permitted out of the house until they're 30.


Cassoulet Cafe said...

What a WONDERFUL story!!! And my heart was pounding at the end...and no, our kittens won't be let out til then either :)

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

During the summer of 1990, I traveled all over Europe including Hungary and East Germany (I even got to chisel my own pieces out of the Berlin wall). I remember one travel option people took was to go through Yugoslavia instead of Italy to get to Greece, but I chickened out. I wrote for 3 months about my trip and at the very end, my journal along with my backpack was stolen out of a car at a Tube station outside London. I don't have to tell you how I felt about losing all that writing.

Great post, Blicky!!!

Blicky Kitty said...

Wow we probably crossed paths Margaret! I have a post with my pictures from Germany the day the Brandenberg gate opened up.

willow said...

WT has been to this city several times in the 90's and absolutely loved it's charm. Lovely and fascinating post, Blicky!

MuseSwings said...

Trust me, you'll let your kittens out before they're 30. Maybe 28. Wonderful story! Seems like all of youse guys were wandering around there in the 90's. What an adventure. Lessee what was I doing...I was sitting in a cubicle in an office with no visible windows, trying to go paperless, think out of the box and architecture telecommunications systems. Call me next time you head out!

Blicky Kitty said...

Cynthia it sounds like your life is a lot more fun now! :)

Here's a comment that my travel companion left on Facebook. I wanted to make sure I didn't remember anything wrong:

"Hey - I love your blog Blicky! Oh yes, that is how I remember it, minus the gratuitous attempts at groping by the truck drivers and getting to Budapest just in time for the riots happening across the city."

Oh yeah, that's the other reason the kittens just won't be leaving the house. Oh well, we were able to fend off icky truck drivers and weren't the victims of any mob violence luckily. :)