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Phespirit goes to Slovenia
Maribor     February 2008

From the moment he entered the terminal building, Phespirit had the impression that every activity in Maribor Airport was concentrated solely upon his Ryanair arrival from London Stansted, as though it were the only service operating there. Possibly it was, in which case there could be bleak times ahead. The service, which commenced on 7th June 2007, is scheduled to be discontinued on 29th March 2008. As Phespirit had long desired to visit the eastern half of Slovenia, he made sure to seize what could be his last chance to go there by direct flight.

There are no public transport connections between the airport and the city so Phespirit walked one kilometre into the village of Orehova vas, from where trains depart for Maribor at 13:19 and 15:20. His flight had touched-down at one o'clock so by the time he'd disembarked, cleared passport control, collected his bag and set off on a slow saunter in gorgeous sunshine, he didn't reach Orehova vas station until 13:40. He was already resigned to a long wait, but how's this for luck? It turned out the 13:19 was running woefully late, and thus didn't arrive at Orehova vas until 13:41. Phespirit gleefully boarded and was at the heart of Maribor just ten minutes later.

After the delayed train, his second stroke of luck was the unseasonably glorious weather. The average temperature for Maribor in February is reportedly as low as -1°C, yet throughout Phespirit's stay he never saw a cloud, never needed a coat, and whilst the forecast temperature was a steady 17°C it actually peaked as high as 25°C. Ideal conditions for wandering around the charming, compact old town, appreciating its chic café culture, savouring the scenery around the pristine River Drava, and admiring the colourful Austrianate architecture. Maribor does not have too many traditional tourist attractions to flit between; it's simply the city itself that's a relaxing, picturesque place in which to pass the time.

Upon the north bank of the River Drava is the district known as 'Lent'. Here, in addition to the 'Old Vine House' - site of a 400-year-old noble vine recognised as the oldest anywhere in the world - there are three towers: the Judicial Tower, the Water Tower and the Jew's Tower. Phespirit flitted between these and, in the case of the latter, flitted inside for a quick look at a mediocre exhibition of photographs from Japan. He did not encounter anyone as he entered, nor as he ascended the stairs to each of its three floors, but he could hear chattering voices from elsewhere in the building. He did not notice, however, that the voices had ceased before he descended to leave. When he reached the entrance he found the door had been closed and fastened on the outside with a padlock. Phespirit was locked in.

It is surprising how quickly Phespirit succumbed to cabin fever. Banging on doors and windows elicited no immediate assistance, so he set about doing what any art-lover trapped inside a gallery would do: he tried to break the door down. Several firm shoves succeeded in bending out the hasp an inch from the door, and he felt confident he could eventually wrench the thing off completely. The owner of an adjacent shop then intervened and assured Phespirit that the gallery's gatekeeper had merely popped out to get some shopping and would be back in five minutes, so Phespirit whiled away his remaining period of incarceration by writing a colourful diatribe in the guestbook, culminating with the threat that he would trash the place if not released inside ten. He had just set about scrawling large obscene insults to hold in front of the CCTV cameras, when salvation came. From behind her bags of groceries, Phespirit's gaoler muttered sternly in Slovenian as she removed the padlock. Phespirit responded with pan-lingual snorts and grumbling of his own. Without any further ceremony he made good his escape and headed for the hills .....

Specifically, he headed for the Piramida hill that rises above the city, a brief leisurely stroll from the parks behind Maribor Castle. A footpath that skirts around three small lakes - imaginatively known as Trije Ribniki ('Three Lakes') - connects the City Park with the outlying village of Ribniško selo, which has a little lake of its own. To get from here to the top of Piramida requires a gentle forty-minute ascent through woodland, and along a broad ridge to a small chapel at the summit. The reward for this mini-hike is a superb panoramic view across the red roof-tiles of the city to the Pohorje mountains. A more direct footpath leads through hillside vineyards back down to the parks.

Slovenia is, without question, Phespirit's favourite country in Europe for visiting. Whether he would feel the same way about it if he lived there is another matter, but this visit to Maribor - following earlier visits to Bled and to Kranjska Gora - has served only to strengthen his affection for a beautiful, cultured, easy-going nation.

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