Ljubljana Wall Art

There was  a continuous wall of graffiti outside our apartment.  On the other side of the wall was a once prosperous bicycle factory.  The Rog factory is now shuttered.  At one time our apartment was housing for factory workers. Interestly, when I was taking the pictures there were cyclists passing by.DSCN2312

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Logo of the Bicycle Company.

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This is the last shot of wall outside our apartment.  
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Martin Luther King is part of this mural found in a different section of Ljubljana.
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The entire side of this building was painted and appears to be signed by Miron.

Postojna Cave, Slovenia

The tour of the cave lasts 1.5 hours.  A 15-minute train ride takes visitors into the cave. The train passes through a very narrow passage. A tall person would need to duck frequently.  Like the there was no room on the sides.  They did not warn the passengers to kept their arms in, but it was obvious.  The train stopped and everyone walks a trail for the next hour. Because it had rained during the previous week, the ceilings were constantly dripping.   A startling fact was that the stalagmites grow at the rate of one millimeter during a ten-year period.  It take a century to add one centimeter.  To add an inch, it would take 254 years.IMG_1156

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The reddish color indicates the presence of iron oxide.

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This is the featured stalagmite of the Cave.  It is pure limestone.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

We had the good fortune of meeting Aleksander and Natalija Spec and two of their children Miha (age 17) and Marušam (age 11) in Ljubljana. Their oldest son, Matic is studying at the University of Minnesota and is the boyfriend of our niece Kaitlyn.   The Spec’s are from Maribor, Slovenia and drove to Ljubljana to meet us.  We had a wonderful day as we walked around the city and saw the sights. 

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At the Castle that overlooks Ljubljana. From the left Miha, Marusam, Natalija, Marcia and Jack.  In the distance are Austrian mountains.
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When we reached the top of the castle we discovered that today was the one day of the year that people come together to enact the middle ages.
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The bread of the gentleman to the left was real.  He could easily be cast in a Hollywood film as someone playing as character from the middle ages. To his right is an early printing press.  Let let me try it and it was surprising how much strength was required to fully engage the lever to create the print.

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Looking up at the tower of the castle.  We stood at the top and were able to see a 360° view of of green hills and mountains surrounding Ljubljana in springtime.

 

 

Life is a journey, not a destination

Emerson’s quote is particularly apt for our 7 hours of driving from Thessaloniki to Belgrade, Serbia.  The green countryside went on and on.  We tended to follow valleys that stretched between mountains.  The valleys were sparsely populated with small towns and agriculture flourished.  Beautiful fields of varied crops. Of course, the ubiquitous grape vines were everywhere.

As we neared the Macedonian border, we saw several refugee camps. Three or four person tents were one next to the other.  It looked like there was maybe 6 inches of space between them. The tents were of the cheap K-Mart variety, none of the sturdy well designed North Face or Marmot tents.  The first camp we came to looked like maybe 300 to 500 people were crammed into an area near the road. We saw two more camps that were smaller.  It felt inappropriate to stop and a take a picture, so we did not. The girls took a break from their e-books and paid attention while we were passing the camps.  Marcia and I discussed the horrors that the refugees had endured in Syria and the challenges of their migration to the Macedonian border, but it did not sink in for the girls.  It was almost as though they had a built-in defense mechanism to avoid thinking about it.  They returned to their e-books without mentioning the camps.

Once we passed the border, we needed a bathroom break. We exited the highway and expected to be on a road to get us a restaurant.  No luck.  We drove a narrow road for at least ten minutes and arrived at what looked like a gated hotel.  No luck again, as the security guard told us it was not a hotel, “factory, factory.”  We asked about a restaurant and he encouraged us to stay on the road for another 5 km.  He was right.  We arrived at a town that was clearly off the tourist map.  Parking was a challenge as cars were angled up over the curb on a 45 degree angle.  With some patience, we found an excellent excellent parking spot.  Marcia saw a building that looked like a hotel.  Turned out it was city hall. Both Marcia and I set off the metal detector.  The guard was not worried about the alarm and kindly pointed us to the bathrooms four doors down the hall on the left. As I finished before the four girls, I returned and asked about a restaurant.  He kindly left his booth and walked to the door and said, “Walk left and two rights.”  All we had to do was follow the smell of the BBQ.  It was at most a one-minute walk.

