I know what you’re probably thinking, “A technical museum, Jessica?! That seems like a unlikely choice given your distaste for engineering and technology.” Well, that’s what I thought too when I first heard about this museum, but upon learning they had a collection of Tito’s cars, the shameless gawker in me simply couldn’t resist. And I’m so glad I went, because this place was awesome!
The Technical Museum is located in the village of Bistra near Vrhnika (I’m guessing “near Vrhnika” is part of the name, like a Stratford upon Avon situation), about 20 km outside of Ljubljana. Thus, you’ll be forced to make some complicated arrangement that involves a combination of public transport and a taxi, or, preferably, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a car, drive there, which is what we did. Of course, this will involve travelling through an absurdly green countryside that best resembles a Bob Ross painting on steroids, which is obviously a real hardship, but we managed. The museum itself is a sprawling complex made up of various appropriately rustic buildings (actually a former monastery), all set beside a babbling brook and surrounded by lushly rolling hills. Seriously, even the museums in Slovenia are ridiculously picturesque. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Admission was only 4.50 euros, which was so cheap I actually felt guilty, and I found myself stuffing euro coins into a donation box later to make up for it, once I had realised the scale of the museum. We began our experience in a shed full of cars (none of them Tito’s), which opened onto a courtyard girded by outbuildings. It would definitely be a good idea to pick up a map at the admissions desk, because the directional signs are in Slovenian, and it’s all too easy to miss things otherwise.
The museum essentially covers every almost aspect of technology that is historically related to Slovenian life, though the collections seem to peter out somewhere in the 20th century, as there’s not much mention of computers or other modern technology. Rather, the museum chooses to focus more on traditional occupations, which I find much more interesting anyway. I don’t think I can even fully discuss all the collections of the museum, which if the map is to be believed, includes eighteen different “departments,” so I’ll just give an overview and mention some of the highlights.
After the first car display, we spent some time admiring the water-powered mill, and various other sawmills that you could pop into and explore. I enjoyed watching the waterwheel very much, as it’s not really the sort of thing you expect to see next to a museum (and I have to wonder if it was the sort of thing that the Wandle Museum has in mind if they get to move to a new location). I guess it was a prime example of technology in action.
Still, it was a rather chilly day (not really by British standards, but I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t have my customary backup jacket and tights in tow), so I was glad enough to enter the cavernous interior of the main building. (Here’s a tip, keep your ticket handy, as people will actually stamp it at various points in the museum, I suppose because anyone could just wander in from outside otherwise). There was an eclectic exhibit on the history of washing machines near the entrance, but just beyond (through a door we almost had to force open), the permanent collections awaited. These included an extensive woodworking exhibit, and fishing and forestry departments.
My favourite part of the museum was actually another special exhibition, about food and eating habits in Europe (probably because I enjoy food more than technology). Because honey is an important element of Slovenian cuisine, there was a whole section devoted to just that (though sadly, without samples of different types of honey to taste like you get at the county fair), complete with recipes you could take home with you! I grabbed a copy of nearly every one (and here’s where I really filled up the donation box), and though I haven’t tried any of them yet, I think the dessert gnocchi with honey and walnuts shows great promise.
Up until this point, almost everything had an English translation on it, but by the time we got to the hunting and wildlife galleries, I think they putzed out a little bit (not that I blame them, because the place was huge), because everything was only in Slovenian. Fortunately, I don’t need a translation to appreciate some taxidermy, so it worked out just fine. At the end of the taxidermy section, there was a weird black light tunnel about wolves, which felt like it might be the museum exit, but nope, there was plenty more left to see.
Let’s see, there were still agricultural, textile, and printing departments (where I actually got to write my name on a Braille slate, just like Mary Ingalls), which I probably didn’t spend as much time in as I should have, as we had already been at the museum for half a day and wanted to fit in another museum in the afternoon. I honestly thought the Technical Museum would only take maybe two hours at most, but I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of things to see and do. The very last section was the traffic department, which contained, at long last, an entire gallery of Tito’s cars. (Photography wasn’t allowed in this section, so I have no pictures to show you, much to my chagrin). Many of them were gifts from other dictators, like Stalin, and were quite normal cars, such as Lincoln Continentals, though they were specially equipped with features like bulletproof glass (a must for the dictator on the move!). There were also bicycles and motorcycles and things, but I quickly lose interest around cars and related contraptions (at least ones without a chequered past).
The only complaints I have about this museum relate to Nikola Tesla. Namely, that I couldn’t get my Tesla fix, because his gallery was shut without explanation. I realise Tesla was a Serb born in Croatia, so there was no particular reason for a Slovenian museum to have to devote a gallery to him, but the map promised me a Tesla gallery, so I was anticipating it the entire visit. To add insult to injury, they had this amazing Tesla t-shirt in the gift shop that I wanted to buy for my brother, but it only came in sizes Small, and XXXL. Thwarted yet again by an inexplicable lack of t-shirt sizes!
I’m going to award the Technical Museum 4.5/5. The collections were so extensive that there truly was something for everyone, and the setting couldn’t have been lovelier. It’s a grand day out that I highly recommend if you find yourself in Slovenia!