Tomorrow I get the train from Zagreb to Sarajevo, but in the meantime I feel I am definitely starting to catch up on blogging. One more blog after this on Slovenia, and one on Zagreb and I’m hopeful I will be back on track by the time I leave Bosnia!
Slovenia, as our guide on the free tour of its capital Ljubljana kept repeating, is the only country in the world to have love in its name, a strapline the tourist information office at Scunthorpe can only dream of and whilst I didn’t find love there I was pleasantly surprised to find what seemed to me to be one of the most chilled out and least stressful countries in Europe. (The free tour is highly recommended btw).
It’s a small country, with a population of 2 million, and a capital of only 240,000 people. It’s also a new country. It’s a country that’s younger than I am by a whole 6 years, with Slovenia becoming an independent state for the first time ever in 1991 as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate. It’s in Europe and in the Euro zone and is definitely worth a visit.
The city of Ljubljana is small, but has a real sense of identity. The centre of the city around the old town is all pedestrianised and is full of café and charming buildings. It’s cathedral in particular, might be small and unassuming on the outside, but on the inside its one of the prettiest buildings I’ve seen. The city has a very green vibe. Cycle lanes are marked everywhere and you seemingly cannot go 10 feet without noticing a cyclist wizzing past. Recycling is encouraged everywhere and there are also taps dispensing drinking water are dotted around carrying the message that you should save on plastic by using them.
The lack of cars and and and associated “city noise” makes it difficult to remember that people here do anything but relax and eat ice-cream and drink coffee. It’s also strange to be in a city, in a country, that’s seemingly very aware of its apparent youth and looking for ways to appear older. With no historic Kingdom of the Slovenes or military leaders to turn towards, the main square is instead dominated by a statue of a poet rather than a warrior. This strangely makes it one of the few capital cities whose main square doesn’t feature a statue of a horse, which is perhaps a side effect of Ljubljana being well-known in Slovenia for its burger bar “Hot Horse”….
The country’s youth also means that the city is somewhat short of museums showing off the nations past. Of the two main museums, the City Museum is by far the best, even if it seems a bit too proud to be show-casing the “oldest wooden wheel in the world” perhaps a side product of it being over 4,000 years old and therefore 160 times older than the country of Slovenia itself. The city museum also has an interesting exhibition looking at the last 500 years or so in Ljubljana and how its changes affected its people, although the section in the basement on the Roman settlement in the area is rather disappointing and I’m still not not entirely sure what the point was of the “breathing makes sense” sign by the exit of the museum.
The National Museum on the other hand is definitely awful. Even though it was (as seemingly everywhere is at this time of year) undergoing works closing one of its main rooms it was hugely underwhelming, containing little more than severely faded gravestones and mile stones from the Roman period and a helmet or two. The Natural History Museum shares the same building and is equally underwhelming, the highlight being a collection of different rocks and minerals that reminded me of the magazine offers you used to see where you could “build you own unique collection of minerals – issue 1 only 99p! (subsequent issues £5.99……)”. I think it takes a lot to pay 3 Euro to get into a National Museum and feel ripped off but in this instance, this museum managed it. If the highlight of your museum is an unrelated exhibition on puppets, you should know you are doing something wrong.
I actually think that the best museum I saw in Ljubljana (and I’m not just saying this as a sad train geek) was the Slovenian Railway Museum, a short unheralded walk from the station that doesn’t seem to find itself in any of the guidebooks but distinguishes itself by actually having a wealth of things to exhibit, from numerous impressive looking steam trains in an old round house to a recreation of a station masters office and a collection of signalling equipment and other railway paraphernalia. It was also only 2.50 Euro.
Aside from horses, its difficult to think how anyone in Ljubljana could get stressed out and need to unwind, but when they do, help is on hand as little more than an hour away by bus is the famous Lake Bled, which is as good a way as any to relax the morning after the night before when for some reason you have found yourself drinking quantaties of a random Korean spirit I can’t pronounce or even start to think how to spell. In the summer months, this peaceful lake with its stunning setting and island church finds itself swamped with people from all over Slovenia and beyond, relaxing or taking romantic breaks away. Luckily, visiting on a Tuesday at the start April meant there were no such crowds whilst the unseasonably warm weather and bright sunshine meant we didn’t miss out on the gorgeous views of the island reflecting into the lake against a background of blue sky and snow-capped mountains. You need a good few hours to appreciate this place and to just walk around the lake admiring the views. Ideally you might want a bit more time. You can, if you are feeling rich, get to the island via motorised gondola type boats for 20 Euro, but much more fun I think, as well as better value, would be to hire a row-boat, which would work out about 15 Euro for a group of 4. We didn’t have time to do this, which was the only disappointment of the day although equally it did mean I was unable to accidentally sink, so maybe it was a good thing as whilst it appears you can swim in parts of the lake I am reliable informed that the temperature is close to Arctic levels of coldness.
If you do find yourself there in summer, or with a crowd, then a hike from Lake Bled will take you to a similar less touristy lake, albeit without the island, that was highly recommended by a German couple. And if you can’t trust a German’s travel recommendations, whose can you trust?
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