Jože Plečnik in the late 1920s or 1930s
We had planned a walk for this day that would take us along the route that Ljubljana’s greatest architect, Jože Plečnik, used to follow every working day between his house and the University of Ljubljana, near Congress square. Much of his creative energy had been put to work along this line. Since our hotel was on the far side of Congress square from the architect’s house, we would start there, walk Plečnik’s route in the direction he would have taken going home, and finish our journey with a visit to his house, which is kept as a museum.

Map showing our pursuit of Jože Plečnik
Click the map icon at the right to display a map that shows our route to the architect’s house on foot, and our return by (misdirected) bus. Like the other maps in this section, it opens in a separate window so that you have the option of keeping it on your screen while you’re reading this page.

The University’s main building is on Congress square, where we had paused for refreshment late the previous afternoon. More University buildings are located to the south of it, mostly along a short street named Vegova ulica. (Like many other European universities, Ljubljana’s has no enclosed campus, but simply inhabits the city.) Congress square has several buildings of historical and artistic interest that we wanted to see even though not all of them were related to Jože Plečnik. It’s only one fairly long block down Slovenska cesta from the Hotel Slon, but when we emerged at 10:00 after the usual pleasant breakfast, we found that Slovenska had been closed to traffic for a brass band festival. Nothing much had happened as yet, but a large band was setting up to play at the intersection just outside the hotel.

We were less surprised by this development than the young men behind the front desk. While planning the trip, I had come across a web page from some Slovenian government agency announcing that, on various Saturdays during the six months when Slovenia would hold the Presidency of the European Union, Slovenska cesta would be shut down in this manner for a celebration that would highlight one or more of Slovenia’s contributions to the art and well-being of Europe. May 24, it said, would be dedicated to band music and Slovenian wine. A day or two earlier, I had inquired about this event at the front desk, but (not, apparently, having received the memo) the desk clerks assured me that no such thing was going to happen.

Later in the summer, according to the same web page, a Saturday on Slovenska cesta would be dedicated to the consumption of the world’s biggest sausage. But we would be gone by then — I can’t quite decide whether I’m disappointed to have missed the chance to participate in this culinary event.

Brass band festival, Slovenska cesta
An audience was gathering to hear the band in front of the hotel, but not a large audience, and we could have strolled down to Congress Square without hindrance. However, there was no reason to hurry. Up Slovenska to our left, it looked as if a crowd might be gathering around another band, but that one didn’t seem to have started playing either. The band in front of us was a full-strength concert band, its mostly middle-aged members uniformly clad in black trousers, white shirts with bow ties, and gray-green jackets with a subdued plaid pattern. (This included the only female band member I noticed, a piccolo player.) It didn’t look like an outfit that did much marching. But I saw a few onlookers carrying instrument cases and wearing matching peasant costumes, so I’m sure that the day’s schedule comprised a broad spectrum of wind music.

The music began at about 10:30, and we listened for a short while. It sounded like standard concert-band fare, and was very well played. But we decided not to delay our expedition any longer, and walked down to Congress square. This was all we saw of the festival, although a little later in the square we observed a float coming from the direction of the Hotel Slon, carrying a huge wine barrel with a dragon riding on top. The city of Ljubljana isn’t exactly vineyard country, but the local mascot was probably deputed to represent all of Slovenia for this occasion.

Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity, 1718–1726
Slovenska cesta took us to the west end of the square, which is overlooked by the Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity, one of Ljubljana’s Baroque landmarks. Several monasteries and convents had once been located in this neighborhood, including a Capuchin monastery on the site of what is now Zvezda Park, but the Ursuline convent is the only one that has survived. (At least the building has survived; I don’t know if any nuns still live there.) The convent is a large, square-C shaped building, constructed so that on the front its two ends form wings, one on either side of the church, which fills in the center of the “C.”

