Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ljubljana

Slovenia’s capital has to be one of my favourite cities. Not only is it surrounded by snowcapped peaks, but it has a cute little city centre that straddles a narrow creek. Both sides are so close to each other that any bridge crossing takes seconds. During the summer, there are endless outdoor cafes that made me a tad jealous I was there in the winter.

Overlooking the town is a castle on top of a hill. A “funicular”, which is present in every former Soviet capital with so much as a bump in its landscape, runs to the top. The big difference is that the cars boast the European Union engineering that their Caucasian counterparts most definitely lack. From the castle, Ljubljana and it’s alpine backdrop are in full view. It’s quite the sight on a clear day.

The city has all the great things about a European capital while adding a touch of the former east bloc and the Mediterranean. Just be writing that, I feel like I’m talking myself into living there one day. It may not be a bad idea….

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Zagreb

Zagreb is set beautifully in the foothills of the Alps. You have a world-class ski hill mere minutes away, spectacular vistas from certain parts of the city on clear days, and crisp mountain air. These are things even the Soviets couldn’t ruin. Perhaps it was because they were too busy erecting cookie-cutter apartment blocks. I remember taking one picture of three such monstrosities lined up along the river that could’ve been mistaken for almost any former Soviet capital. Greetings from Zagreb, or was it Kiev or Sofia?

The centre of town is quaint to say the least. Streetcars and trams run all over the place and cars are not allowed on some streets. The buildings are also beautifully restored. It’s like wondering around a more vibrant western European regional capital. But then you come across the old, still functioning former Soviet bazaar and remember what makes the Balkans so fascinating.

One story, albeit an unconventional one, sticks out at me. The National Football league playoffs were going and my favourite team was scheduled to play one of the nights I was in Zagreb. I couldn’t miss this game, so I spent almost the entire day searching for a place that would show it. Not surprisingly, no bar had any of the channels. About ten minutes before kickoff, we ended up in a casino (our last chance). To our delight, the game would be showing on the big screen. It was a happy moment.