Germany, Berlin- two days in Potsdam

While the city of Berlin has great historical focus everywhere you go – it tends to focus on WW1, pre WW2, WW2, Post WW2, the Wall and post the Wall. So it is quite fun to take the 45 minute trip out to Potsdam which wallows much more in the 18th and 19th centuries when every kaiser was called Wilhelm or Freiderich (or Wilhelm Friederich!) and where every member of the family gets their own castle and usually a summer one as well.

Potsdam is such an interesting place with so much to do that I visited over two seperate days – one for the palaces and surrounding grounds (407 acres of them) and another for the old Town, church and museums.

On arrival we started at Schloss Sanssouci built by Frederick the Great – the great German kaiser – who much preferred speaking French and hence the name of this palace – these days he might have called it “Akuna Matata”! This was just his equivalent of a “man shed” where he invited his mates to enjoy art, music, life the universe and everything in the very best of surroundings. His mates included Voltaire who would visit but never stay over? Although the yellow exterior is a little faded and could do with a lick of paint the building is lovely as are the interiors.

Panoramic view of Schloss Sanssouci

Exterior of Schloss Sanssouci – a homage to Rome’s Pantheon

It seems that every room where art is to be displayed included a sofa or chair – although apparently not really for sitting on but for showing off beautiful fabrics. Frederich the Great has done a pretty good job.

Interiors of Schloss Sanssouci

Also he was a fan or marquetry so amazing floors and the theme of spider’s web as per the ceiling below was a big thing.

Beautiful floors and ceilings

Even beds and doors had to be “hidden” by gorgeous drapes – love it.

Guest beds at Schloss Sanssouci – wouldn’t be great to be over 6 foot tall

Of course the grounds, including the well know Orangerie, around the Schloss which included significant vineyards are lovely to wander around and all grounds are free access so that the locals can enjoy them at weekends for picnics etc.

Orangerie and grounds between the two Schloss’

Just when you think you can’t beat Schloss Sanssouci you come to the real place – the big one known as Neues Palais. It has 200 rooms, a marble hall, a shell grotto and as probably one of the most perfect rococo buildings in existence in the world today. Even though rococo was out of date by the time he built this, he liked that style and stuck with it. I admire his willingness to not go with the pack.

the front of the Neues Palais

The back of the Neues Palais

And this is where the Servants and admin were based including the kitchens!

The grandeur of the Neues Palais

The shell Grotto in the Neues Palais

More art and sofas in the Neues Palais

Loved this domed room with reliefs on the walls. Gorgeous

And after all that grandeur, the town of Potsdam itself is not too shabby at all. Some fabulous buildings that look all the more impressive against a blue sky. Everything is done on a grand scale in Berlin and Potsdam.

Die Alte Rathaus and Nikolaikirche in Potsdam

From inside the legislative assembly grounds you can capture all the well known buildings in Potsdam

Nikolai Kirche – grand outside but simple clean lines inside

Then I visited the Museum Barberini (partly because it sounded a bit like Babani). They had an excellent exhibit of Italian art that had been primarily influenced by Caravaggio including the painting of his below. A lot of Potsdam has an affinity to Italy so this exhibit makes a lot of sense.

Caravaggio’s Narcissus from every angle – this man was a genius.

Italian art influenced by Caravaggio’s art

Beautiful ceiling and a Bernini bust of Pope Urban – his primary benefactor

Also enjoyable in Potsdam is the Holländisches Viertel – the Dutch Quarter which is four streets that are a mini Amsterdam – now with shops and restaurants but beautifully restored. Apparently much of Potsdam was built on swamp land and when it was drained canals were formed – in order to maintain and manage them the mayor at the time enticed people from the Netherlands to move here so that they could be properly maintained by the experts and he built them homes like they had at “home” so they would feel more at home!

A strongly recommended place to see if you are in Berlin and nice to get out of the city without having to go very far at all.

Germany, Berlin – a hidden Berlin walk, the Rathaus and a tour of the Reichstag

On arrival in Berlin I met up with my friends Sylvie and Andrew – this is the third year we have met up somewhere during my travels.

