As Gregor is fond of saying, “we are complete.” Our visit to Europe is nearly over and today is a day to pack and enjoy a last leisurely breakfast before heading to Marco Polo Airport to fly home.
Gregor arranged a water shuttle to take us to the airport, so we can say we took a boat to the airport in Venice…probably the only airport in the world where you can do that!
We caught our connecting flight to Minneapolis through Amsterdam, so we can officially say we visited Venice, Ljubljana, Paris and Amsterdam on our journey.
Our last full day in Venice started out bright and clear. Last night’s thunderstorms were pretty powerful and loud, but nobody was anything more than inconvenienced by them.
A group of students went with Gregor to Murano, the glass-blowing island for the morning. Others spent the day continuing their exploration of Venice proper.
At dinner time, we gathered at a restaurant just off of Piazza San Marco for a celebratory farewell dinner at which we honored Gregor for his hard work with some gifts and thank you notes.
After dinner, the highlight was a ride on a gondola. We filled four gondola for our twilight ride along the Canale Grande and off into the smaller canals.
Today we started the day in Venice by taking a tour of the Pallazo Ducale (the Doge’s Palace) where the Doge, the elected leader of “La Serenissima” (the most serene) Republic of Venice lived and ruled.
After our tour, we had free time to explore the city, with some of us following Gregor to the Rialto Bridge and others setting out on their own to explore other parts of the city.
The evening was capped by extremely powerful thunderstorms and sheets of rain that washed the streets clean and also cleared out a lot of the tourists, making the evening much less hectic.
Thursday morning we checked out of our hotel and said goodbye to Ljubljana (hopefully, for most of us, it’s just “see you later”) and headed to Predjama Castle. The castle is one of the most famous and photogenic in Europe and is infamous for the betrayal of its master, Erasmus, the rogue prince who refused to pay his feudal lord his due. Eventually betrayed, he was blasted from his “throne.”
We then headed to another very famous tourist attraction, Postojna Caves, huge karst caves which have been a tourist attraction for nearly 200 years. We zoomed nearly 2 km. into the mountain on a tiny train before a stopping to walk through multiple “rooms” of karst formations.
After we left Postojna, we drove to our last stop in Slovenia, the port resort town of Piran. We walked to the top of the town and viewed the city from the porch of the Church of St. George and many of us had a snack or lunch in one of the many restaurants at the seaside or in the city’s piazza. The piazza contains a statue of the city’s favorite son, Baroque composer Guiseppe Tartini.
Late in the afternoon, we began the last leg of our trip to Venice. The process of traveling to Venice is, in typical Venetian style, complex, involving bus, vaparetto, then another bus, before arriving at our hotel, the Hotel Foresteria Sportiva Cà Del Moro, a resort hotel on Lido, a part of Venice located on a sand bar in the lagoon.
Istria is a small peninsula which is primarily in Croatia, but a small slip of Istria is in both Italy and Slovenia. Today we explored some of the the sights of Croatian Istria.
We started the day early, leaving Ljubljana at 6:00am. This permitted us to pull into the first city on our itinerary, the southern Istrian port city of Pula. Our first stop was the Arena of Pula, a very well preserved Roman coliseum. The Arena also had a cellar where we saw an exhibit about the olive oil trade as well as many amphora, vessels for carrying wine and olive oil.
Next we walked through Pula, stopping at various historic landmarks including several Roman gates. Another stop was to see one of the best preserved Roman mosaics, very well preserved and very well hidden…in the entryway of a modern apartment building.
Finally, we went to the city center which had been a Roman forum in ancient times. This included Temple Augustus, a temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus Caesar.
After an hour of free time, we got back on the bus and went to the port city of Rovinj where we saw the Cathedral of St. Eufemia and wandered the streets of this medieval port town whose architecture is influenced by its long relationship with Venetian empire.
The last stop for today was the charming hill town of Motovun. There we walked the city walls and tiny streets high on a hill reminiscent of a Tuscan hill town. Most of us took time out to enjoy a plate of pasta (perhaps with truffles) or a dessert and enjoy the view.
Today was our last day at Special School Centre Levec. During the first classroom session, two groups of students participated in a unique PE activity: climbing the castle hill! Others went grocery shopping with older students (ages 22-25) learning independent living skills. Those students got to make kabobs with some of the fruit they had purchased. Later, after the second round of class visits, we met in the break room and participated in a review and reflection session with the director and staff of the Centre.
After our lunch break, we walked to the Central Medical Library, University of Ljubljana Medical Center to meet with Živa Makovec, a medical student and a leader of the International Federation of Medical Students Association. (Her mother is Dr. Maya Rus, Professor Velko Rus’ sister.) After a little detour, we found Živa in the medical faculty building. She led a discussion of a High School Destigmatization Project with which she is involved.
