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Longing for Ljubljana – Travel From Trieste

Candle travel between ljubljana and trieste
I’m going to tell you a secret. I’ve longed to visit Ljubljana. I’ve longed to let my tongue run over the improbable syllables of its name before I even knew how to say them.
Ljubljana.

Ell-jubble-jana.

Leu-yoop-leeyana.

Lovely-jubbly. Longing. Lingering. Ljubljana.

Ljubljana

Along with Timbuktu, this place stole my heart because of its name, its mystery, and its canny knack for camouflage in the face of the world wide press. Something the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelilna Jolie never managed even in the midst of the Namib Desert.

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a city that belongs to the EU. It uses euros (unlike, say, Prague, Budapest, Stockholm and London) and it sits within a stone’s throw of household names like Italy, Austria and Switzerland. It was never behind the iron curtain; it’s a fully paid-up member of NATO and it’s a shorter drive from Venice to Ljubljana than it is from Paris to Bordeaux.

Yet Ljubljana, and its country Slovenia, might as well be Atlantis as far as many are concerned. A point picked up first by Paulo Coelho, rather than my humble self, in his staggeringly powerful book Veronika Decides to Die.

This uplifting novel, despite its unpromising title, contains this passage early on:

No-one, anywhere in the world, would begin an article asking where Mount Everest was, even if they had never been there. Yet in the middle of Europe, a journalist on an important magazine felt no shame at asking such a question, because he knew that most of his readers would not know where Slovenia was, still less its capital, Ljubljana…

The final act of her life would be to write a letter to the magazine, explaining that Slovenia was one of the five republics into which the former Yugoslavia had been divided

The letter would be her suicide note. She would give no explanation of the real reasons for her death.

It was a passage – and a book – that left a lasting impression.

After all these years of wonder, my arrival in Slovenia was about as unremarkable as they come.

Train tracks near Trieste

From Trieste to Ljubljana

The original plan involved heading north from Bulgaria, through Serbia and then on to Croatia before sidestepping west into Slovenia. Bulgarian rail strikes, however, introduced a swift redirect via Venice to Trieste in northern Italy, where I picked up the trail again.

Trieste Station

Trieste Railway Station

From Trieste to Ljubljana

From the outside, the Trieste Railway Station resembles a stately home, dressed in columns, arches and a top tier balcony, guarded by leafy trees and lanterns. Inside seems even grander, with ornamental statues and a profusion of pink panels and even more columns.

Although it’s peace time, the Italian and Slovenian rail companies are having something of a squabble right now. Direct trains between Trieste and Slovenia have been cancelled, prompting many customers to note that “TrenItalia and the European Union have achieved what the Cold War failed to do for more than 40 years: block transport across the border.”

Luckily, the alternatives aren’t too tricky, particularly when armed with knowledge gleaned from the Lonely Planet forums. I hand over the princely sum of about two euros for a twenty minute bus journey to the small border town called Sezana.

It’s one of the most anti-climactic border crossings I’ve ever known. In that there wasn’t one.

Sezana, A Border Town

The bus pulled up on an unremarkable stretch of tarmac and the driver gestured that I, rather than the others, should get out.
I did – and waited on the side of the road, not entirely sure whether we’d reached Sezana, and hence Slovenia, or whether I was still in Italy somewhere and needed to be walking to somewhere else.

My mangled Italian decodes a direction or two and I plod towards Sezana’s station.

If I didn’t know better, I could be in England. So could the roads, the low grey sky, the muted winter sound of birds chirping in the fields.

It’s exciting how familiar it is. Except, it’s not.

The differences are subtle but they’re certainly there, particularly when I reach the station.

I don’t know whether it’s the wild punk graffiti that laces over the carriage of each train. Or the pleasure of a lilting, rapping rhythm of a language that I can’t begin to decipher. Or the fact that at first glance this station looks so much like home and yet tastes so much of adventure.

I’m probably too old to think things like this, but perhaps it’s because it’s my first time in Slovenia.

I’m on a train towards a place called Ljubljana. And I’m a child in search of Atlantis.

To be continued…

Train at Sezana station between Trieste and Ljubljana

This article forms part of the #IronRoute series, a journey from Istanbul to Berlin by train, sponsored by InterRail. Find out more about the whole project here and read the last post about Trieste and the Iron Curtain here.

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10 Responses to Longing for Ljubljana – Travel From Trieste

  1. DTravelsRound December 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm #

    Since the first time I step foot in Croatia and began to hear tales of Slovenia from other travelers, it has been a place I long to visit. I love how you describe the excitement and wonder. You make me want to go even more than I did. :)

    • Abi December 30, 2011 at 7:20 am #

      Thanks D! Now, do I spoil the surprise and let you know how it turned out…or not just yet?!

  2. OurPassportStamps~Karen December 30, 2011 at 2:12 am #

    So looking forward to hearing your impressions of this city! We were there in 2005 and as we began our trip planning we found the pronunciation of Llubljana difficult..so we ended up saying Luba Juba within our close circle of friends and family. As soon as we arrived in Slovenia we asked for the proper pronunciation and repeated it over and over to ourselves. We spent 4 days there and loved every moment. We then made our way to Piran on the Coast which at that time was a hidden gem, our hotel room at the Hotel Piran for Sea Front view was only 40 Euros, it is now over 3x that amount!!!! We wanted to fly home from Slovenia and this is where it became problematic as the cost was budget breaking! We ended up hiring a driver to take us to Venice, stayed 3 nights in Venice and flew home from there for a $1,000 dollars less than it would of been to fly out of Slovenia (plan B turned out to be perfect!). We will be patiently awaiting your next installation!!!!!! :) :)

  3. Jane December 30, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    Great blog. Brings back memories. I love Ljubljana (all of Slovenia actually, especially a little town called Kamnik). I also arrived there rom Trieste. I’m tweeting this. :-)

    • Abi March 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

      Ah – I’d love to see more of Slovenia. Quite a tease, just travelling through the rest of it by train…

  4. Grant McWilliams December 30, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    I’ll post this here too since some of your readers may not be on G+.

    I love Ljubljana. I could live there for sure. I stay with the Strand family when I’m there which I highly recommend. http://www.perfectplaces.com/vacation-rentals/8312.htm

    These folks rent out a floor or two of their house and are a joy to be around. They’ve gone out of their way to help us even when we didn’t stay with them. Coming from a society where you exchange money for services you’re wondering whats up most of the time. Nothing is up, they’re just really nice.

    • Abi March 23, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

      Perhaps I’ll catch them next time…

  5. James June 22, 2012 at 7:14 am #

    i love the blog .
    it reminds me of my days of arrival at Ljubljana.
    amazing place i was with my family to spend my vacations there
    this place stole my heart because of its name, its mystery, and its canny knack for camouflage in the face of the world wide press.

    • Abi King July 10, 2013 at 11:07 am #

      “Canny knack for camouflage” – that pretty much sums it up! For a place so beautiful, it’s a mystery as to why so few people know it…

  6. Rafaqat January 5, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    Hi travellers
    There is a good news. You can now travel from Trieste to Villa Opicina (bus 42, 2 and 2/). A train service is started from 15 december 2013 which links Villa Opicina with few destinations in Slovenia. For details visit
    http://www.slo-zeleznice.si/en/passengers/abroad/destinations/italy/villa_opicina

    Cheers
    Rafaqat

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