We took a walking tour of Hidden Berlin with Urban Adventures – a company I have used before and like as their groups are very small and they tend to focus on food and/or being off the beaten track.

We started off our tour learning a little about Martin Borman’s attempt to escape from Berlin at the end of the war. The day after Goebbels and his family had committed suicide, he took the biggest tank the Germans had and early one morning had it driven down the Main Street and across a bridge on the River Spree. At first everyone was shocked to see this but then the multitude of Russians around started firing and disabled the tank quite quickly – given it was rather slow! He then tried to escape on foot but was quickly captured with his aides. They all had secret cyanide tables in their teeth and this was not detected so he was able to commit suicide rather than stand trial.

The building below next to FreidrichStrasse Station is the Palace of Tears and is built around the area where the those crossing the East/West border went past the guards to be checked. This space has been kept as it was and by going through a very narrow passage you switch from East to West Germany. In only three days here so far there is no doubt that the Wall had a tremendous emotional impact on the people of this city especially as it went up overnight so the shock factor was even greater. Having seen the separation wall in Palestine I understand how confronting a wall through the middle of a place that everyone lives in and could cross before can be very confronting.

The sculpture below is called “Train to Life; Train to Death” and is part of a series of 5 with the others being in London, Hamburg, Gdańsk and the Netherlands. These were done by Frank Meisler who himself was lucky to be on a Train to Life (the kinder transport just before the war that enabled about 10,000 Jewish children to escape to the UK and other locations). That’s the two children shown below. The other side of the sculpture reflects the children who ended up on trains taking them to concentration camps and usually certain death. There are more of them to reflect the weighting of how many more children dies in the holocaust (estimated at around 1 million)

Outside the Palace of Tears and the Meisler sculpture

We then briefly headed to what was the Jewish Quarter where I had my first Pfannkuchen (traditional non greasy doughnut with jam or very light custard cream) – it was from a bakery that has been specialising in them for 85 years and it was so delicious I ate it without taking a pic – no doubt I will try them again so will add to a future food blog!

The Grand synagogue below is unusual in that it was not wrecked in 1938 on Kristallnacht when the Nazis all over Germany ransacked the synagogues in the country and smashed everything they could find (hence Kristallnacht as there was so much broken glass around afterwards). This synagogue had been built much earlier in the 1840s and a big German nationalist hero of the time – Otto von Bismarck – had stated that it represented true German nationalism and should be respected. Apocryphally, when the Nazis thugs appeared and started to get ready to smash it up along with all the others – two very brave men came foreword and told them that this building had been sanctioned by the greatest German nationalist ever and did they really want to explain why they had broken it all up to their leader – also a strong nationalist. They decided to step back from destroying it on that night.

The Sophia church below is also interesting because it is a place where Martin Luther King came and preached in 1964! Who knew? He had been invited by the West German government to speak on behalf of the recently deceased JFK and he was interested in visiting East Germany. The US said no and took his papers away but he got someone to drive him to the checkpoint and the East Germans decided to let him in as they thought he might be a potential Marxist recruit. As this was an impromptu visit crowds gathered to see and hear him by word of mouth and it as as if he had appeared out of thin air. While he started to preach normally in the first 5 minutes after that he spoke about “if people find themselves in an environment where they are not allowed to live and pray freely there are people in other parts of the world who know about this and want to help them and set them free”. His way of giving support but NOT appreciated by the East Germans who swiftly sent him back across the border!

A fact I never knew is that MLK’s father came to Germany to study in the 30s and was so taken with the Lutheran approach to religion that he changed his son’s middle name to Luther out of respect for Martin Luther the founder of Lutheranism in Germany.

Great synagogue, Jewish quarter and St Sophia church

We then visited a portion of the Wall that remains as it was when it was in use. You can see the watch tower of which there were many and peek through the gaps as people did back then to see the No-man’s land or the “Death Strip” as it is known. A lot of people used to live there – their houses were just mowed down and they were moved elsewhere when the wall went up in 1961. BRUTAL

The Wall – as it was back then

Finally on a busy day i wandered past the red brick Rathaus (the Town Hall) and took a look in inside. I liked the stained glass windows which had representations of different professions.

