Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Arrival in Slovenia and Getting to Know Its Capital, Ljubljana

Monday, September 26, 2016
London-Ljubljana in Slovenia

Departure from London and Arrival in Slovenia:

I have done many trips through the years. But, for some reason, I was excited about this one—I think it had to do with the fact that Chriselle and I were doing a Mother-Daughter Trip after years and we were both delighted at the prospect. Plus, neither one of us had put in much time doing research—so we were basically going to wing it as we went along.

We awoke at 6.00 am (with the alarm) on my last morning in my Bethnal Green house. There was no time to eat or drink anything. All we did was grab our stuff together, take one last look around the place and then leave—after posting keys back through the mail slot on the front door. We took a few pictures together on the door step and then we were off—racing towards Stepney Green Tube station to arrive at Victoria to take the National Express coach to Stanstead airport. We picked up croissants and a coffee and as we munched on the bus, we could feel our excitement mount.

The bus ride was one of the longest ‘See London’ rides we had ever taken. We scoured the breadth of the city going all the way across to the East to the Tower of London and then across the Thames to the South Bank and then back again—as the coach kept picking up passengers. It took us a whole hour to get out of London but once we hit the highway, we were quite speedily at the airport. However, in the bargain, Chriselle had a chance to see the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the Acelor Mittal slide-sculpture as well as other parts of the city with which she was unfamiliar.

Clearing security at Stanstead is a major production, plus we had to consolidate our two bags each and make them one bag each—according to Easyjet regulations. We managed to do it all and in no time, we were airborne as our flight left a little after noon. The comfortable flight offered the two of us ‘catch-up time’ and we gabbed non-stop. Before we knew it, we were descending into Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.

Arrival in Slovenia and Check-In At Hotel:

      At Slovenia airport, we cleared Immigration quickly and found a man waiting with a placard carrying my name on it in the Arrivals Hall. He was the shuttle bus driver that would be transporting us to our hotel in the heart of the city. There were about 6 other passengers in the mini-van and one by one we were dropped off at our respective hotels.

            Using Lonely Planet (which is my travel Bible), I had found this rather unusual hostel in the capital—it was a converted prison, of all places. Offering private single and double rooms, it seemed like a very cool place in which to start our holiday. After a quick check-in, we were given keys to our private room—female bathrooms were just down the hall. We had a lovely loft space—with a ladder we had to climb to get to our ‘bedroom’ upstairs. In the main room, there were chairs and a closet. We’d be spending 3 nights in this wacky space—so we did make ourselves comfortable, stashed our things and went out to discover the city.

Discovering Ljubljana on Foot:

            Taking directions from our hostel receptionists, we set out to discover the city at about 6.00 pm. There was still a lot of light and ten minutes later, we found ourselves confronting the massive mountain on which sits the Castle of Ljubljana. We decided to save visiting it for the next day—and focused instead on the city. My first impression is that it is as if Prague in the Czech Republic and Salzburg in Austria decided to get married and have a baby city! For this is exactly how Ljubljana presented itself. It is a series of squares, each dominated by a beautiful Baroque church whose interior is breathtaking.

     We started our walk at the famous Dragon Bridge known for the four verdigris dragons that mark its four corners. Dragons are a big icon in this part of the world and are associated with the legend of St. George who killed the dragon—although the locals believe that he is not dead but merely biding his time up in the castle and in the Postojna Caves where baby ‘dragons’ (lizard-like reptiles) were actually born in captivity last year! Legends abound and medieval customs persist in these places.

            Our next stop was at Butcher’s Bridge that is now strung with locks that most visitors are clicking on to the world’s bridges—a real structural hazard that is costing local governments a lot of money to remove! These bridges skirt the famed Central Market which was quite dead by this time of the day. Crossing Butcher’s Bridge, we arrived at the Church of St. Nicholas with its grand metal doors (similar to those by Ghiberti on the Baptistry in Florence, Italy) and its gorgeous altar and interior Baroque elements. Mass was going on inside—so we paid a quiet visit and left.

            More exploring took us to Presernov Trg, another dazzling square where the salmon-pink Church of the Annunciation is a must-visit venue. It overlooks the largest square in Ljubljana whose most dazzling feature is Triple Bridge—three bridges that span the river Ljubljanica at this point. It has a lovely sculptural monument to local architect Preseren who masterminded the square. Chriselle and I were enchanted by everything as we drank it all in. It is always wondrous to be whisked into medieval Europe in this fashion and to marvel at the beauty it offers. Above us, the mountain with the castle, now well-lit for the night, towered.

            Just off the square is a wonderful little street filled with Art Deco buildings that were worth a visit and as we passed by them, we noticed their special architectural details.

            A little later, we crossed a bridge lined with Roman columns and were at Kongresni Trg where solid 18th century buildings gave the entire space a great deal of character. Darkness was falling rapidly over the city by this time and we were keen to find a suitable place for dinner. Consulting recommendations in Lonely Planet, we found Most, a traditional Slovenian restaurant at the foot of Butcher’s Bridge where we feasted on roasted red pepper soup with prawns and salted almonds for starters and had ravioli stuffed with crab and served in a leek sauce for our main dish. We both enjoyed the local Slovenian beer and found our meal superb. Service from our waiter was also excellent. Truly, it was a wonderful first day and we looked forward to many more exciting travels ahead.

            Within ten minutes, after having picked up gelato for dessert from a local stall, we made our way back to our hostel and were in bed in minutes. Annoyingly, there was a great deal of noise to contend with for several hours as there was a bar just below our room—music and noisy patrons kept us awake for a long while—but they did eventually pipe down and we went off to sleep.

            Until tomorrow, cheerio…

No comments: