That evening we climbed Castle Hill in central Ljubljana. Below, the steep pitch of the roofs and the amount of trees between the buildings indicated that rainfall is very common. From the battlements we could see the wooded hills around the capital, including Rožnik hill, opposite, with its hiking paths offering a welcome break from the touristy centre. The castle itself has a long history, starting as an Illyrian fortification. Nowadays, it features a medieval stronghold with the flag of Ljubljana on top, which features the castle itself and a dragon.
On Sunday morning, I walked to the city centre to take some pictures in my own time. It was early enough to beat most of the other tourists, while locals seemed to have taken time away, leaving their capital literally empty. Also, temperature hadn’t yet reached the high 30’s that one gets at midday. Perfect.
At some point between 8:30 and 9 am large groups of tourists were starting to spill out of their hotels. Cafeteria personnel were welcoming them and soon the centre became too busy.
It was time to move out towards the ‘alternative’ Metelkova neighbourhood. There, I encountered a museum complex and people in reclining chairs on the grass, drinking coffee or eating breakfast, waiting for it to open. I strolled around the area which looks like a big squat. Colourful characters were quietly sitting in front of the colourful building fronts and nosy passers-by like me, often on roller blades or scooters, were photographing the rich graffiti art.
It was time to enter a museum, which I chose to be the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum. The ground floor hosted a very interesting temporary exhibition of Siberian shamanism. There was also a floor on the history of Slovenia, especially in relation to the rest of the world. I found a panel on the history of their xenophobia (below) disarmingly honest. There was also the story of the Čupas, the now extinct wooden boats, that Slovene fishermen dragged from the mainland to the rocky Adriatic coast, where no suitable places to build ports existed. The top floor was dedicated to the traditional arts of honey and ginger bread making. Very atmospheric, with ambient sounds and an exhibition of the beekeepers quirky folk art.
The museum made me realise that Slovenes are not merely an Alpine or a Mediterranean nation, but a unique mixture of both.
Back to the centre, where I combined a visit to a church, the baroque St. Nicholas’ Cathedral featuring a temporary exhibition of Pope’s bursts, with a science museum with a variety of interactive experiments. A fair balance, I say.
Outside, the town squares and markets of Ljubljana were transforming into a Balkan festival. Folk bands, dances, lots of meat, gelato and many fountains to hydrate under the relentless sun. All happening next to the main river, Ljubljanica.
Let’s pause the story for a moment and let Slavoj Zizek, Slovenia’s famous contemporary genius explains the dual, European and Balkan, nature of the country.
The last hours in Ljubljana we spent admiring the rich architecture. From neoclassical to Art Nouveau, there is something for everyone. There are even Roman ruins for the archaeology geeks among us. One cannot fail to notice the frequent use of classical columns. The perpetrator is a certain Jože Plečnik, Ljubljana’s beloved architect, who can be found even printed on T-shirts. To be honest, I am not sure what to make of all these columns. But the most important is the locals like them, as they seem at least to do.
It was time to depart. I was glad I was introduced to this scenic country with a very unique culture, combining North and South European elements. Also glad that, from now on, I will never confuse Slovenia with Slovakia! The best way to learn the geography of a place is to go there.