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The Jacksons in Ljubljana PDF Printable Version E-mail



Hazel Jackson

July 2007

Hazel and Simon Jackson, along with 13-year-old son Jack, took a year out to tour Southern Europe in an American motorhome. Calling it a 'mid-life gap year', they kept a thorough written and photographic record of their journey which they have since turned into a book. Not least impressive is the way they continued Jack's schooling during this year on the road so that he received a double education!

To access their website, learn more about their adventures and obtain a copy of the book, click: Jacksons on the Road.

Just as Gaudi left his unmistakable mark on Barcelona, so Plecnik, a modest, contemporary architect of the nineteenth century, has left his signature on the delightful city of Ljubljana. As capital cities go, this isn't a large one, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in warmth and vitality. With a large university and three art academies it has a youthful feel, without any of the hustle and bustle of bigger metropolises. In its past it has experienced a history similar to many other towns that were initially founded by the Romans. Sieges, occupation and earthquakes were repeated over the years and with every change came another layer of history, architecture and society. Today, tucked into the shelter of three formidable mountain ranges, it is sufficiently guarded from the rest of Europe to have thankfully missed out on chain store shops, skyscrapers and fast food outlets. It spreads either side of the winding Ljubljanica river; a pleasant mix of Austrian and Slav with a good helping of baroque, renaissance, art nouveau and contemporary thrown in.

We caught the spotlessly clean number six bus (it always seemed to be the number six), into the centre and started our tour in the 'old' town. Here there were no noisy motorbikes and hooting car horns, just wide cobbled streets and elegant pale coloured buildings. Residents and tourists strolled and street cafes did good business. We made our way to the first of the three famous bridges which cross the Ljubljanica River, namely the Cobblers Bridge. Designed by Plecnik, it is of a simple yet unusual construction; a wide span with plain, white stone columns, which links the old town to the new. Following the river, we came to the second bridge - the Triple Bridge which was originally one single bridge built in 1842, but to which Plecnik added two arched side bridges. Then passing through the long colonnade of the gently curving covered market, we finally reached the Dragon Bridge, which was definitely our favourite.

Built in 1901 of iron and concrete, this bridge was the one which we wouldn't forget and which Jack has pictures of in his album. A pair of vast winged dragons stands at either end of this angular structure, with evil staring eyes, clawed feet and mouths wide open. Their scaly tails curl around the back of the bridge and smaller entwined dragons with forked tongues decorate the balustrades. This is the dragon that was slain by Jason of the Argonauts when he and his men were fleeing from the Black Sea to the Adriatic with the Golden Fleece. Trapped, when they reached the source of the Ljubljanica River, they dismantled their boat, and were carrying it in pieces across land to the Adriatic when they came to a massive marshy lake. The dragon rose from the lake and Jason fought long and hard before he killed it. So, what better reason do you need to have a most superb bridge decorated with glowering dragons……. ……….No better reason at all.

Before we stopped for lunch, we walked up to the old castle which sits, surveying all, high above the town. The small tourist train then took us back down for a massive family-sized pizza, after which we decided to split up and do a little personal shopping, which was something of a novelty because after ten months of doing mostly 'boys stuff' I had almost given up all idea of looking in shop windows at girly things. Simon had noticed an excellent book shop and Jack elected to stay with me to ensure that I didn't get lost. We wandered the streets, window shopping at last. Jack was searching for a new Airfix model and I was hoping for anything with feminine appeal. We found both, and after selecting a good model, he patiently waited for me on the steps of the Three Rivers Fountain, (a copy of the one in Rome) while I spent about twenty minutes trying to decide what to buy from a shop selling 'all natural' soaps and perfumes.

Eventually, I bought a bar of organic foot balm, which shows just how out of touch I had become with female shopping. I thought that this momentous purchase of mine smelt really nice, but over the next few days, as it warmed up in the hot interior of the Beast, there were loud cries of " what is that disgusting smell" every time I got it out to rub it on my aching feet. It was also melting rather rapidly and turning into one revolting gooey mess, so I was soon forced to ditch it. However, strangely enough, the all-pervading smell of airfix glue, and half-made model bits labelled 'don't touch', was not frowned upon at all, and I sometimes did wonder if our large American motor home was really big enough for the three of us.

Back at camp that afternoon Jack made a bee-line for an interesting adventure course that was being run by two young Slovenian rock climbers. It was aptly named 'Adrenalinski Park'. A stand of very tall trees grew at one side of the camp site and strung between these were rope ladders, beams, bridges and high wires, forming an aerial assault course about forty feet up. Kitted out with helmet and safety harness, Jack fearlessly clambered amongst the leafy canopy, finishing with a great zip-wire ride down to the ground. He spent two hours enjoying this fun 'tree-experience' under the guidance of the English speaking climbers and decided that some form of altitude climbing might be added to his growing list of 'things to do when I'm older'. A list which seemed to consist of activities with a certain degree of danger, like hang gliding, white water rafting, scuba diving and extreme snow boarding. What's wrong with art or theatre I countered to deaf ears.

That evening, as we sat outside the motor home planning the next day's itinerary, a friendly Dutch couple came over and introduced themselves to us asking if we would like to join them for a drink. Just like us, Rick and Pia had sold their house and were travelling for a year. They had only been on the road for eleven weeks and were already in a dilemma as to where to go next. She didn't like the heat but he did, so they were torn between going north or south - as simple as that. They had a car and caravan, but as the temperature was now around 28 degrees with no breeze, they were finding it impossible to keep cool in either vehicle. We sympathised and poured over maps and books with them, discussing the alternatives, but when we left them two days later they were still not sure which way to go and for all we know they may still be there discussing it. They were yet another pair of middle-aged-gappers, wandering on this, not-so-lonely planet.

For more, click: Jacksons on the Road.