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Piran 3

Friday, 21 May 2010

I went to Portorož for the afternoon. More about that, and a few pics, soon.

But first, I have just realised I have a slight problem with how I am going to get to Trieste (Italy) tomorrow, where I have a booking for four nights. I  have discovered today that the buses only run on weekdays, not Saturday. My accommodation in Trieste is a private room, not a dorm as here, so it is twice as expensive. It is now too late to cancel and anyway I have seen Piran and now want to see Trieste (and neighbouring Duino).

I am seriously considering walking there. Yes, walking from Slovenia to Italy.

Before you laugh, let me explain. There are buses on Saturday from Piran to Koper (the place where I couldn’t find a bed). And from Koper to Piran is only 10km as the crow flies (over the Adriatic Sea) and 20km by road. And through the magic of the internet I have driving directions (which hopefully I can turn into walking directions). Here they are.

Koper — Trieste

1. Head southeast on Župančičeva Ulica toward Dimnikarska Ulica 120 m
2. Turn left at Tominčeva Ulica 67 m
3. Turn right at Ulica Talcev 79 m
4. Turn right at Vojkovo Nabrežje 61 m
5. Turn left at Ljubljanska Cesta 1.0 km
6. Turn right onto the ramp to Ljubljana/Trst/TriestePartial toll road 290 m
7. Merge onto Istrska cestaToll road 1.9 km
8. Continue onto H5Toll road 1.9 km
9. Take the exit toward Trst/Trieste/Ankaran/Ancarano/ŠkofijeToll road 500 m
10. Merge onto H5Partial toll road. Entering Italy. 3.4 km
11. Continue onto Unknown road. Go through 1 roundabout 1.6 km
12. Turn left at Via Flavia di Stramare/SS15Continue to follow SS15. Go through 1 roundabout 3.7 km
13. Continue onto Via Flavia 1.6 km
14. Continue onto Piazzale di Valmaura 74 m
15. Continue onto Via dell’Istria 600 m
16. Slight right to stay on Via dell’Istria 140 m
17. Slight left to stay on Via dell’Istria 1.1 km
18. Turn right at Largo del Pestalozzi 100 m
19. Continue onto Via del Molino a Vento 700 m
20. Continue onto Via Gabriele D’Annunzio 13 m
21. Continue straight onto Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi 350 m
22. Turn right at Via della Maiolica 160 m
23. Turn right at Via Emo Tarabocchia 55 m
24. Turn right at the 1st cross street onto Piazza dell’Ospitale 65 m
25. Slight right at Via della FonderiaDestination will be on the right 82 m

What do you all think? Should I give it a go?

Newsflash!

The plot thickens. There is a ray of hope I might not have to walk to Italy after all. I took a walk down to the bus depot to check the timetable posted there. There is no office, and this timetable is new, valid from 17 May 2010 (last Monday). It says clearly there is only one per day from here (Piran) to Trieste at 6.45 am, but there were some extra letters added: DIT. The legend informs that DIT means “Italijanski Delavniki” (Italian working days). Now, if it had said “German working days”, I would have had more confidence of Saturday being included…

Interestingly, the schedules for other local bus routes included the symbols D and D*. D stands for “Delovniki” (working days) which it defined as Monday–Saturday, and D* was defined as Monday–Friday. That still doesn’t help define DIT though. However, there were a couple of buses from this company (Veolia) parked there, and a couple of Veolia bus drivers standing around. I asked one if there was a bus tomorrow to Trieste. I mentioned the word I knew for Saturday (Sabota) — it is the same for most Slavic languages (Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Croatian and now Slovene on my trip). I remember it by thinking of “Sabbath”, which it is, at least in Judaism. I also mentioned the “Italian working days” thing in Slovene. He made a comment and he and the other bus driver laughed. I reckon he made a similar desparaging joke I just did about the working habits of Italians! Anyway, in his opinion there was a bus to Trieste tomorrow.

So, I reckon I have nothing to lose by getting up rather early and getting down to the bus station by 6.45am to see if this bus to Trieste materialises. If it doesn’t I will go to Koper and see what happens. Of course I have considered that a taxi from Koper to Trieste may also be possible (only 20km). Or I could hitch-hike, which I have never done before in my life. We’ll see. I have a hunch things will work out fine. They always have up to now!