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Sarah and Ella can be seen sitting under the main awning to the right.  Ella has a green shirt on Sarah has her new black Guns and Roses sleeveless shirt and is facing left.
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I asked about a menu in English and was informed the menu was only in Macedonian.  When asked what they had, our waiter kindly told us what was available.  He mentioned chicken fillet and we said two plates.  He then encouraged us to get get vegetables.  After a few minutes he returned and said the vegetables were spicy.  We asked for mild.  We saw no hot peppers in the dish, but there was clearly something that gave it a kick.  It had a flavor that was new to our palettes.  Bottom line, the vegetables were excellent. So was the garlic bread.
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As we were finishing the meal, our waiter asked if we wanted baclava.  We had not had it but maybe twice in Greece, it made sense to go for it.  Another time that we were surprised with what the waiter brought.  There was a big layer of poppy seeds, a generous amount of honey, and the expected layers of phylo.  As can be seen they added chocolate drizzle.  Again, absolutely delicious.  
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After Macedonia, we crossed the border to Serbia.  There was quite queue to get in.

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Life is the journey.  Passing the refugees was difficult. There was the immediate sadness of thinking about how difficult their lives have been to flee their homes.  There were also the feelings of helplessness and frustration knowing the immense scale of the diaspora occuring worldwide.  One other facet of the experience is guilt about our circumstances being so favorable. We drove on to Belgrade and took warm showers, had a savory Serbian dinner, and slept in comfortable beds.

 

Thessaloniki, Greece

Although there was some disappointment about not being able to take the ferry to Trieste, that evaporated once we arrived in Thessaloniki.  We used Hyatt points to stay four nights at the Hyatt Regency Resort at Thessaloniki.  Having left the hustle and bustle of Athens, the park like setting of Hyatt was a breath of fresh air.  It was also nice to have a climate controlled room without hearing the annoying buzz of mosquitos during the night.  For four nights in Athens, all five us would wake at different times and hear pesky mosquitos. It was not like the apartment was inundated with mosquitoes, there were just a few that were small and fast.  They left their mark on Rachel, Ella, and to a lesser degree Sarah. The mosquitoes seemed to have a preference for hands, feet, face, and whatever was sticking out from under the covers.  Marcia and I did not escape unscaded so we had to exercise self control to avoid making the bites worse.

Our goal at Thessaloniki was to relax, swim and do little sight seeing.  The hotel staff made life very pleasant.  The setting was beautiful.  There were indoor and outdoor pools.  Since it was early in the season, the outdoor pool was like jumping in the Atlantic off the coast of Maine or Lake Michigan in June. As is often said, it’s not bad once you get in. The outdoor was actually bigger than the below video would indicate.

The concierge on duty was also the one who helped with bags and parked cars. Over the four days we were in Thessaloniki, we talked with Mike and Marios numerous times.  They had multiple suggestions for beaches, museums, restaurants, and shopping. The kids had hit the upper limit of their tolerance for museums and car trips to ancient sites, so we let Marcia do a solo visit to the Jewish museum in Thessaloniki.  Sadly, the once thriving Thessalonikian Jewish community was decimated when almost they were put on trains to concentration camps and did not come back.

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We did make short trips to Mediterrean Cosmos Mall. It was the place to go for locals.  They claim to be the largest mall in Northen Greece.  I believe it because we walked by all of the 200 plus stores.  Here the girls are trying to avoid the camera. The food court had 15 or so restaurants.  Note Marcia and I did not go with the KFC option.
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The view from the outdoor seating for the food court.  Notice the Aegean Sea between the peninsula and the amusement park.
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Proof that Marcia and I ate the local option and not KFC.  2.8 Euros (about $3.15 USD) for each of our chicken gyros.  Absolutely delicious.  We will miss the many Greek salads, gyros, and lamb we enjoyed in Greece.

Our concierge, Marios asked about our travels, so I gave him our URL.  He mentioned his colleague, Mike kept a blog on his motorcycle travels with his wife and number of their friends.  http://moto-traveler.blogspot.rs/  The blog has great pictures, and there is a translate function to convert Greek to English.   Over and over again, the best part of traveling is meeting people and getting a glimpse into their worlds.

Sparta

 

 

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The theater at Sparta which held an audience of 16,000. It was built from 30 to 20 BCE.
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Another view of the theater at Sparta.  Between the ancient ruins and the modern city of Sparta is a grove of olive trees.  Notice the mountains in the background.  The mountains are actually closer than they look. A strategic advantage of Sparta was that it sat between two mountain ranges. 

At the conclusion of the almost three decade Peloponnesian War (404 BCE), Sparta was the most powerful Greek city-state. Sparta defeated Athens. Unlike other city-states that were known for producing musicians, poets, authors and philosophers, Sparta was known as a warrior society. Boys began military training at age 7. Life was brutal. Boys inflicted significant pain on their peers in violent competitions. At the hands of their older peers they learned to stoically endure pain. In their military training they learned obedience, duty, discipline, endurance, courage and self-control. They served as full-time soldiers from age 20 to 60. Even though marriage was encouraged, the men lived communally with their fellow soldiers until age 30.

