Our flight out of Istanbul was through Ataturk Airport, on the European side of the city. Since the flight was at 3:35 pm., we had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast at Stone House. Esan and Vefa were not there as they live on the Asian side of Istanbul, across the Bosphorus. They usually arrive in the afternoon/evening for work. We said goodbye to them the night before. Vefa made sure to tell his brother, Sefa, to cook us the best breakfast and use the best ingredients.
The breakfast was simple–a cheese and mushroom omelette for Barry and a cheese omelette for me. Fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, vegetables and pita bread rounded out our meal. Before leaving, I took a photo of Stefa and his helper, heartily shook Stefa’s hand and told him how much we appreciated their hospitality and wonderful food. I was kind of sad to leave because I felt I had made friends.
Our taxi driver got us to Ataturk airport quickly. Along the way we once again saw skyscrapers and hotels, apartment complexes and beautifully landscaped boulevards. I truly felt like I was back in Orange County. We drove along the Bosphorus and I realized how close the water had been to our hotel. The Bosphorus was packed with freighters, showcasing the importance of Istanbul as a port city.
The flight to Ljubljana on Turkish Airlines was pleasant and only lasted about two hours. We were surprised to be given a very nice, very tasty lunch on such a short flight. Compared to what American airlines are offering nowadays, we felt spoiled.
The Ljubljana airport was quite small. I knew that Slovenia and Ljubljana were both sparsely populated. This airport seemed smaller than the airport in Eugene, Oregon, near my hometown. A half hour shuttle to our hotel was only nine euros per person. The drive into Ljubljana was reminiscent of a drive through Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The land was obviously fertile with farms everywhere. Trees abounded and small towns dotted the landscape. I felt like I was home.
We arrived at our hotel, Galeria River, perched right on the banks of the Ljubljanica River, a meandering waterway flowing through the town. The building hearkened back to Soviet times. The outside is beautifully maintained, the inside somewhat spartan. Our room, however, was completely remodeled with a safe and a huge bathroom. Our room looked out on the promenade and the river, albeit without air conditioning.
The weather was very warm–upper nineties–and quite humid. After checking in, we started walking along the promenade. Ljubljana, with a population of 272,000 is smaller than the Salem Metropolitan Area, my former hometown. Restaurants and bars lined the slow-moving river. The atmosphere was probably the most laid back of any city I’ve ever experienced.
We walked along the river and found ourselves relaxing with every step. No one was hurrying, there was no traffic. People strolled along both sides of the river and enjoyed their meals and drinks at a leisurely pace. The architecture, something I enjoy immensely, was beautiful. We found a pub and ordered two Salisbury steak burgers platters and two beers and savored the atmosphere of this lovely city.
After dinner, we continued walking. Pastry shops called my name, but I held back. Willow trees wept over the banks of the river. Musicians played jazz. Outdoor restaurants offered easily accessible waterfront seating with no waiting. It was obvious to me that Ljubljana is an undiscovered jewel in Europe.
The city dos not have a huge offering of things to do. There are the requisite cathedrals that exist in every European capital. There’s Slovenian cuisine. Ljubljana Castle offers a summer film series called “Under the Stars” that we attended. The film offered was “The Immitation Game”, an Oscar contender. Outside, in the courtyard of an ancient castle, watching the film swept me away.
The next day we got up and had breakfast along the river walk. Ljubljana reminded me of a smaller version of Prague with its intact architecture everywhere.
Since we were only scheduled for one day, we had to run and pick up our train tickets for Zagreb, Croatia. We spent the day strolling and sitting, drinking and nibbling. I had not had a chance to sample Slovenian delicacies so I walked into a restaurant and ordered four of them to eat–as our lunch. My traveling companion’s eyes fairly popped out of his head when the waitress brought the plates to our table–mango and passion fruit, sponge cake with hazelnut crust, a passion fruit and raspberry tart, a chocolate and cherry ganache topped with almonds and another chocolate and raspberry concoction.
My companion overdosed on sugar halfway through our “meal”. I, however, plowed along until every last bit was gone. If I could have licked the plates clean without looking gauche, I would have.
After our decadent afternoon, we left for the train station for the two hour trip to Zagreb. The train was very modern and comfortable. However, it had absolutely no air conditioning. Everyone in our car was noticeably silent. I calculated it was due to the communal suffering we were all experiencing in 93 degree weather with 75% humidity. Sweat was dripping down my neck and into my eyes.
When we finally reached Zagreb, our clothes were wet with perspiration. We walked to our hotel down seemingly deserted streets. This was, after all, Saturday. Yet I expected more people to be out and about.
Checking in to our hotel, we flopped onto our beds and attempted to get our bodies to solidify from the liquid state we had been in for the past several hours. I was feeling lousy, coughing my brains out and totally void of energy. The next day we would hit Zagreb.