The church was built during the years 1718–1726, under the direction of the architect Carlo Martinuzzi, who came from Friulia, the neighboring part of Italy. According to the tourist center’s pamphlet on Ljubljana’s Baroque monuments, “Because of its facade, which combines massive semi-columns and the undulating Borromini canopy, [the church] is regarded as one of the most unusual monuments of Ljubljana Baroque.” (The same tourist center’s general guide says, more enthusiastically, that it “ranks among the most beautiful Baroque works of art in Ljubljana.”) Jože Plečnik seems not to have been put off by the “massive semi-columns” — given charge of renovating the facade at the beginning of the 1930s, he had it painted so as to emphasize them. (The “Borromini canopy” is the roofline, similar to that of the Baroque Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rome, designed by the prominent Swiss-Italian architect Francesco Borromini.)

Ursuline Church interior
Nearly anyone, it seems to me, would have to agree that the interior of the church is beautiful. It follows stylistic traditions said to be Palladian and Venetian in the light gray and white clarity of its walls and ceiling. This lightness contrasts starkly with the rich ornamentation inside St. Nicholas Cathedral. However, the writer of the tourist info pamphlet attributes much of the “gilding and reddish marble” in the cathedral to the 19th century renovators, and says that, when new, the cathedral “undoubtedly looked more Venetian than it seems today.” The Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity exemplifies this Venetian look. We didn’t stay long or take many pictures inside: it was unlike our visit to the Cathedral in that most of the few people in the church seemed to be intent on prayer rather than sightseeing. We wanted to be properly respectful and avoid disturbing their devotions.

Between 1730 and 1740, Francesco Robba designed and built the high altar, a dazzling structure of several multicolored marbles imported from Africa, adorned with several large statues and a painting of the Madonna and Child in a floribund setting. At least, that was the painting we saw. And I found another photo on the Web, taken a couple of months after ours, that shows the same painting. But Wikipedia has a photo of the altar taken in August 2009, where the painting is altogether different. I couldn’t find any explanation of this discrepancy, but it’s possible that the painting we saw was a stand-in for the original while the latter was being cleaned or restored. The altar was so spectacular that we didn’t we pay much attention to the painting, but in our photos it looks like something that might have been painted on a china plate and advertised by the Franklin Mint (with certificate of authenticity). The one in the Wikipedia photo is not only a much more competent painting, but it portrays all three Persons of the Holy Trinity presenting a female saint or martyr (St. Ursula, perhaps?) with a heavenly crown, and thus has much more to do with the dedication of the church. Here are both pictures for your comparing pleasure:

Altar painting, May 2008          Altar painting, August 2009

Ursuline Church facade. The Trinity pillar seen to the right of the door is on the near side of Slovenska cesta, across from the church.
Jože Plečnik’s restorative contributions included more than just the painting of the facade. He also designed the porch and balustrade in front of the center door, and the staircases down to street level from each side of it. That door didn’t seem to be in use, however: we followed other visitors’ example and used an entrance at sidewalk level immediately to the right of the church, from which a curving staircase led to a side door into the vestibule. There is a matching entrance on the left; I read somewhere that having two entrances from the sides rather than a single one from the front is a Palladian feature (i.e., in the style developed by the Italian Andrea Palladio, the most influential architect of the Renaissance period). Nevertheless, the Ursuline Church certainly does have a central entrance, even if no one is using it.

Plečnik also modified a pillar, surmounted by a statue honoring the Trinity, that stands in front of the Church, across the street from it on the edge of Zvezda Park. He replaced a stone pillar, which had replaced a previous stone pillar, which had replaced the original wooden pillar, erected in 1693 to thank God for sparing the city an epidemic of the plague.

Philharmonic Hall
Besides the Ursuline Church, Congress square has other interesting buildings, including the Slovene Philharmonic Hall, built in 1892 to replace the original structure, where Slovenes had been performing classical music for almost two centuries. (So the count is now above three.) The present-day Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra was officially established only in 1908, but musical societies (beginning with the Academia Philharmonicorum — ‘Academy of Music-lovers’ — whose name and founding date, 1701, are emblazoned on the front of the building) have kept Ljubljana’s musical life active and vigorous since the city’s burst of growth and renewal at the turn of the 18th century.

