Today we are up at the crack of dawn to catch an early train to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Slovenia was once a part of Yugoslavia, and was one of the first countries to leave Yugoslavia. Slovenia is best known for its major tourist destination, Lake Bled (which we will visit tomorrow!) and for its 10,000 caves, a huge amount of wineries (one per every 70 people!), cheap ski resorts, and it’s ridiculously good looking men and women. Fun Fact: Slovenians are in the top ten in the world for being tall! Where is Slovenia, you ask? It is nestled in between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia.
We arrive in Ljubljana (pronounced LEE OOB LEE YANNA) after a 2 hour train ride, and the early start means we have more time to explore the city. A short walk from the station is our accommodation, Hostel Celica. It is located in an area called Metelkova, which is a social and cultural gathering place. In the past, this area had been headquarters to military of the Austro Hungarian Empire and the Yugoslav National Army. It has several buildings (formerly barracks), and they are covered in graffiti art, with many odd statues dotting the street.
It was also a known area for squatting in the 1990’s. Metelkova comes alive at night, with lots of clubs featuring live music. Hostel Celica is a former jail, and the rooms are each unique in décor. We try to find a room that is most suitable for me and my 66 yr old roommate.
We finally settle on the one that has me climbing up an 8 foot ladder to reach my bunk- and the rungs on the ladder are round, so not comfortable on the feet. Sigh. The hostel has a restaurant and a few common rooms – it’s a great place, just not a huge fan of the room choices!
Vid, our tour leader for the last couple of weeks, is from Slovenia…so you know he’s excited to get back home and show us around. With a population of less than 300,000 Ljubljana definitely has that small town feel and it is beautiful, spacious, and clean. Fun Fact: Ljubljana translates to The Loved One. Originally, it was a Roman city called Emona, and eventually the Slovenes moved in and took over. It is another one of those cities that has a fairytale feel to it – there’s even a castle on a hill in the center of town! And if you’re into this kind of thing, Ljubljana was 2016’s European Green Capital, and is very eco-friendly.
The walk in to the center of town takes maybe 30 minutes, strolling along the Ljubljanica River. There are many notable bridges over this river; the first we see is the Dragon Bridge.
Dragons are a symbol of the city; one appears on the coat of arms and represents power, courage and greatness. Folklore says that Jason of the Argonauts slayed a dragon here and this is why dragons are prominent in history and architecture today. The bridge is small and has 2 stone dragons on each end, each a greenish color with long talons gripping on to the pedestals – one even has red claws! The next bridge is Butcher’s Bridge…it is pedestrian only, with some glass flooring and has a weird skeletal statue of Prometheus in the middle of it.
There are a few of these statues around this area…they’re pretty creepy and they represent figures from mythology. The bridge is pretty simple, featuring the ever popular tradition of attaching love locks to the steel bars.
The last bridge we hit is the Triple Bridge, and this brings us to Preseren Square in the center of town. The Triple Bridge was built by Joze Plecnik, who designed a lot of the buildings and layout of Ljubljana. They wanted to make the bridge larger, but he proposed to just add an extra bridge on each side of it. It is hard to get a good picture of it, but it is pretty cool. In the heart of the square is the gorgeous Franciscan Church of the Annunciation.
It is a unique pink color, and the inside is decorated with typical colorful paintings on the walls and ceiling. Outside the church in the square is the famous Preseren monument which is the Slovenian poet of the same name with a muse perched behind him.
It’s now time for a snack, and we head to a bakery to sample two of Slovenia’s famous desserts. The first is potica, which Vid has talked about a lot in these last couple of weeks. It’s also known as nut bread.
The next one is prekmurska gibanica, a layered pastry filled with poppyseed, walnuts, apples and raisins. They are both delicious! After dessert and coffee, we continue the walking tour with Vid..He takes us past notable buildings such as the Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity, the University, the National Theater, and finally Ljubljana Cathedral.
I do not get a chance to go inside, but it is definitely impressive to see from the outside. We end up in Town Square, where we find the Town Hall- go figure haha. It’s a cute little square and in the middle is the Robba fountain – a baroque style fountain. Fun Fact: this fountain is a replica – the original sits in the National Gallery.
And now we will take the FUNicular up to Ljubljana Castle, which sits on top of Castle Hill in the center of the city.
You can also walk up to the castle, but I am not up for that kind of exercise today. The castle was built in the 12th century, and there is a viewing tower that can be climbed to see amazing views of the city below.
We wander though some of the buildings; the chapel, the prisons, and the creepy puppet museum – puppetry is very prominent in Slovenia. After a solid few hours of sightseeing, I can’t wait to start my souvenir shopping as there are so many cool things to buy here. Emily and I pick the largest shop, and head to the back where an excellent guy is offering samples of the different wines and liquor. Needless to say, we are a bit buzzed when we leave the shop! I find a stall at the market that is selling painted panels from beehives, depicting folklore images.
A must have souvenir. Slovenians are very much into their bees – there are around 90,000 beekeepers here. So you can imagine – lots of honey options! I pick up a jar of fir tree honey made from bees that collect sap from trees, not nectar from flowers. It has a richer taste to it, almost a bit spicy. Slovenia is also known for its Piran salt; it has a distinct flavor and it used in some of the top restaurants in the world.
With my shopping done, it’s now time to go for dinner at Ljubljana’s largest brewery , Union Pivnica. I order a large burger that is a little too pink in the middle for my liking. But the beer is great – I have the sampler so I can try a few different types.
Time for the party to continue, as we head to the skyscraper called Neboticnik for drinks on the rooftop patio. It is an amazing sight to see the city from up here at night – the Castle shines on top of the hill.
Vid orders Cvicek for us to try. Or as he calls it, The Best Wine In the World. It is a bit sour, but I like it. Our final stop is an Irish Bar –because of Vid, we have been to an Irish Pub in every country(he lived in Ireland for a short time). A couple of Vid’s friends join us for drinks, and it’s a fun(but not too crazy) night out in Ljubljana. There are a lot of cool things to see in the city, but the best part is just hanging out, sipping a coffee or a beer and taking in the atmosphere all around. Ljubljana is truly a hidden gem!