Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Ljubljana Art Nouveau

The Union Hotel

One of our main reasons for coming to Ljubljana was that we had read that it had a good number of Art Nouveau buildings. After a bit of Googling we found this walk on the website of the Slovenia Life magazine.
The reason for there being such a clutch of buildings is that there was an earthquake in 1895 and the mayor of Ljubljana gave key projects to architects who were influenced by the Vienna Secessionist style. It seems that Art Nouveau, Secession, Jugenstil and Style Liberty can all be used interchangeably.

The walk begins towards the upper end of Ljubljana's main thoroughfares, Slovenska Cesta with the twin Apartment Houses of the Agricultural Loan Bank by Ciril Metod Koch. The green and yellow flower motifs over the windows are especially lovely.

You turn right along Cigaletova ulica and admire two contrasting houses on opposite sides of a cross roads. Pirc House dates from 1905-06 with its green and gold decoration and strong verticals.

Opposite is the Cuden (Cudnova) House by Ciril Metod Koch, which has a complimentary tower with a Secessionist orb on top and wavy line decorations and much more elaborate use of gold under the cornice.

Round the corner in Dalmatinksa ulica is the battered but wonderful Robert Smielenski's house of 1903. It features a more geometric approach to decoration.

Now you come back into Slovenska cesta and turn right into Tavcarjeva ulica. The house on the corner, the Hribar House, built for the mayor, has a lovely undulating facade with gold lion heads.

Next door is the Vodnik house. It is unfortunately in a poor state of repair, but the frieze and flower panels are quite lovely.

You pass between the Pirc and Cuden Houses into the small Miklosicev trg (square). On the right hand corner ahead is another building with a corner tower - the Krisper House of 1901 by Maks Fabiani. The corner tower was copied by the architects of the other two buildings. Krisper House is currently being restored. The botanical decoration along the line of the second floor windows flows along the full length of the house, is wonderfully fluid and is accentuated by semi-abstract bright blue dots.

Further along Tavcarjeva, number 11 has a wonderful flowery frieze at the top of the facade.

Now you return to the corner where the Krisper House is and turn right down Miklosiceva. The Bamberg House on the left has charming ceramic reliefs of male heads just under the cornice.

A short way further along you reach the extraordinary Cooperative Bank, built by Ivan Vernik in 1922. He was apparently intent on developing a Slovenian national style of architecture. It is not really clear to me that this building should be understood as being in the Art Nouveau style.

You pass the original entrance to the Union Hotel (1903-05) on the right and then on the left, as Miklosiceva joins Presernic trg, is Centromerkur, built 1902-04 as the first department store in Ljubljana. An elaborate restoration seems to be nearing completion.

Diagonally opposite is the Hauptman House, built in 1875 but renovated by Ciril Metod Koch in 1904. Its colourful exterior is now looking a bit faded.

Finally, just up Copova is the City Savings Bank of 1903-04 which features the last remaining original Art Nouveau sign board in the city.

Conditions: dry, bright.

Distance: 1.5 miles.

Rating: four stars, full of interest. A very well designed route too.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Volcji Potok arboretum

Another outing from Ljubljana, this time to the Volcji Potok arboretum, about about 45 mins from the city. It was surprisingly easy to find, being signposted from the motorway. It was once a Baroque mansion surrounded by a park. The mansion was destroyed during the second world war and the arboretum was established by the University of Ljubljana in 1952.

You walk up a tree lined avenue from the entry to reach the arboretum proper. In the photo above there is a cleverly constructed projection of what the mansion once looked like. The grounds are arranged in a kind of V shape around a central hill. We followed a clockwise route around the various areas, starting with the red Maple lake.

We then followed the left side of the V past a colourful group of azaleas and rhododendrons.

On the right was another pond from which ear-splitting sounds emerged from time to time. Close study revealed the presence of natterjack toads, presumably engaged in their courtship ritual.

The next large area was mainly given over to grass on which a number of plastic replica dinosaurs were strategically placed. We were unmoved by this, but it was lovely to her the excited shouts of small children as they entered the area. Off to one side was a typical flower meadow, with the usual, frustrating, lack of butterflies.

We walked back down to the base of the V for a restorative drink and ice cream and then addressed the right hand side which had a more park-like quality, with some large variously coloured trees.

Another nearby lake had colourful yellow flags and we were surprised when disturbances to the water surface were revealed to be turtles, rather than the large fish we had seen in the other ponds. There was also what seemed to be a replica heron, but it wasn't, as it soon took off and perched in an ungainly fashion in a tree.