University of Ljubljana Main Building
Near the Philharmonic Hall is the University’s main building, which houses the law faculty as well as the administration. A very large but graceful building whose style the Rough Guide describes as “neo-Renaissance,” it went up between 1899 and 1902. That was the heyday of Ljubljana’s Secessionist architects, but the architect of this building, a Czech named Jan Vladimir Hrásky, took a rather more academic approach (although some of the trim on the corners, enhanced with gold leaf, has a slightly Secessionist air). Hrásky designed not a university building — Slovenia not yet having a University — but the “State Mansion of Carniola,” where, during the 16 years left before the Empire’s collapse, the provincial parliament carried on its limited deliberations and exercised its limited powers. According to the Wikipedia article on the university, the building was “later remodeled by a Czech architect from Vienna, Josef Hudetz.” It couldn’t have been very much later, because Hudetz died in 1909, so the reason, nature, and extent of his contribution are hard to guess.

Lamppost on Vegova ulica
Vegova street, which enters Congress square next to the University building, is where we began our walk to Jože Plečnik’s house, which is a little less than a mile away in the suburb of Trnovo. As he walked this route back and forth, every working day, he obviously paid a good deal of attention to it; several projects of his, large and small, are on or near it. Vegova, a short street, leads (past some university buildings that Plečnik didn’t design) to his most famous building, the National and University Library, widely regarded as his masterpiece. On the way we passed some unmistakably Plečnik lampposts like the one in the picture. (It’s just before the library, which you can see in the background to the right.)

The National and University Library
Plečnik’s masterpiece, the National and University Library (Narodna in Univerzitetna Knjižnica), houses Slovenia’s literary and documentary heritage. As befits its function, it’s a large building, taking up all of a sizable block. Our Wednesday tour to the castle gave me the opportunity to take this picture of it from the tower. The front of the building (that’s the side you can see on the left) faces north, on a very short street named Turjaška — you can see the top of the front door in the picture. Vegova, which runs past the back, ends at French Revolution Ssquare, behind the corner of the building that’s uppermost. The other side that you can see (to the right, with two tall windows) is the east side, on Gosposka street.

East facade of the Library
Finished in 1941, the Library was the city’s only building damaged during World War II, when a German plane crashed through the large window in this picture. Fortunately, it was a small training plane and didn’t do much damage. The statue of Moses in a summoning pose is the work of a sculptor named Lojze Dolinar, a colleague of Plečnik’s in the University. It reinforces the symbolism that drove the architect’s design for the library: that of attaining a desired goal through an arduous journey and the conquest of obstacles. To quote the Rick Steves guidebook, “The odd-sized and -shaped blocks in the facade actually represent a complex numerological pattern that suggests barriers on the path to enlightenment.” Unfortunately, this particular symbolism doesn’t work. Without a guide to supply this information, I doubt that one observer in thousands would recognize any sort of complex pattern, and that observer would need to spend much time analyzing the visual evidence before such a recognition could occur. Such intensive study may work well with literary texts, but it seems to me that a building ought to get its point across in a more immediate way. (Whether a building ought to have a point is another subject, but an academic library, given its nature and purpose, may be a reasonably appropriate candidate for this role.)

Numerology aside, Plečnik included other, more successful, symbolic elements to reinforce his message. Aspiring students enter the front door, grasping a handle, shaped like a classic horsehead, that recalls the winged steed Pegasus — who might be able to take them even farther than Moses. Once inside, they ascend a long and intentionally dark stairway, surrounded by dark gray marble walls and columns, at the top of which the main reading room greets all entrants with a burst of light through its great windows. We followed this path as far as the top of the stairs, where an exhibit was laid out celebrating the life of Primoz Trubar, the Reformation preacher who published the first books in the Slovene language. (That’s a bust of Trubar facing the top of the stairs in the left-hand picture.) We enjoyed looking at the exhibit and the hallway itself, which was very beautiful to see despite the subdued lighting, but a sign forbade casual visitors to enter the reading room, so we didn’t get a picture of that. However, Wikipedia had one, so you can see what it looks like in the picture on the right.

