Monday, May 17, 2010

Austrian Scenery


We leave our hotel to catch the subway to our 8am train. We had bought rolls the night before but learn quickly that in Europe, one should never buy fresh bread the night before. We really do need to be more spontaneous, don't we? The girl who was working the reception desk is supposed to be up at 7, to prepare breakfast and to give us rolls to go, but is still sleeping in the bedroom. A basket of bread, delivered for today's hotel breakfast sits invitingly outside the main door and so we, feeling quite lucky, take our share of breakfast rolls, which are soft and fresh. Being at the train station is always a bit nervewrecking at first because we are afraid of missing our train, or being on the wrong side of the tracks, or getting into a car that will be taken off and left at another city. Imagine pulling into a station and then realizing the rest of the train has moved on and you are still sitting at this village! Trying to make sense of the foreign signs takes some thought and we learn from the map that cars 418, 419 and 420 go to Ljubljana while the others get left at villages along the way. Public transportation in Europe truly puts the US to shame. The trains are on time and clean, the subways run every 3-5 min. and connect you to any part of the city in less than 15 min. We climb onto the train and get desperately stuck in the aisle with a bunch of high school students trying to go the other direction with their large suitcases. All the cars have compartments for 6 and I am confused as to where our second class seats are. Turns out they are good in any compartment without reserved names on the doors. We share one with 2 young women. The girl sitting across from me has extremely long legs and is obviously happier when I get up to take pictures from the narrow hallway. The scenery along the 6 hour ride is breathtaking. Austria's countryside is green and hilly, which changes to mountainous with lovely valleys and tiny towns. As we get in to Slovenia, we can see snow capped mountains in the distance. The weather is beginning to clear and some blue skies are peeking through.

We arrive in Ljubljana, the capital. The streets are wide, and the many pedestrian only walk ways and squares give it a wonderful feel of a walkable town. It appears to be a city in transformation as some courtyards and buildings are still "post Communist" gray and sterile, but other areas have been redone with fresh paint and new walkways. Along the new promenades, storefronts are all new with shops designed with tourists in mind, though the fashions are not quite up to European levels. Ray thought the main cobblestoned promenade had a Disneyland feel to it, void of cars and people, with empty outdoor cafes lining the sidewalk. It is still early in the year for most tourists and so the town is relatively quiet; the main activity in the Old Town is construction, and cranes are everywhere. We notice a large number of gelato stands, all selling the exact same flavors. We can imagine what the city will look like in 5 years. So to those who imagine a war torn city with land mines and bullet holed buildings, surprise, this city is as modern and vibrant as any other european city! I definitely think it is an up and coming place! Our hotel, the Hotel Emonec, is located just a short walk from the Old Town Square, the Mestni Trg. It is pretty basic, but very clean and quiet.

We take a walk up to the Ljubljana castle and climb the 92 steps to the tower where we are treated to a magnificent view of the entire city and surrounding hills and mountains. The red roofs mingled with new buildings creates an interesting combination. The biggest decision of the day is to choose a place for dinner. With all the pizzerias in town, we elect to try the Italian style wood fired pizza at Trta. There is a wide selection - the man next to me is eating one with a "sunny side up' egg on top! The pizzas are thin, crispy and huge and we felt quite satiated. Walking back to the hotel along the riverfront, we take photos of the reflections in the water at Cobbler's bridge. It has a slight feel of Florence but needs some strolling musicians and colored lights for additional ambience.

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