The Berlin Rathaus

Headed back to the hotel to change and then onto an evening tour of the Reichstag (or German Parliament Building)

An interesting building as it still has remains of the old design and building including the magnificent frontage and then of course had modern parts added and the famous dome all designed by Norman Foster. Tours are free but you have to pre book and be cleared to attend and bring passports. The tour is about 90 minutes.

Original entrance to the Reichstag

Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome

Below is the interior of the dome and members of the public can walk up to the top on the yellow walkways which means that when parliament is sitting they can look up and see people walking about their heads. All symbolic to remind them that they represent the people who are above them.

The parliament area inside the Dome

Below is some of the original building with Russian graffiti written by the soldiers placed their at the time of liberation. The Reichstag was a key building they wished to liberate. The boxes on the right are all the same (to reflect equality) and reflect the name of every elected official that has sat in the Reichstag. A few had an additional citation if they were killed as part of the rise of the Nazi party.

Russian Grafitti and metal box sculpture

The interiors of the massive set of buildings is modern and light and airy. The public are able to wander around the outside, picnic and enjoy the environment.

Interiors of the modern Reichstag

This is a view from inside looking through the modern windows and then through the old pillars onto the main entrance.

Interiors of the Reichstag

There is an excellent restaurant on the terrace at the top of the Reichstag so we had dinner there and got to enjoy the terrace in the evening after all the other visitors had gone home.

Great day in Berlin.

Dinner on the Reichstag Terrace

Hungary, Budapest – A river runs through it part 2 – the Pest side of the River Danube

Having only briefly covered Pest (pronounced Pesht as ‘s’ on its own is ‘sh’ whereas if you want an ‘s’ sound you need to have “sz” which probably explains why Hungarians learn English and not the other way around!) in my earlier blog on the synagogues and Ruin Bars – I thought it appropriate to finish my visit with a tour of the Pest side of the river – the much more fun and lively side!

Everything in Budapest is about the river – what on either side, getting across it, boating down it, walking along it and even the trams trundle by.

Although there is loads of construction going on in the city and especially in some of the large squares there is still lots to see around and about the holes in the ground just be wandering around and discovering squares, fountains, sculptures and statues.

On the topic of sculptures – these are some of my favorites from the Pest side and I know there are many more I did not find – a good reason to come back.

The Fat Policeman below is keeping an eye on the apartment across the street and is based on the artist’s grandfather. Everyone likes to rub his tummy. The girl with the dog is very popular and I was very happy to capture her with a real man with his dog!

A selection of sculptures in Budapest including the Fat Policeman and the Girl with a dog

The Little Princess below is very popular and I think the Ronnie Reagan one is pretty good. The weirdest though is Will Shakespeare (actually outside the Starbucks of my hotel). This is a replica of a sculpture whose original is in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia (yes honestly). The original sculptor was a Hungarian born Australian and the replica was unveiled in 2003 and meant to represent close ties between Australia and Hungary. I get all that – but why William Shakespeare? Weird enough that he is in Ballarat but then again in Budapest? What has he got to do with either Australia or Hungary?? (Answers on a postcard please:). I am perplexed…….

More sculptures in Budapest including William S?!?!

The saddest sculptures are the famous shoes along the Danube which was created to honor the Jews and others killed by facist Hungarian militia in 1944/5. They were ordered to take off their shoes and then shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies would fall into the Danube and be carried away. Several of the shoes were stolen in 2014 – no one knows by whom or why.

Memorial Shoe sculpture by the River close to House of Parliament

There is also a burgeoning street art scene especially around the Jewish quarter. Below is the beloved Empress Sissi and the Rubik cube (which was invented by a Hungarian) as well as a commemoration of a 1953 World Cup match in which the Hungarians beat England. It was a big deal apparently which is in the memories of all Hungarians as strongly as 1966 is for Brits. Like us, they are still basking in that reflected glory. Time to let go, I say…….

