Ljubljana was one of the cities of my dreams, my Atlantis.
Sure, the taxi driver left me stranded on the outskirts of town in the rain – but let’s write that one off as an occupational hazard. Thereafter, Ljubljana gave me enough experiences and inspiration to choke up my long-suffering hard drive. There are simply so many unusual things to do in Ljubljana, it’s a joy to write about the place.
Seatbelt fastened, tray tables stowed and seats in the upright position? All right, then. Let’s go.
Perhaps you know this, perhaps you don’t. To spare your blushes, I’ll tell you myself.
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, which was part of Yugoslavia when people my age were growing up. Before that it was part of the Habsburg Empire but before we disappear down the rabbit hole of history for this part of the world, let’s stop and make sure we’ve got our bearings.
This is where Slovenia lives, landlocked between Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary.
Apparently, Ljubljana earned this nickname thanks to the pale churches & mansions that appeared during the Habsburg era – but I have another theory.
Wander along Ljubljana’s riverside Christmas Markets and you’ll find that the mulled wine scorns the traditional reds found across the rest of Europe – for an unmistakeable Ljubljana white.
It’s not just about cobbled streets and medieval city centres. Ljubljana had a thriving art nouveau scene, with opaque glass and ornamental door work still easy to spot across the city.
Ljubljana’s gourmet restaurants offered up some of the best meals I found along the #IronRoute. Alas, there were too many to taste them all! Here’s Restaurant Spajza, which I’d highly recommend if you ever find yourself in Ljubljana…
The icy winter winds have really started to bite as I’ve travelled north. Arriving in Slovenia was the watershed. It is cold.
That’s what makes jota so perfect. Warm, hearty, bursting with flavour from beans, pork cubes and sauerkraut (don’t laugh, it tastes better than it sounds,) this dish of jota was enought to sweep out the chill from my bones and usher in an interesting chat with the chef.
Wander around the streets near Hostel Celica (which itself used to be a prison) to catch up with plenty of street art and edgy living.
Yet you can find sweet street art like this as well…
Ljubljana has not one but four dragons guarding the, er “Dragon Bridge” (one of the earliest asphalt bridges in Slovenia, if you’re into that kind of thing.) From paper dragons in China to scarlet flag-emblazoning ones in Wales, to patriotic dragon slayers called George in England and Jordi in Catalunya, I’ve never quite worked out why so many different cultures have such similar takes on this mythical, fire-breathing creature.
OK, here’s where we get serious again. For all the above-mentioned frivolity, the iron curtain is the real reason why I came to Ljubljana on this particular trip. Apologies if you know this already, but I’d started in Istanbul and travelled by InterRail up to Berlin in order to zigzag across the former iron curtain, the barrier that carved up Europe while I was at school.
Slovenia, and hence Ljubljana, and to an extent all of the former countries of Yugoslavia, formed a vital part of this route. But not, perhaps, for the reason you might imagine.
To be continued…The story continues over here with The Cold War, the Iron Curtain & Somewhere In Between
. To put the iron route into context, visit the #ironroute page or watch the video.
Abigail King is an award-winning writer and author who swapped a successful career as a hospital doctor for a life on the road. With over 60 countries under her belt, she's worked for Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic Traveller and more. She is passionate about sustainable tourism and was invited to speak on the subject at the EU-China High Level summit at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.Here she writes about food, travel and history and she invites you to pull up a chair and relax. Let's travel more and think more. Welcome!
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