“So, where are you going next?” our host in Budapest asked us.
We looked at one another embarrassed, “We don’t know how to say it, the capital of Slovenia.”
“That’s the one!”
Going from Slovakia to Slovenia over the span of one week I had a hard enough time keeping track of what country I was in and now I couldn’t even tell you the city.
After we arrived and heard our host pronounce it a few times we learned the city is pronounced loo-blee-ah-nuh. At least we are not alone in our ignorance, the “How to Pronounce Ljubljana” video on YouTube has almost 100K views.
We spent five days living in a Communist-style apartment just outside the city center which was the perfect base to get to know the city and take a few day trips to witness firsthand the beauty of Slovenia that I had been seeing so much of on my Instagram feed.
Our first day of sightseeing started with a free walking tour around the city. Our guide pointed out the Vienna Secession architecture that characterizes many of the cities buildings that were renovated after an earthquake in 1895.
The Ljubljanica River meanders through the city and offers boat rides for visitors to see the city from a different perspective. Several bridges span the river and some, such as Butchers’ Bridge and Cobblers’ Bridge. are named after the wares that were once traded.
The most formidable, Dragon Bridge, has sixteen dragons symbolizing power, courage, and greatness. Our guide explained that the dragon has origins in the Greek tale of Jason and the Argonauts. The dragon is a prominent symbol throughout the city and even included on the Ljubljana coat of arms.
One name that kept coming up was that of Jože Plečnik, Slovenia’s greatest architect. Plečnik designed much of the city starting from Triple Bridge in the heart of the city to the colonnaded Central Market where you can buy anything from bread to horse meat. The National and University Library has cleverly designed windows angled to look like open books.
Ljubljana prides itself on being the “Green Capital of Europe” and along with several impactful green projects the city has banned cars from most of the city center. Instead, they offer an electric powered shuttle free to visitors who can take it door to door. Visitors can also connect to free Wifi at access points around the city.
Speaking of free, the city has a large population of college students which study for free at public Universities in Slovenia. Yes, college education for FREE! It’s no wonder that the translation of this city means “the loved one”, what’s not to love!
In the afternoon, we checked out a Sunday flea market where we saw everything from Yugoslavian currency notes as high as 50,000,000 to military pins and one of a kind bric-a-brac that would have made perfect souvenirs had I more space in my backpack.
We finished off the day taking a funicular ride up to Ljubljana Castle which is perched high one a hill overlooking the city. While the views were nice and free to take in, we didn’t stay long. After a brief read of some reviews on TripAdvisor and one that characterized it as the “worst castle in Europe” we didn’t feel compelled to spring for an admission ticket. Past visitors were disappointed that renovation had stripped away the character and authenticity of the castle reducing it to more of a catering hall venue.
It rained one of the days we were in town so sadly we missed out on visiting the city’s largest park, Tivoli Park. Had we another day to enjoy the city we would have loved to explore the park and dine al fresco at a riverside restaurant or cafe.
One of my favorite moments of our day exploring Ljubljana was watching the kids joyfully play in the bubbles serenaded by the guitar of a sidewalk musician.
Art lovers will enjoy the intriguing sculpture pieces and street art prominently placed throughout the city. Art and literature are dear to Slovenes as they help to form a national identity for the nation that was a part of Yugoslavia until 1991.
Writers are highly regarded and the nation has over 99% literacy rate. Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren who penned the nation’s anthem, A Toast, is honored with a statue in the middle of the main square of the city.
Ljubljana was compact and easy to see in a day’s time but I’d suggest staying for a few nights. Many points of interests like Postojna Cave, Lake Bled, and Vintgar Gorge are within one to two hours and easily reached by public transportation. More on these to come in future blog posts.
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