Street art in the Jewish Quarter and living in the past football success!

The Time Magazine cover is a reproduction of an actual cover at the time of the ill fated Hungarian Revolution against Soviet communist rule in 1956.

Street art in Budapest

The National Gallery , which is located in the spectacular Heroes’ Square, is now split between the Pest side and the Buda side – I have to say I was underwhelmed by the collections there but I did like these busts by Messerschmidt dating back to the 1770s.

The magnificent Heroes’ Square

Messerschmidt sculptures in the National Gallery

The chain bridge is one of quite a few that straddle the Danube in Budapest and it is probably the most photographed as it resembles the Eiffel Tower in design – but as a bridge – if you know what I mean?

The Chain Bridge from every angle!

Don’t think I didn’t eat while in Budapest – of course I sampled all the local specialities.

Grazing around Budapest

Craft beer one minute; rooftop cocktails the next

Fore gras fantasy, stuffed cabbages and sour cherry and poppy seed strudel.

A visit to the Houses of Parliament by the river is a must. The exterior is stunning – apparently based on the design of the Houses of Parliament in London – and so is the interior (which is only half used)! This is because it is perfectly symmetrical and was built to house the equivalent of the Houses of Commons and Lords and to be exactly the same as each other – but of course there are no more lords in Hungary so the bit we get to see is the space that is no longer used for politics – which is really a bit of a waste when you see how plush it is.

Luckily someone had the sense to ensure that all the stained glass windows were taken out and hidden as WW2 started to accelerate. They also took 600 detailed photos of everything so were able to recreate the interiors perfectly after the war,

Exterior of the House of Parliament – day and night

The Golden Staircase and interior corridor in the House of Parliament

The main chamber in the House of Parliament and beautiful carvings of every profession that exists

Just outside the House of Parliament is an underground memorial to those who were killed at the time of the Hungarian revolution against Soviet communist occupation in 1956. It is a sombre memorial to remember the many young people who went to the square outside the Houses of Parliament to peacefully protest two weeks after the initial uprising. But by then, the Russians had returned and they fired indiscriminately at the crowd killing many people and this violent approach continued in a brutal fashion across Hungary for the next year until all insurrection had been quashed. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled the country at this time and were taken in by a variety of other nations (those were the days when we took care of people in need). The Russians stayed in Hungary until 1990!

The Hungarian Revolution Memorial

St Stephen’s Basilica is at the Centre of Pest and while I didn’t like it as much as the more unusual Mathias church in Buda it is pretty spectacular from the outside and inside.

Exterior of St Stephen’s Basilica

Unusually at the altar it is not Jesus you see but St Stephen is is very important to the Hungarians. I believe they had to have special dispensation to allow this to happen.

Interior of St Stephen’s Basilica

As ever in European churches, they do a pretty good job with domed roofs!

Domed cupolas in St Stephen’s Basilica

Although it is summer season I did manage to visit the Vigado Concert Hall to enjoy an evening of Hungarian symphony, operetta, ballet and gypsy violins. It was great!

Exterior of Vigado Concert Hall

The art nouveau concert hall just before the Hungarian Gala evening began

And so farewell to Budapest………

Hungary, Budapest – a day trip to Szentendre on the Danube Bend

Although the Danube floats majestically in a straight line from outside my hotel window there many river cruisers glide by there is an area just a little bit further down the river known as the Danube Bend because of the extreme turns the river makes there. There are three towns that are apparently worth visiting there and I chose to take a river cruiser down to Szentendre (1.5 hours there and 1 hour back).

When I saw the place on arrival I knew it was going to be a cute and relaxing place to spend the day.

The “port” at Szentendre

Around and about the old town of Szentendre and the lampshades make a change from the more common umbrellas!

But what I hadn’t expected to find was that it is also a bit of an artist colony location and at every corner there is something completely different to take a look at.

First I found a public park with these ginormous sculptures which I liked a lot – especially as they are accessible to all.

My two favourite sculptures in the public park in Szentendre

Then I stumbled on an artist’s collective. The interior exhibit was high tech and the garden had more sculptures and for some reason (no comments required) the naked wooden man practising yoga? thinking? looking at a plane? took my fancy.