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Remnants of the Agora at Sparta.
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Modern Sparta

 

I was interested in visiting Sparta as one of the most powerful Greek City-States, but also because my high school was the home of the Spartans. For two years, I was a sixth string running back for the Spartan football team.   I recall gruelling two-a-day practices during the two weeks prior to the start of school. In the sweltering heat and high humidity of August, I recall being encouraged to pop salt pills and drink water during practice breaks.   very popular Vince Lombardi approach to coaching during the late sixties.  Since I barely weighed 120 lbs, it was pure torture.  It hurt when big, fast and strong  kids tackled me or blocked me when I was playing defense.  When asked what position I played, I would joke, “left out.”   About 25 years after I graduated I walked in the high school with my oldest daughter, Megan.  Amost immediately I saw one of the assistant football coaches, Mr Malhorn. He glared and instantly said, “Mr. Outside…wow, Come  see Coach Kuklick, he’ll get a kick out of seeing you.”  Mr. Outside was my nickname based on my less than sterling skills as a running back.  I could not believe the coaches recognized me after the passage of so many years.

Above is picture of my high school stadium that was new when I was sitting on the bench, more than 45 years ago. The spartan image was ever present during those years.  At the lower right is head Coach Al Black who engineered a perfect season in fall of 1970.

DSCN2156Back to present day, the photo at the left is me at the Spartan statue that is by the entrance to the futbol stadium that is on the outskirts of present day Sparta.  As Marcia and I were taking this picture a Greek tourist asked us if knew what the inscription meant.  He said it translates as “Come and Take” and was a taunt that Spartans used. He explained it dared the enemy to die trying to take Sparta. My new Greek friend also posed next to the statue.  Eventually, I took a picture of him and his wife in front the statue. According to Wikipedia, Molon labe (Greek: μολὼν λαβέ molṑn labé), means “come and take [them]”, and is a classical expression of defiance. According to Herodotus, when the Persian armies demanded that the Greeks surrender their weapons at the Battle of Thermopylae, King Leonidas I responded with this phrase.DSCN2148

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Futbol players coming off the field in Sparta, Greece.

Plan B

Our original intent was to leave Athens, drive to Patras and board a ferry to Trieste, Italy. The ferry had numerous amenities; pool, hot tub, disco, dining room with white table clothes, etc.  We would have passed the coasts of Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia on the starboard side of the boat.  That was the plan until we received the below email.

From: Elisa Zoccolan
Date: May 6, 2016 at 6:11:39 PM GMT+3
To: Marcia J. Campbell
Subject: RE:  J7974 – booking confirmation Patras – Trieste – STRIKE – CANCELLATION – URGENT !

Dear Mrs Campbell,

We feel sorry to inform you that the hellenic seamen´s announce initially for 08.05. only has been extended to 06.-10.05. Therefore, your ferry on 09.05. won´t depart. You can travel on 16.05. to Trieste.

Please inform me asap which possibility you prefer.

Of course, also a cancellation with full refund is possible. I apologize for the inconvenience and look forward to your soon reply!

Best regards,

Elisa Zoccolan
Reservation Department

Greekferries Club S.A.

Direct:  +30 2810 529 001

Hence, Plan B. Since we could not delay a week due to reservations, we decided to drive. We knew there was a Hyatt in the northeastern part of Greece.  It was a little over a five hour drive, so Marcia called Hyatt reservations three times.  The first two times the reservation specialist said sorry, no availability.  Since Marcia is persistent and saw availability on Travelocity, she called for the third time.  The third time was a charm, Marcia booked two adjoining rooms for four nights.

The Thessaloniki Hyatt Regency turned out to be an exquisite Plan B.  Since we had received free breakfast at a high-end Park Hyatt in Paris, Marcia asked whether as Premier members we would have that benefit.  The clerk said she would check with the manager and let us know.  An hour later a typed letter arrived and said they would provide breakfasts.  Hurray for Marcia!  The pool was a bit chilly, no downright cold, but the kids were game.  Without the strong encouragement from the kids, I would have never considered taking the plunge.  Notice all the others in the pool!

Plan B turned out to be a wonderful respite from the hussle and bussle of Athens.  We arrived on Monday. It was immediately after the last weekend of two week Greek holiday. Hence we shared the large resort with very few others.