Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Ljubjana: Teh way it should be

Ljubljana, Slovenia (Ljubljana, Slovenija)
Lowering one's expectations is generally a good way not to be disappointed in a new travel location. It's also fantastic in that sometimes you're pleasantly surprised by how much a place exceeds those expectations. Such was the case for the capital of Slovenia, a city of which I had heard nothing about except its complicated name (FYI it's pronounced 'yub-yana', so much easier than I had anticipated). 
As we strolled over the triple bridge of Ljubljana, a tiny white hot air balloon was seen floating in the clear blue skies. The bridge itself didn't photograph well, and it perplexed me as to why there were three nearly identical bridges side by side. Apparently the two flanking bridges were built to help with traffic flow in the 1930's to accompany the original 1842 bridge. 
Crossing from the modern city into the historic quarter, I found a way to see what I would look like as dapper nobleman. I felt quite smug. We viewed the Robba fountain, which I forget the history of because at the time I had somehow convinced myself that it was a fountain that in some way reprimanded robbers. This is false. 
We discovered an open air market, in which all the melon and several other fruits were preyed upon mightily by wasps and bees. The merchants had tried to prevent this by covering them in plastic wrap, but those winged nectar fiends tore their way through. 
Corn on the cob seemed to be a popular snack-on-the-go in Slovenia. A discarded cob drew the attention of a cluster of sparrows, picking out the kernels with twitchy precision. 
A second bridge (the Dragon Bridge) was crossed, this one displaying several strange sculptures and a metric tonne of lovers' padlocks clamped to the railings. 
For a while we did what we love to do in a new place: wander the streets and if possible, get a little bit lost. You find interesting things that way - we came across a wedding party that had gushed out from the church into the street. An accordion player performed traditional songs as the dancers sang along loudly, swigging from a wine bottle and holding hands as they anti-clockwised to the music. A small crowd had gathered to watch, as it seemed like everyone was having a lot more fun than in stuffy wedding ceremonies. 
A ceremony of my own took place when we visited Čajna Hiša. Camping doesn't usually allow for tea-making, so it was lovely to duck into this little tea house. While my travelling companions ordered beverages that were decidedly not tea, I partook in the ritual pouring of two types of tea (Japanese cherry green tea and cinnamon black tea), and savoured them both to the last drop. 
The historic quarter held some truly interesting streets full of old buildings with newly painted shutters and doors. Though some streets felt steeped in history, the overall vibe of the city was one of polished new oldness - a glossiness akin to the tiny capitals of Liechtenstein or Andorra. The castle sat like a sleeping dragon atop the tall hill in Ljubljana's centre, and we entertained the notion that we may walk up to see it, but instead took the funicular to the top. The castle itself was pretty rubbish in my opinion (heavily renovated and inauthentic), and the view of the city was fairly mediocre, so I'm not going any more in depth about that. We did undergo the downhill walk back to the city, which was a little narrow in parts but reminded me of a New Zealand bush walk as it was pleasantly shaded by heavy foliage. 
A meander along the banks of the Ljubljanica River provided sights of pretty and colourful houses with lush greenery all around. 
A third bridge was crossed where a band played catchy music to passersby, set amongst resolute pillars of stone. 
From the bridge, we could see the cathedral, which stands on Saints Cyril and Methodius square - you'll remember those holy brothers from the Prague church where paratroopers had their final battle after the assassination of Reinhard Heydricht in 1942. 
We quickly peeked inside the former Monastery of the Holy Cross, the courtyard of which is employed in summer as an outdoor theatre. The creeping vines give the monastery an eerie feel. 
Just down the road from the monastery is French Revolution Square, featuring an obelisk with Napoleon's golden face and a smell of sewerage. We attempted to enter the National and University Library to see the impressive collection of historical documents, but it unexpectedly closes after 2pm. We then tried to enter the town hall, which turned out to be closed on Saturdays. I'd recommend researching opening times of sites you want to see before visiting Ljubljana. 
The so-called Art Deco building Nebotičnik (which has only minor details to show that it is in the Art Deco style, along with this staircase) houses a café on the top floor that showcases the views of the city that I was craving. It's from here that a stunning cityscape was laid out, and this time the castle was set prominently in the middle of it (see title photo). I guess that's what was missing from the view from the castle!
I feasted upon a traditional Ljubljanska cake, comprised of chocolate, pumpkin seeds and chestnut cream. The city's emblem of a dragon was emblazoned in gold on a chocolate disc. Having intended to eat Slovenian burek for dinner, but spoiling our appetite with cake (we are great at being adults), we still purchased the burek and brought it back to our campsite for reheating once our stomachs could handle it. The shop we chose was Noble Burek, and though we discovered our camping stove to be mysteriously broken upon returning, it was still tasty cold. 
Our campsite was located in the nearby village of Smlednik. It was here that we first encountered nudists, as we had taken a wrong turn into the FKK section of the campground and quickly reversed to find a more clothed area to set up our tents. In the morning light, a Smlednik hill with an abundance of shrines looked very peaceful. At night, they were all lit up with candles. That's a lot of Jesuses.