No, Ljubljana is not a woman, but these days, I’ll take whatever I can get. If that means falling in love with the adorable capital city of the small European nation of Slovenia, then so it goes.
Ljubljana, she who mesmerizes and awes visitors with her enormous beauty, is actually quite petite, with a population consisting of a mere 265,000 people or so, and a city center that can be crossed by foot in less than 15 minutes. She definitely keeps in shape as well, evident by her striking figure that follows the curves of the Ljubljanica River. And no matter which part of her your eyes fall upon, whether it be the glowing, and often snow-covered, mountains that form her edges or the atmospheric streets and narrow laneways that wind across her center (sorry, that sounds a lot dirtier than I anticipated), you are bound to find yourself at peace, feeling ever so calm and even slightly giddy at being witness to such a cozy and lovable destination.
With the Ljubljana Castle perched above the city center, from where one may truly admire this crossroads of North, South, East and West Europe, with its impressive collection of Baroque and Vienna Secession-influenced buildings, the brilliant city of Ljubljana becomes all the more brilliant when one considers that this is the capital city of an independent country that is only 20 years old.
Yet despite its youth and its small frame Ljubljana really does require several days to explore properly. The pace of life is such that an entire afternoon can easily be spent in a small cafe by the river, sipping coffee, eating strudel and chatting with whomever happens to be sitting at the table next to you.
And while there are a sufficient number of museums and sights of interest to keep one busy, including the National Museum of Slovenia, Plecnik’s National Library, the France Preseren monument in Preseren Square, the Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge, the Butcher’s Bridge, Tivoli Park, the local markets and of course, that Ljubljana Castle, this is the type of city where travelers should forget about creating a detailed daily itinerary. A random wander, without any plan whatsoever, is a much more suitable method of exploration for a city of this size and of this high degree of likeability.
With Slovenia itself being a country of only 2 million people, the Slovenian people, especially the younger generations, are quite aware of the need to speak other languages and so, as a traveler who most likely doesn’t speak fluent Slovenian, you’ll never have to worry about communication. Almost everyone you meet will not only speak fluent English but will be more than happy to chat and answer any questions you may have. During my visit, it was quite common for me to stop someone in the street to ask for directions and then end up talking about Slovenian history for thirty minutes or end up being invited to a bar for a drink.
The vibe of this city is such that everyone seems so happy, so alive. As the guide of the free walking tour that I went on one day told our group, ‘life in Slovenia is quite good’, and that is exactly the impression that I received from the moment my train arrived. The result was a smile on my face during the entire duration of my stay, even on the day when the temperature dropped to 0 C. There simply can be no other reaction to such a positive place.
And while there are a decent number of tourists roaming the city center every day, Ljubljana makes it quite easy to still enjoy a remarkably local experience. The tiny eateries on Trubarieva Cesta or over by Rimska Cesta, areas that are quite popular with students, offer up local Slovenian specialties all afternoon and evening, along with pints of locally-brewed Union pivo (beer), for very reasonable prices. In fact, every restaurant, cafe and bar I visited proved so locally delightful that I passed many hours inside of each, unwilling to settle for anything less than a completely relaxed dining and/or drinking experience, just as the Slovenians around me preferred as well.
Then, whenever I finally did make my way back outside into the streets, I always felt as if this city was already so familiar to me. Even a short twenty-four hours after my arrival I began to recognize locals around town and they too would recognize me. Ljubljana really is that intimate, and so wonderfully attractive as a result.
Ahh…Ljubljana. I’ve only been gone for three days now but I miss you more than you know. Never before in all my travels have I been welcomed so enthusiastically into strange streets, protected from the cold with such warmth and hospitality and treated as such a good friend despite having never met before. It’s no wonder that I found it so difficult to leave you, to say that final farewell and to pack my bag and move on.
And as I stood in Preseren Square on my last day, leaning up against the walls of the Triple Bridge, watching the happy people pass me by, glancing up at the castle and off into the distance towards the Slovenian Alps, listening to the accordion music joyfully being played near the river, deciding where to have my final coffee, my final beer and my final meal, I also spent much time wondering when I might be fortunate enough to see you again.
I am in love with Ljubljana and I dare anyone to visit this city and not fall victim to her powers of seduction as well.
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