The climb toward enlightenment          The light in the reading room (awaiting readers)

When we left the Library, we turned into French Revolution square (Trg francoske revolucije), where we saw Plečnik’s obelisk monument to Napoleon. (Rick Steves comments that this may be the only monument to the Corsican Upstart not located in France, and I doubt that he’s mistaken.) Napoleon forced Austria to give up what are now Slovenia, part of Croatia, and Trieste in 1809; he declared this territory to be France’s “Illyrian Provinces,” and made Ljubljana (or Laibach, the German name used by most non-Slovenes) their capital. Even though most Slovenes of the time would have been happy to see them go, the French did give them (along with burdensome taxes and often blundering administration) at least one thing they appreciated: education in their own language. The new political arrangement lasted less than four years; with France’s military power diminished by its defeat in Russia, Austria took the “Illyrian” territory back in 1813, but let the Slovene-speaking schools continue. Later in the century, increasing political tension with Austria inclined Slovenes to look back on the Illyrian days with greater fondness, and this feeling still existed in the 1920s. The dedication of the monument expresses Ljubljana’s appreciation of the honor of having been made the provincial capital, and quotes a poem in praise of l’Empereur by Valentin Vodnik, a liberal priest and one of the small group of intellectuals who welcomed French rule in 1809. Above the inscription is a death-mask like face of Napoleon, and at the top of the square column are three six-pointed stars above a crescent, the symbol that stood for Slovenia in the first Yugoslav state’s coat of arms.

Just southeast of the square is Plečnik’s last major project, Križanke. A large block there, which had at one time occupied the southwest corner inside the old city walls, was the site of a monastery belonging to the Teutonic Knights, who had been established in the city since the 13th century. Although the same order became a military power in the Baltic area, their activities in Austria and Slovenia seem to have been more typically monastic — charitable and educational works — and they occupied this property until 1945, when the communist government nationalized it. After a few years it was getting dilapidated, and the municipal officials asked Plečnik’s help in turning it into a venue for a summer arts and music festival. (The Ljubljana Festival has survived the political changes since then, and is still held every year.) Some of the original monastic buildings remain, including a Baroque church (1714–1715) designed in the shape of a Greek cross by Domenico Rossi, a Venetian architect. According to the Ljubljana Festival website, the church was paid for out of his own funds by the provincial commander of the order, a gentleman whose name exemplifies Carniola’s ethnic and cultural cross-currents: Guido von Starmberg.

Križanke performance space
Plečnik turned the yard to the west of the monastery buildings into a sloping outdoor theater bordered by columnar lamps and other architectual ornaments on one side, and on the other by the arcade and facade of the main building he created by reconstructing a former Gothic church. At the lower end of the yard is another renovated building that he also provided with an arcade. The main building is ornamented with multicolored designs that the Festival website describes as sgraffito. This means ‘scratched’ in Italian: the artist applies two layers of plaster in contrasting colors, one over the other, then scratches the top layer away to create the design in the color of the bottom layer. But Plečnik’s designs are in several colors, and in a few places the colored plaster appears to have fallen out. It seems more likely to me that the designs were first cut deeply through the outer layer into whatever lay beneath it, and then filled with variously colored plaster in a shallower layer, so that the surface of the design is lower than that of the surrounding outer wall. (See the picture two paragraphs below.)

The whole spirit of Križanke is built on the combination of old and new elements in a harmonious whole — it’s perhaps the most overtly postmodern of Plečnik’s works. He was 80 years old when the project began, and supervised it for the next four years, until it was finished and opened in 1956, only a few months before he died (at the beginning of 1957). Križanke wasn’t his last commission, however; that was received from no less a client than Marshal Tito, for whose summer villa on the Croatian island of Brioni Plečnik designed a small pavilion, a round, open structure with columns supporting its circular roof. This was designed and built during 1956.