When we returned to the hotel, we held another reflection session for the group as a whole. Several participants were very anxious to discuss the insights they had discovered over the past few days and to get ready for our trip to Croatia tomorrow.
Today started with our third visit to Special School Centre Levec. We continued our rotation among all of the age levels. This picture is from the 9th level class in social studies.
After lunch, we walked to the University of Ljubljana Medical Center Pediatric Psychiatry Unit. We were greeted by psychiatrist Dr. Mojca Brecelj Kobe (Department Head). After Dr. Kobe finished her greeting, we listened to a presentation from two of her colleagues, Dr. Mateja Kranyc and Vedrana Durašin, who are clinical psychologists in the pediatric psychiatric unit. After their presentation, they gave us a brief tour of the unit.
The remainder of the afternoon and evening were free time to enjoy the clearing skies and warming temperatures. There was a rumor it was warm enough for Noah and Caleb to throw their frisbee today.
Grad is castle in Slovenian, so today we visited Ljubljanski Grad. Coincidentally, it happened to be Castle Days marking the anniversary of the castle’s purchase by the city of Ljubljana in 1905.
Ljubljana’s castle is typical of European fortress castles. It’s built high on a hill, encircled partly by a river, with a large perimeter wall. In 2006, the city built a funicular that took us to the castle. There we were able to climb the castles’s tower and view the interactive multimedia museum exhibits on the history of the Slovene people.
The castle museum has recently presented the very precious original gilded statue of a 4th century citizen of the Roman settlement of Emona found in 1836 in what is now Kongresni trg (the statue is currently in the National Museum). A replica of the statue and some other Roman artifacts are displayed in both the square and the museum. Unfortunately, the city of Emona didn’t last much beyond the time of the bronze clad memorialized citizen. Founded in the year 14 C.E., it was sacked by the Huns in 452. Later this summer, Ljubljana will mark 2,000 years of habitation with a summer-long celebration.
Many of us packed a picnic lunch that we were able to enjoy in either the castle courtyard or the park grounds outside the castle walls.
Today we boarded a bus and took a day trip to two very special Slovenian sites. Our tour guide Gregor joined us for the day.
First, we went to the ancient city of Skofia Loka. Skofia Loka has been continuously inhabited for well over 1,000 years, part of a land grant given to an Austrian archbishop. The town has a very well-preserved medieval center and a 600 year old castle. It was drizzling the entire time were visited the city, so many of us took refuge in a coffee shop or sweet shop to get out of the rain and take advantage of the local pastries.
After Skofia Loka, we went to Lake Bled. We started at the castle which is situated on a high cliff overlooking the lake and its single island (the only island in Slovenia). The view is breathtaking!
Next we went to the lakeside in order to board a unique Slovenian gondola called a pletna. All 22 of us loaded on the pletna for the 15 minute trip to the island.
The island has a few unique features. When you arrive at the island, you are presented with a very tall staircase. The local legend has it if a newlywed groom carries his bride up the stairs, it insures a happy life. There’s one condition…the bride needs to remain silent all the way up. We saw several newlyweds today, but we didn’t see any of them attempt the legendary challenge.
Another unique feature on the island is the church’s bell. It is called the “Bell of Wishes.” If you ring this bell, your wish comes true, or so the legend goes.
After boating back to the lakeshore, we had lunch at one of the many lakeside restaurants, most of which feature the local speciality, Bled Cream Cake or Blejska kremna rezina.
The weather in Ljubljana has been just on the borderline between cold and pleasant. We see peeks of sun during the day, but we’ve also experienced a little rain, too. Fortunately at this point it hasn’t had any impact on our plans as most of our activities have been indoors.
This morning we continued our service learning activity at the Levec Special Education Centre. We had arranged to shorten our stay in order to visit a kindergarten in the late morning, so we left Levec at 10:00 and boarded a city bus to go to the Hans Christian Andersen Kindergarten. There we met with the principal Tina Mercnik and her staff and observed several classrooms. She explained that mothers get 12 months to give birth and bond with their children and then most families (88%) enroll their 1-year-olds in a kindergarten. Kindergarten spans age 11 months to 6 years of age, after which they start primary school.
One interesting note was the kindergarten happened to be located on the commemorative trail that marks the location of the fortified fence that encircled and imprisoned the citizens of Ljubljana during WWII. Medallions in the pavement and signposts reading “POT” which stands for The Path of Remembrance and Comradeship, mark the location of the fence. Each May 9th, the end of the war is commemorated and many Ljubljanchens (citizen of Ljubljana) walk or bike the path of the fence in honor of the sacrifices made during the war.
After a lunch break, students went to the University Faculty of Arts building to visit professor Velko Rus’ class and meet with his students.