Today, I left Zagreb, Croatia on a bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The bus didn’t leave until a quarter past noon, leaving me a little time for a final stroll in Zagreb before heading out.
Strolling In Zagreb
Because I had limited time (I tend to not get moving particularly early in the morning), I didn’t walk terribly far from my hotel. For most of my stroll, I remained within neighbourhoods I’d seen previously. I won’t bore you with repetition on that here. I’ll bore you with other things instead.
However, I did serendipitously wander into one section I hadn’t seen before. It contained two stately buildings. Boards covered the windows on one and a construction fence blocked its entrance. I didn’t check what it is, so I can’t pass that along to you. I’m guessing that, like so many other buildings in Zagreb, it’s, more than three years later, still undergoing post-quake restoration.
The other building had banners over its entrance. One said, “Drama.” Another said, “Ballet.” And a third said something I didn’t understand. Based on the banners, I thought I knew what it is. I checked Google Maps. I was right. It is the Croatian National Theatre. I hadn’t visited it before despite it not being one of the buildings closed for post-quake restoration because I read that, while it mounts performances every night, it has few seats and they usually sell out. Plus, all of its performances are in Croatian and would mean nothing to people who don’t speak the language. I don’t speak the language.
However, I’m glad I accidentally wandered by this morning. It’s quite attractive.
The Bus Ride
I generally dislike buses. I know some people meet on buses, form relationships, get married, and live happily ever after. True, I only know one such couple. And I hope I‘m not being unreasonably confident about the “happily” part. What’s more, “ever after” hasn’t ended yet, so I hope I’m right about that too.
The possibility of romance notwithstanding, I still don’t like buses. I find them cramped and often smelly. I much prefer trains.
When I first started thinking about this trip, I looked at trains from Zagreb to Ljubljana. I didn’t yet know when I’d go, so I used a date that was, at that point, in the near future. There were a few trains per day, including at convenient times.
When I booked the trip and went online to buy the ticket I found only one train. It departed and arrived at very inconvenient times. I guess there are fewer trains in the off-season. It’s now mid-October. So I bought a bus ticket instead.
The bus left on time and arrived pretty much on time.
But less than 45 minutes after leaving Zagreb, the driver unexpectedly (unexpected by me, anyway) pulled into an on-highway service centre with gas pumps, a small store and, I assume, toilets.
The driver parked the bus in a bus parking spot, got on the speaker, and said something in Croatian, Slovenian, or possibly both. I don’t know. I imagine he announced why we stopped and how long we’d be there. Beats me. He didn’t repeat the announcement in English. I didn’t need a washroom and stayed on the bus, having no idea how long we’d be there.
The stop was not to let off some passengers and/or pick up others. The purpose apparently was just to provide a rest stop and buy food.
While stopped, I pulled out my phone, opened Google Maps, and looked up how long it should take to drive from the Zagreb bus station to the Ljubljana bus station. One hour and 40 minutes. The bus schedule called for it to take three hours and 45 minutes to make the same trip. The bus made no intermediate stops at other bus stations.
The stop gave me my first clue as to why the bus trip takes more than one hour longer than driving the same route. However, I couldn’t figure out why a bus ride that should take only an hour and 40 minutes needed a rest stop. Buy your snacks and go before you leave, people.
More reasons came quickly.
Not long after leaving that service centre, the bus driver pulled into the exit lane for another service centre. He inched along the through-lane, passed by the service centre without fully stopping, and went back on the highway. Why the detour? I have no idea.
Most of the trip was on a very good divided toll highway, with two lanes in each direction. I don’t know if there is a different speed limit for buses than for cars in Slovenia, but the driver definitely didn’t drive above the car speed limit, and probably considerably below it.
I recognize that speeds seem slower riding higher up off the ground in a bus than when riding closer to the ground in a car. So I was prepared, at first, to accept that I simply misperceived the slowness. Nope.
Throughout the trip, myriad cars passed the bus and left it in their dust. And never once did the bus pull into the passing lane. Along the route, two large trucks, probably at least as long as the bus, if not longer, passed us.
Apart from the slowness of the journey and the cramped, smelly bus, the trip was pleasant enough scenery-wise. We passed by rolling hills, mountains, farms, meadows, forests, towns, and villages. It is pretty country.
The bus arrived almost on time, at just a few minutes past 3:00 in the afternoon.
Aimless Wandering in Ljubljana
My hotel is only a few minutes walk from the Ljubljana bus station. But I didn’t saunter out of the hotel after checking in until a little after 3:30. Not knowing Ljubljana, but wanting to, I decided to wander around aimlessly, walking down any street that looked interesting. My hotel is close to the oldish centre of town. Finding interesting streets was easy.
My first impressions of the town are very positive.
Before getting into that, I should explain a couple of things I said in the last sentence of the first paragraph of this section.
Second, “oldish.” I suck at dating buildings. The ones in the core of the city look to me to be much newer than ancient. But they’re definitely older than the buildings in my newish hometown of Toronto. That having been said, compared to old world Europe, Toronto is brand spanking new, not newish. I may learn the age of a few of the buildings here as I visit them and read more about them.
