My Balkan journey (first of three parts) | SunStar

My Balkan journey (first of three parts)

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My Balkan journey (first of three parts)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Downtown Slovenia and Zagreb Cathedral

WE were prepared to face the two-degree or even zero-degree Celsius weather in the Croatian cities of Split and Dubrovnik. Warned of the upcoming negative four chill in Zagreb, the temperature turned out to be kind and friendly, hitting 7 to 10 degrees. But let me start from the beginning of my journey.

The trip took place last November. There was much to explore. The places were filled with history, fascinating bygone times, intriguing details, heartbreaking political invasions and famous movie set locations.

The Balkan Peninsula is a destination that is gaining much popularity with its captivating scenery, affordability, culture and heritage and religious significance. Fourteen travel agents led by Ligaya Tabirao were invited by Turkish Airlines and Meteor (Mediterranean Tour Operator) to an educational and familiarization trip. I was the sole representative from Cebu.

We entered through the airport of Ljubljana in Slovenia using a Schengen visa. I had many chances in the past to see Slovenia, but always skipped it, thinking that it is just like any other city in the western world. I am glad that I finally went. We drove to Lake Bled. We enjoyed the bliss and peace of the cold island wind. I felt like I was part of an old painting where a boat approaches a small temple on top of a hilly land. Instead of a temple, we were nearing a tiny island with a charming medieval chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. We rode a wooden boat. The lake was calm. We were literally gliding among the white geese on water. On one side of the island was a staircase of 99 steps. On the other, 78. We took the 78. On the mainland across us, was the castle that was once the seat of power. At 130 meters above sea level, it was free from attacks. Inside the tiny church, my friend Macrina Fuentes and I pulled the rope and the belfry rang. And yes, we made three wishes.

There was a lonesome steeple with a cross for all to see
We rang the bell and said a prayer, for our nation, you and me.

On to Ljubljana. The city satisfied my penchant for old world charm with its assortment of centuries of varied building designs. Each colonization pushed Slovenia into a richer tapestry of history. Partly ravaged by war and occupied by the Nazis, it has been restored and preserved. We entered the Holy Door of St. Nicholas Cathedral and crossed the triple bridge (this has an intriguing story of its own). I walked with slower steps, passing by the quiet City Hall. Amidst a laid back atmosphere, my mind wandered.

Tolstoi said that all is fair in love and war
But prisoners say, every fight is a show of might
When smoke and men are dragged by storm
Buildings stand and bullets bite
Gothic style, Romanesque and Byzantine
Baroque and Stone, Ljubljana’s pride.
The smell of death and tears of honor
Thy many souls now gratified.

Then we went to Zagreb, driving through medieval castles and sweeping vineyards. It is the capital city of Croatia, the youngest member of the European Union and the most developed among the Balkan countries. Here, medieval buildings stand side by side trendy restaurants. The city is vibrant. People on the streets are mostly young. Modern life pulses within the authentic 14th century setting. The buildings medieval, yet fresh. No soot. The plaza and the wide sidewalk teem with light and life, yet, there is a folkloric feel. The city showcases many food varieties. We had the best tomato soup, green salad, moist roasted chicken and crispiest French fries. Its Old Town is home to St. Mark’s Church, Stone Gate, Pope’s Tower, Ben Jelacic Square with four sides of magnificent buildings and the narrowest street in the world called Let-Me-Pass Road. You have to shout the name of the road so the person at the other end will yield. In its uphill city street, I noticed many stores selling neckties. The cravat and bowtie originated in Croatia. During the war waged by the French in Europe, the Croats were recruited for their bravery. Wives and girlfriends sent off their men with a kerchief as a reminder of their love. Tied around the neck, it was a source of inspiration. The French, attracted to the kerchief, adapted it as a fashion statement. Cravat or crovat is derived from the word “croat” pertaining to the Croatian soldier.

Alas the old and young are one
The old you see, the young you hear
The meandering journey does not end.
When weather calls for doom and war
Poor men don’t tarry, the reason is bounty
The world is leaning, the Lord puts meaning
Oh lovely city, stay!

The next day we left for Split, a city clutching the speckled Dalmatian Coast. Elizabeth T. Reyes

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 16, 2017.

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