Our time in Slovenia was sprinkled with several “firsts” for us. Most notably, it was the first time we rented a car and drove in a foreign country. It was also the first time our luggage had ever been lost. We have traveled to a handful of third-world countries with short layovers, and had no issues, but our luggage was lost in Amsterdam during a 3.5 hour layover. Go figure.
So, when we landed in Zagreb and found out we didn’t have luggage, we rented our car and hoped that our luggage would soon follow. We drove from Zagreb to Ljubljana which only took a couple hours and with the exception of the boarder crossing and purchase of the vignette (a sticker that allows you to drive on their roads) it was totally painless and not unlike driving in the US. Our destination was Ljubljana and we didn’t know what to expect. Within minutes of our arrival we know we’d made a good choice to add it to our itinerary.
Another first that we had while in Slovenia was visiting a town square that was named after a Poet. Prešeren Square is the first city center that we have been to that celebrated a writer rather than a military or government official. The story of Prešeren is an interesting and tumultuous one, filled with unrequited love and a serious drinking problem. However, the literary legend is honored in a place where people still gather to share their art.
Near the center of the square is a large statue of Prešeren who is being watched over by his muse. Across the square in the facade of one of the buildings is a sculpture of Julija Primic, the object of Prešeren’s unrequited love. This statue has apparently caused a bit of controversy with some members of the community since the muse is topless and one of the buildings that lines the square is Frančiškanska cerkev, the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. Church members were concerned that you could see the muse from the front steps and door of the church so they wanted her covered. According to our guide she was covered with cloth many times but fans of the statue continually removed the coverings. Ultimately another solution was decided on, trees were planted in the square to block the statue from being seen from the church. However, locals pointed out that while that provides coverage in the summer, most of the time, there are no leaves on the tree.
Adding to our long list of firsts in Slovenia was the walking tour that we took. We have done biking tours, boat tours, private car tours, etc., but we haven’t ever taken a walking guided tour. Ljubljana is one of the many cities that has a wonderful free walking tour that leaves daily from the steps of the Frančiškanska cerkev. The guides are historians, sociologists, and other knowledgeable professionals who have a passion to share their city with visitors. We learned so much on our tour and enjoyed Ljubljana so much more after learning about their history.
Now this might be a laugh-worthy first, but up until our time in Ljubljana, I hadn’t ever tasted a Radler. For the uninitiated, a Radler is a drink that is made up of beer and a citrus juice. While that description doesn’t do the drink justice, you should definitely try it.
As I mentioned earlier, we were in Ljubljana with no luggage since it was lost on the way. What I didn’t mention was that we left 60 degree weather in Chicago and arrived in nearly 100 degree heat in Ljubljana. It would have been wonderful, however, the only clothes we had were the clothes we wore for a cold flight, jeans and sweaters. Needless to say, after the walking tour and our own exploration, cold beverages were necessary and the Radler has never tasted so good. We visited Union, one of the two main breweries in Slovenia, and they offered several different flavors of this refreshing drink. Thanks to our remaining lost for several days, we enjoyed lots of refreshing Radlers along the Ljubljanica River.
One person that came up repeatedly on our tour and during our wandering around Ljubljana was Jože Plečnik. Plečnik is the architect responsible for more than a dozen prominent buildings and bridges in Ljubljana. He is to Ljubljana what Gaudí is to Barcelona.
The thing that impressed us most about Plečnik was the meticulous thought that went into each of his buildings. The Central Market, which runs along the Ljubljanica River, is quite a long building. Because it is so long, Plečnik realized that if you stood and looked along the building, it would appear as if the building got smaller as it got further away. In order to correct this illusion, he minutely increased the height of the building from the center out each direction.
Another of our favorite Plečnik stories involves the Narodna in univerzitetna knjižnica, the National and University Library of Slovenia. While the building wasn’t spectacular from the outside it was the inside design that was incredible. We weren’t allowed to go in since we aren’t university students, however our guide shared his experience with us. When walking into the library there is almost no natural light, however, as you continue to go up the stairs to the floors that house the books, it gets brighter and brighter. We were told that Plečnik was trying to provide a physical representation of the idea that if you live in ignorance you live in darkness, but as you gain knowledge you see the light and your future is bright.
We absolutely loved our time in Ljubljana, it is a destination that still flies under the radar, but it shouldn’t be missed!