Ljubljana is not only fun to pronounce, but fun to visit. Slovenia has quite a fascinating history – being ruled by many different nations, including the Romans and the Habsburg monarchy (until the end of WWI). During WWII, Italy occupied Ljubljana and after it became part of the Society Republic of Yugoslavia. Today, Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia, since its independence in 1991. With a lot of history like that, it makes Ljubljana a great place to visit to absorb the different cultures.
How We Got There and Around
We took the direct train from Budapest to Ljubljana, an 8-hour journey. We have grown accustomed to train rides and generally enjoy them – this one was not our favorite. The 8-hour journey doesn’t even bother me, it was the lack of A/C and lack of food that was killer. Steve and I usually buy lunch in the morning before getting on the train, but every train we have been on has sold food and the food actually looks decent. We had read that this particular train had a great dining car so we opted not to rush in the morning to buy lunch, instead try out the dining car. When we got on the train, we found out our assigned seats weren’t even next to each other and it was incredibly hot. At about 1PM we went around looking for the food car, to learn there actually was no food car. We did find a car with a working A/C and decided to move there. In fact, once we moved, most of the people in our car followed. We ended up eating a pack of Mentos I had saved as our lunch. Needless to say, it was not our favorite train journey thus far.
Once we arrived in Ljubljana, we walked to our apartment, a 15-minute walk total from the station. We decided to rent a car for one of the days we were there to get to Lake Bled. We were able to pick up the car from a Hotel 5 minutes from us and the entire experience was pretty easy. We felt a sense of freedom again being in a car and forgot how much we love road trips. The car ended up working out great. In Ljubljana, we walked everywhere, which is fine – everything is really close.
Where We Stayed
Our apartment in Ljubljana has mixed reviews from us. It was really hot while we were visiting, and with no fan and no A/C in the apartment, we relied solely on any breeze we could get with all the windows open. Well, with every window open if felt like every bug in the world made its home in our apartment, and throughout the night I would be swatting at anything from tiny little buggers to what looked like yellow jackets. More often than not, the breeze was minimal and we would take cold showers just to cool down. Another odd thing was that in the hallway was a washer, however, the owner told us we weren’t allowed to use it. It was in a hallway outside our apartment, but within the locked area (sounds weird), and throughout our stay the owner would come and do her laundry which seemed to be going off throughout the stay at all hours. Besides that, our stay was comfortable, and enjoyable.
What We Did
We really took advantage of relaxing here. On our last day, we brought our kindles to the park, bought a beer and ice cream and just enjoyed being there reading/people watching. The weather was incredible hot during our stay (in the 90s) so we really didn’t overdo it.
Lake Bled – Just a short drive from the city, paradise in the form of a small lake town is found. It reminded me a bit of Lake Tahoe, but much smaller. Still, lots of camping and small hotels lined the shores of the lake. The lake’s blue water is a mixture of glacier and tectonic origins. Steve and I spent our time walking around the lake, seeing the castle and even riding down a hill in a sled type ride. The sled was a little sketch and I am pretty sure in no way would pass an OSHA inspection – but we survived to tell you how cool it really was. We got up to 45-50 km/hour. Overall, it was a fun day until the rain came. When it started raining we were about 30 minutes from our car, so our paced picked up. We reached the car just before the hail started. We lounged in our car for about 30 minutes until the rain stopped before venturing off again.
Bled Castle – This is the oldest castle in Slovenia, and to get there from the lake, you have to work – 15-20 minutes up a steep hill/stairs. In 90-degree weather, it was a bit challenging. The castle today is a small museum, but provides exquisite views of the lake.
Vintgar Gorge – We took the 15-minute drive from Lake Bled to check out the Gorge and it was Gorge-ous! Get it? The walk along the gorge was 30 minutes, plus 30 minutes back. The fog was sitting on the water in a really cool creepy way. It was actually a very nice walk/hike, and felt good to actually breathe in fresh air.
Frančiškanska cervek (Franciscan Church of the Annunciation) – Known as the “pink church” this church was built by 1660 for the Franciscan monastery. The church is currently protected as a cultural monument of national significance of Slovenia.
Bridges – Ljubljana has many bridges. Bridges to highlight:
- Triple Bridge – Built in 1842 (and rebuilt 1932), this bridge connects the modern town to medieval town. It is close to the “pink church” and hosts several street entertainments throughout the day – singers, bands, and even guys that play with whips.
- Dragon Bridge – The dragon bridge opened in 1901, and is mostly used by cars. The dragon statues are fierce and awesome. The entire city has a thing with dragons, as legend has it that Jason and the Argonauts killed a dragon, and then founded the city. There is also a local legend that when a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons wag their tails.
- Butcher’s Bridge – this modern bridge opened in 2010, and makes use of clear walkways. This is also the “love bridge” with people placing their locks of love.
Cathedral of St. Nicholas – There had been many churches at this site, all destroyed previously. The current church was built in 1707 in a baroque style. The inside of the dome is really quite majestic.
Robba Fountain – The fountain was built in 1751 and sits in front of the Town Hall – except that’s an imposter! The real fountain was moved in 2006 to the National Gallery museum and replaced in the city with a replica. Still, made for a very great photo op. The Town Hall is also very pretty too.
Ljubljana Castle – We took the funicular up the hill to see the castle. The castle has gone through many phases as different monarchs have ruled the land. They believe the castle hill was occupied as some kind of fort since the 11th century and that people lived there prior to it. Over the years it has been a fort, a military camp and a castle. During the 20th century, it was thought to be rebuilt into a culture hub, but it was decided to remain a castle with museums and restaurants built inside it. We bought the “Castle Ticket + Funicular” for 10 euros, and I think we overpaid. The only thing the castle got us into was the tower (and yes the view was great), a video about the castle narrated by a dragon (very clever) and a museum of Slovenian history which was very bare and gave us 10 minutes of entertainment. All other exhibits were free, including the art gallery. And as you can imagine, a beer cost way more “up there” than it did below (with all the peasants). We spent two hours exploring and were done.
Kongresni Trg Square – Congress square is where many protests and political speeches occur. The park is large, and a great place to sit, drink a beer and read (which is what we did).
I think our stay in Ljubljana was nice, but wouldn’t need to go back there again. If we do make our way back to Slovenia, it would be more to check out parks like – Triglav National Park, Postojna (caves), and Kranjska Gora. I should also mention, the customer service in Ljubljana is incredibly slow, expect long waits for dinner. We went to a bar and sat for 15 minutes, asked a waiter if we can order and waited an additional 5 minutes before leaving. Not only that, most people seemed to really not enjoy their job and do the bare minimum. It is not uncommon to see people waving, whistling or standing up to get the attention of the wait staff.