Saturday 13 July 2019
I had spent last week in Russia, including a visit to the Royal Canin branch in Nizhni Novgorod, on the banks of the Volga River. These photos show the kremlin (walled city) over-looking the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers. Unfortunately it was very cold and wet in the evening after our branch visit so we cut the planned city tour short.
After spending the week in Russia I flew on Friday evening (via Munich) to the charming capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana.
This morning I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in my hotel, Hotel Cubo, before heading out to explore the city. Ljubljana has been given the title the Green Capital of Europe, having put a lot of effort into building a sustainable city, including making the centre vehicle free. This makes it particularly easy to get around. The city is fairly compact with a population of about 290,000 (total population of Slovenia is about 2.8 million) and my hotel was centrally located so I explored entirely on foot. I had expected it to be overrun with tourists like so many European cities but while there were plenty of tourists about I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious it seemed.
I started with a quick stroll to Preseren Square, which is pretty much the centre of the city. It is dominated by the imposing Baroque Franciscan Church, known as the pink church, although it was apparently originally red and now faded. The city straddles the Ljubljana river and there are many bridges. Just beside the Preseren Square is the first of these, the triple bridge, so called because it is actually three bridges; the original central bridge became too small and so pedestrian bridges were added on each side in 1930.
Across the bridge is the area known as the Old Town and another smaller square with an impressive fountain. This is also where the Central Market, an open area filled with stalls selling various fruits, vegetables and general merchandise, sits.
Next I wandered up the hill to the Ljubljana Castle, which dominates the skyline. There is an impressive looking funicular option but I was definitely in need of some exercise and enjoyed the walk up. The medieval castle dates back to the 15th century and has been incredibly well restored. It is the only castle I can remember being in that actually has glass in the windows. I enjoyed the informative audio guide and wandering around the immaculate site. The views from the observation tower were particularly impressive. Apparently you can see 80% of Slovenia on a fine, clear day and we certainly had great views today.
There were plenty of historical exhibitions on the grounds including one highlighting some of the incredible costume designs of Hranitelj. He has designed numerous costumes for the theatre and there was also a room filled with a variety of pieces of clothing displayed against similarly coloured backgrounds. It was extremely impressive.
After leaving the castle I wandered back down the hill and crossed the river again at the famous and well-photographed Dragon bridge, aptly named for the dragon statues guarding each end. It seems there are many legends and myths about dragons in Slovenia, perhaps related to the jagged mountain chains that could – with a lot of imagination – look like the spikes on a dragon’s back. The area around the river is filled with cafes and shops and makes for some great people watching.
Next I wandered to Tivoli Park, a huge expanse of green within the centre of the city. It was a fantastic place to get away from the crowds. There are statues dotted about and people resting and picnicking in the grounds. I followed a 3km path, which was all I could make out from the Slovenian writing on the map, and barely saw another person. All I could hear was the bird song and it was hard to believe I was in a capital city.
I headed back to the river where I enjoyed a very decadent ice cream sundae, while being entertained by a bunch of tourists doing antics on stand up paddle boards in the river. I then headed to Metelkova, an alternative cultural centre show-casing all sorts of unusual art installations. It was pretty quiet but well worth wandering through. I think it probably buzzes at night. I had been sad to see a lot of graffiti all around the city so it was great to see a place for street artists to call their own.
Sunday 14 July 2019
Having seen most of the sights described in 2-3 day guides for Ljubljana (albeit quickly and without stops for shopping) I decided today to see as much of some of the other key parts of Slovenia as possible. I had arranged a driver for the day and was picked up at 8am in a very comfortable Mercedes with a driver who spoke perfect English. We headed off for our first location, Lake Bohinj, about an hour away. We were very quickly out of the city, driving along a wide four-lane, very smooth highway, passing rural areas, dotted about with lovely chalet style homes, all bedecked in pink and red flowered window boxes, and with mountains towering in the background. It is certainly picturesque country.
I had done a bit of reading about the area last night so first stop was Savica Waterfall, well worth the twenty minute walk up a very well maintained track, through stunning beech forest. I was reminded of parts of the South Island but the beech here have larger leaves. Having arrived early I had the path to myself so was really able to enjoy the peace and quiet. At one point there was even a view back over Lake Bohinj in the distance. The falls themselves are fairly small but nonetheless impressive.
After a quick photoshop I headed back and we drove a few minutes back to the base of the gondola. A quick four minute trip in a very packed gondola (I now know how sardines feel!) had me at the top with stunning views over Lake Bohinj. The viewing platforms were metal grids metres high so there were some nervous people around but the views were well worth it. A few minutes up the hill I found a chairlift which took me further up into the mountains, which are a ski resort in the winter, with what look like some long gentle runs. There is loads of hiking in this area during the summer but I only had time for a quick clamber up a hill to the whistle bell and cross. Heading back down in the gondola I was a relieved that it was much less crowded and I got a great spot at the front window as we zipped down the mountainside to Lake Bohinj itself.
We headed back to Lake Bled, truly a little fairy tale lake complete with a castle on the mountain overlooking it and a beautiful church on an island in the centre. I had read that the best viewpoint was ojstrich so headed up the steep path and was not disappointed by the views. There was another lookout even further up but I was short on time so had to make do.
Next stop was Vintgar Gorge, an absolutely stunning spot, despite the crowds. It reminded me somewhat of the Plitvice Lakes area in Croatia with its turquoise clear water and wooden paths. There is really only one main way in and out and the paths are fairly narrow so it can get a bit crowded at times. Somehow when I headed back again it was much quieter and I had long periods where I had the track nearly to myself.
I had intended a quick visit to the castle where I hoped to try the famous Bled Cream Cake but unfortunately the castle was closed so I headed into the town and found a lovely terrace overlooking the lake where I enjoyed a lunch of goulash, finished off with said cake – a huge slice of deliciousness, somewhat like a very light custard square.
Unfortunately my time in Slovenia was running out and we headed to the airport for my flight to Munich and then to Marseille. I have a meeting in Aix en Provence next week. I hope one day to come back when I have time to do a bit more hiking and explore a bit more in depth but at least I feel like I got to see a fair bit in my two short days here.