The name Križanke has something to do with the monks who had formerly owned and occupied the place. Although the official name of the order was “Teutonic Knights of St. Mary’s Hospital in Jerusalem,’ they were known in several countries as “Knights [or Community] of the Cross,” because of the black cross they wore on their monastic habits or knightly surcoats. (The Prussian military award known as the Iron Cross is based on it.) Wikipedia says that their name in Slovene is Križniški Red, which must translate to something like “Society of the Cross,” Križ being the Slovene word for cross — although I can’t find either Križniški or Križanke in my tiny Slovene dictionary or any of the ones on the Web. One of the latter keeps coming up with ‘crossword’ (križanka), but somehow that doesn’t seem likely.

Ornamental designs on the main building
We enjoyed taking pictures in the cool tranquility of the courtyard, where a few people were sitting (some at tables put outside by the restaurant in the main building). The day was beginning to be a hot one. When we left Križanke and resumed our southward progress, walking along Emonska ulica (named for the Roman city that preceded Ljubljana: Emona or Aemona). The first block took us through a park laid out along the outside wall of the performance space, and we took advantage of a bench there for a few minutes’ rest.

Emonska soon crossed a busy arterial road, Zoisova cesta, on the other side of which we entered the “suburb” (actually a neighborhood) of Krakovo. It contains a reconstructed section of the original Roman wall of Emona, whose site overlaps only slightly, in this southwestern corner, with that of the modern city. Although it flourished until the late days of the Roman Empire, Emona was devastated by the Huns in the fifth century. According to some accounts I found, the survivors abandoned the site and fled to the Adriatic coast, founding a new city that they named Emonia (meaning something like ‘derived from Emona’). This later became the Croatian city of Novigrad (‘new city’) in Istria, possibly named from its fifth-century transplantation. Other accounts appear to assume that Emona was still inhabited, though in comparative squalor, when the ancestors of today’s Slovenes arrived late in the sixth century and built their own settlement across the river, under the hill. Plečnik oversaw the reconstruction in the thirties, and for some reason topped off the wall with a slender pyramid — not one of his best ideas.

Garden plots in Krakovo
We could have detoured a couple of long blocks to see the reconstruction, but it was a long way and we were beginning to tire, so we continued south along Emonska. There were no architectural masterpieces to be seen there, but we got a good look at what Krakovo is best known for: the acres of market garden plots in which residents raise fruits and vegetables to sell in the City Market. (As the pictures we took in the market illustrate, it would be a considerable exaggeration to think that most of the produce sold in the market comes from Krakovo — citrus trees, to take an obvious example, are not compatible with the Slovenian climate.)

St. John's Church, Trnovo
At the end of our two-block passage through Krakovo, Emonska crossed a bridge over a small stream called Gradaščica that marked the boundary between Krakovo and Trnovo. Plečnik designed the bridge, apparently during the time of his fascination with pyramids, several of which punctuate the railings on each side. Tall thin pyramids serve as lamp standards, their shape echoed by the cone-shaped lamps they support. Facing Plečnik’s bridge is the small church of St. John. The architect’s house is a short distance behind it.

Plečnik didn’t design and build his house from the ground up; rather, it grew by accretion. His older brother Andrej, a priest, had bought the house at 4 Karunova ulica in 1915, while the architect was still living in Prague. When he returned to Ljubljana in 1921, he lodged in his sister’s apartment, but had no room for a studio there. For a few years the family had talked about a plan for all four Plečnik siblings: Jože, brothers Andrej and Janez, and sister Marija (who must have been a widow, although I couldn’t find out when her husband, Dragotin Matkevič died) to live together at 4 Karunova. But this plan never came to fruition. Andrej, whose parish was 50 miles south in Kočevje, was supposed to request a transfer to Ljubljana, but either he didn’t ask, or his request was denied; he was assigned instead to Repnje, about 10 miles north of Ljubljana — closer, but still much too far to make residence in the city a possibility. Marija, in the meantime, was comfortable in her apartment and didn’t want to leave it.

