Eastern Europe Trip – Day 2 – Plitvice Lake & Ljubljana, Slovenia

Today I drove from Zagreb, Croatia to Plitvice Lakes, about a two hour drive away. On the way I attempted to stop at The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, however the road was closed off for the season to prevent continued degradation of the site by looters during the off-season. The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija is a World War 2 monument designed by Vojin Bakić, and built by Veliki Petrovac on the highest peak of the Petrova Gora mountain range. The monument celebrates the uprising and resistance movement of the people of Kordun and Banija against Nazi-fascism, as well as commemorates the victims of the Nazi-fascism. The monument took ten years to build and was finished in 1981. At the time the monument was finished it was the largest postmodern sculpture in the world. After 1991, antifascist monuments and memorial complexes were neglected. This continues to this day as local people continue stealing the stainless-steel plates off the monument. I snagged a few photos from Google Maps (credit given to the photographers) so you can see what it looks like.

Photo Credit: Bara Fai – 2021
Photo Credit: Arwen Swan – 2021
Photo Credit: Uldis Strauss – 2019

Next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Croatia. It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The park was founded in 1949 and is very well known for its beautiful lakes, pathways, and waterfalls. Entrance cost to the park is about $16 CDN, however expect to pay double when its not off season.

After visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park I drove about 3.5 hours towards Ljubljana, Slovenia. The border crossing took about an hour because they were checking everyone’s COVID vaccine passports. Before I dive into the rest of my day in Slovenia let’s talk about Slovenia’s history, which has a lot of overlap with Croatia.

Slovenia’s History

Slovenia is a relatively young country; being formed on June 25 1991. The history of Slovenia is very similar to that of Croatia; having been its neighboring country. Historically, Slovenia was part of many different states dating back to the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Carolingian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, the Republic of Venice, the Illyrian Provinces of the First French Empire of Napoleon I, the Austrian Empire, and finally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until it broke up in October 1918.

As mentioned back in my brief history of Croatia; in December 1918 the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed. In 1929 this kingdom was renamed to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

During the beginning of World War 2 Yugoslavia had a neutral stance, but in March 1941 a coup was held by pro-British officers, and as a result the Germans invaded Yugoslavia on April 6 1941. The Germans set up shop in Croatia with the fascist Ustase in charge, but the Croatians were able to liberate them by 1945.

During the 1960’s nationalism re-emerged and more people were demanding autonomy. In 1971 Tito, the Communist leader put a stop to it, but he ended up dying in 1980. Communism collapsed in most of Eastern Europe in 1989, during the same time frame that many non-Communist organizations were being setup. In April 1990 elections were held and in December 1990 a referendum was held, with the majority of people in favor. On June 25 1991 the Slovene parliament declared Slovenia independent. This irritated the Yugoslavian army, so they tried to invade Slovenia a few days later on June 27 1991. They were held back by the Slovenian Territorial Defense forces and the police, and on July 7 1991 the Yugoslavians agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the European Union.

In December 1991 a new constitution was written, and on January 15 1992 Slovenian independence was recognized by the European Union. As was the case for many of the eastern European countries, Slovenia faced a long painful transition from Communism to Capitalism during the 1990’s. In 2004 Slovenia became a member of the European Union.

Exploring Ljubljana, Slovenia

When I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovakia my first stop was exploring Ljubljana Castle, a castle complex standing on Castle Hill, which overlooks the entire city. It was originally a medieval fortress constructed in the 11th century, rebuilt again in the 12th and 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The castle is depicted on the city’s coat of arms, along with a dragon on the top. The castle just finished a major restoration project that lasted from 2000 to 2019. There was also a puppet museum inside the castle, which was pretty neat.

After visiting the castle I drove to my hotel; BIT Center Hotel, to check-in, and do a few hours of work, which included a few meetings. After working I drove back to the castle to haver dinner at the renowned Strelec Restaurant. A reservation is a requirement here, however being off-season I just booked it in the morning and they were able to accommodate me. This is a michelin star quality restaurant, however it is not a michelin star restaurant. I was served a 5 course dinner, however it was more like 8 courses… I wish I had taken better notes as to what I ate, however I had a few favorites. My first favorite was the ravioli with truffles, cheese, and home made sour cream. My second favorite was venison with beet-root. Third runner up was beef tartar. The meal was finished off with chocolate ganache, ice cream, a sweet puree of some sort, hazelnuts, and gold foil. The meal cost me a total of $115 CDN, however it was absolutely worth it. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners that I’ve ever had.

Be sure to check back tomorrow while I explore more of Ljubljana, before driving back to Zagreb, Croatia to catch a flight to Belgrade, Serbia late in the evening.

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Czech Republic – Kutná Hora & Český Krumlov

After visiting Prague it was time to move on to my next destinations; Kutná Hora and Český Krumlov. First stop was Kutná Hora.

Kutná Hora was first founded in 1142 with the settlement of Sedlec Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. In 1260 German miners flicked to the area to begin mining for silver in the surrounding mountain region. There was great economic prosperity from the 13th thru 16th centuries and the city competed with Prague economically, politically and culturally.

In 1420, Emperor Sigismund made the city the base For his unsuccessful attack on the Taborites during the Hussite Wars, which lead to the Battle of Kutná Hora. Kutná Hora was taken by Jan Zizka, but was burned by imperial troops in 1422 to prevent it falling into the hands of the Taborites. Zizka still the reigns of the city nonetheless and it emerged to new prosperity.

Kutná Hora was eventually passed to the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria in 1526. In 1546 the most prosperous of the mines was flooded. Eventually the plague, 30 years war, and a fire did the city in. The city became impoverished and the mines were eventually abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. When I was here I visited the Church of Saint James (which was under construction), and St. Barbara’s Cathedral.

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After visiting Kutná Hora is was time to drive further along to my next stop, Český Krumlov, where I would be staying for the next two days.
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Český Krumlov started in 1240 when a settlement rose around a castle by the Vitkovci family, descendants of the Witiko of Prčice. The family died off in 1302 And Kind Wenceslaus II ceded the town and castle to the Rosenberg family. Peter 1 of Rosenberg, the Lord Chamberlain of King John of Bohemia, resided here and had the upper castle erected. Most of the people living below the castle were German-speaking at the time and migrated from Austria and Bavaria.

The Rosenbergs encouraged trade and crafts within the town wall, and when gold was found next to the town, German miners came to settle. William of Rosenberg, High Treasurer and High Burgrave of Bohemia, had the castle rebuilt in a Renaissance style during the time.

In 1602 Williams brother Peter Vok of Rosenberg sold Cesky Krumlov to the Habsburg emperor Rufolf II, who then gave it to his son Julius d’Austria. After the Battle of White Mountain, Emperor Ferdinand II gave Český Krumlov to the noble House of Eggenberg. From 1719 to 1947 the castle belonged to the House of Scwarzenberg.

After Word War I the city was part of the Bohemian Forest Region, which was initially declared part of German-Austria. The Czechoslovak army occupied the region by 1918, and it eventually became part of Czechoslovakia. in 1938 it was claimed by the Nazi Germans. After World War II the German speaking population was expelled and the town was returned to Czechoslovakia.

Under the communist ruling of Czechoslovakia the town fell into disrepair, but since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 much of the town has been restored. The city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. The town was severely damaged in a great flood in 2002, but has since been repaired.

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