Cities aren’t my thing. Despite that I grew up in one I’d rather be in the countryside. But I may never get a chance to visit this country again so I’m going to see its capital. Besides, cities have things like cafes and restaurants, nice buildings to marvel at, sometimes a castle, usually a river. Ljubljana ticks all the requisite boxes. It was also voted Europe’s greenest city in 2016, so can’t be that bad.
The city has a vibrant feel about it, a youth that belies the age of its buildings. Bars and restaurants line the level streets of the old town alongside the river, whilst the castle overlooks all from its perch on the hill. Graceful willows line the edges of the Ljubljanica as it swings through town on its way to play in the sea. I love the way willows drape themselves over water, their elegant slim branches trailing in the current.
A triptych of bridges, ornate and not in the least camera shy, draw visitors, despite one being roped off, plastic sheeting hiding its charms, dusty workmen laying concrete and tapping bricks – modern cobblestones – into place where thousands of feet will soon walk. Crowds gather in the open space beside it, craning their necks to look up at the pink walls of the cathedral.
The castle is disappointing. We choose the funicular for our ascent, me being a sucker for all things on rails. Through its glass walls the view opens as we climb past buildings and roofs. It’s a hazy view, the morning mist reluctant to let go and clouding the distance. At the top the doors open into a glass and steel structure that looks more shopping mall than castle and the courtyard is full of cafes (ridiculously overpriced) and a gift shop. The walls are obviously rebuilt, covered with glass and steel walkways and, bizarrely, a sign asking not to touch them! I’m no anarchist but I’m so pissed off I do so, if only to try and catch something of the feel of a castle. I can’t imagine what it should look like and to get to any part of it we have to pass through glass caves and walk over shiny concrete. A sneaking feeling comes over me that Slovenians don’t so much want to preserve their history as they do to get as much money from it as they possibly can. We are clearly not their choice of tourist and after a quick visit descend back into the relative peace of the city.
The evening brings cooler temperatures, still warm enough to sit outside but without the fierce heat that accompanies the day. We indulge in a spot of people watching, a la Italian passagio, as we eat. Rain begins, dripping off the large umbrellas above us, until one gives in and dumps a waterfall on the lady at the adjacent table. She shrieks, causing half a dozen waiters to appear, carrying napkins and apologies. She sees the funny side and we all decamp inside to finish eating, the waiters fussing around to carry the remains of our meals to our new tables. The rain pauses as we wander home through busy streets – the weather hasn’t stopped a mini arts festival and bands play on various outdoor stages. In a large square a huge screen is showing Life of Brian to a packed audience. I hope the rain stays away.
The Path of Peace and Comradeship is a walking and cycling trail that follows the line of the fence that enclosed the city during WWII. At times it’s a lovely ride through parks and along the river, at one point a hellish climb up through the botanic garden that would be hard to walk let alone cycle. It winds through city streets where signage is, at best, sparse, more often non-existent. Lost again, this time in a maze of concrete high rises, Neil refuses to stop for coffee as one of the locals ‘looks like she could chew the bottom off a pint glass.’ So much for peace and comradeship. We’re over it and turn into the city for a picnic by the river in the shade of the willows. Before we pull out a bottle of beer Neil googles whether there are any restrictions on drinking alcohol in public. ‘Of course not,’ says one response, ‘this is not Uzbekistan! And drinking is our national pastime.’
There’s a lot to like about Ljubljana.