Merging high tech and art

What is he thinking?

I had heard about the marzipan museum and so of course had to take a look and a tasting too. Who knew you could make so many things out of marzipan? (Barbara – I feel a nativity project coming on?)

Di and Jacko – together forever in marzipan

And more amazing things you can make from marzipan – if you are so inclined

I then found what is supposed to be the smallest synagogue in the world? The Szanto Memorial House and Temple. I’m not sure if that is substantiated but it is a tiny memorial schul paid for my a descendant of his grandfather who was murdered during the war. It is certainly tiny but nicely kept.

Szanto Memorial House and Temple

Then on to the whackiest stop – the Retro Design Museum (1970 prices – about 40 Euro cents to get in!) dedicated to all things 70’s – even though this was 70’s Hungary I still recognised lots of things – do you?

I remember having a drawer full of cassettes.

I’m pretty sure I had that album too and I definitely had a Commodore 64!

And final artsy stop was a gallery dedicated to the folk ceramic artist Margit Kovacs (1902-1977). I’d never heard of her but she is well known in her field and I really enjoyed seeing her work. A must see.

Beautiful ceramics by Margit Kovacs

Folk art ceramics by Margit Kovacs

So a very good day out when you want a change from the city of Budapest – highly recommended.

Hungary, the Buda side of the river

It seems that whenever you find a city with a river through the middle there is an automatic rivalry between both sides. There is no exception in Budapest. People who live on the Buda (old historic) side are known to say “everyone who lives in Budapest lives in Buda or wants to live in Buda”: those on the Pest (more modern side) say “Buda,Siesta; Pest, Fiesta”.

On this occasion I stayed on the Pest side right on the river. I’m glad I did. It enabled me to enjoy the urbane and lovely Pest side (being a city girl more my thing) while enjoying the views of the Buda side and being able to walk or take a quick bus journey there.

Day and night time views of the Buda side of the River Danube

I was meeting some friends for lunch on that side so made it my day to visit Buda (and a day is fine I think).

Castle Hill is where you find the old palace, the Fisherman’s Bastion, cobbled streets, the Mathias Church and various museums plus great views all around.

The Mathias church is spectacular inside and out and has existed since the 11th century with a rebuild in the 15th century. For a while it was converted into a mosque (yes, Ottoman rule again) and it was used for one of the coronations of the Austrian emperor Franz Ferdinand and his wife Elizabeth known as Sissi in the 19th century. She loved Hungary and learned the language (she was smart) and convinced her husband to let Hungary have its own language and jurisdiction. She is very beloved over here. I remember my mum was obsessed with Sissi – I think she was the Princess Diana type idol of her time.

It is a lovely church inside and out. Very warm colours and a lot of bright Hungarian folk art. Liked this one a lot. If you go to the museum of the first floor it’s easier to take pics of the detail and erase the crowds out. There are lots of them!!

External views of Mathias Church with its pretty roof tiles.

The soft colours of the interior of Mathias Church plus one pic showing the hordes!

Close ups of the artwork higher up in the chirch

The organ and folk art style above the stained glass windows

Castle Hill houses the Fisherman’s Bastion rampart walls. These were last rebuilt at the turn of the 19th/20th century to celebrate the millennium which is why it is more ornate with a viewing terrace than a practical defensive fortress. There seem to be various theories on why “fishermen”? The fisherman’s guild may have protected the original fort as they lived below it and also there was a fish market there – so that’s most likely I suppose. It is very fanciful and the views are lovely.

The Fisherman’s Bastion

I also met up with my friend Jo’s mum Gillian and her friend Jill for lunch inside the Bastion which was very posh:)

Inside the Fisherman’s Bastion Restaurant

Me, Gillian and Jill

Tasty morsels at the Fisherman’s Bastion restaurant

By the way, my pork was uniquely Hungarian from the mangalica pig bred here for superb tasting pork (I learned about this from my food tour guide Ange on the previous day when I tasted some pate from the same pig) . Have to share a picture of them as they are “pigs in sheep’s clothing” and I had to look them up for myself to believe they really existed.

