What is it about men and maps eh? He’s at his happiest when he’s figuring out how to get to wherever it is we’re going. And that Friday in Slovenia, he routed us through Kamnik, for little other reason than it was there, and we wanted to avoid the traffic jams around Ljubljana.
Dating back to the eleventh century, it’s right up there with Ptuj when it comes to being among the oldest towns in the country. With its winding, medieval cobblestone streets and not one but two castles, it also served the best coffee we’d had in the three days we’d been in-country.
It was Friday – and the place was dead. There were very few people around. The shops were empty, many of them closed. It was as if everyone was at a wedding that we hadn’t been invited to. With the main square undergoing major cosmetic surgery, we escaped to the relative quiet of the Church of St Jacob. Its plain exterior didn’t even hint at the magnificence inside.
I was particularly taken with one of the most human-like paintings I’ve seen of Jesus – perhaps with Joseph or maybe even with Jacob. I’m not sure. It’s next door to the Franciscan Monastery, home to an amazing library with 10 000+ books printed before the end of the 18th century…. and I missed it. I didn’t know it was there. Next time.
We ambled around, and found a museum, the birthplace of one Rudolfa Maistra (Rudolf Maister) – poet, painter, soldier, and military might. I was drawn inside because of the large picture boards outside telling a children’s story. Once inside, the woman behind the desk offered to show us a film of what had happened in the region during WWI. We’d both grown up hearing and reading about WWI from the Western front – and this was our first time to see it from the Eastern perspective. Fascinating. Really fascinating. Unfortunately, Maister’s books are not yet in translation but we were definitely educated.
When they were doing up the house to ready it for the museum, they found a stenciled pattern on the wall – and it’s given me ideas.
Given my thing for cemeteries, I’m raging I missed the Cuzak Meadow mass grave with the remains of several hundred soldiers and civilians, mostly Croats and Serbs, murdered on 11 May 1945, no doubt suspected of being collaborators who were fleeing towards Austria. Slovenia has more than 600 of these mass graves dotted around the country. Slovenian historian Jože Dežman has compared them to the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Known in Slovenian as prikrita grobišča (concealed mass graves) or zamolčana grobišča (silenced mass graves), they were kept under wraps from 1945 to 1990 during the Communist regime. Next time, I will be sure to pay my respects.
We motored on, stopping for a late lunch in the village of Motnik, drawn in by its two churches: the Baroque parish church of Saint George and the chapel of Mary Magdalene. On the notice board by the closed tourist office, there was mention of a snail. But it was in Slovenian and only later did I discover that the village is the birthplace of Gašper Križnik, who made his name by collecting fairy tales and to this day is honoured by a fairytale festival (annual, I think). One tale tells the story of a giant snail, which broke free of its chains and ran (yes, ran) through the country. The stuff nightmares are made of. On the outskirts of the village is its other main attraction – a double-hayrack with its intricately carved roof. There are eight apparently in the ‘hood, but this one, Vrbančev toplar – is the most impressive.
What we missed here were the fossilized remains of a pygmy rhinoceros that were discovered in a nearby coalmine (brown coal at that) in 1910. Who’d have thunk it?
Slovenia is a gem of country and one to go back to again and again. And why wouldn’t we? Sure, it’s only over the road. If you plan to visit, and are interested in exploring, this little guidebook is the one to bring.