Where in the world is Ljubljana? What the #IronRoute is all about.

By Abi King | Europe

Dec 02

Ironroute - the past - typewriterThe Berlin Wall

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. I was at school at the time and I wasn’t entirely sure what all the fuss was about. Fast forward through the years and despite – or perhaps because of – having studied it briefly, watched the odd Bond film and read plenty of spy thrillers (both fact and fiction,) I’m still not all that sure.

Then There’s Ljubljana

Then there’s Ljubljana. Never mind about worrying about how to pronounce it, I’d never even heard of it until I read Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die. (Incidentally, the trigger for the heroine’s suicide attempt is a journalist who can’t place Ljubljana.)

At school, we dreaded the countries of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, not because of their ideology, but because those words were difficult to spell. Bulgaria was a womble (a fuzzy children’s toy.) Romania meant orphans and Dracula. And Hungary only featured in woefully bad Christmas cracker jokes.

I was still at school when Yugoslavia tore itself apart, the words Sarajevo and Belgrade standing in for war reporters, air strikes and the horrors of ethnic cleansing.

When I first visited Croatia in 2003, I found a land still lined with scars, where bullet holes and blasted buildings lingered between fresh fruit markets and sunshine-lit cafes. Yet I also found unaffected beauty in the rocks of Croatia’s coastline, chalked up great times with friends in Zagreb, and timeless warmth in the the amber streets of medieval Dubrovnik.

Growing up on one side of the iron curtain

My trip to Hiroshima redefined my ideas of tying history to a place, while my travels though Austria earlier this year made me realise once more the confused and empty bubble that marks out central and eastern Europe in the map inside my brain.

I knew more about the history and modern day life of islands far, far away like Australia, Japan and Cuba, than I did this chunk of mainland that lives so close to home.

A Rail Journey – An Iron Route

So this year, when InterRail invited me to travel through eastern Europe on a global Interrail Pass, I knew the time had come to find out more. And besides, the weight of a fictional girl’s suicide attempt in Ljubljana was becoming too much to bear.

#IronRoute is a rail trip from Istanbul to Berlin that aims to explore the theme of “east” and “west” as it used to apply to Europe, while also getting a taste of those places as they are today. It’ll skirt along the hem of the Iron Curtain (hey, indulge me here) as shown in the map below.

Interrail IronRoute Map

Iron for Iron Curtain, Iron for Travel by Train.

I know from talking to some of you over the last few weeks that I’m not the only one a little sketchy on my geography of Eastern Europe.

Fear not. Sit back, relax, and let me make a fool of myself on your behalf.

Education this way comes, hopefully with a huge dollop of entertainment and maybe even some intelligent observations. I don’t expect you to hold your breath, but I would like to invite you to follow along online…#IronRoute on Facebook

Update – I’m back! You can find the round up of information about the Iron Route over here.  Enjoy!



About the Author

Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com

Linda December 3, 2011

It’s so interesting how different generations view the world. I remember a school trip to Germany in 1962, standing in the parliament building in Bonn and thinking how cruel it was that Germany was divided as it was, yet my father,less than twenty years before that had probably been dropping bombs around the area I was visiting. There was no question of visiting Berlin to see the wall which had not long been constructed, emphasizing the tearing apart of so many families. It would have been much too complicated. There is no way of explaining the impact of John Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. If Obama strode the Korean border tomorrow and made a similar statement it would have less emotion for several reasons.

As for Ljubljana – ten years on from that visit to Germany, in 1972, I went on my first skiing holiday to Bled in Slovenia, only it was Yugoslavia then, of course. It was a bad winter for the infant skiing industry there, because there was no snow, but our assigned guide was happy to show us around as much as he could, drinking much slivovica (hmm not sure on that spelling. It’s what Wikipedia says, but am not convinced), which lowered my apprehensions about discussing politics, and he warned that however the West may see the area, if Yugoslavia fell apart then there would be much bloodshed. I wondered, another 20 years on, what happened to him.

I will be following your journey – one way or another! – with much interest!