Janez, a doctor and teacher in the University’s School of Medicine, did share the house with his older brother for a short while, but they didn’t get along, and by the late twenties the architect was left in sole possession. He had expanded the house by adding a two-story cylindrical annex, and later (after the family bought an adjacent house at 6 Karunova) a glassed-in “winter garden” or conservatory. He also laid out a large garden in back of the house. The architect used the round rooms on both floors of the annex, plus a small bedroom and the kitchen on the ground floor; the rest of the space in the house was rented out.

Tours were scheduled on the hour, and we had some time to wait. We spent it exploring the brick walks in the garden and sitting on one of the benches there. The garden was a little overgrown — I doubt that the Ljubljana Architectural Museum, which now owns the house, has a big enough budget to take care of it — but it was a pleasant enough place to sit on a summery afternoon. Here and there along the sides we saw concrete elements left over from various projects: one or two small columns lying on the ground, but mostly smaller elements shaped like bowling pins that might have been part of a balustrade or a lamp standard. Photos were not allowed in the house, so the only picture we have from our visit was taken outside at this time. (The Architectural Museum seems quite serious about limiting the availability of images; the next two, taken from their site, are too small to enlarge. They show some of the drawing tools laid out in the architect’s studio, and the semi-outdoor entrance hall at the back of the building.)

Drawing supplies, still laid out
When it was time for the tour, we were the only visitors. Our guide was a pleasant and enthusiastic young woman, a Croatian architecture student in Ljubljana University. She spent an hour showing us around the rooms, full of features and furniture that the owner had designed, as well as architectural pictures and models. Surfaces for drawing, with pens and ink laid out, appeared in several places, as if the architect couldn’t stand to be far away from a drawing board — a work table in the kitchen, a work tray laid across the top of the bathtub, and a large round studio, with the biggest work table of all occupying the upper story of the circular part of the building. It was reached by a spiral stairway curving around the outer wall of the cylinder at a point where it was inside the house. On the lower story, the round room contained a small, almost monastic bed and another large work table. There were pictures, drawings, and both sculptural and architectural models almost everywhere.

Entry to the house
It was evident that a intense artistic mind had been constantly at work here, but there wasn’t a hint of opulence. Even at home, Plečnik’s energy seems to have been concentrated entirely on his projects. Comforts were minimal — just what was needed to sustain life and work. The architect had close friends (one of them Fr. Fran Saleski Finžgar, the pastor of St. John’s Church next door) with whom he liked to talk about the things that interested him most, and he was diligent in correspondence — more than a thousand of his letters survive — but he wasn’t interested in pursuing a busy or superficial social life. We were told that he designed the entry hall for his part of the house (which was located at the rear) as a windowed “conservatory” similar to the winter garden in the hope that its coldness would discourage less welcome visitors.

Plečnik in his eighties
Plečnik never married, though he did have women friends and seems to have considered the idea occasionally. One biographer says that he “could not commit to marriage ... for fear of losing his creative freedom.” Contemporary Americans are conditioned to see such reasons as a disguise for fear of something: commitment, for example, or sexuality, or perhaps heterosexuality. It’s beyond question, however, that the responsibility of providing for a family — and, for a man of Plečnik’s cultural background and temperament, that’s what marriage would necessarily involve — can force limits on the independence of an unconventional and creative thinker. Some people really do have a calling to the celibate life, for reasons that have far more to do with the values they choose to dedicate their lives to than the wish to avoid responsibility or sex. (I don’t think such people are numerous; the assumption by the Catholic Church that a sufficient number exist — and within one gender, at that — to fully satisfy the need for clergy seems to me unrealistic. But there are some such people, and not all of them choose celibacy for exclusively religious reasons.)

As we were leaving, we got directions from our guide on how to reach a stop for the No. 9 bus, which our bus schedule said would take us back to the city center along Slovenska cesta, with a stop at the main post office, right next to our hotel. We found the stop, and soon were on a No. 9 bus, but it ignored Slovenska and took Tivolska instead, passing the big Tivoli Park on the left. I saw Serbian Orthodox Church, which the map said was a few blocks west of the Hotel Slon, so we got off at the next stop and took a short and unplanned hike. It was about 3:00 pm when we got to the hotel. We didn’t see any sign of the morning’s brass-band-and-wine celebration, but I suppose the bus’s odd behavior (because it really was supposed to go up Slovenska) was based on an assumption that the avenue would still be blocked.