Mangalica pigs

I walked around the castle hill area dodging the rain by visiting the National Gallery which had an exhibit on surrealism. I think the buildings were more interesting than the art and signage is lousy!

Museums and fountain on Castle Hill

A little bit surreal

and then one shot looking down from the Buda side before I walked down the hill to and crossed over the Danube back to Pest.

The other hill on the Buda side is where the citadel is located plus the lady liberty statue and some of the best views of the Danube.

There seems to be some debate about what she is holding? A fish? A leaf? Or as one 8 year old told my guide “it’s obvious – she’s holding an iPad and taking a selfie”!

Hungary – Budapest. A day in the Jewish quarter plus a ruin bar.

Well if Slovenia was the morphing location between the Balkans and Central Europe I am now well and truly catapulted into the Austro Hungarian Empire. No more orthodox churches but plenty of RC and once again a country with a strong Jewish culture and quarter.

The Jews here primarily came from German speaking backgrounds and before the war they numbered around 900,000. Hungary chose to align with Hitler’s axis at the start of the war and as a result they were not invaded while the Nazis focussed on the domination of other countries. However in 1944 the Hungarians realised that the Germans would lose the war and so they switched sides. This had a very bad outcome for the country and the Jews. In anger at this switch Hitler invaded and occupied Hungary almost immediately and the occupation lasted until the end of the war. They also upped the deportation of as many Jews as possible. – quite easy to do given they were already living in a ghettoised area of the city. In just two months 440,000 were deported to Auschwitz and very few ever returned. Some of the people in charge in Hungary then tried to slow this process down when they realised they would be seen as complicit in this genocide but by then a lot of the damage was done. In the end something like 80% to 90% of Hungarian Jews were murdered by the nazi.

Post war the Jews who were left were also put in a ghetto as there was an initial far right wing government in power. This lasted for about 6 weeks before the soviets “liberated” the country but by then another 10,000 of the 70,000 in the ghetto had died of starvation or hunger. So really all very depressing but nevertheless good to see that an active Jewish community remains in the city. This is not the case in some of the other parts of Europe badly impacted by the holocaust.

The top part of the Great Synagogue is ow a museum aiming to teach about Jewish customs and holiday. Thankfully people working in other museums took and Hd them during the war. Lots of interesting artefacts but the most heartbreaking were the menorah candle holders (top left) made out of dough that were found in the ghetto. This person gave up much needed food to make this important symbol.

While the exterior of the Great (or Dohány Street) Synagogue was impressive (2nd largest in the world after the one in NYC and it holds 3000 people) it was also kind of weird. Here’s the exterior which has clear moorish influences.

But to me why it is weird is that the inside looks like a synagogue trying to look like a cathedral. An organ? Two pulpits? The seating? The placement of the Torah? There are various theories why this is. They couldn’t find any Jewish architects? It just doesn’t feel right to me ….

I did like the adjacent gardens though. This includes the Tree of Life sculpture which is a memorial to those lost in the holocaust with each lead having names engraved on it. Also memorials to the “righteous ones” – those who helped to save Jews at great risk to themselves and to the many Jews who died in the ghetto where hundreds of bodies found heaped up after liberation.

There was also a big mention for Sir Nicholas Winton – the young Brit who created the concept of kinder trains which enabled many Jewish children from Prague to escape certain death. If you’ve never seen this little video I recommend it. It’s a tear jerker.

Having been somewhat flummoxed by the Great Synagogue I was much more entranced with the Hungarian Art Deco style Kazinczy Street synagogue. The outside is drab but the interior is pretty fab and certainly unusual but this time in a good way.

The Jewish quarter has many kosher restaurants, shops and bakeries so I had to enjoy a traditional flodni cake while in the locale – poppy seeds, walnuts and yumminess.

The Ruin bars are also omnipresent in this area. Originally crumbling communist buildings that had long fallen into disrepair they weren’t taken over by entrepreneurial youth and turned into rough and ready pubs and eating places. They are very popular – but mostly with tourists unless you get off the beaten track. I went during the day so I could see the whacky decor and avoid being soaked in other people’s’ beer!

