City of Dragons

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Full disclosure. Before planning this trip, the only thing I knew about Slovenia was this…

The young Slovenian couple that made us all feel a little uncomfortable watching Eurovision (our annual viewing highlight) last year.

But as we poured over the map of Europe, pinpointing all of the places we definitely wanted to go and the routes we’d take, Slovenia seemed to be there at every turn. We’ll be criss-crossing through Slovenia 3 times this trip. At the moment we’re staying in a tiny town called Sticna, a 20 minute drive from the country’s capital Ljubljana.

And…I’m gonna make a bold statement right now. Ljubljana has just positioned itself as one of my favourite cities in the world. True I’ve only just visited across 2 days, but it’s knocked out my previous top 3, beating the excitement of Bangkok, the culture of Seville, and the cool vibes of Melbourne. (Venice is a stand-alone masterpiece that really cannot be compared to any other town).

Slovenia’s capital has a thrilling mix of all 3, and when we strolled into its bizarrely laid-out Presernov trg Square bustling with food stalls, musicians and families it felt familiar but intriguing; traditional but bursting with creativity. France Preseren (namesake of the square whose statue stands proudly in one corner) is Slovenia’s favourite poet; his poem “A Toast” being adopted as the country’s national anthem.

God’s blessing on all nations

Who long and work for that bright day

When o’er earth’s habitations

No war, no strife shall hold its sway

Who long to see

That all men free

No more shall foes, but neighbours be!

In the square, huge pans of vegetables and thick smokey sausages bubbled away, and we jostled with rowdy Italian boomers for lunch…sausages, rice and beef stuffed peppers and flat bread.

Buildings are a mix of art nouveau and baroque. The bright pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation hides a ceiling covered in beautiful frescoes.

A collection of quirky bridges cross the Ljubljanica River. Triple Bridge (designed by another Slovenian celebrity, architect Joze Plecnik in the 1930’s) feeds its three white columned pedestrian bridges across the river from Presernov trg.

Dragon Bridge opened in 1901 is guarded by 4 dragons, the symbol of Ljubljana. Look around, and you will find dragons everywhere, including on the Ljubljana coat of arms!

While the city was actually settled around 4000BC, and was inhabited by the Romans under the name “Emona” in AD15, legend has it that Ljubljana was actually founded by Jason of the “Jason and the Argonauts” tale. After stealing the Golden Fleece, he sailed up the Ljubljanica River, made a stop at the Ljubljana marshes, and fought and killed the monster (a dragon) who lived there.

We climbed up to Ljubljana Castle which towers above the city and spent an hour racing around the medievil grounds in an escape-room-esque challenge to release the mythical dragon trapped inside. Loads of brain-straining fun! (And loads of stairs!)

The view from the top of the clock tower was extraordinary. Look far into the distance. That’s snow!

It was dark by the time we climbed back down the hill (it has been dark by about 5pm since we’ve been here), and the city was alive with music, lights and crowds gathered to see a Christmas parade starring Grandfather Frost (Dedek Mraz) who rides through town on his carriage from Dec 26th to 30th and give out gifts to children on December 31. 

We stopped to watch a fab traditional muisc group, Trenutek Ansambel. The girls now have posters to put up back home. Check out their music below!

We sampled some Slovenian take away delights on day 2 with a lunch stop at “Klobasarna” for carniola sausage with mustard and freshly grated horseradish, Slovenian soup and “struklji”, sausage and cabbage filled pastries. All delicious.

“Metelkova Mesto” spreads over a couple of blocks a little out of the city centre. Abandoned army barracks were taken over by musos and artists in the 1990’s, and the street art covered walls house an alternative community among bars, clubs and artist spaces.

Well Ljubljana, hvala (thank you) we will definiately be back. Who knows…maybe your population of 280,000 could do with 4 more?

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