Just over a week ago I escaped from England. Well, by escape I mean 'opened my laptop' and 'turned the cabin upside-down looking for my passport', but I left the country none-the-less! I haven't spoken about it a huge amount on here (one day perhaps!) but I love short trips abroad. Experiencing new places and new cultures makes me a happy bee indeed, but long trips away without a regular set of faces to unburden my thoughts onto gives me a strange knotted feeling in my stomach that I can't shake without settling back down on English turf. So, 6 days in Slovenia sounded like the perfect trip for me.
Why Slovenia? Well, the friend who prompted the trip declared that we 'had to get there before Buzzfeed' and I can totally see why. Slovenia is beautiful and intriguing and sophisticated and untouched, but I don't think it'll stay that way for long. It's name, from an English girl who did poorly in Geography, sounds quite 'eastern European', but a quick google will tell you that it's nestled between Italy and Croatia. Was it warm? Yes! Is it cheap? Yes! Win, win, win.
I cannot tell you how full my heart felt during this trip. Lazily walking along the river with a coffee in hand that I truly think is the best I've ever had, stumbling back to our hostel with a belly full of 'union', being pulled out of the way by friendly locals helping us avoid bicycle collisions, sitting on a warm stone wall that rings a castle on top of the hill, explaining to perplexed Slovenians why you chose to come to Ljubljana on holiday, wearing shorts when (let's face it) it isn't shorts weather, buying bad croissants and then feeding said croissants to the birds, running back to grab your camera and feeling as safe as you do in your hometown, climbing up large hills in inappropriate shoes, eating all the ice cream, drinking all the beer, playing all the cards before the sun goes down.
I didn't know what to expect on this trip and I didn't research it all that much on purpose. My thought was 'as it comes', which is unusual for me as I love making hour-by-hour itineraries during trips abroad. What if I miss something out?! Luckily, our host told us that despite being a capital city, you can get everywhere by a 15 minute walk. Castle, train station, Tivoli park - all 15 minutes!
After getting a late night cab (through beautifully wooded and mountainous landscapes) to our hostel, we truly saw in Slovenian culture by eating... burritos! There is a weird amount of Mexican food in Slovenia, but I wasn't complaining! Warning: if you're not a fan of courgette or aubergine you may struggle! It's in everything. Two of us huddled under one umbrella as we tiptoed around puddles and headed back to crash out for the night. I'd forgotten how... challenging hostels can be to sleep in. A light sleeper at best, I near on had a fit every time someone got up at 2am and left the light on. Well, I say had a fit, I tutted loudly in a very British manner and avoided all eye contact.
The next day we wandered to the market, grabbed an avocado and apple for breakfast and sat by the river, finding a sunny spot to warm our feet up in. What I noticed and loved about Ljubljana is the sheer amount of public outdoor space - I don't think I walked for more than 5 minutes before finding a new spot to sit in. Stairs, benches, wide stone walls - it's cafe culture without the pretentiousness!
A wander and a catch up followed in the early afternoon, Myself and Anna jabbered away incessantly, finding ourselves in the Tivoli gardens and halfway up a hill before we really knew where we were. At this point we decided to commit to trek all the way up, only to discover an agility course for the super fit (and possibly mad?!). There were gorgeous views though! Forests for miles and miles with a castle, stood proud and obtusely in the middle.
By day two more friends had descended into this beautiful little part of the world. Knowing to avoid the terrible croissants from the day before, we grabbed something from the market and headed up to the castle that had been looking down on us for near on 24 hours. The man in the ticket booth asked if we were students with a wink, so happy as can be we hopped onto the tram for around 2 euro and entered the castle for another 5.
Of course, there were tourists donning cameras but nothing on the scale of what you'd experience in say, Italy. Couples chatted happily between the battlements, old prison cells were peered into and the clock pendulum echoed noisily in the empty tower that led to a terrace above. Terracotta roofs, reminiscent of Florence but without the vast expanse of Roman stone, stretched across a short landscape before hitting an endless wall of trees. The spindly metal staircase, whilst safe I'm sure, was enough to give me jelly legs on the way back down!
Dinner here is cheap, in fact most things are cheap, so we ate out pretty much all the time. Slovenian pasta with a mushroom sauce set me back 8 euros and was absolutely delicious. That and a glass of local beer took dinner up to around £9. Not bad if you ask me! Sat by the river, the sounds of a jazz festival rippling through the air and my hand going cold from clutching on to a 'snickers' ice cream, you could say I was in my 'happy place!'
I woke up on day three with a stomach that felt like a constant tide of rolling waves and a head about to explode. Turns out that 'late-night fast food' isn't too popular in Ljubljana, so 2am rolled around and all I found to eat was a plain tortilla, washed down with a swig of flat coke. Sunshine, coffee and fresh air begged, so we crawled out of the dormitory we'd lovingly named 'The Bunker' and felt dandy after filling our bellies again.
The tourist board was at the end of our road and bicycles locked up outside bid us to come over. 4 euros later we were inexpertly navigating around cars, people, prams and ice cream sellers as we crossed the famous Dragon Bridge, rode past the cathedral in Preseren Square and down to a quiet stretch of river beyond, basking in the sun beneath slowly rippling willow branches. Of course, by this point food was on the agenda once more, so we were tempted down a courtyard and ate... Mexican food - courgettes a plenty! If you're looking to visit with some men-folk you can bet they'll be satisfied with portion sizes - they give you so much!
We reluctantly returned our bikes, feeling like proper locals with a tub of ice-cream in one hand and a general air of nonchalance in the other. Sat cross-legged next to the Triple Bridge, the cards came out once again and the three-day 'whist' tournament continued...
I became wistful and nostalgic the next morning as we came down for one last coffee by the river, watching street food merchants oiling large skillets, rich smells and chatter filling the air. Ljubljana - you were comfortable, beautiful, friendly and rich. I most definitely miss those 2 euro glasses of beer being back here in London! Look out for my post on Lake Bled in the next week.
What Did I Find Surprising?
// It's cheap! Beer? 2 euro! Bed? 13 euro! Dinner? 8 euro! Contentment? Endless!
// It's so safe! I didn't feel intimidated or out of my depth at any point. I think you could cut through their bike locks with nail scissors, but none of them seemed to be missing.
// It's so friendly! Everyone, (everyone I came across!) speaks marvellous English and love talking to 'proper English people' as they called us!
// It has a great cafe culture. Seats spill out onto the streets from dawn until well into the night.
// Tourism hasn't hit just yet. It's there, of course, but not a goading restaurant owner did I see!
// It's so green! Not a concrete tower block in sight.
Do you think you'd like Ljubljana? Have you visited before? Let me know in the comments!
Find more of my travel posts here.