Not somewhere I’d ever really imagined myself going, but I’ve no complaints. Ljubljana, in Slovenia! To kick off 2018 and round off the trip, we check out of Budapest early and make the journey south.
There’s good news and bad news. We arrive in a festive Ljubljana without any problem, but with heavy rainfall the night before, there’s too much water in the river and our Danube boat trip is cancelled. Our guide Chris says it’s been one of these trips, which I guess the organisers (like myself) must experience every now and then: where everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
It’s a quick tour round the city (the place isn’t too big), then fairly predictably, we head up the hill (Grajski grič) to Ljubljana castle before it gets dark. There’s also a restored church/chapel up there and history dating back to the Middle Ages. Though there’s an option of bus, I make the climb towards the castle (grad). Joined by a few Indians, and I’m pleasently surprised to manage it OK – having been drinking the past couple of days and not getting to the gym as much as I used to over the past few months. I seem fine, as does my health and fitness for now. Maybe lucky I’ve trained so hard since I was 19, and I’m now 27.
Ljubljana Prešeren Square
Back down amongst the Baroque buildings, there are some cosy bars and restaurants on the banks of the Ljubljanica river (Petkovškovo nabrežje & Cankarjevo). They’re mainly filled with tourists. We stop for a break, have a snack and some coffee as is popular in the local culture (and yes, abuse their Wi-Fi) before checking out the market.
On the way, we spot the various bridges over the Ljubljanica – Butchers’ bridge, Triple Bridge & Trnovo Bridge. The most famous being the Dragon Bridge and an emblem of the city. Various stories exist as to why this is: the classiest being the Greek myth of the hero Jason, who sought the Golden Fleece in order to get the keys to the kingdom. Passing through the city, the story goes, he was attacked by a dragon and he successfully defeated it. Today it is the symbol of the city: a representation of strength, courage & greatness. I’m sceptical, but see how the story could empower citizens in times past: to be bold, to defend their city, and overcome adversity in hard times. Of which there were plenty in Europe in the Middle Ages (as I’m sure you know) and we don’t have time to go into here (as I’m sure you also know).
We reach the street market a short walk south. Although by no means a big meat eater, I sample the ćevapi or ćevapčići, a kind of Balkan minced kebab. It’s OK. But I was cold and hungry so I get it down no problem (though I’d been looking for kranjska klobasa, a kind of Carniola sausage).
As the evening sets in, we hit a bar further along, trying to meet with some others on the trip. Eventually we discover everyone in Skyscraper at the very end of the day. Everyone seems to be finishing up there, reflecting with old & new friends. But I see a couple more things on the info guides and am pretty sure there’s time – about an hour. So I excuse myself and jog back out, promising to either be back as they’re leaving or meet everyone at the bus.
Walking alone at night, it’s quiet, but I manage to see all the extra sights. So I prove that in Ljubljana, it’s possible to see them all in one day if you’re ever there!
Though it’s night, I’m glad I find one thing, on 41 Slovenska cesta: the Cyanometer by Martin Bricelj Baraga. The sculpture, which changes colour to reflect the colour of the sky, achieves what I think is the great feat of engineering: a blend of art and science. It also uses data to blend into the sky via captured images and its own 53-shade colour wheel.
But I don’t have too much time after a quick look and a couple of pictures. In the last phases of the trip, I march through the almost deserted Tivoli park and glance at the outdoor gallery in park. After spotting some bizarre works, I make it to the end of the footpath and look into the distance.
I’m starting to tire from a long trip, but the adrenalin and time limit motivated me to reach the International Centre of Graphic Arts (MGLC) and back before it’s time to head. It’s a bizarre sensation. Standing on those steps in the twilight and seeing the path I’ve just walked stretch for hundreds of metres, it feels like I’ve already accomplished something in 2018, having covered the distance in such a short window. Yet I’m also meditating on a big year ahead. I’m under no illusions about that. Then, as usual, I don’t have any more time. Another trip’s over, seemingly as soon as it’s begun and it’s time to head back. But I’ll talk a bit with some new friends on the bus, maybe yet make some new ones and try to sleep a bit. Before an early morning arrival in fiercely cold Cologne where I’ll make it home eventually.
Tools & Tips
Metelkova, in the north-east of the city is an internationally-renowned alternative culture community. With a non-stop social and cultural events schedule, it draws comparisons to Copenhagen’s Christiania as a place to go for something wholly unique and unpredictable.
Nebotičnik (Skyscraper), right between the castle and Tivoli Park, is also a great place to hang out most days of the year with some great views over the city.
Actually, I did still miss a few things in the city – such as Rožnik – Šišenski hill, the zoo, Museum of Illusions and Cankarjev top. If you’re planning a visit, I highly recommend https://www.visitljubljana.com for some excellent information, including some great articles and further adventures on its own blog series.
On this trip I began reading “Neither Here Nor There” by Bill Bryson. Published in 1991, his account highlights the similarities to Europe today and the differences to the pre-Internet pre-Euro era. My Kindle has been a godsend – and not sure how I’d manage without it.
First of all, I’d like to apologise for leaving the blog for so long! I’ve had so much attention and commitment on work, business, studying. No excuse I know, but I think of this: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. So I feel this is the best way to make amends: by taking what I’ve gained from my time off this blog (which is a lot) to bring even better content here. I could give up, I could procrastinate more, but it boils down to this: It seems Brexit’s fast approaching. If not now, when? I commit now to post, and post, and post. Because it’s not just all about me. I truly feel someone could benefit from something in my story, could genuinely be helped by something I say.
Back to the trip: In Europe, I notice the word Tivoli pops up in many places: The villa near Rome, the gardens in Paris, the amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark. Ljubljana’s, it turns out, are named in reference to the Parisian gardens which are themselves named after the Roman villa.
Ćevapi or ćevapčići, isnt’really anthing special as it turned out. In fact it’s pretty standard all across Europe as I discover it’s widely available back in Germany. Funny how perceived novelty to one culture is normal – almost mundane to others.
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