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Small beginnings in Slovenia’s tiny capital, Ljubljana

As it turns out, we didn’t know too much about Slovenia other than it was part of the former Yugoslavia. A past me would’ve hated coming to Slovenia not knowing anything about it, but I’ve grown to embrace these kinds of situations now. To me it’s like a clean slate, a blank page allowing you to make of it what you will. Slovenia is located in southern Central Europe and is bordered by Italy to the east, Austria to the north, Hungary to the west, and Croatia to the south. As mentioned, Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia, but they have always been a forward thinking nation, and are fiercely proud of their country, their culture and their heritage. They were the first former communist country to be accepted into the Eurozone, and were the first new member to introduce the Euro (if you’re interested, the old currency was called the tolar). For our part we found Slovenians to be incredibly open and welcoming, and generally happy that we’d come to explore their country.

Dragon sculpture, LjubljanaOur first stop in Slovenia was the tiny capital Ljubljana. To get to Ljubljana we got the bus from Trieste Central Station, and two hours later we found ourselves in the capital of Slovenia. You can book your tickets online here, or you can buy the tickets in person at the bus station in Trieste. Honestly, I would recommend buying your tickets in person because the website does look a little bit dodgy, but it’s your call.

Ljubljana, pronounced lyoob-lyAH-nah, has a population of only 300, 000, making it one of the smallest capital cities in Europe, and has no discernible or famous attractions, but this is what makes it so good. The fact that we didn’t have a list of things that we absolutely had to see meant that we didn’t have to hop from one attraction to the next and we could do what we love, stroll the city streets and explore to our hearts content. Most of your strolling in Ljubljana will be in the Old Town. Our accommodation was literally under Ljubljana castle, which put us in prime exploring position and we took full advantage of it. We started our rambles as soon as we’d dropped our bags, but we didn’t get far. We’d walked probably five minutes when we happened upon a what could only be described as a sausage shop. What drew us in was the massive sausage hanging out the front of the shop, and the delicious smell emanating from the interior.

Sausage sign, LjubljanaThe shop was called Klobasarna, and the food was delicious yet simple – all they sold was Carniolan, better known as Kransky sausage, with a bit of bread and some mustard and horseradish on the side. The Kransky, as it turns out, is something of an icon in Slovenia, and can only be made by 13 producers in all of Slovenia, as they are the only ones who have been awarded production certificates. The Kransky represents a symbol of cultural heritage that Slovenians are, justifiably, very proud of, and it is protected by geographical indication in the country of origin in much the same way Port, Champagne and Whisky are. The Kransky is also very popular in Australia, having been introduced by Slovenian immigrants in the late 1940’s and 50’s. Having had our fill of Kransky and people watching we decided to make our way home via the Ljubljana Cathedral, which was closed at the time, but is beautiful just to look at all the same. The picture below is of the Ljubljana door, which is made of brass and is a depiction of six of the bishops of Ljubljana from the 20th Century standing over the body of Christ.

Ljubljana doorWe started our exploration proper the next morning. Our first stop was Ljubljana Castle which sits 366m above the city, and affords great views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Ljubljana castle was built in 1200 AD and while the castle itself is not inhabited by anyone at the moment, the surrounding area has been inhabited since then. There are three ways to get up to the castle, you can walk, you can drive, or you can take the funicular. The most popular way to get up is on foot, but you can buy a pass for €8, which includes a return journey on the funicular and grants you access to the interior of the castle as well. Walking up is obviously free, but if you want to gain access to the interior of the castle and the viewing tower you have to pay a €6 entry fee at the top. If that doesn’t interest you, you can always just take a walk around the courtyard, and take pictures for free from the viewing deck just above the information and ticket office. There is also a small chapel at Ljubljana castle which has very detailed, very old murals adorning its walls, and is free to enter and explore.

From the castle we made our way down to explore the old town. Again, as far as prominent, must-see sights go, Ljubljana doesn’t have any, but the streets of the old town provided us with a lot to see. The Ljubljana River runs through the old town, and you’ll find the most notable sights along the river. Probably the most interesting parts of Ljubljana are the bridges that cross the river. There are three bridges that are quite unique, and all within walking distance of each other. The most popular bridge is the Triple Bridge which is a group of three bridges that symbolically linked Central Europe and the Balkans. There is a staircase leading down from the bridge that will take you to the Ljubljana Fish Market. The Dragon Bridge is quite striking, and is often regarded as the most beautiful bridge in Ljubljana. The main attractions at the Dragon Bridge are the dragon statues that sit menacingly at each of the four corners of the bridge. The bridge is protected as a technical monument, and the dragons have become a symbol of Ljubljana.

Chapel MuralsThe Butchers’ Bridge is relatively new compared to the other bridges. The bridge connects the Central Market and the Petkovsek embankment. The Butchers Bridge was officially opened in 2010 and is seen as the completion of the reinvigoration of Ljubljana’s Old Town, which started in the 1930’s. There are sculptures on the bridge depicting scenes from Greek Mythology and the Bible, and it’s on this bridge that you can leave your padlock of love if you happen to be into that sort of thing.

The next day we took our explorations out of the Old Town and made our way to Tivoli Park just outside the centre of Ljubljana. There are quite a few notable buildings in Tivoli Park for you to explore, the Tivoli Castle, the National Museum of Contemporary History and the Tivoli Sports Hall, but we went to Tivoli Park for one thing – the horses, and not to ride them either. We’d heard of a place in Tivoli Park that sold horse burgers, so after a couple of hours wandering around the park we made our way over to a small kiosk called Hot Horse. Hot Horse has become something of an institution in Ljubljana and has recently opened two more outlets to go along with the one in Tivoli Park. The burgers are actually quite delicious, and they’re supposedly good for you. Hot Horse is seen as the last word in late night food in Ljubljana and they stay open until 6am every morning. You’ll know a Hot Horse outlet by the long line stretching into the night.

From Tivoli Park we made our way back towards the centre of Ljubljana to a place called Metelkova. Metelkova is a social centre near Ljubljana Train Station. It’s located on the site of former barracks and houses art galleries, cafes and a few bars and clubs. Metelkova is run autonomously and is technically a squat. It has been at the centre of political debate since it was created in 1993 and is constantly under threat from commercial development. Metelkova has endured all of these threats and is seen as the place to be if you’re after a bit of night-life. If you’re not after nightlife I’d still recommend coming during the day just to walk around and explore. Not only will you get some great, quirky photos, but you might even stumble upon an impromptu art gallery or cultural show. In Metelkova anything can happen.
Graffiti, Ljubljana

Ljubljana is certainly unique. It’s small enough to allow you to fully experience it, but big enough so you won’t get bored with it. Not many people come out to Slovenia, but if you get the chance, take it, you will not regret it.

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