Here are a few more pics from Piran.

This guy snuck up on me as I was taking the snap of the setting sun last night. I didn’t know he was in the pic until now. But I quite like how it turned out.

       

The main square in Piran, near the water (well everywhere here is near the water) is called Tartinov Square after the 19th c. violinist, Giuseppe Tartini.

I caught the bus to Portorož (Portorose in Italian), only 15 minutes away. It is more of a glitzy resort town than Piran, with casinos and such. It felt kind of like the Gold Coast in a vacuous kind of way, but a nice place to while away an afternoon with a book on a hired banana lounge, or in a caffè, pizzeria or trattoria whose numbers are legion. No Old Town to speak of. As in Piran, you will just as often hear Italian spoken as Slovene. Anyway, see for yourself…

     

    

Above pics taken on the main drag (Obala) parallel to the sea.

  

 

I sat first in the coffee shop (above) and then Rastelli Park(below) where I finished the last chapter of “Crime and Punishment”. The copper beech tree was planted when the park was established over 100 years ago.

 

Thought for the day:

What I know at sixty, I knew as well at twenty. Forty years of a long, a superfluous, labor of verification.

Emile Cioran — The Trouble With Being Born

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Piran 2

Thursday, 20 May 2010

                       

Thought for the day:

Better than a thousand useless words is one single word that gives peace.

The Dhammapada – Verse 100

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Piran (via Koper)

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

What a difference a day makes. Yesterday I was in a gloomy but fascinating cave system and today I am in the bright sunshine, with the clear blue sky and sparkling water of my imagined ideal of a Mediterranean fishing village: Piran (or Pirano in Italian). Let me tell you how I got here.

After the caves tour I went to the train station to buy a ticket to Koper (Capodistria in Italian). The ticket office was closed but a sign (in English)informed me that I could buy a ticket on the train. The next one to Koper left at 5.20pm. Koper is a transport hub for the Istrian peninsula. I had a booking for a hostel n Piran, further down the coast, for Wednesday, but nothing for last night. I thought I would try my luck to find somewhere to stay in Koper for the night but Plan B was to catch the bus to Piran (only a 40 minute ride) and try to book in to my hostel a day early. I filled in the time until the train left by walking for an hour or two along an educational path through some woods near the caves.

I think I will revert to present tense for the next bit. It seemed to work the other day (thanks Kate).

As I walk from the bus station at Koper towards the Old Town, I am greeted by the sight of a swag of super-stores (including a Harvey Norman!)

  

I took the above pics later in the evening, after dark, on my way back to the bus station. All will be revealed soon.

After walking 15 minutes or so from the bus station, I reach the Muda Gate (1516), leading to another square named after the poet Preseren (see Lyublyana). The difference between the New Town and the Old Town demarcated by the Muda Gate is quite dramatic.

      

I come to another square (Titov) with its City Tower and Gothic/Renaissance cathedral .

   

 Just off the square, there is an outdoor stage set up, and a band is playing, so I buy an ice-cream and sit down to enjoy the show with other (young) music fans.

   

The concert seemed to be part of a 2 day University festival, and a poster advertised it as a Kojanaskaci /Zappa tribute. Koyanaskaci = Koyaanisqatsi surely? I like Philip Glass and Frank Zappa, but neither of the two bands I listened to sounded anything lke either them, so I decided it was time to try to find my hostel.

After quite some time I stumble on the Museum Hostel, but they are full. So I retrace my steps back through the Old Town to the harbour area to try to find the Port Motel (the only other dorm accommodation in town, according to LP). When I finally find it I am told it has closed down and converted to student acommodation. It is getting dark by this stage, and I don’t want to pay for an expensive hotel room, so I decide to go with Plan B and head back to the bus station. Luckily Koper is reasonably small and I am travelling light! It’s about 9pm when I get there and there’s a bus ready to go to Piran at 9.20pm. I arrive in Piran about 10pm and try to find the hostel I have booked for the following day. Naturally I get lost again in the winding alleys, but just happen to pass another backpackers (“Val”). I later find that this one was recommended in LP. It is about 10.30pm now. The door is unlocked so I waltz in to the reception area. No-one about so I collapse on the couch to wait. A guy comes down the stairs with a suspicious look on his face and asks “How did you get in here?”. I explain and he says he has been watching me on the security system monitor. One of the guests must have forgotten to close the door properly. He shows me to a 2-bunk room. I am the only occupant, but am charged at the normal single bed dorm rate. Breakfast is included.

Then I go to bed and sleep like a baby.

I am looking forward to exploring Piran!

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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Breathtaking, mindblowing, awesome (in the original sense of the word).

These descriptions are not just hyperbole. Any of you who have visited the Škocjan caves, or when you come, will agree with me I’m sure. As photography was not permitted inside the caves (except near the entrance) I will make up for the lack of pics with a mild case of verbal diarrhoea and maybe even some purple prose.  I think I might have been influenced both in my writing style and my thoughts about psychological issues by Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” which I continue to read. You have been warned.

First, I’ll post the few pics I took in Divača/Škocjan.

       

I took the train from Lyublyana (about 90 minutes) and stayed overnight in Divača (about 4km from the caves) as I had missed the last tour for the day, whic I took first thing next morning.

Inside the cave the monumental scale and sense of other-worldliness is hard to grasp from photos. A documentary on these caves would be a great use of 3D movie technology. Actually I recall recently having read that the latest project of Werner Herzog is a 3D documentary about the 30,000 year old cave paintings inside the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave in southern France . If that works maybe this place could be the subject of his next movie.

The Reka river flows into an underground cavern here and doesn’t exit for 40 km or so between Duino and Trieste in Italy, from where it empties into the Adriatic Sea. By the way, Trieste (or Trst as it’s called in Slovene — some Slavic languages are very economical with vowels) is only 28km from here. With all its twists and turns, its underground course may well be longer. When a dye is injected into the Reka here, it doesn’t emerge above ground until three days later. There are also other caves that have been explored between here and the above ground exit point, some of which extend down to the river, up to 140m below ground.

The mandatory tour involves walking for 2-3 km through narrow passageways, leading to large halls, sometimes along walkways and across bridges 40-50m above the river. The first cave is called the Silent Cave, with halls called Paradise, Calvary and the Great Hall. The latter is 120m wide and 30m high. A hall we saw later is even higher (100m). The natural limestone formations are spectacular and surreal, almost Dali-esque, both stalactites (descending from the roof) and stalagmites (rising from the ground). Some of the latter could almost be taken for modern sculptures. The largest one (the “Giant”) is in the Great Hall and looks to be 10-15m high. There also are the “Organ Pipes” stalactites. Apparently the analogy is not just visual, but also sonic, as they vibrate when struck and produce a variety of tones.

The caves can be a dangerous place when the river’s water level is rising fast. For this reason, they have moved at leat one bridge up a bit higher. About once a century the river rises so high that it completely fills these huge caves. The last time that happened was in 1965.

Religious metaphors abound if you want to look for them. The larger halls are very reminiscent of cathedrals. But for worship of Whom? I just had a disturbing flashback to the Lars von Trier movie “Anti-Christ” I saw at the last Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). I remember one line from the movie was “Nature is Satan’s church”.

There is also a secular metaphor for these caves I have recently become aware of. One of Slovenia’s favourite sons (well actually he’s more like their “enfant terrible”) is the Lyublyana-born philosopher Slavoj Žižek. I saw a documentary about hime at MIFF a few years ago called, believe it or not, “Žižek!“. I was flicking through some of his books in the English-language section of a bookshop in Lyublyana, when I read the introduction to one of his books.

Žižek noted that Sigmund Freud lived in Vienna at a time when Slovenia was ruled by Austria as part of Austria-Hungary. He said that it was curious that in all his writings Freud scarcely mentioned Slovenia, except for an enigmatic remark that a Slovenian patient of his was “unanalysable”. Then he related the following story. Apparently Freud at one time made a visit to the Škocjan caves. It is impossible to think that the parallel between descending into suberranean caverns and Freud’s own theories of the subconscious mind and psychoanalysis could have escaped him. However, Freud got the shock of his life when, deep underground, he suddenly cme face to face with a Viennese acquaintance, the Mayor of Vienna, Dr Karl Lueger, a man whom he detested, and whose name sounds very much like the German word (lüge) for “lie”. I hope it gave Freud pause for thought about the usefulness of his theories.

