I’ve decided to shut down this blog for a number of reasons.
I looked at the photos I took over the past four days and they are all of old churches, old buildings and old statues; pretty landscapes; food you’ve almost certainly seen before. They are not exciting when I look at them, I can’t believe they would be for you.
Readership is way down from my Portugal blog which tells me that the Balkans aren’t so interesting or my posts aren’t. Most of my several followers haven’t even read a single post. Friends of mine who signed up for email notifications haven’t read anything, either. I know this because I know where they live and their country hasn’t shown up on my map widget.
Most importantly, I’m not excited about this trip and what I’m seeing. It’s a rehash of other countries I’ve visited. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between Poland and Croatia/Slovenia. Churches, castles, similar foods. Writing about it is work, not joy.
I chose Croatia because of the hype. It was the new hot place to go. My curiosity was piqued. In the future I will listen only to my instincts as I’ve done in the past.
If you really want to learn more about this part of the world, there are thousands of blogs online written by people who are enthusiastic about the Balkans.
Slovenia, the native land of America’s first lady, didn’t thrill me like I had hoped it would. Well, in a couple of areas it did. Perhaps it’s not fair that I’m comparing it to Croatia and Zagreb, specifically–it could be totally better than other Balkan countries–but that’s my only reference point. I was expecting the country to be a cool place simply based on the cool sounding name of its capital, Ljubljana (lube-lee-ahna), but it wasn’t, at least not in the immediate feel, first impression kind of way. What disappointed me the most is that overall, the people aren’t as friendly here and, sadly, as I read in a museum this morning, the xenophobic feeling of Slovenians, which existed for many centuries, is making a comeback.
I liked a few things about the country. You can drink the tap water. That saves money. Drivers are courteous, stopping to let pedestrians cross at every crosswalk where no stoplight is present. The scenery in the countryside is picturesque, some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Even better than Portugal which I was sure couldn’t be surpassed. On the bus from Zagreb I saw hillside houses, farms and fields and thought how nice it would be to live there. Oh, and the beer. The pivo was one of the two highlights of my time in Slovenia. (More about that in the food section.)
The other one was five young people I met with whom I was able to engage in lengthy dialogues. This is one of the benefits in traveling during the off-season when crowds are smaller. Speaking of crowds, I truly believe half of the foreign tourists in town right now (as opposed to national tourists) are from Asia. Japan and China make up the majority, but one store owner told me lots of Koreans, Indonesians and Malaysians also visit. Back to the young people.
The two guys in the photo below are students. They work at a kielbasa shop and we chatted for almost an hour as business was slow in mid-afternoon. They’d like to find jobs abroad. Leah is a bartender who wants to attend a dance academy in Amsterdam. Auditions are next April. Lidja, another bartender, was applying for a higher paying job and when she heard me say I was an English teacher, she asked me if I would help her with her cover letter, which she conveniently had with her. That was total fun. And finally, my waiter at a restaurant near where I was staying told me that he lived in Miami for six years when he worked on a cruise ship. I told him that he probably lived on the ship more than in Miami. He laughed and agreed. The time I spent talking with these locals, well, it was special.
I’m sad that I’m writing about Ljubljana and I still have 2 1/2 days here. I’m manufacturing things to do to get me to Tuesday. One thing I’ve learned in my travels is that not every destination lives up to the self-imposed hype we place on it. My track record has been top notch, but I missed the boat with Slovenia. Two more posts, activities and food , will follow shortly.
My first night I walked about 5 minutes to Baranjska Citadela. It serves food from the Baranja region of Croatia in the far eastern part of the country. I ordered ćobanac, a beef and dumpling soup with a spicy paprika broth. I envisioned my Polish grandmother standing at her wood burning stove tending to the soups she made. I drank a beer brewed in the same region, Osječko.
In a park not far from the main square (Zagreb has many green spaces.), 20 or more hamburger restaurants were grilling all kinds of fancy fare. Burgers with black truffles, with white truffles, with a Jameson whiskey sauce and who knows what else tempted hungry tourists and locals alike at a Burger Festival. My burger, along with a locally brewed stout, made for a delicious lunch.
Based on a recommendation from Kristina, our walking tour guide, I visited a small local eatery near the square called Heritage; small as in 2 tables, 5 stools and no toilet. A winner of Best Chef of Croatia and a couple of his friends opened a tapas-like place that uses only ingredients made and grown in Croatia. The food was so good that I went there twice. The server explains the origin of each ingredient in each tapa you order. I drank a tasty artisanal beer and a glass of blackberry dessert wine there, as well. Click on the tapas’ photos to learn the ingredients.
Kulen, a spicy sausage, grilled sour peppers and cream cheese (but different than the US)
Pumpkin pesto, roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin oil
Sour cherry jam, cream cheese (but different than the US) and walnuts
Another wonderful restaurant in my heighborhood (menu only in Croatian) introduced me to čufta–which is meatball in Croatian–a large minced pork patty topped with melted cheese and bacon. Good thing my diet doesn’t begin until I get back to Mexico. This meal was also accompanied with a dark beer, Korlovačko crno. Crno means black.
I ate my favorite meal today. It rained all morning and it was quite chilly, but I knew I had to go out to find something to eat. As I was leaving, my host Izidor told me he had made some soup and would I like some. He didn’t have to ask twice. It was a savory bean and barley soup with homemade bacon. He offered seconds and I readily accepted. What a great way to end a week at my Airbnb!
I encountered an interesting practice at a few restaurants, all of them in my neighborhood, not the tourist area. Here’s an example: I ordered spaghetti bolognese at an Italian restaurant near my house. On the receipt pictured below you can see that I was charged for both the spaghetti and the sauce. It was not a surprise; it’s listed that way on the menu. If I had ordered penne, I would have been charged 12kuna instead of 14. And carbonara was a different price than bolognese.
Tomorrow morning I take a 2.5 hour bus ride to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. I’m excited about the week I’ll spend there. Not sure what’s up after that.