Finally, we went to see the orchid house which we had missed on our initial route round. This purple one caught the eye.

Conditions: very hot - mid 20s.

Distance: we walked about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. An oasis of quiet and calm. Probably better for flowers and wildlife than for trees. The trees perhaps needed more signage and information to highlight for us what we were seeing.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Lake Bohinj

The bridge and church

Another day, another lake. Lake Bonhinj is 20 km west of Lake Bled and much less developed. It is inside the Triglav National Park and no development is allowed around the water's edge. You go through the town of Bohinjska Bistrica (which one might have thought would be near the lake, but turns out not to be) and reach the village of Ribcev Laz. We parked near the bridge over the Sava Bohinka river and headed clockwise around the lake.

The lake is a glacial one and is dammed by a moraine. It is 4.2 km long and 1 km wide. It was a cloudy morning, but the magnificent mountain setting was still impressive.

At first, the path (actually a minor road) ran by the lakeside, but quite soon it diverged and there was no choice but to follow - along a path on the far side of the road from the lake. After a while we came on the small Church of the Holy Spirit, dating from 1743, with a pretty external fresco.

A bit further on, we spied a parking area and crossed the road to descend to a sort of beach with a nice view of the end of the lake.

Not too long afterwards, about 3 miles into the walk, we came to the hamlet of Ukanc where we had a pleasant lunch. We crossed the Savica river, with its startling green colour - we assumed it must come from some copper salts.

There was another beach area at this, the far end of the lake, but once we had passed it we entered a rough track right by the lake end with scattered trees to the right (lake side) and a steep slope to the left.

It was now much more peaceful and the beauty of the lake could be more fully appreciated.

Wildlife was in rather short supply, so I was pleased by this snap. I was not sure if it was a butterfly or a moth, but I have since identified it as a Speckled yellow moth.

Eventually we reached the wide end and swung right beside classic Slovenian flower meadows to pass by the church, cross the bridge and return to the start.

Distance: 7 miles.

Conditions: cool and wet at first, but gradually becoming brighter to end with hot sunshine.

Rating: four stars. A bit tiresome at first, but ultimately wonderful.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Lake Bled

Bled Island

Time for our first excursion from Ljubljana - to Lake Bled, Slovenia's premier tourist site, 32 miles to the north west. The lake became popular when thermal baths were opened in 1855.

We parked opposite the Grand Hotel Toplice, which once housed the thermal baths, at pretty much the first point at which the lake is fully visible from the road. Bled Castle is more or less opposite, perched on its cliff 100m above the lake.

We opted to walk anti-clockwise round the lake and first walked right beside it and then drew away through the town to eventually take a winding path which climbed steeply through woods to reach the car park by the castle.

As we approached the entrance, there were fine views north towards the mountains.

Not much remains of the castle, which dates back to the 11th century. The existing buildings date mainly from the 16th century.

However, the views over the lake and Bled Island are magnificent (the photo at the head of this post is the island with its church, viewed through a zoom lens).

We returned to the car park and found another winding path which descended steeply to the lake side. We now followed a tarmac path past a bathing area, various buildings, places you could rent boats, and so on.

Eventually we reached the water sports centre at the far end and passed an area where seating was being built, apparently for a forthcoming regatta: Lake Bled is where Slovenia's top rowers train.

From this end of the lake the castle could be seen on one side and the island with its baroque church on the other.

We passed beneath Villa Bled, once the summer palace of the Yugoslav royal family, but later appropriated by Marshal Tito. It is not especially attractive and is now an hotel.

At bit further on, at Mlino, we interrupted the walk to be rowed out the island to see the church of the Assumption. It became clear that the impressive tower is a free-standing 15th century campanile in the Italian style.

From here it was short walk back to our starting point.

Distance: 5 miles.

Conditions: warm, cloudy at first, but gradually clearing.

Rating: four stars. Quite commercialised, but fantastic views from the castle and towards the island.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Ljubljana Old Town

The Franciscan church

The start of a week's holiday in Ljubljana and what better way to begin than with a walk around the old town. The walk begins in the pedestrianised Presernic Trg (square), named for the country's greatest poet.

The square is dominated by the church, known in full as the Franciscan church of the Annunciation of Mary. It was mainly built between 1646 and 1660 in the baroque style, although the twin towers and the plasterwork of the facade were added later. I thought it was reminiscent of the Gesu in Rome - and I was thrilled when my Architectural Guide to Ljubljana made the same point.

