Bus-ing Round the Balkans travel blog

 

 

 

 

 

 


My plan for today is to: walk to the bus station, check the times for the various places I've been pondering, and then figure out what to do next. (I know, it took me a long time to come up with that level of detail.)

The rain has ratcheted up from persistent to torrential - I am already decidedly soggy - and as I approach the station a bus for Ljubljana pulls in. Decision made. You don't need to buy a ticket in advance here, so my timing is perfect. Like Robinson Crusoe, I'm not going to ignore such a clear direction from the universe.

My priorities for Ljubljana are to: resume where I left off with the Emona trail, visit the National University Library, take a closer look at the Cathedral and see if I can go inside, and possibly visit the Castle if I have any time left. Interesting as the castle sounds, I have seen so many of them now, and taken in so many amazing hilltop views, that I'd rather have some different experiences if I have to choose. I am very happy to allow Bled to cover the Slovenian castle requirement.

Beginning with Emona again I set off to locate the National Museum. Trying to find it I accidentally walk into Slovenia's Parliament building instead. There should really be some kind of sign before you're faced with security guards... In my defence though, the theme for the decorations around the Parliament entrance seemed very similar to those of Albania's National Museum. It looked plausible to me, even if I was the only one who thought so.

The actual museum, when I found it, was brilliant. There were fully detailed, insightful explanations accompanying everything - all with English translations. Even better, its focus was through prehistory to the Roman era and considered the cultural aspects of the physical archaeology. Not just the what, but the why, the symbolism, the relationship between people and their surroundings. For instance, the ritual in the way a Roman town was created and laid out, the way its very creation changed the landscape and the way people experienced that landscape, and therefore the messages so communicated, the power exerted, etc. The practical function is such a minor consideration in understanding the past, whether you're looking at a simple glass bead, a monument, or a sprawling town.

I have been doing a fair amount of reading around archaeology and prehistory lately, especially the neolithic and bronze age. As I think I've said before my interest lies more with prehistoric culture, religion, language, human experience and understanding of the world, and less with the intricate details of precisely how a house would be built (for example).

All of which I share, because it explains why I moved at a glacial pace through the museum (many people arrived, explored, and left again before I was even done with one room). It fascinated me. And not just the content of the exhibits, but the way they were presented, the way the language used to describe the past imposes judgements and prejudices based on the way we live (calling people's homes "huts" instead of "houses" being a common one). The way we still blithely continue to describe all non Roman peoples as "Barbarians" - who lacked culture, or knowledge, or refinement, or skill - as if this is an objective fact rather than the Roman propaganda and prejudice it really is, that doesn't actually stand up to the slightest amount of scrutiny.

That one's a pet hate of mine admittedly, but it was also interesting seeing the language used to explain some of the things I have been reading about. Some of it offered interesting insights, alternative factors and angles I hadn't thought of; some of it left me wondering whether it wasn't a little misleading in the overly simplistic explanations of more complex issues. (I don't think any of this was a translation "issue", it was really high quality.)

Anyway, just as the museum has sidetracked me in writing this post, so too did it in my Ljubljana exploration. I had thought I might spend an hour there before moving on, not three!

Next up was the National University Library, which I had read had impressive architecture inside and appealed to me as something a bit different from what I normally visit. It took me a little while to find it, but handily I know by now that "narodni" means "national" and the word for library was close enough to the Serbian for bookshop for me to clock it (it keeps surprising me how many words I recognise that I wasn't aware I had absorbed).

It was totally worth the detour. Black marble columns and balustrades, contrasting against the dark richness of the wooden ceiling panels. It might not sound much, but it was grand and imposing, the marble beautiful, and all in such contrast to the fairly nondescript exterior.

Finally to the cathedral. I had passed by, around, and near it several times on Saturday, but hadn't noticed the entrance or had time to hunt it out. I nearly missed it this time too, because it looks like just another statuary filled alcove. Disembodied heads of Popes leap out at you. I don't just mean an image of their faces in relief, I mean their entire heads protrude from the brass(? Or bronze, I'm not sure which) door. Certainly creative. Definitely memorable!

And that, if you're still with me, is more or less where my last day in the Balkans finished. I really couldn't be happier with how the last four days have panned out, the way the weather worked, the beautiful confluences of coincidences that have made this such a perfect little trip.

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