I am pretty sure, George R.R. Martin came to Ljubljana before conceiving Rhaegar in his books. Ljubljana, as the folklore goes, was the land of dragons and the city makes it evident by putting the fiery creature on its coat of arms and also as a spear head on its most famous bridge, which no money for guessing, is called the Dragon Bridge.
Our first blush with the town of Ljubljana was at the Airport where on descent, we were greeted by marshes and forests, in all shades of green, engulfed by mountains on all sides. After Delhi, the air here, felt like a virgin experience to oxygen. The Airport is about 25 minutes from the town. One can easily take a bus to the city center which runs till 8 PM.
We had booked our stay at the lovely Air BNB apartment at Precna Ulica 2 which was located 100 meters from the Rhaegar bridge. I recommend staying at this Apartment for the convenience of location to all the historic sites and cafes and also for the very helpful people who run it.
There is good reason why Ljubljana is called the Green capital of Europe. The waste management in the city is impeccable with ports of disposal available throughout the city, clearly demarcated by the waste type, flowing into an underground waste collecting tunnel. The water at fountains are also potable. Most of the city center is pedestrian only and very heavy parking fees is levied, making it almost mandatory for people to use the public transportation or simply stay out of the center.
After checking in at the apartment, we strolled across the bridge where the cafes lined the river side. Great beer, amazing crowd, super views of the lit up castle and of course relaxed food makes this a must visit place. We had a yumm buffalo mozzarella margarita pizza and a classic burger, washed down by Union and Lasco (pronounced as Lashko) beer at Fanny and Mary. There is a replica of the famous lock bridge here and the view of the three bridges that symmetrically crown the river is beautiful.
The next morning we trailed towards the Preseren square, which is dedicated to apparently the greatest Slovenian poet, Dr. France Preseren. His statue stands in the middle of the square and is surrounded by the finest secession buildings. On the left side of the river stands the central market, where on several stands, home and local produce such as honey, lavender, candles, herbs, honey and berry liquor and wooden toys are sold. This is a great place to grab a coffee and be a part of the hustle bustle of the market and if lucky, catch some sun. There are lots of cafes here which serve fresh bread, rolls and croissants.
A few meters ahead is the vegetable, fruit and flower market, selling fresh stocks of the day. It is a treat to the eye and of course to the palate. I recommend getting a box of strawberries, which were the sweetest I have ever had, and sitting by the river to get a local vibe .
After relishing the view, we hiked to the castle, which is an easy ascent. A funicular is also available. The castle has several exhibitions inside, but the puppet exhibit was the most fun. The castle, as such, is nothing to write back home about and the history of the castle is not very well explained in the museum and can be missed. However, the scaling views of the entire city from the tower is reason good enough to buy tickets to the castle.
The Cathedral of St Nicholas, with its green dome and bell tower can be easily spotted from anywhere in the city and has a beautiful organ and murals depicting Christ.
For lunch, we had the very authentic Slovenian cuisine at Gujzina. The pork chops cooked in rich plum sauce served with potato dumplings and home prepared gnocchi with pumpkin seeds were delectable. The local wine,Cuvée, failed to impress me as it was very dry and not my preferred choice. I would heavily recommend this restaurant to anyone wanting to try local Slovenian cuisine.
After recovering from the food coma, we walked to the Tivoli park in the evening, which is the largest park in Ljubljana and stretches to the center. Tivoli has a glasshouse, a recreation centre, a museum of art and history and an opera and ballet theater. Here, locals slack-line, workout, play ball, read a book or simply take their dogs for a stroll and is a great place to sweat out some calories. A beautiful photographic exhibit of the hidden treasures of Slovenia by National geographic was on display at the park.
It is almost appropriate that across the Tivoli Park stood the Union brewery, offering the best freshly brewed draught beers in town to replenish the burnt mass. We tried the tasters of different kinds of Ales ranging from Bok, Amber, Triglav and the usual lager, stout and the unfiltered. I settled for Triglav, and Nikhil for the unfiltered. The finger food served with the beer had cheese, prosciutto and Buffalo tongue. I still can’t believe that my tongue consumed another!!
The nightlife in Ljubljana is known to be quite happening on account of being a student hub. Metalkova Mesto, a ghetto part of town, was a former Yugoslavia military barrack which after Slovenia’ gain of independence, is squatted by artists and popular bars. Swanked by graffiti and funky art all around, this area is a pub and club hopping haven for those seeking Nirvana. One should try to be here on the weekend where it is bustling with music and people,else, it is pretty dead.
The romance of the river flowing through the spine of the city, with a castle that towers the walls and with the vibe of the town being unassuming yet vibrant, makes Ljubljana a must on anyone’s itinerary visiting the region.