Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Nineteen – Good Day Not To Be A Pig, On to Ljubljana, Bush Whacked, Great B&B, Down By The Lazy River And Dining Al Fresco
Happy to still be alive and still have a pair of lips after the Slivovitz show of the previous night, I turned toward Tracy in the morning to whisper sweet nothings in her ear. Her reply, “Go brush your teeth. Your breath would kill an ox.” Romance was in the air. We met Kim and Mary for a leisurely breakfast in the Hotel Plitvice restaurant. Croatia would be in the rear view mirror in a couple of hours as we were about to embark on a four-day journey of Slovenia. The destination today would be Ljubljana.
But first, we looked out our window one last time at beautiful Plitvice. What a place!!
The first hour of the drive was very scenic at some turns, but it was the more graphic scenery that grabbed the attention of my passengers. About every five to ten minutes I would hear, “There’s a pig on a spit” or “There’s a pig barbecue.” Obviously, grilled pork was big in this part of the land, but being a city guy, I really don’t like to know what my meat looked like only minutes before eating. Plus, every time I see pork, I think of Babe (the pig, not the home run hitter).
In the two hours it took to reach Zagreb, the scenery became greener, and the architecture was much more in the Austrian/Swiss style. We got stamped at the Slovenian border, and we were cruising along on their nice, new highway system. Two hours later, we arrived in Ljubljana. After a couple of Garmin (and then human-related) mistakes, we found our lodging for the next two nights, the B&B Slamič (photo from website). This turned out to be quite a find.
Ljubljana is not an overly inexpensive town, and I found the Slamič quite by accident while online. It had its own, gated parking, and we were then lead upstairs to a doorway that opened on to a foyer with two separate, lovely rooms that had hardwood floors and both were nicely decorated. Downstairs was a café dispensing coffee, pastries and cocktails, and one story above was a lovely breakfast room and outside patio. This was one of, if not the, nicest places we stayed during our four weeks.
After our nearly four hour drive, we were hungry, so armed with our Ljubljana map, we headed toward the Ljubljanica River and the heart of town, Prešeren Square.
There are cafes on both sides of the Ljubljanica River and they spill onto side streets and alleys in this delightful town, which seems to be underrated in many guide books.
Mary had two giant (and delicious) hamburger patties with baked potato, grilled eggplant and zucchini.
Tracy dined on the Stara Macka salad (arugula, pears, apples, grapes, red onions, peppers, blue cheese and goat cheese), while I went straight for a very good rib-eye steak. The local beer Union was just fair in our opinion, as we liked the Pivovarna Laško better.
The entire area was full of young, hip locals (and old, hip travelers), and we also overheard a lot of nattily clad Americans, who we surmised were here on government business and decided to stay for a day or two after George Bush, who had been in town the past couple of days, departed.
After lunch we walked through the Old Town over to the funicular, which we took up to the castle area (3€).
Kim and Mary then went their own way, while Tracy and I wandered the streets trying to find a restaurant (Gostilna AS) that had been recommended to us by someone who had lived in Ljubljana for a year.
We crossed the Zamajski Most (Dragon Bridge), a bridge that was originally dedicated to the Emperor Franz Josef. You can find dragons everywhere in Ljubljana thanks to a hero from one of my favorite childhood movies, Jason of “Jason and The Argonauts.” Supposedly, sometime after he stole the famed Golden Fleece (I bought mine at Land’s End), he slew the terrible Ljubljana dragon.
Back at Prešeren Square, we took one glance back up at the castle and started our search in earnest to find the restaurant. No matter how hard we tried, it was to no avail. All that walking can make a man (and woman) thirsty.
Since we were striking out when it came to finding the elusive restaurant, we did the best next thing and found an outside spot for a late afternoon cocktail (it really is always 5 o’clock somewhere) at the Hotel Slon. The Slovenian police rode by on horseback to keep us safe.
Afterward, we took a circuitous route home past a couple of “Stop” signs that now read “Stop Bush.” Figuring they weren’t NFL fans and didn’t know who Reggie Bush was, we were pretty sure the comments were aimed at the prior day’s visitor who happened to be George W. Bush.
When we got back to the B&B Slamič, Kim and Mary had placed a business card under our door. It was for Gostilna AS. We had looked all over for it, but couldn’t find it. They weren’t looking for it, but happened to pass by it.
We freshened up and walked back down toward the river to dine at Gostilna AS, which is located in a little walkway that runs perpendicular to the river. The more expensive AS restaurant is located downstairs and inside, but it was a lovely evening, so we decided to eat at the less expensive, outdoor restaurant. The downstairs restaurant would have to be pretty spectacular to beat its outside brother (photo was taken off the internet).
First of all, we had a terrific young waiter by the name of Micha (spelling is a guess), who recommended we try a bottle of San Tomas wine (20 €). It was so good, that we ordered a couple of bottles (shocking). The basket of warm baked goods with breadsticks, crostini, corn muffins and focaccia was quite a nice way to start the meal.
I absolutely loved my gnocchi with Quattro formaggio (Micha told me a small appetizer portion would be a good accompaniment to my entrée choice) to start. Then Kim and I had the “Crazy Veal”, which is a delicious Veal Chop that comes with grilled veggies and a potato with four cheeses (my arteries harden every time I think of this meal).
Mary put her scuba gear on and dove into the Big Sea Platter of fresh fish, while Tracy had the Agliata z rozman (roast beef slices with rosemary on a bed of Arugula (hopefully that won’t be too “elite” for some of you). It also came with the four-cheese potato.
Somehow, even though I was now expanding at an alarming rate, I wasn’t full. Micha suggested I try the vanilla Panacotta with plums. It was a “Wow” dish. Then he surprised the table by bringing over a platter of sweets (chocolate covered strawberries, dark chocolate truffles, walnut pastries, chocolate covered pears and vanilla sugar cookies). Jenny Craig turned over in her grave…and she’s not even dead!
Of course, I ordered another glass of wine to help the dessert go down easier. All of this overindulging (plus a hefty tip for Micah) came to about $95 per couple (well worth it!).
We took a very long route home since our waistlines were now bulging. Ljubljana was beautiful after dark, and once again I implore people to not overlook this underrated town. The people are nice, the B&B Slamič was terrific and I think Ljubljana is well worth a couple of days and nights as a base.
We were all looking forward to the following day because the four of us were going to visit one of Slovenia’s most famous places, and since the forecast called for rain, this would be the ideal spot to spend the morning.
Next: Day Twenty – Losing Our Heads (Almost), Cave Dwellers, Gee Your Skin Is Soft, Surely You Joust, Tea For Two, Sword Play And Lost In Translation