Sunday, September 20, 2015

We visited Ljubljana – Slovenia, 14 May 2015 – End of East Europe trip

The history of Slovenia is very similar to other East European countries – early Roman Influence – ravaged by WW I and WW II – thereafter under Communist Yugoslavian regime and eventually independence on 25 June 1991. Slovenia joined the European Union on 1 May 2004. Slovenia is blessed with a very well educated work force and an excellent infrastructure of road, rail and air connectivity. It boasts of a well developed economy – second only to the Czech. The prosperity is very evident as one travels through the capital city of Ljubljana.

Having come so far we toyed with the idea of visiting next door Ljubljana – Slovenia - even if it was for a short period. We took a train from Zagreb;the rail station’s conveniently located opposite our hotel at 0630 h and we reached Ljubljana around 1000 h. We returned by about 1900 h. The entire journey was smooth and effortless. The railway system is very modern, clean and efficient. It was indeed a pleasure to travel without any glitches. There are 101 inhabitants per every sq km as against 380 in India. As a result one does not see overcrowding anywhere. It is very difficult to spot any animal. The region around is mountainous and riddled with a number of rivers and streams – making the countryside a pleasure to watch.

Ljubljana is an ancient city, dating back to the Roman period. It is located on the banks of River Ljubljanica.  The city is located at an elevation of 968 ft. Bangalore is 5 times the size of Ljubljana - which is blessed with a very low population of 272,000 as against our 10.8 million that makes it a mind blogging 40 times. It is extremely invigorating to see very few people on the roads, rail stations, public places and elsewhere as against our chaotic setting. We strolled our way through the city and spent considerable time sitting in the market square and absorbing the essence of the city. We had a fabulous lunch in a restaurant by the river. 

East Europe

Over the last sixty years these countries have toiled hard to consolidate their economy and infrastructure which in turn has resulted in making their society vibrant and prosperous. Peace has prevailed in these parts during this period. A war free environment has been responsible for triggering growth and stability to a very large extent. Tourism is a big money spinner in these countries and all of them have taken an integrated approach to sustain it. Dwindling population poses a very big problem in this region. Looking back on this wonderful trip, I can say we were quite lucky there was no migrant problem on hand, whilst we were there. I am sure they will find a solution and life will continue – albeit a few changes.

Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Zagreb and Ljubljana represent the best of Europe – loads of history and culture, brilliant architecture, lively city life, clean and orderly, good food, excellent wine and much more. In short it is a traveller’s dream.

Every time we return from a trip abroad, I feel India is being left out of the race – be it China or South Africa or even Sri Lanka  - all of them have made great strides in building their nations. We, meaning the people, government, media and others continue to be preoccupied with petty issues, low level of politics, party squabbles and other such useless activities. There is hardly any concern or debate for nation building activities. Maximum time is spent on non issues such as Sheena – Indrani murder case, Hard Dick and his uprising, Meat ban, etc.

As far as we are concerned – “It’s a long long way to Tipperary”  and our only hope is the growing concern of the young, who are making constant efforts in small pockets to make life better, so we have traffic free Sundays, cycle marathons, cleaning crews like the Ugly Indians who anonymously work to better our streets, bit by bit.

From the train - lovely countryside
Lots of water bodies on the way
Some more water bodies
fairy tale setting

On the streets of  Ljubljana
Adam and Eve.These thoroughly fascinating grotesques are the creations of Slovene sculptor Jakov rdar  
Sunday market scene - Fruits and vegetables galore
Jai enjoying the market scene
The satyr by Jakov Brdar 
A lovely lunch at Fany and Mary. The waitress readily agreed to pose for me.
Another interesting poster
Photo after lunch by the river
The river in the heart of the city.