Slovenia – final post. More places you can visit easily from Ljubliana – Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle, Koper and Piran and more

As Slovenia is so small it is very easy to have Ljubliana as a base and then head out on day trips to see other parts of the country which is what I did in between enjoying the city.

The cave systems in this part of the world are extensive (unfortunately causing the creation of a lot of sink holes) but also enabling visitors to experience huge caverns. Postojna Caves (which I think I visited back in the 80’s) is more than 25 kms in size so you only get to see a fraction of it. On arrival you board a train that takes ten minutes to get you further into the caves and join a group to be taken around the caves for 45 minutes and then back again on the train. I like these caves as they are very airy, have fabulous examples of stalactites and stalagmites and other cave formations. The problem with caves is it is hard to give a real feel for the grandeur of the place so I have had a go but then shown some formations which appear more abstract when viewed in isolation but I quite like that.

Inside the caves as the train takes off. Massive and tiny stalactites and stalagmites

Some different formations and colours inside the caves

A short distance away we came to Predjama Castle – a feat of building that is staggering as you can hopefully see how skilfully they built the castle into the side of the mountain on top of a cave. Not sure how they did it but it worked and they were not successfully attacked. A Slovenian Robin Hood character called Erasmus lived here for a while (he managed to get out regularly via the intricate tunnel system and always bought back fresh cherries for all the people who lived in the castle so he was very popular) but he was eventually killed because someone advised his enemies that the weakest part of the castle was his toilet which jutted out from the side of the wall and that is where he met his end – blown to pieces as legend has it! His girlfriend planted a tree in his memory but it is not looking too healthy!

Predjama Castle with views all around so that the enemy can be easily spotted

The bell can be rung by anyone passing it as long as you make a wish! Erasmus’ tree looking the worse for wear – it has been struck by lightening a few times.

On another day I visited the Trinity Church in Cerkev. It is another walled church that I saw so many of in Romania and also has frescos in good condition since they had been whitewashed over back in the 15th century during the plague as a means of disinfectant and were only rediscovered and cleaned in the 20th century. While the frescos are all good I really liked the “Danse Macarbre” or the Dance of the Dead. Very popular in medieval times it shows a group of people from child to beggar to wealthy to bishop all being led to their death by skeletons. The message being – whoever you are in this world – we all end up in the same way! I like it.

Exterior of Walled Church at Cerkov

The Dance of Death frescos in excellent condition. Love the grins on the skeletons

Onwards to Koper, the second largest city in Slovenia. It has a nice square, original water cistern and some original walls but that’s about it. What you do start to notice in this part of Slovenia is the strong Italian/Venetian influence in buildings. In fact this area officially retains dual language – Slovenian and Italian – since so many people from Italy lived here and indeed many still do.

The main square in Koper

Just outside of Piran are the salt pans. An area where salt has been harvested for centuries and still is although to a lesser degree than in the past. It is an activity that takes place for 6 months of the year and looks like very hard work. Each pan is first primed with an algae mix which acts as a barrier and filters and ensures that the salt never mixed with the mud below. Then they wait and eventually salt crystallises on the surface and is collected for packing and sales. It is very high quality.

Salt pans near Piran

And then we headed to the seaside town of Piran. Slovenia doesn’t have much land by the sea but they managed to nab this bit when the former Yugoslav states were divvied up after Tito’s death. It is the usual rocky beach that you find on the Croatian coast with sparkly water and people wandering about in bikinis that are too small for them. You can see both Croatia and Italy from here.

The overview of the city was taken from the former city fortified city walls.

The former city walls of Piran

Views of Piran and the sparkling Adriatic Sea

But it wasn’t the coast I like the most about Piran, it was the side streets off the main square which were full of old Italian looking buildings in every colour imaginable.

The main square in Piran

Colourful narrow alleyways behind the main square in Piran

More Piran alleyways

And finally had to include this pic of some baby swallows I came across in a nest in one of those alleyways. So cute.