Oh, there is one building that looks quite old, but I saw it only in the distance. It’s the Ljubljana Castle, up on a high hill. I’ll probably visit it tomorrow. (There’s a funicular.)
The oldish central Ljubljana is delightful. At its core is a public square. Or, to be more accurate, it’s a public circle.
A statue sits in the circle and a few streets radiate off it. All of the streets are lined with charming, oldish buildings.
A muddy-brown river, the Ljubljanica, flows by a point just outside the perimeter of the circle. “Muddy-brown” sounds negative, but it’s actually quite attractive.
Promenades run along both sides of the river. On one side, cafés and restaurants line the promenade for the first couple of blocks past the circle, but they get sparser farther along. The other side also has cafés and restaurants, but spottier rather than lining it.
There is a lovely shopping street a block back from the river and kind of parallel to it.
The city reserves the entire oldish town centre for pedestrians and cyclists. I imagine delivery and utility vehicles must be allowed in at some time, but I didn’t see any this afternoon and evening.
Between the charm of the streets and buildings themselves, and the car-free aspect, Ljubljana has a very laid back feel to it. I’m looking forward to spending a few days here.
I missed lunch while on the bus. When hunger got to me, I stopped at one of the riverside cafés for a piece of a cake advertised as a local specialty and an espresso.
I haven’t spoken to many locals today, just the check-in clerk at the hotel and the server at the café and then later at dinner. So I’m not yet prepared to make a blanket statement on the affability of the people here. However, I will say that the birds in Ljubljana are very friendly.
While I ate my cake and drank my espresso several small birds dropped by to say hello. A few perched on my table, usually one at a time. Or maybe one came back a few times. They all looked the same to me. And several greeted me from perches on the riverside wall immediately beside the table.
Although, if I’m being honest with myself, they were probably more interested in my cake than in me. That’s my lot in life. Less interesting than cake. Then again, cake. It’s tough to compete with that.
When I arrived in Ljubljana, the sky was completely overcast. That didn’t change for the rest of the day.
And it was rather cool. I broke out my fleece for the first time on this trip.
Tomorrow is supposed to deliver some sun and slightly more warmth.
After that, if the forecast is right, it will be warmer, but it will rain the whole time until the day I leave.
I booked one day more here than in Zagreb, five nights and four full days in Ljubljana. I did that because I wanted to book a day trip to what’s supposed to be an area of great scenic beauty that’s not terribly far from Ljubljana. The dilemma was when to book it.
Scenic beauty is usually better in the sun, or at least not in pouring rain. But I didn’t want to do it on the one predicted sunny day, tomorrow, for two reasons. For one, I didn’t want to come to Ljubljana and almost immediately leave for the better part of a day. That felt rude to me. For another, the tour book I use recommends a couple of sights in Ljubljana primarily for their views. Pouring rain tends to shroudd views. So I’ll try to visit them tomorrow.
I’ve now booked the day trip for Friday (today is Tuesday). I have a faint hope that that’s far enough in the future that the forecast will change for the better before then. It’s happened to me before. Not often, but not never.
I leave Sunday for home. But I didn’t book the trip for Saturday because the tour operator says that they may cancel a tour if they don’t get enough people. They promise that if that happens I can choose between going on another day or getting a full refund. The rain might steer people wiser than I am away from the tour. By booking Friday, if it gets cancelled, I still have Saturday.
We’ll see what happens. Stay tuned.
A bit of a funny story. When I got around to booking this trip, I found that the best options for flight times and connections involved flying into Dubrovnik and flying out of Ljubljana. (Actually, I hadn’t originally planned to visit Ljubljana at all. But all of the flights out of Dubrovnik and Zagreb with connections to Toronto left ridiculously early. If at all possible, I don’t do ridiculously early. Ljubljana offered more reasonable flight times for connections to Toronto. So, here I am. Thank you, airlines for convincing me to end in Ljubljana. So far, I’m glad I’m here.)
But that’s not the funny story. This is.
I got on the airline’s web site, found some days with reasonable prices, and tried to book it. After clicking the “book” button, filling in the information on the next screen, and pressing the “continue” button, the website threw up an error and told me to try again and if it happened repeatedly to call the reservation number.
It happened repeatedly. I called the reservation number.
The reservation person asked me where I was going and when. I told her.
Then she asked me where I was returning from and when.
I started laughing and told her that that is why I particularly wanted to book this flight online. I had no idea how to pronounce the name of the city I wanted to return from. So, rather than try to pronounce it, I gave her the airport code.
There was a moment of silence. Then she started laughing and said, “neither do I.”
As it turned out, the price she quoted me was significantly higher than what I found online for the same flights. I told her no.
The next day, I went back online, tried looking at the week after the one I originally tried to book, found a decent price, and this time the system liked me. The rest is, as I write this, the present.
Alright, that wasn’t all that funny. But they can’t all be gems. I’m sure I’ll come up with a gem sometime. If I live long enough.
Oh, by the way, my ear isn’t attuned to the local language sounds, so I might have this wrong. But if I heard the bus driver correctly, Ljubljana pronounced roughly as lube-yawna.
Then again, maybe he pronounced it in Slovenian rather than Croatian. I read somewhere that, despite the two countries being neighbours and both formerly being part of the late Yugoslavia, the languages are quite different.