I’m actually describing events that happened over two days, but this could have all happened in a single day and I wanted to write a single post.
I went on a two-week vacation with my parents and my aunt (my mom’s older sister) from Korea. Some months ago my mother called me to ask if I could give her two weeks. Ostensibly, she wanted to take my father to Europe because he had never been and she wanted me to be their tour guide. In reality she wanted to go to Slovenia and Croatia and was using my dad as an excuse. I don’t know why she felt that she needed an excuse, but this is how it was. I was eager to go because 9 years ago a friend had gone to Slovenia and raved about it. We both loved caving and diving, so he urged me to go. As for Croatia, its popularity has been growing (especially with Game of Thrones being filmed there) and several friends had posted jealousy-inducing photos of the gorgeous waterfalls of Plitvice National Park.
As the appointed tour guide, I made all the plans. We flew to Ljubljana because it was the cheapest airport out of all the possible airports in Slovenia and Croatia. We rented a car and I drove them around for two weeks.
It was a long flight to Ljubljana from New York City, but my parents and aunt had an even longer trip because they came from Los Angeles. I met up with them at JFK to fly to Istanbul (the same airport that a few weeks later terrorists attacked – I either have the best luck in avoiding danger, but bad luck in placing myself near them) and then to Ljubljana on Turkish Airlines. We landed in Ljubljana Monday evening. I got our rental from Sixt and then drove to the AirBnB apartment near the city center.
I deliberately planned Tuesday to be a low key day since we were tired from the previous day’s traveling. We woke up late-ish and ate a leisurely breakfast. One of the things you need to know about Koreans is that Koreans love Korean food. They can’t survive without it. This isn’t a joke. I packed a large suitcase full of Korean food (microwaveable rice, dehydrated soups, ready-to-eat curry, Korean ramen, Korean noodles with black bean sauce, dried seaweed, and a large package of pickled radish). While parents and aunt have no problem with eating non-Korean food, they can’t eat it day in, day out, hence, the necessity of bringing Korean food with us. I thought I took a photo of it, but I can’t find it. I’m sad about not being able to show you how Koreans travel.
Ljubljana is a lovely walkable city. Because we were staying in the city center, there was no place that we couldn’t walk to. The people are cheerful, friendly, helpful, and many speak good English. The weather in early June was great – high 60s to low 70s; lovely mild weather with blue skies and sun.
Triple Bridge: There are several bridges that connect the old medieval part of Ljubljana to modern Ljubljana. The most famous one is Triple Bridge, where a group of three bridges is clustered together. The center bridge is the largest.
Dragon Bridge: Ljubljana, actually all of Slovenia, is obsessed with dragons. There are several legends involving dragons, including St. George, that are intimately involved with the Slovenia’s myths of how the country came to be. At Dragon Bridge, there are four dragons at each of the corners. A local legend says that when a virgin walks across the bridge, the tails will raise. So far, the tails have never gone up, not even for nuns. 🙂
Ljubljana Castle: It’s an 11th century castle overlooking Ljubljana. There’s a walking path that leads you up to the castle if you decide not to drive up or take the funicular. We slowly walked up enjoying the views along the way. Of course, the castle’s motif is dragons. There are different historical tours that you can take of the castle. We took the Time Travel Tour because my mother likes these sorts of things. In this tour, at different locations actors come out and pretend to be different historical figures (soldier, nun, royalty, political prisoner) speaking about their experiences. It’s kinda cheesy, but my mother loved it.
Puppet Museum: The castle has different museums and exhibits. The Puppet Museum was free with the tour and honestly, it was my favorite part of the museum. They had a substantial collection of various puppets and styles of puppets. It’s a great museum to bring little kids to because the museum is interactive.
Metelkova: It’s a funky socialistic art commune. In 1993 a bunch of artists took over the abandoned military barracks of the former Yugoslavian National Army. In the past, the city has tried to close down Metelkova and kick the squatters out, but the residents (or squatters, depending on how you feel about these issues) resisted and now it’s a permanent fixture in the city. The residents raise money through their bars, concerts, and art galleries. It’s a super cool place to go and look at street/public art. My favorite piece was a giant mosaic mural that was on a side of a building. Metelkova is not large and you can comfortably stroll through and see everything in under an hour.
Butchers’ Bridge: Ironically the lovers of Ljubljana leave their symbols of everlasting love on Butchers’ Bridge. I don’t know when leaving locks on bridges became all the rage, but it’s hard to find a European city that doesn’t have a bridge covered in locks these days.
Open Kitchen: Open Kitchen is Ljubljana’s version of Smorgasburg, an open air food market. It takes place every Friday from mid-March to October. Luckily for us, we were able to have dinner at Open Kitchen because when we came back to Ljubljana before we flew back to the States, we returned on a Friday. There are several booths serving all kinds of tasty savory and sweet delights. My mother and aunt tried a very interesting (and delicious) smoked trout sashimi; it was a novel Slovenian take on a traditional Japanese delicacy. My dad and I were less adventurous. My father got a grilled sausage sandwich and I got a Mediterranean platter. Afterward I got this HUGE slice of strawberry cake with a luscious sauce. It was sooo good!
Open Kitchen is very popular with the locals. Swarms of people flock there to eat and to drink. There aren’t that many tables and seats, so people just plop themselves on nearby stairs, which is what we did to eat our food. I definitely recommend going to Open Kitchen if you’re a foodie.
One last recommendation for Ljubljana is Valentin, a seafood restaurant. We discovered this place as we were walking toward the castle. The seafood at this restaurant is very fresh and it was my favorite restaurant that we ate at during our two-week trip. Get the seafood platter (whitefish, giant prawns, langoustine, mussels, clams, fried calamari, and seafood kebabs with shrimp, salmon, and calamari). Everything was delicious. We ordered other dishes (gnocchi, grilled vegetables, and a typical Slovenian/Croatian side dish of potato and chard) and some drinks. It was reasonably priced and we ate like kings.
If you’re looking for a place that serves traditional Slovenian food, Gostilna Sestica is a good choice. Gostilna is Slovenian for pub, so you know if you ever see a restaurant named Gostilna something or the other that you’ll be getting traditional Slovenian food. I ordered the Ljubljana Schnitzel, which was what the rest of the world would call a cordon bleu (schnitzel stuffed with ham and cheese along with the veal). It was okay. I wouldn’t order it again, but my parents’ dishes with the more traditional roasts of meat and sauce were delicious.
Ljubljana is a cute little city. Ljubljana, itself, can be seen in a day. It was a good city to fly in and out of because it was so much cheaper than than the other cities with major airports and it was a good central location for many of Slovenia’s attractions. We mostly used Ljubljana as a home base for several days as we made several day trips to visit other places. See Ljubljana if it’s convenient in your itinerary, but in my opinion, there’s no need to go out of your way to see it.