Which leads me to a related thought which occurred to me when I was down in the caves a short while ago. I wonder if anyone has gone mad in the Škocjan caves? It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. It feels like a very weird place. There is a well-known phenomenon that sometimes occurs to visitors to the Holy Land, Jerusalem in particular, usually those of a religious bent and probably in some way predisposed, where they succumb to psychotic episodes of a religious character.

Maybe a visit to these caves, for some people could trigger a secular version of the Jerusalem syndrome? One disadvantage of the mandatory tour (which took about 1 hour 40 mins altogether) was that we were constantly moving along. I would have liked to have had time to sit down in contemplation occasionally. On the other hand, maybe the advantage was that I didn’t have time to go stark raving bonkers and disappear into a side-passage, never to be seen again. The experience was a bit like a mild dose of LSD (not that I would know anything about that, mind).

 Thought for the day:

“The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.”

Sigmund Freud — The Interpretation of Dreams (1900)

 

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Bled 2

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Today was overcast but not rainy, so I went for a walk to Vintgar Gorge. My hostel is up behind Bled Castle on the same side of the lake, so it was a 2km walk along a quiet road to the Radovna River, then along a wooden walkway for 1.6km, criss-crossing the fast-running river over wooden bridges a number of times, and a final 2km walk back through some forest.

    

I am putting the rest of this post in the present tense to make it sound more exciting. Will I slip and fall into the raging torrent…?

Walking to Vintgar, I pass traditional Slovenian hayricks, farm animals and botanically significant “fen” or “bog” areas, home to rare and endangered plant species, such as the yellow wide-lip orchid and the English or great sundew which feeds on insects it traps in its sticky tentacles.

    

At last I reach the river and a cafe, where I throw back a shot of apple/pear schnapps to fortify myself for the rigorous 1.6km trek ahead. Well it is almost noon…

Off we go…

     

The walkway was first constructed in 1893, but I am happy to report that it doesn’t look its age. In fact, it looks very sturdy and new, as if it has perhaps been completely refurbished in the past year or so.

        

The trail led back to the same street where my are lodgings are!

Here are some pics taken from nearby. First another view of Bled Castle.

  

The last 2 pics are some roadworks only a few doors from my hostel. The street has been blocked to vehicular traffic for a short distance, which means the owner of my hostel, Tom, has to drive several kilometres further to go into Bled. He tells me the reason is that sewerage pipes were being installed under the street when a discovery was made of what turned out to be ancient Roman artefacts. Lyublyana was known to be a Roman outpost but apparently no-one knew they were also up here in Bled. So the sewerage installation is off for a while, much to Tom’s annoyance while the archaeologists are called in. But I am glad that proper study is to be made and valuable historical information will be preserved.

I am moving on tomorrow. I have just decided to see if I can go to the site of an extensive cave system of international significance, Škocjan. It is between here and the Adriatic coast where I was going next, so it should be possible to fit in a visit there, maybe by taking a train from Lyublyana. I’ll keep you posted.

Thought for the day:

A zoologist who observed gorillas in their native habitat was amazed by the uniformity of their life and their vast idleness. Hours and hours without doing anything. Was boredom unknown to them? This is indeed a question raised by a human, a busy ape. Far from fleeing monotony, animals crave it, and what they most dread is to see it end. For it ends, only to be replaced by fear, the cause of all activity. Inaction is divine; yet it is against inaction that man has rebelled. Man alone, in nature, is incapable of enduring monotony, man alone wants something to happen at all costs—something, anything…. Thereby he shows himself unworthy of his ancestor: the need for novelty is the characteristic of an alienated gorilla.

Emile Cioran — The Trouble With Being Born

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Bled

Saturday, 15 May 2010

My nervous system is quite remarkable. I fell asleep on the one hour bus trip to Bled leaving at noon, despite having had 3 espressos at breakfast. Although, in my defence, I didn’t get to bed until 1.15am…

Bled is in the foothills of the Julian Alps (named after Julius Caesar). Slovenian tourist authorities like to say that Slovenia is situated “on the sunny side of the Alps”.

The alpine lake at Bled is impossibly picturesque. The Slovenian national poet France Prešeren called it an “image of paradise”. My photos don’t do it true justice. It is rainy today too, which doesn’t help. Here are some of my efforts anyway.