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    That’s such an interesting perspective…I’m a few days into this trip by now (apologies for the slow response, it’s been hectic!) and already I feel a big fog of ignorance begin to clear…Growing up, you learn that this country is this, that country is that and it takes a little while to realise how fluid boundaries really are – now and throughout history.

    Thanks for following along!

Martha December 3, 2011

Very nice post. I also didn’t know about Ljubljana until I met my former office mate who was from there. It’s a bit sad that we know so many places in the west of Europe but hardly any in the East.

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    Very sad (but here’s a sneak preview – Ljubljana’s wonderful!)

Justin Morris December 3, 2011

Bloody awesome idea for a trip Abi, I’ll be following along with great interest. :)

This sounds like a really interesting trip. And I will admit I am quite ignorant about this part of the world, so I look forward to learning from your stories and photos.

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    Thanks Stephanie

Philip December 3, 2011

I look forward to reading about more of your journey. Croatia is on my short list for travel in ’12.

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    Croatia also has a stunning coastline (which I won’t be visiting on this trip.) Haven’t heard anyone go to Croatia and return disappointed yet…

Amanda December 3, 2011

Very cool trip! Many of these places are on my own travel list for next summer.

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    Well, then, I hope I uncover plenty of useful information, then!

Jade Johnston - OurOyster.com December 4, 2011

Good luck on the trip! I am totally jealous!

dtravelsround December 4, 2011

This is such an amazing idea. Eastern Europe and its history from WWII on are one of the only historical/political topics that truly enthralls me. I am really excited to read these stories coming …

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    It was such a blank spot for me – I think because as I was growing up, it wasn’t yet considered history…

Steph December 4, 2011

Very cool- I’d love to do something similar. An Ljubljana is a gorgeous little city. You’ll love it!

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    I’m a few days in, now – and you’re absolutely right about Ljubljana! Gorgeous.

I’ve been living in Bulgaria for the last 4 months and traveled a bit through the former Soviet union. I learned a lot about the history of Eastern Europe. I will follow your trip with high interest!!

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    Oh, I wish I’d known this when I was in Bulgaria. I’m sure I could have learned a lot from you.

Emily December 5, 2011

This sounds like an amazing adventure–can’t wait to hear about it! I’ve never been to Eastern Europe, only Western, but can’t wait to explore it.

    Abi King December 9, 2011

    Thanks. I’ve been to a few of the cities before but not many, and not like this. I’m really looking forward to how it turns out as well!

Lisa | LLWorldTour December 12, 2011

What a great trip, Abi!
A couple years ago I spent a couple months going from Istanbul to Romania, Budapest, Bratislava, Krakow and finally Berlin. I really love Eastern Europe and tend to think it’s more gorgeous than the west. A lot of it still has that ‘fairy tale’ medieval appeal I love (at least the parts not destroyed or rebuilt into Communist blocks).
Enjoy this great journey!

    Abi King December 29, 2011

    Thanks Lisa – I only wish I’d been able to reach Romania. Impossible to do everything at once – but great to hear that there’s always more of the world worth seeing.

Camels & Chocolate December 19, 2011

You’re visiting some of my favorite places, as well as some of the places I’ve been trying hard to visit these past few years–I can’t wait to follow along!

    Abi King December 29, 2011

    Not quite as adventurous as your current round the world extravaganza but one step at a time!

Alexa Meisler February 24, 2012

IronRoute seems very interesting. I never had a problem traveling with trains and the trains in Europe are very accommodating for travelers. And the cities you’ll be visiting will have a lot to offer for sure especially with avid history buffs like yourself. Thank you for sharing!

    Abi King March 23, 2012

    Yep, it turned out to be a great way to see Europe. I’d definitely do something like that again…

LaurieAnn January 30, 2014

Hi Abi:
I’ve been fascinated by Central/Eastern European history for years now and just found your blog. I’d like to know if there’s a way for me to follow your entire Iron Curtain journey posts from start to finish at this late date. If you could post a link it would help the low-tech senior.
Thank you;
Laurie robinson

Comments are closed