We stopped at the sweet shop on the ground floor of the Slon and bought a small tomato and mozarella senvič (that’s ‘sandwich’), which we took up to our room and shared, then put our feet up for a short rest.

Tables in the Gostilna As courtyard
A little later we decided to honor the summer weather by going out for ice cream. As any good guidebook will tell you, Ljubljana is a great place for ice cream. It’s called sladoled, with the stress on the last syllable, and (thanks to the influence of neighboring Italy), it’s what we call gelato, rather than American-style ice cream in the Ben and Jerry mode. The outdoor stands were all open by now, and we headed for one recommended in Rick Steves’s guidebook. It was almost next door: we crossed Čopova, walked along Slovenska past the big post office, and turned through an archway into a narrow walkway (named Knaflev Prehod) that soon opened into a courtyard. One side was dominated by the Gostilna As (‘Ace Inn’) which, despite its informal name, the guidebook described as “dressy, pricey, and pretentious.” However, the part of it facing onto the courtyard was the less formal “Ace Lounge,” beside and part of which was the “much-loved gelato stand” we were looking for. We each bought two scoops: both of Dorothea’s were rocher — a crunchy combination of chocolate and hazelnut, with little chunks of both — and I had one of rocher and one of coffee. The gelato deserved all the superlatives we’d been reading. To eat it, we sat at one of the lounge’s little umbrella-shaded tables, and when finished, continued down Knaflev Prehod past a couple of taverns and exited through a tunnel into Wolfova (a street I’ve mentioned before) which led into Prešeren square.

Crossing the square and the Triple Bridge, we passed Robba’s Carniolan Rivers fountain and turned into Cyril-Methodius Square, the street that passes one side of the Cathedral. On the opposite side of the street is the Sokol Gostilna, the restaurant where we wanted to eat dinner that evening. We made a reservation there for 7:00. Rick Steves’s guidebook praised the restaurant as the only option for “honest-to-goodness Slovenian food in the center,” but added that “’s deluged by tourists, so don’t expect top quality or a good value.” The Rough Guide sounded more positive, however, so we decided to give it a try.

Gostilna Sokol, looking toward the fountain (the banner sign is backwards from this direction)
After a little more down time in our hotel room, we returned to the Sokol (‘Falcon’ — a common patriotic symbol in Slavic countries), which was divided into smallish rooms on various levels, with wood beams overhead and other rustic touches to give the place a rural air. A waiter wearing a peasant shirt and vest took our orders: I got into the spirit of the place and chose the “country feast,” which included blood sausage, another local sausage, smoked pork, non-smoked pork, bread pudding, buckwheat mush, sauerkraut, and pickled turnip. The quantity was not as great as the “Peasant’s Feast” we’d had in Radovljice, which had easily fed three people, but it didn’t need to be, and all of it was good. I had no trouble finishing it by myself, with some of the restaurants’s own beer, Sokol pivo, to assist. Dorothea ordered mushroom risotto, which she enjoyed, although, like the risotto we’d had at the Arbor Bistro in Bled, it was less like risotto than paella in consistency. The usual liter of Radenska accompanied all this.

We passed on dessert, however, thinking of other possibilities that lay between us and our hotel room. A large sladoled stand was open on one side of Prešeren Square, offering only fruit flavors, but an amazing number of them. I had apricot and Dorothea mango, and while finishing them we sat in chairs outside a cafe, facing a small outdoor stage on which a middle-aged singer with a guitar struggled through an old Bob Dylan song. (I’ve forgotten which one it was, but yes, he did sing it in English. The struggle was more musical than linguistic.) Back at the hotel, reveling in the knowledge that we were on vacation, we stopped in the sweet shop for another goody, which we shared. Dorothea’s notes describe it this way: “a small slice of pastry made of hazelnuts, thin cake layers, and a couple of kinds of chocolate icing — one thick and dark and the other fluffy and light.”

And so to bed.