We’re not sure if the military men marching on cobblestoned streets were regular Croatian soldiers or part of a Papal guard (and we were not about to ask them), but they were something to see. The sun was hot, their outfits woolen, and close up we saw sheets of perspiration pouring from their serious brows. First they went to pray at an open air chapel, and later we saw them at the nearby cathedral.
The residents were especially happy about Pope Benedict XVI’s impending visit the following weekend, because they felt it might give a boost to Croatia’s spiritual psyche; there has been concern that the country’s religious identity will suffer if it succeeds in joining the European Union. To celebrate the much-anticipated event, a group of locals dressed in traditional garb stood outside the cathedral, singing national songs and distributing free pastries and breads from their baskets. I liked our timing.
Next we picked up a T-shirt for our oldest grandson that read “University of Zagreb” at a souvenir shop around the corner, retrieved our car from the parking garage, and aimed the Skoda toward Slovenia.
Passing the perfectly manicured farmlands, we were impressed by the fact that all was so orderly. No broken-down tractors or sloppy fences in view, cattle were sleek and fat, bales of hay wrapped as tidily as Christmas gifts. Arriving in the capital, Ljubljana, we thought we were on a movie set. The charming city looks like Paris a hundred years ago, with its very own version of the Seine running through it, called the Ljubljanica.