After a week in the countryside I returned to Ljubljana to spend some time writing and to think about where I would travel next. I was considering Croatia, bordering Slovenia to the south. I thought it might be a good time to visit its Mediterranean beaches before the peak summer season started.
My first two nights in Ljubljana were in the apartment I had previously stayed in near Castle Hill. It was nice to be back, but for a new experience and a change of scenery, I decided to move to a private hostel. It was twenty minutes walk away, in a quiet residential neighbourhood south-west of the Old Town.
The hostel was a big house run by a young Slovenian man called Blaz. He introduced himself over a shot of blueberry liquor and we talked about my stay and the various things to do in Ljubljana. He was relaxed, enthusiastic and easy to like. The house used to be the family home of his relatives and, when they became too old to maintain it, he took it over and converted it into an eight-room hostel. Being an older-style building it had lots of interior space, yet my favourite spot was outside on the terrace, overlooking the garden.
Two other guests arrived later in the afternoon – a young man from Singapore who’d been studying in the UK and a young woman from Hong Kong who was travelling around Europe. There would be a steady trickle of new arrivals over the coming days and by the middle of the week, the hostel would be fully occupied.
To get around the city, I used Ljubljana’s free bicycle share system. Being mostly flat and relatively light on traffic, the city is ideal for cycling. It was a short ride to Tivoli Park, a large green space west of the city centre. I walked through the park’s landscaped gardens and into the forest beyond, following an extensive network of trails, frequented by walkers and joggers. It wasn’t long before I was surrounded by forest and the city seemed miles away.
On my way back through the park, I passed the International Centre for Graphic Arts, housed in an beautiful classicist style mansion. It had the forest for a backdrop and an elevated stone terrace in front bounded by landscaped lawns. Much to my surprise and delight the Centre was holding an exhibition called Fire on Stage, featuring the works of American film maker David Lynch.
I’d been a fan of Lynch’s unique approach to film production ever since I watched his iconic TV series Twin Peaks, when it first aired in Australia during the early 1990s. Although I knew Lynch engaged in artistic pursuits other than film, it was the first time I had seen an exhibition of his lithographs, watercolours, paintings and experimental films. On viewing his work, with its smeared ink portrayals of people with distorted limbs and dark intent, I almost thought it was the efforts of a deviant, a serial killer perhaps, and yet I found it strangely fascinating. It reminded me of the mysterious and often haunting scenes of his TV series and feature films. Typically they revolved around the characters of small and often remote country towns.
At a cafe in the city centre, I had a delicious lunch of crumbed chicken, cucumber and potato, presumably a typical Slovenian midday meal. I got to chatting with one of the ladies serving behind the counter. Like many Slovenians, her English was excellent. She talked of Ljublijana with genuine pride and was interested in what visitors thought of her city.
She suggested several places to visit. The first was a building in the city centre, not far from the cafe. She explained that in the 1930s it was the tallest building in Slovenia and is still known affectionately as Nebotcnik (Slovenian for ‘Skyscraper’). By today’s standards it isn’t particularly tall with just thirteen floors, but it does have an elegant Art Deco interior and an atmospheric rooftop terrace with a cafe and bar. The outdoor seating extends all the way around the edge of the building and provides wonderful panoramic views of the city.
The other recommendation included the buildings of Slovenia’s most famous architect Joze Plecnik who died in 1957. He is particularly beloved in Ljublijana where evidence of his work can be found in at least 32 different locations throughout the city. One of his most monumental buildings is the National and University Library. Like many of Plecnik’s works it invokes a fusion of ancient and modern styles from different historical periods. He also designed many of the fittings and internal features, including a variety of bespoke furniture pieces.
Not far from the hostel is a small museum dedicated to Plecnik which incorporates the house he designed to live out his later life. The extent of Plecnik’s influence throughout Ljublijana has meant he is often compared with architects like Antoni Gaudi whose work helped shape the identity of Barcelona.
Plecnik’s architecture can also be seen in Prague and Vienna where he contributed a number of important works. I remember first seeing one of his buildings in Prague. It was the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in Zizkov, near where I stayed.
His buildings are not typically architecture I like immediately, even though they stop me in my tracks and cause me to look up. The striking contrast between architectural styles and the often exaggerated forms can seem odd at first. But on closer inspection I find a high level of craft, particularly in the details, that I think give his buildings lasting appeal.
Although I spent a good deal of time on walks or bicycle rides around the city, it was always nice to return to the hostel. A bunch of travellers came and went while I was there and I made a point of engaging with all of them. Most were younger people out exploring the world or taking a break from jobs they found demanding.
A Dutch couple, who lived near Amsterdam, had driven all the way to Slovenia and planned to stay in the country for a week before continuing on to Croatia. A young Scottish couple who’d recently quit their jobs as tourist guides in Glasgow had no fixed plans and were travelling wherever their noses took them.
There were also two American lads who arrived late one evening. They both looked tired and bleary eyed from a week of partying at the beach resorts in Croatia. I decided after talking to them that I wouldn’t be going to Croatia after all. It sounded like the country’s coast was already full of tourists and the beach party scene was in full swing. I decided instead that I would return to Germany, this time by train. I would make the journey to Berlin over two days with an overnight stop in Munich.
As the Deutsch Bahn train slowly pulled out of Ljubljana’s main station and made its way towards the Austrian border, I reminisced about my time in Slovenia. The three weeks I had spent in the country and been a unique and refreshing experience. Travelling had been easy, the people I had met were relaxed and friendly and the unspoilt nature of the countryside had left me feeling energised for the next leg of my journey towards the north.