With great excitement and limited knowledge of the places I’m going to, I started my Balkan Trip with the capital os Slovenia: Ljubljana. Literally translated “ the beloved one”, it felt like I was entering an enchanted realm shielded from the outside world.
This tiny city charmed me swiftly. First impressions: safe and tended. Contrasting the big capital cities I was used with, Ljubljana lived up to its name; it was made out of love by its people.
Romance and History
The romantic feel prevailing the petite city is due to the devotion of it own community. Plus, the presence of two substantial personalities, the poet France Prešeren and the architect Jože Plečnik seem embedded in the national culture, shaping the city in verse and style.
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France Prešeren was a 19th century Romantic poet considered the greatest Slovene classical author. His statue stands in the homonymous square and faces a building where his dearest Julia Prismic used to live. Caring a deep and unanswered love for her, his statue is immortalised looking towards her portrait. A mythical muse is portrayed next to the artists as a symbol of his artistic genius. The national anthem lyrics are from his poem Zdravljica.
Jože Plečnik is the architect who designed the Ljubljana we know today. In the style of Vienna Secession, he designed the Triple Bridge, the Ljubljana River embarkment, the Ljubljana open market , the cemetery as well as notable buildings, parks and plazas.
A short history timeline always helps me understand better the country I am visiting. Here are a few key dates to put present-day Slovenia into historical context:
Located on a trade route linking the northern Adriatic Sea and the Danube region, the territory known now as Slovenia has been desired and conquered by many.
The Illyrian and Celtic tribes dominated the land before the Roman occupation in the 1st century BC. During the the Roman Empire, important trade and military routes were constructed throughout its territory. The main route to Italy from the Pannonia plain made it vulnerable to barbaric invasions until the Early Middle Ages, when the Slavs settled and took over control in the area.
The independent principality of Carantania was established by the Slavs in 658. They were incorporated in the Carolingian Empire in 745, and had been ruled by Bavarian authority ever since.
From the 14th century onwards, the House of Habsburg ruled over the Slovenian territory until 1918. The end of the First World War marked the end of the Habsburg reign and the start of a new era in Slovenian history: The Communist Yugoslavia.
The day of 25th June 1991 marks the independence from Yugoslavia and the birth of Republic of Slovenia. June 25th is also the National Day.
It’s tiny size makes strolling through the city delightful. Flowing through the middle of the city, Ljubljanica river is a vital element of the city’s charm. Also known as The River With the Seven Names, it keeps disappearing in underground streams and comes back to surface seven times. In this way, It gained seven names along the way because initially they were unaware the streams are connected and so, each overground stream was believed to be a different river.
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My first stop was at Ljubljana castle, a landmark hard to miss. Resting on the top of the hill, The Ljubljana Castle has been looking over the city for centuries. The present construction dates from the 16th-17th century, yet the earliest evidence of the settlement on the Ljubljana Hill is as old as the 12th century. It has been the home of the local rulers until the 18th century when it becomes army barracks, military hospital and prison until the end of Second World War. Also, it was partially used as flats due to housing shortage in 1905.
Power, courage and greatness are the qualities embodied by the Ljubljana dragon, the totem of the city and, today, one of its most significant landmarks. It guards the bridge which carries it’s name, appears on the city emblem or even just randomly around the city. There are a few legends that tell the origins of the dragon, find out more here.
TIP! Relax and have a few drinks at Daktari ( Address: Krekov trg, 7), my favourite place in town. Walk around the artsy rooms fashioned with old furniture and good music or sit outside facing the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre. From its small clock tower, every hour on the hour (daytime), the folklore hero Martin Krpan comes out to salute the passers-by.
Metelkova and Other Modern Fairytales
On the night of 10th of September 1993 a group of about 200 artists and activists occupied the former Military Barracks at Metelkova mestro in the heart of Ljubljana. As an autonomous zone, the urban squat became the alternative cultural arena.
The barracks originate from the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire and they have been controlled by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Socialist Yugoslavia. The barracks were abandoned after the 1991 Independence and the people petitioned the government to use the ground for artistic purposes instead of commercial ones. Refused, they decided to claim it themselves as an autonomous zone.
From non-governmental organisation to art galleries and bars, Metelkova is the place where creativity and free thinking are intensively encouraged.It hosts more than 1,500 events per year which satisfy a wide selection of subcultures. Either if you wander around during the daylight or enjoy a beer in the evening you will not regret stopping by.
Why are shoes hanging over the Ljubljana streets? Apparently, there are more than 18 versions of the story. The one that most agree on: one hangs his pair of old shoes after he completed an important stage in hist life. This can vary from graduating from university, getting married, losing virginity or anything else.
! 2016 is a great year for Ljubljana. Winning the European Green Capital title, Ljubljana can proudly inspire the world with its environmental-friendly measures. Praised for improving the local transport network, the city centre now belongs to the pedestrians and cyclists. The green spaces, the water supplies and the waste challenge are some other projects on Ljubljana’s agenda where the city excelled at.
I made my way to Ljubljana! Great! Now is time to explore the surroundings. I started with the obvious: Lake Bled and its stunning surroundings. Located 57 km away from Ljubljana, the bus journey takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes and costs around 6 euro one way. Check here for the bus timetable.
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The legend says that the young Poliksena casted a bell for the chapel on the island so her departed husband could be remembered forever. Yet an angry storm sunk the ship on its way to the church, and the bell never made it to the chapel. The bell is now resting on the bottom of the lake, from where you can still hear it during clear nights. After the widowed’s death, a bell was casted in her memory and placed it in the chapel. It is said that whoever rings the bell makes an homage to the lady from the lake, who will fulfil your wish.
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Wile you are there pay a visit to the Vintgar Gorge. It is 1.6km long and it’s cares its way trough Hom and Bort hills. With numerous waterfalls, pools and rapids, the educational trail promises you a mesmerising walk.
An great trip from Ljubljana is the Predjama Castle and the caves near it. 53 km from Ljubljana, the Renaissance castle build high in a stone wall. Home of the legendary knight and robber baron Erazem of Predjama, who rebelled against the Austrian emperor and was besieged in the castle for an year and a day. He survived due to a hidden passageway who exits at the top of the cliff and made the supply of the castle possible. Tickets for the castle are 11,90 EUR for adults and 9,50 EUR for students. A combined ticket for the castle and the Postojna cave is also available.
COOL FACT!The 2014 Counter- Strike: Global Offensive depicts the castle in an interactive version.
Skocjan cave is a great alternative to the crowded Postojna cave, the most visited tourist attraction in Slovenia. Part of the UNESCO heritage Skocjan is an hour and a half amazing experience. The temperature inside is 12C throughout the entire year and the section available ti visit is around 6 km long. Reka River runs underground trough the cave creating an incredible scenery. Ticket are 16 EUR for adults, 12 EUR for seniors and students and 7,5 EUR for children (The Postojna cave tickets are 23,90 EUR for adults and 19,19 EUR for students). Check out the official website for timetables and more info. Photography is forbidden inside the cave.
I hope you will enjoy Ljubljana as much as I did. For more info and suggestions ask the hostels, they will be happy to help. And remember to pick up a Balkan Backpacker flyer, to get 10% discount at all the hostels in the network + a free bonus at the fifth hostel you visited.