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August 2018, Ljubljana – Slovenia
It’s a sunny afternoon when we end our dreamy stay in Bled, and jump in the bus to Ljubljana. Leaving behind a turquoise glacial lake surrounded by woods and the Julian Alps, with an island in the middle and a mighty castle rising on a rock above the town, we are absolutely sure that the capital of Slovenia has nothing else to surprise us with.
Guess what? The moment we set foot in Ljubljana, we know this is a place to stay.
Surprisingly, not many people have discovered this tiny green European country, but I hope this will change. That’s why we have noted down these 7 awesome facts about Ljubljana, that might make you want to see it for yourself!
The dragon is the city’s most recognizable resident. With teeth bared and wings spread, he’s basically on every flag, bridge, coat of arms, even the crest of the national soccer team.
Legend has it, long time ago, a fearsome dragon lived in the swamps around the Ljubljanica river. Everybody who trespassed was an easy prey. Until a Greek hero, sailing on the Argo galley with a crew of warriors, comes along. He has won the Golden Fleece from the Colchian ruler, but also stolen his daughter, on his way to Thessaly. Making an evasive action from the angry father, sails up to the Danube river, then into Sava, and then finally into the Ljubljanica river. Kills the dragon and sails back to his uncle in Greece, with the proof he is worthy to be a king. His teammates, the Argonauts, stay behind, mingle with the local folk and form the first permanent settlement around 1200 BC. The place will later become the Roman town of Emona (14 AD) and present Ljubljana.
Those 2 million inhabitants of Slovenia (out of which 280 thousand living in the capital) must be really proud with how history turned out. Controlled by Romans for 1000 years, under the Habsburg occupation for more than 500 years, part of Yugoslavia for nearly 50 years, finally gained the independence in ’91 by referendum, opting for democracy and civil rights.
After just a few days walking around Ljubljana, we realize that everyone we meet speaks English, and most people ride bicycles.
Nowadays, Slovenians live a healthy and peaceful life. They are indeed one of the best representatives of the Slavic ethnicity we have met: hard-working, warm, yet not noisy, polite and even funny! 🙂
Coming to my favourite part: the Slovene territory is 60% covered by woods.
I kid you not, there are electric cars driving in the center of the city and taking elderly, lazy, travellers and all of the above, around for free.
Cars are forbidden in the historical center and underground parkings are taking some of the traffic burden off. As we keep walking, we see the coolest garbage disposals ever: separated deposits for paper, plastics and glass. And I’m pretty sure they are not just placed there to comply with the EU regulations.
We are not surprised to find out that Ljubljana proudly holds the title of the European Green Capital 2016!
Covering all the city center by foot is a pleasure. One moment we’re standing face to face with the dragons on the Dragon Bridge, the other we cross the foothpath of the Triple Bridge, built by the famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik.
Later on, we stumble upon the Cobbler or Shoemakers’ Bridge, and imagine how the bakers (who would try and cheat their customers) were being punished in the old days: placed in a basket and dipped in the dirty water!
The 7 names river
Speaking of rivers, there’s a catch here too: Ljubljanica river has 7 names, due to the fact that it vanishes into the ground and comes to the surface many times along its course. People from different regions named it every time, under the belief they have discovered a new river over and over.
From its source in the foothills of Mount Snežnik it is known as the Trbuhovca, later as the Obrh, then the Stržen, Rak, Pivka and Unica rivers, until it rises to the surface for the final time as the Ljubljanica.
Education comes first
When we hear that we’re face to face with a museum-looking National Library, with a Harry Potter-ish study room, we can’t resist. Lucky us, we have landed during summer break and entry is permitted. So, hearts racing, with millions of sweet memories from years ago, we step into the magic land of studenthood.
As we open the doors, the darkness takes us by surprise. The staircase with its 32 black marble columns leads to the wooden reading room, invaded by light. As Plečnik said, this is the path education stands for: “From the twilight of ignorance to the light of knowledge and enlightenment”.
Slovenia lives by this quote. Education is free. Being a student here brings you discounts on public transport, entry fees to events or different activities, subsidized meals at restaurants.
Delicious culinary scene
To be honest, we came to Slovenia knowing nothing at all about their food. But we left with our bellies full and a few extra kilos.
No matter where we had lunch, there had to be the beef soup and the carniolan sausage with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes in the menu. Oh, almost forgot about how much I loved the reinvented goulash: Hungarians, don’t be angry, yours is good too!
End the meal with a Gibanica or Kremšnita cream cake, take a sip of orange wine, and you’ll want to stay.
Short visiting list
If you only have 1-2 days in Ljubljana, here’s what not to miss.
- Ljubljana Castle
- Boat trip on Ljubljanica river
- National Library
- Tivoli Park
- Central Market
Happy travels and stay safe!