In order to reach Hungary, we had to drive through Slovenia. My image of Slovenia was that of a poor Eastern European country who is just now starting to boom as a result of joining the EU. Wrong! We did not expect to find such a beautiful green landscape with rolling hills similar to England and its order and neatness similar to Austria (like in the movie the “Sound of Music”).
I was particularly impressed by the many churches dotting the scenery:
Since the first world war, Slovenia underwent numerous political upheavals. Originally, it was under the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Then the Kingdom became what was called Yugoslavia.
After the second world war, they became a communist republic and the name was changed into Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY). FPRY was composed of six republics: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Montenegro, as well as two provinces, Kosovo and Vojvodina. Slovenia was the first of the federal republics to secede from Yugoslavia when, in 1991 it declared its independence.
Slovenia has always been the most prosperous region of the former Yugoslavia and the transition from a socialist economy to the capitalist free market was easier than most. At the time of its independence in 1991, Slovenia was the wealthiest and most open Yugoslav Republic.
Although Slovenes represented only 8% of the Yugoslav population, Slovenia exported almost one-third of all goods exported from Yugoslavia.
Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia
Even if the name is a tongue twister, we have already highlighted Ljubljana as our first stop. We have been extremely impressed by the landscape of Slovenia and its almost perfect infrastructure that we give it the same score as France except that in France, you pay toll fees, whereas in Slovenia, you just drive past the toll gate! It’s Utopia!
And so with this Utopian backdrop, we were very curious how the capital city looks like. We had no idea what we were going to see. All we knew was that it has one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. I actually ticked it in my “list of places to see” – the cemetery – but we didn’t have the luxury of time. We arrived there at 4pm Saturday, my dental appointment is 9am Monday in Budapest.
Entering Ljubljana, the biking culture is much more apparent. The city is very clean, the architecture different. But where are the people? At 4pm, the roads are almost empty.
H – “I’ve never seen such a deserted place in my life!”
M – Maybe they all go away in the weekend – to the beach or to the countryside!
H – In July, Paris would be heaving with tourists!
M – It’s probably not a popular tourist destination !
We found the old town. While the outskirsts were almost haunted, it’s in the old town where everybody congregated. And how lucky could we get, the Ljubljana Festival is going on. This is a yearly summer event where cultural, musical, dance, etc festival are held in various city centre locations. In every street corner we went to, something was going on.
Ljubljana was purely of Baroque style until 1895 when a large earthquake damaged 10% of the city’s architecture. It was Slovenian born Jože Ple?nik, who transformed the city by adding Art Nouveau architecture. He was the same architect who built the Prague Castle and other notable buildings in Prague, hence Ljubljana today is being hailed as the new Prague, but with very few tourists.
A Café Society
For a small city centre split in the middle by the Ljubljanica river, the café society of the Slovenes is strongly evident. Cafés lining both sides of the river, in every corner, even in the middle of the road.
H – I wish England is like this. There’s not a single (fastfood) chain here. UK is all money. In London, you see mostly sandwich bars! There are restaurants but they would cost you up to 100gbp a meal!
The Evening Promenade
Around 6pm, while having our beer by a riverside café, we couldn’t help but notice the continuous stream of smartly and flimsy-dressed locals, some with their families, some alone and some with their partners. So in the comfort of my seat, whilst sipping beer, I kept clicking my camera for this beautiful array of Slovene humanity.
It’s a tradition in former Yugoslavia for the locals to do the Nightly Promenade or korzo. Everyone dresses up in his/her best clothes and goes for an evening stroll along the main street. They would keep marching up and down sometimes in big groups. This is their way of socializing with neighbours and acquaintances they meet on the road.
Food: We wanted to try Slovenian cuisine but this was all we could have (at least, for the restaurant we have chosen)
Fried Bass, mediterranean style (with green and red peppers, lettuce)
M- I don’t like peppers much!
H – If you don’t like peppers, you might not like the food here because they eat too many peppers!
This meal + grappa (grape-based brandy) + apple crepe + coffee (for 2 persons) cost 51euros. The food was not bright but good enough. Slovenia is not renowned for her cuisine.
An outdoor restaurant, at 10:30pm
Overall, we are so impressed about Ljubljana. A small enough city but so much buzz and abounding of culture. One thing that really struck me: the crowd is chic and elegant! I haven’t seen the same chicness in Monaco. Not even in Nice because in Nice, the crowd is a mix of people – from backpackers to the wealthiest. But in Ljubljana, you will feel that the whole place is patronized by decent, fashionable people. Everybody seem to look like celebrities!