Back in 1995, the 2cv World Meeting was held in Slovenia, around the Maribor and Ptuj area. This year, Maribor’s the European Capital of Culture. I don’t know which is cause, which is effect, or whether it’s pure coincidence, but that’s twice now that Ellie’s coincided with major events in this small town…
The town itself is Slovenia’s second largest, with the only university outside Ljubljana. That doesn’t exactly make it a great metropolis, though – the population’s only about 90,000. It’s a lovely town to wander through, with some beautiful old buildings, especially in the waterfront area along the banks of the river Drava. At each end of the main waterfront, there’s an old tower, remnants of the original fortifications. One, the Water Tower, now houses a wine bar – a perfect spot to while away part of the afternoon, of course, admiring the architecture and the excellent local white wine known as “Šipon” – legend has it that Napoleon gave it the name, by tasting a glass and exclaiming “C’est si bon!” (It’s so good!), which promptly got re-rendered…
Wine is a feature of the area – the gently rolling hills all around are covered in vines, and the centre of the waterfront in town is marked by a beautiful old house half-hidden behind what’s believed to be the world’s oldest grapevine. Over 400 years old, it still produces enough grapes annually for about 25 litres of wine to be made.
Don’t even try to buy a bottle though – it’s exclusively donated to the great and the good, in beautiful if tiny bottles. Inside the house, slightly blandly over-modernised into a wine centre with very little information about anything and staff that didn’t seem inclined to recognise your existence, there’s displays of copies of various certificates accompanying donated bottles to various world leaders, but with no indication of who Bill Clinton chose to share his bottle with, or whether Pope J-P II used his for communion or just kicked back on a Friday evening with it.
The tower at the other end, the Judgement Tower, is currently in use for an art installation, meditating on the eternal duality and how that relates to water. Or something. On the ground floor, there’s a dripping pipe above a hot plate – the drop falls, sizzles and evaporates. Water is wasted. That’s evil. Upstairs, there’s an identical dripping pipe, but falling into a pool – the drop is saved, and that’s good. Whatever. The building was certainly beautiful, with a fantastic view of the wooden rafters and the brick arches forming the upper floor.
We’d got chatting to a lovely pair of Germans at the campsite, Markus and Brigitta, who’d come to Maribor solely because of it being the Capital of Culture, so were fitting in as many of the events as they could. They told us about a free concert to be held in the street on the Sunday afternoon. Nobody was particularly clear as to quite what it involved, other than a “Hungarian electronic” band. So along we trotted, and found that the band – Voler Mouche – were very much to our taste, and very good indeed. I could try to describe them, but – hey, this is 2012. Click on the link, and have a listen to them yourselves.
Leaving them, though, we needed to head up a steep cobbled street to return to the bridge back over towards the campsite – unfortunately, a minor misjudgement and misplaced cobble led to a strangled yelp heralding a tangle of bike and Ellie lying unceremoniously against a large stone planter – pedal and brake lever firmly poking into soft parts, later to develop into some very dramatic bruises but no real harm done.
After Maribor, we didn’t go far – just a few miles down the river towards Ptuj. A small town, but with plenty of old streets winding gently around and up a hill crowned by the castle. There’s a campsite just outside town, at a water park (billed as a Thermal Spa, but it really isn’t – it’s a swimming pool complex). Far from cheap, but a bit (lot) of relaxing in a sauna was just what was needed to loosen Ellie’s aches up, so much so that we ended up staying a couple of nights. One day was filled with the town itself, the next was a great excuse for a bike ride around the wine producing areas that Ellie remembered (although not exactly where) from ’95. Off we trolled, following the tourist office’s wine route map. After about 10km, though, my front tyre was getting very soft, and pumping it up didn’t help – so round we turned, and limped back to a bike shop we’d spotted on our way out of town. We bought a new inner tube, and they kindly lent us some tools, so we were sorted quickly. The route out we’d taken didn’t seem inspiring, though, and we didn’t want to retrace, so we headed out of town a different and much more attractive way. We didn’t see much in the way of vineyards, but after lunch by a small lake full of huge and shadowy fish, we continued onwards. Eventually, we came to a village with a sign board containing a big map – which suggested (after a certain amount of debate) that we wanted to bear right for a circular loop back to town. We did, and the road climbed and climbed. We couldn’t find the next road, though, only farm tracks with absolutely no signage, or an indication as to straight on taking us way out of our way. Hmm. The debate continued, at a temperature that rivalled that of the day. No, the map wasn’t of help. No, I didn’t take a photo of the map on the sign. No, I don’t want to just return the same way, but do you have any better ideas…?
Eventually, we agreed on something, and just headed back the same way. Strangely, the road seemed about a third of the distance – looking at the map later, we realised why – we’d climbed about 200m in the 20km or so we’d headed along, but it’d been so consistent (apart from the last leg) that we’d just not really noticed.
Once back at the campsite – hot, sweaty and utterly knackered – there was only one solution. Yet another swim and sauna…