Grand Hotel Union

A very orderly city

Fascinating flowers
Cobble stone street
Upper Carniola Region - Franciscan Church of Annunciation
Love padlocks on Butcher’s Bridge. Couples lock them here to symbolise their eternal love.
A lovely country scene

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

We visited Zagreb - Croatia 12 May to 13 May 2105

Lake Balaton 12 May 

We left Budapest early in the morning with Mr. Aaron. On the way to Zagreb, lies the largest fresh water lake of Central Europe - Lake Balaton. When I saw it for the first time, I thought we were facing a sea front – not realizing we stood face to face with a lake which is 77 Km in length and 14 Km in width, covering an area of 592 Sq Km – Since Hungary is landlocked, Lake Balaton is often affectionately called the "Hungarian Sea". This nickname isn't far from the truth. Fresh water, beaches, swimming, luxury resorts, yachting and water sports makes Lake Balaton one of the most sought after tourist destinations in Central Europe.

We spent the whole morning appreciating the surroundings – had coffee and departed.

The size of the lake is amazing

Sailors paradise

The flotila
Photo op

Jai testing her luck

An array of birds

As if some one in entering harbour

The towmship
Immaculately clean

Varazdin 12 May  

Lake Balaton and the beautiful town of Varazdin are located enroute to Zagreb and we did not have to deviate much from the highway.These are some of the unbeatable advantages of traveling in a van. We just paid Mr. Aaron the extra 15 Euro per hour from the beaten track. A great way to travel.

Once upon a time Varazdin was Croatia's capital (now Zagreb) and it retains an aura of stately dignity. The town is extremely well maintained and the baroque style architecture stands out – loud and clear. For any first time visitor, the city appears to have come out of a fairy tale – quiet, very few people on the road, lovely roundabouts where one can sit and watch as the day unfolds - very good food and much more. We spent our brief time walking aimlessly around the main thoroughfare, did some serious leather shopping followed by some elbow bending  and a lovely lunch. An afternoon delightfully spent.

Row houses - approaching the town

Beautiful roads - a pleasure to drive

Main road to city centre - National theater on the left

Winding our way on cobble stones

Finally lunch at Domenico

Effects of a good lunch

Market area

Varazdin's Cathedral

Zagreb 12 to 13 May

Initially we had planned to visit Split and may be do a day trip to Montenegro. Due to air connectivity and distances we decided to just stick to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Situated on the banks of River Sava, Zagreb radiates old world charm from every nook and corner. By international standards it’s a small city with a population of less than a million people – 0.7 million. Their economy is very robust and vibrant, which is very evident as one travels around the city and the surrounding area. After WWII, Croatia became a single party socialist federal unit of the Yugoslavia, ruled by the Communists. Following the death of Yugoslav ruler Tito in 1980, the political situation in Yugoslavia deteriorated and culminated in Croatia seeking independence. Croatia declared independence in June 1991. Croatia became a member of NATO on 1 April 2009, and joined the European Union on 1 July 2013. Tourism dominates the Croatian service sector and accounts for up to 20% of the Croatian GDP.

Dividends of peace since 1945 and liberation from the communist grip since 1985 – 1991 can be seen everywhere. The people on the streets, shopkeepers, hotel staff, taxi drivers – all appear to be happy and contented. The city is full of life.

We had excellent weather throughout our stay with a bit of drizzle here and there. We stayed at Hotel Central – the name sums up the location – next to the transport hub and the railway station. The tram stop was right next to the hotel. The historic Upper Town and the vibrant Ilica Street with numerous shops was just 2 tram stops away. Walk and watch was the theme of our stay. Come lunch and dinner time, we would select a pavement restaurant and order some beer or wine and watch the world go by. We watched Zagreb in slow time - nothing fixed or planned – but we blended with the crowd and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Group of houses
Market area
Platz vor der Kathedrale
 Wine and dinner on Tkalciceva street
I found the signs very amusing
Flowers are hugely popular
At the city center
Zagreb’s main square – Trg ban Jelacic -
If you enjoy people-watching, sit in one of the cafes and watch the tram loads of people getting out, greeting each other and dispersing among the newspaper and flower sellers.
The yellow Art Pavilion presents changing exhibitions of contemporary art. Constructed in 1897 in stunning art-nouveau style, the pavilion is the only space in Zagreb that was specifically designed to host large exhibitions.
An excellent and convenient mode of transport - just opposite our hotel
King Tomislav Statue,
Band playing in the city center