            

You can visit the island with the church (the baroque Church of the Assumption), which was a pilgrimage site in mediaeval times, by getting rowed out gondola-style, or hiring a rowboat yourself.

I am told that Lake Bled will be the site of the World Rowing Championships in 2011.

Yesterday the weather was nicer than today, so I took a leisurely stroll right around the lake. It took me nearly 2 hours but I did stop to chat with a local artist for a while. Today is rainy so I visited Bled Castle (the one in the pics on the cliff high above the lake). The original feudal castle was first mentioned in 1011. Rebuilding took place after earthquakes in 1511 and 1690, giving the castle the form it has today.

Apart from the view and th castle itself, another attraction was the museum there. I was most interested in some geology and archeological exhibits. Fossils of spiral sea shells and fish show that this area was once sea, and at one time a shallow lagoon with a coral reef. Earthquake activity indicates that the Alps are still rising.

Of the exhibits to do with human inhabitants of the area, I was struck by a mention of an ancient Neanderthal community here. The Neanderthals were a species of hominid that separated from the homo sapiens lineage 400,000 years ago and became extinct 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. They hunted and used tools like axes and spears. But the museum also has a photo of what it claims is the oldest known musical instrument, a “flute” made from a cave bear femur, discovered in the nearby Divje Babe cave. The original is in the National Museum in Llubljana. The internet tells me that the claim that it is a Neanderthal-made flute is disputed. Intriguing all the same.

I am still reading Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. I was struck by a bit of it I read just today, and I will make it my

Thought for the day:

Twice Maria Petrovna, seeing that I was miserable, urged me to go abroad. But why should I? I had already been in Europe, and had never liked it in any shape or form. The grand sights of nature undoubtedly evoke your admiration; but somehow, in watching a sunrise, the sea, or even the Bay of Naples, one feels miserable — and what is worst of all without knowing why. No! A man is better at home. Here, at all events, you can lay the blame on others, thus justifying yourself in your own eyes.

Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment

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Llubljana

Friday, 14 May 2010

Arrived in Llubljana (formerly Laibach), capital of Slovenia, by train from Zagreb, (capital of Croatia), on Wednesday. Some hills, meadows and a river snapped on the 2hrs plus journey.

  

I walked to my hostel from the station (travelling light is excellent). This striking looking building was in the same street a couple of doors up towards the main square (Prešeren).

    

Another national poet (Prešeren) gets a statue and a square named after him in the capital (Llubljana) of the country (Slovenia). The salmon pink church on the square is the17th c. Franciscan Church of the Annunciation.

Llubjana has a river running through it (the Llubyanica) and several bridges across it near the city centre. The “Triple Bridge”  runs off Prešeren Sq. and just a short way downstream is the Dragon Bridge.

     

It reminds me a bit of the klongs (canals) in Bangkok, except there are no passenger ferries, just tourist cruises and the occasional kayakers.

    

I crossed the Triple Bridge to explore the Old Town on the other side of the river. There is a hill, a castle and …. Yes, you guessed it. A funicular railway. I walked  up, admired the vews from the early 16th c. walls, viewed an art installation and listened to some ambient music in an basement room (“casemate”) and took the funicular back down.

  

 

More snaps from around town.

  

The people of Llubljana are very friendly (as they were in Zagreb). English is probably the most widely spoken and the level of proficiency greatest of anywhere I have been so far. There are lots of restaurants, cafes and bars with outdoor seating. It is particularly pleasant to sit outside near the river.

In the evening I went to see a Croatian band, the Bambi Molesters. They play 60s style mostly instrumental “surf rock” (heavy on reverb, vibrato and tremolo effects). I based my dance moves on my experience of riding tubes at Waikiki on my longboard. A couple of numbers went a bit in the psychedelic direction (always a good thing in my view). They gave value for money, with 2 encores after a good crowd reaction. Finished around 1:15am and a 15 minute walk later I was in my dorm bed.

    

The 3nd last pic was a bas relief on a wall near the venue. 2nd last pic is the great cover on BM’s 2010 CD which I bought for 10 euros. Last pic is the set list I swiped.

Friday I am going to a mountain lake (Bled) for the weekend.

Thought for the day:

Imaginary pains are by far the most real we suffer, since we feel a constant need for them and invent them because there is no way of doing without them.

Emile Cioran – The Trouble With Being Born

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