Ljubljana: The doll’s house of Europe

As my plane started descending to Ljubljana (pronounce Lubliana), the capital of Slovenia, my fellow passenger and interior designer from Amsterdam Robert Kolenik asked me about my plans to reach Ljubljana downtown which was thirty minutes from the airport. I mentioned taking a cab however he offered me a ride to the city.

After collecting my baggage, I came out of the airport to be welcomed by bitter cold of Slovenian winters. In a few minutes, Robert arrived in a fancy car and I immediately started liking Ljubljana. This would be my first ride in electric Tesla with an absolutely plush and hi-tech interior; the speedometer soon touched 190 kmh while I was mesmerized with Slovenian country side. Soon we entered neat and environment friendly Ljubljana where there were electric cars recharging and parking spots everywhere with downtown being a strictly no car zone. Interestingly there were some five separate containers for garbage collection varying from organic waste to paper or glass waste etc. A person can be fined above hundred Euros if found throwing wrong waste in wrong bins and the law is implemented as well, perhaps Ljubljana is hundred years ahead of us.

The city of Ljubljana dates back to around 12th century when it started developing as a small trading town on the route from Croatia, Bosnia and other Adriatic Sea ports. It was part of the famous Austro-Hungarian Empire under Hapsburg dynasty before becoming part of former Yugoslavia in 1918 once the Hapsburgs were shown doors. Later Yugoslavia became part of the communist block around World War II however Yugoslavia broke down into some six countries in 1991 after the fall of communism. A new country Slovenia with Ljubljana as its capital was thus born.

The small town of Ljubljana evolved over centuries along a river as is common with all historical towns the world over. The whole Ljubljana life from restaurants to castle to high street to town square is along this small Ljubljanica River. I am sure that most of you would not have heard of this scenic town close to the Adriatic coast however this neat town with cobbled streets does not allow vehicles into its downtown, you have to either walk or bike through the town and the whole Ljubljana is free wifi city.

Preseren square is the central square of the town with various restaurants, street vendors and stores spread around this central square. The 1660 Franciscan Church overlooks the square while people gossip over hotdogs, pretzels and hot wines. The Cop Street is the main fashion street leading to Preseren square with all the branded stores and yes, the oldest MacDonald’s of Slovenia. The famous triple bridge over Ljubljanica river is just next to the square and in the times gone by the central path was for the buggies and the two sideways were meant for the pedestrians. There are at least two other bridges worth mentioning, one is the butcher’s bridge ironically also called lover’s bridge as the fence displays thousands of typical padlocks fixed by couples as a mark of their eternal love for each other. You would find these padlocks on the bridge tradition everywhere in Europe from bridges in Paris to Salzburg. Another bridge next to Triple Bridge is cobblers bridge where once all the cobblers would make shoes for the cold Slovenian winters. It was at the cobbler’s bridge where any baker found selling bread with less weight would be given forced dips in the freezing Ljubljanica River. There are a number of inexpensive and fine dining restaurants all along the river close to the Preseren square.

Another place worth visiting is nearby Congress square which is again a typical square surrounded by medieval buildings including 17th century Philharmonic orchestra hall and Ursuline Holy Trinity Church. The famous University of Ljubljana is also based in this square and guess what; this is one of the largest universities of Europe with more than 63000 enrolled students.

Like all medieval towns, the river also separated the rich on the square side of the river from not so rich towards the castle side of the river however now this segregation has vanished. The 12th century Ljubljana castle overlooks the serene town and a twenty minutes hike to the castle is a must. On my way to the castle, the echoing rooftop bells of the 17th century Ljubljana’s St Nicholas cathedral attracted my attention and I entered to have a look into the grand cathedral. The organ was playing and the Baroque frescos on the walls and roof were pieces of art with centuries old statues from Christian history displayed all around. It was indeed a humbling experience to be inside such a grand cathedral.

The hike to the 12th century castle was steep but the views from the top were breathtaking. The castle is surrounded by typical deep moat as is common in all the castles of medieval era. I crossed the main gate to enter in a main central verandah surrounded by various castle sections. The castle had an open roof prison, coat of arms, chapel and an assembly room and now also boosts a high end restaurant. The high light of the castle visit was climbing to the top of the 1848 watch tower under the fluttering Slovenian flag. In the good all times, a guard would sit at the top and would warn the citizens through canon fires about an impending fire, an approaching enemy or to welcome a dignitary. There cannot be better 360 degrees view of Ljubljana than this place.

Ljubljana is a nice stopover for few days if you plan to explore south east Europe with destinations like Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece in your itinerary. And the more adventurous can always think of driving through Istanbul to Pakistan like our elder generation used to do but perhaps one day and dreams do not cost you in any case.

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