We crossed the Ljubljanica river over the famous triple bridge. You really need a photo from an elevated position to appreciate it, but essentially the central bridge dating from 1842 was augmented in 1931 by two narrower footbridges to the designs of the great Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik.

We turned left with Plecnik's extraordinary colonnaded Central Market of 1939 between us and the river.

Part of the way along you can look through the columns to get a view of the art nouveau Dragon Bridge (1900-01). The lights are very characteristic and the four dragons on the corners are very fine.

From here, we doubled back through Vodnikov Trg, where the market was in full swing, to pass to the left of the baroque Cathedral of St Nicholas (1708). There are fine modern bronze doors added in 1996 to commemorate a visit by Pope John Paul II

A bit further on, we came to the 18th century Town Hall in Mestni Trg (Town square), with the Robba fountain nearby.

We walked along the road into Stari Trg (Old Square - a complete misnomer, it is just a a street) and turned left into Gornji Trg (Upper Square - also doubtful, it is open at one end but extends uphill just like any other street).

About half way along we turned left by another baroque church (St Florian) and made the quite steep climb up to the castle sitting on its hilltop at 376m. It looks quite forbidding at first but most of what is now there is the result of a renovation in the 1980s.

It is now used for concerts and cultural events, but does offer the Belvedere Tower with views over the city. By now it was raining quite heavily and the viewing platform was closed, so we had to make do with the view through a window. The Franciscan church is clearly visible.

However, the best bit of the castle was open - the Chapel of St George of 1747, with its wonderful decoration and frescoes.

We descended a very steep switch-back path on the other side of the castle and soon found ourselves back in the market square.

Conditions: cloudy, wet, but not too cold. (The two pictures with blue sky were taken on another day.)

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. A great introduction to the city. The walk was almost entirely within the pedestrianised area.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Stratford upon Avon

Shakespeare's birthplace

About the walk

My birthday. This walk around Stratford, courtesy of the Stratford upon Avon website, was the culmination of an excellent day out which had already included a trip to the wonderful Stratford Butterfly Farm and lunch at the fantastic Bernadettes restaurant.

The walk begins at the statue of the Jester at the top of Henley Street. You walk down the street and soon come to William Shakespeare's birthplace. The part on the left was the family home, while the part on the right was his father John's workshop and shop (he made and sold gloves).

At the bottom of Henley St you turn right into High St, with the handsome half-timbered Marlowe's restaurant building down on the left. Opposite, on the right, is the ornately carved Harvard House dating from 1596. It was the birthplace of John Harvard who founded the university of the same name.

Diagonally opposite is the magnificent Victorian gothic Old Bank, with a wonderful terracotta frieze of scenes from Shakespeare and a byzantine-style mosaic of the great man over the door.

You carry on down Chapel St past another fine half-timbered building - the Shakespeare Hotel.

Then you come to Nash's House (home of Thomas Nash, who married Shakespeare's granddaughter), with the site of New Place, the house where Shakespeare died, next to it.

On the opposite corner is the Guild Chapel. It dates from the 13th century and was build by the fraternity or Guild of the Holy Cross. There was also a hospital for poor priests. The nave and tower were added in the 15th century. Inside there are the remains of frescoes and fine (modern) stained glass depicting famous citizens of the town.

Continuing along Church St, the left-hand side has the former Guildhall, King Edward VI Grammar School and almshouses (of 1427) erected by the Guild. The Guild was a powerful force in the town, but was suppressed along with the monasteries in the Reformation and its property given to the town council.

At the end of Church St you turn left into the Georgian New Town, with this lovely group of presumably Victorian houses on the left hand corner.

Further along, you pass Hall's Croft another fine house with Shakespearian associations: here lived Shakespeare's daughter with her husband, Dr John Hall.

At the end you reach Holy Trinity church, which contains Shakespeare's tomb. The building itself was begin in 1230 and extended at the end of the 13th century. The crossing, under the tower, is the oldest part of the building and beyond it the "weeping" chancel can be seen.

It is described as weeping because it is at a slight angle to the line of the nave. It dates from a further rebuilding in the late 15th century.

You now follow the line of the river to pass the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. An artistic power house, but architecturally very dull.

After a glance at the one-time canal basin (Stratford was an inland port) and the bridge over the Avon, you head up Bridge St into Wood St and into the Rother Market to admire the elaborate Victorian clock tower.

From here it is a few steps back to the Jester.

Rating: four stars. Much to see.