Sensational Slovenia – a guide to Ljubljana and Lake Bled

IMG_0392I spent 1 full day in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It is the capital of Slovenia and has a magical fairytale vibe to it. The city is beautiful and clean, having won the award for Europe’s Greenest capital a couple of years back. Slovenia was once part of Yugoslavia, and is nestled in between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. I spent another full day exploring the outskirts of the capital visiting Lake Bled, Predjama Castle and Postojna Caves.

 

the-hostel-celica

Hostel Celica–   located in the area of town called Metelkova, which used to be a military barracks. Makes sense because this hostel is a former jail!. The rooms are unique, not one is the same.  That’s great, but I found it a challenge to choose the best room that didn’t involve me climbing up an 8 foot ladder to get to my bed.

No such luck.  And a shared bathroom down the hall…not ideal, but ok for a couple of nights. The hostel has a restaurant,  some common areas and activities. Overall, a cool place to stay!

 

Things to See:

Metelkova –  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.  It has a bit of a sketchy vibe to it though;  the clubs sound like fun but I don’t know if I’d be comfortable here at night.

Bridges –  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!

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Butcher’s Bridge – pedestrian only, with some glass flooring and there is 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.

Triple Bridge –  connects 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 expand the bridge , but he proposed to add an extra bridge on each side of it. It is hard to get a good picture of it, but it is pretty cool. This pic is courtesy of pinterest.

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 Cobbler’s Bridge –  one of the oldest in the city, named because shoemakers had booths on the bridge.  It has been rebuilt many times, this current model is by the city’s resident designer Joze Plecnik.

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Franciscan Church of the Annunciation – Baroque in style, painted a unique pink. The inside is decorated with typical colorful paintings on the walls and ceiling and a golden altar at the center.

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Preseren monument –  Slovenian poet France Preseren has his own statue in his own square. He is regarded to be the best writer in Slovenian history. His muse is perched behind him, making for a powerful image.IMG_0382

 

Ljubljana Cathedral – also known as St. Nicholas’s Church. Impressive from the outside, but I did not get a chance to go inside. I would imagine it’s like every other church I’ve seen here?

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Ljubljana Castle – take the funicular to the top of Castle Hill to reach this medieval fortress.  Alternately, you can walk up the hill but I wanted to save time and not be a huffy puffy sweaty mess when I got to the top! Once up top, you can climb the tower and snap some awesome pics of the city below and the Julian Alps in the distance.  You can also explore the chapel, the prison, and the puppet museum(it’s odd, but kind of neat).

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Things to Do:

Stroll through the center of town, take in the architecture – this is an easy city to wander around aimlessly, but you’ll see tons of cool and notable buildings such as the Ursuline Church of the Holy Trinity, the University, and the National Theater.

 

Hang out in Town Square – here is where you’ll find Town Hall and the beautiful Robba fountain. A nice place to relax and people watch.IMG_0394

Ride a kavalir – an electric car that looks like a golf cart. It’s a free ride for the elderly, mobility impaired, and tourists! So hop on and enjoy.

 

Day trips from Ljubljana – 

Lake Bled –only an hours drive from Ljubljana, it’s a picturesque lake with an island in the middle. Bled castle stands nearby,  high on a rocky cliff. Take a pletna boat to visit the island, ring the famous Bled bell in the church on the island, rent a bike and ride around the lake,  hike to the famous lookout point Osojnica, and enjoy a slice of Bled cream cake. Doesn’t get much better than this!

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Predjama Castle – an hour drive from the capital, this picturesque castle was built in a cave in the 15th century. It is a fascinating sight; the inside of the castle is furnished like someone is still living there (well, it is one of the most haunted castles in the world!)

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Postojna Caves – a short drive from Predjama castle this 24 km cave system is the most visited cave in the country. Take a train deep into the cave, and then explore and learn with the resident cave expert. It’s like being on another planet.

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If you want to do all of these things in a day, I recommend using the tour company called Slovenia Explorer. It’s a little pricey at 135 euro, but the convenience of it was worth it to me since I was pressed for time.

 

Places to Eat, Things to Eat:

After battling food poisoning for a couple of days, my stomach was still not 100% ready to enjoy the food here as much as I would have liked to.  I only went out to eat twice…once at Union Pivnica brewery, the largest in the city. Easy pub food, many tasty beers to try.  A fun atmosphere and a popular place for tour groups so keep that in mind!

 

Prekmurska Gibanica – a layered cake dessert made with walnuts, quark (a type of cheese), apples, raisins and poppy seeds.

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Potica – a nut bread or roll –the most famous dessert in Slovenia

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Potatoes with cottage cheese – it’s a thing here

Stuklji – a pastry pocket with various filling – sweet or savoury.

Jota – a thick hearty soup

Horse burger – I did not try this, but if I had the chance..I probably would have. Sorry!!

Carniolan sausage – pork and bacon stuffed and served with bread and slaw

 

Things to Drink:

Wine –  there is said to be one winery in Slovenia for every 70 people! One of the most popular and well known is Cvicek, a sour wine.

Beer – Lasko and Union are the most popular but craft beer is becoming trendy as well

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Schnapps – so many flavors, so little time!

 

Things to Buy:

 Slovenian honey – beekeeping is very prominent here – around 90,000 beekeepers in the country. There are many flavors available; I bought the fir tree honey which is made by bees that collect tree sap instead of flower nectar. It has a rich, sweet and spicy taste.

Piran salt – a luxurious salt made in the town of Piran, on the Adriatic Sea.  It is produced by using a process that is centuries old, from natural crystallization and collected by hand. You can buy the cooking type or the sprinkle on top type.  It tastes similar to sea salt, and is also used for beauty treatments.

Painted beehive panels – they depict images from folklore and historical events. Their  purpose was to close the front of the beehive, and the paintings evolved from marking the panels to differentiate the hives.

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Wishing Bell from Bled – a popular souvenir, it’s a tiny replica of the bell that hangs in the church on the island in Lake Bled.

Dragons –  figurines, plush toys, or dragon stuff on clothing, mugs, keychains, etc.

Preseren figs – I did not get a chance to try these figs covered in chocolate and cream. Darn! They are named after that famous poet because he used to carry dried figs around to hand out to the kids.

Idrija Lace – I did not buy any, because I figured it would be out of my budget…considering it is known to be the finest lace in the world.

 

Things I Missed But Would Do Next Time:

Tivoli Park – the largest park in Ljubljana, and close to the city center.  In the park are a couple of mansions, a pond, a greenhouse and rose garden, and many sculptures. A great place to enjoy nature and take a break from city life.

Museum of Illusions– sounds like a fun place to pop into if you have an extra couple of hours to spare.

Lake Bohinj – not quite as touristy as Lake Bled, but it is equally beautiful.  About an hour drive from Ljubljana or a half hour drive from Lake Bled. There are lots of outdoorsy thing to do here, so much to satisfy any nature lover.

 

Overall, Slovenia is a beautiful country…as can be experienced in its scenery and its people. It’s only a few hours drive from Venice, so it’s easy to do a day trip or two if you’re visiting Italy.  Tourism is starting to grow in Slovenia; I recommend doing a few days here if you’re already planning on visiting Croatia. You won’t be disappointed!

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