By now, it’s already been over a year since my trip to Ljubljana. My memory has gotten blurry. But I still want to remember this trip as well as I can. This is not a city guide (although I hope to write a few of those in the future as well), but a story of how I roamed the streets of a new city, and completely fell in love.
It was the middle of the semester, about 3 months since I moved back home, and I desperately needed to go somewhere. Anywhere. A month before I had looked up places we could visit when my boyfriend visited. As part of my worst-case, or should I say worst-weather, scenario. Ljubljana was on top of the list I scribbled down. The weather ended up being quite bad, but my list of places to go stayed untouched. It was cuddles and movie marathons instead. The pictures of the city of dragons never left my head though, so when I searched for a place to escape to, and ended up finding silly cheap train tickets to and from Ljubljana I was sold.
I booked the tickets spontaniously. I’m not quite sure anymore, but I think the train left two days from when I decided to go.
Before my train left I was surprisingly nervous. Did I bring enough food and means of entertainment for the duration of the train ride? Would I find the hostel? What if I lost myself in the unfamiliar city? Would I have enough time to see everything I wanted to see? What if I got robbed in my sleep? Did I bring enough money? Would people understand me?
Even at that time I found it odd that I’d worry so much. I had been on uncountable 8+ hour train rides before, went abroad alone and was generally pretty comfotable in my solo-traveller-shoes. I’m still not sure why I felt that way before my departure (and even upon arrival), but let me assure you: all my worrying was unjustified (shocker, right?).
Although I did get followed by a suspicious man before sunrise as I took pictures of the sleeping city. So there’s that.
The train route between Salzburg and Ljubljana is one of my all-time favourites, going straight through the Alps and later the sleepy countryside of Slovenia. Needless to say, I was glued to the window for most of the ride.
When I arrived my worries hadn’t completely subsided yet, I felt anxious leaving the train station, unsure of whether I got out on the right side. It surely didn’t look all that welcoming. There were several buses outside, with flocks of people waiting to get on and taken back home after work or school. It was quite busy and I felt as though each and every pair of eyes was focusing on me. Trying to analyse me and what I might have in my bag. Shoutout too paranoia!
With according pace I made my way down a bigger street that I hoped would bring me directly to my hostel. It was the briskest of brisk walks, as I shuffled towards my safe haven, clinging to my bag and phone, suspecting everyone on that street was out to get me.
You see, I love this part of my Ljubljana story, that’s why I emphasise it. The fact that I loved my stay there and that Ljubljana turned into one of my favourite cities, sitting with the likes of Venice and Hamburg, makes it all the more ridiculous.
It all changed when I sat foot on Prešeren Square. I left the world of anxiety and paranoia behind me and entered one of complete awe.
I was convinced I entered some sort of picture book. A fairy tale. Definitely something stemming from the mind of someone with a wild imagination. Not a real place.
And suddenly I was no longer in a rush to get to the hostel. A few minutes later I’d be pleasantly surprised to learn that it was in fact only a few steps from the square. It looked so far away on the map, I swear!
I checked in, left all the contents of my bag that I didn’t need for now under my blanket (yay security), and my worries along with them. I sighed a final sigh of relief. Finally, I had arrived.
Now this is where my memory gets blurry. I started exploring the city, but I couldn’t recall the timeline of when I went where. But fear not, my feeble memory capacity. I took photos. Or, doesn it even matter in what order I saw the things I saw? I’m not super sure, but I’m still infintely grateful for the time code on my photos.
I wandererd for hours, without getting tired. No wait. Without my eyes getting tired of soaking up the beauty that surrounded me. My feet got very tired. But I couldn’t care less.
Some time before the sun set I sat down at a table at Makalonca, the cafe with probably the second best view of the city (topped only by the Nebotičnik, that I’ll visit later). With a platform floating on the waters of the Ljubljanica, glass fences and a look towards Prešeren Square, the delightfully red Franciscan Church and the Triple Bridge. I ordered Earl Grey and sipped it, slowly, as it got darker and darker, increasingly colder, and indescribably more beautiful.
I watched the river run next to me, noticed an object lingering right under the surface of the water. I thought it to be a ladder. How perfectly fitting, I thought, it would be to see a hand reaching up from underneath the water’s surface, a body ascending from the deep green of the river. The picture stuck with me, and for most of the night I let a story surrounding it come to life in my head. It never left my mind, and I’m still writing on it. One day, I dream, this will be the story I write. The big one. It’ll always be to me, anyway.
However, this alternative world that was buzzing through my head now didn’t distract me too much from soaking in all that was playing in front of me in the real world. The city lights showed up for duty exactly at sunset.
The air had gotten colder by the river, but as I walked up the stairs to the main road along the river again, a flush of warmth greeted me.
It was cozy warm up here, it even smelled like a true summer night. The sound of a sax filled the air, accompanied by busy chatting and heartful laughters from the cafés and bars along the river. I sat down on a bench on Prešeren Square and took it all in. I didn’t care for the light getting dimmer and dimmer, I didn’t care for the people getting more and more drunk. All the fear I had arrived with was gone. I was carefree for once, and completely dissolved into this moment.
The night in my hostel bunk bed is a completely different story.
Picture this: 5 bunk beds (that makes 10 places to sleep) made out of the thinnest metal (looked more like spray-painted tooth picks) that would scream each time anyone moved their little toe. Now imagine 9 people continously rolling over and back again, trying to finaly fall asleep, which seems impossible as guest numero 10 arrived at about 3am, with a heavy suitcase that was a delight to listen to roll over the floor that squeaks with every step, turned on the bright-as-the-sun-headlights as she enterd and didn’t bother to turn them off for the what must have been half an hour that she spent in the hallway bathroom. At times it was a choir of sighs. Except for that one guy that snored like a champion, of course.
Super fun, right? And yet I’d return to this hostel anytime. Maybe choose a smaller room. But price and location considered I’m okay with squeaky beds and floors. The late arrivee, that I could do without.
I woke up before the sun, and before the rest of the room did. I didn’t really have to force myself out of bed and tip-toed outside, trying not to breathe. No one was in sight as I stepped outside, it seemed as though everyone but me and the birds were still fast asleep. A sleeping city before sunrise. Oh my heart! Even Prešeren Square was empty. It belonged to me for this short moment. Now looking back at this moment I wish I had danced across the square. Better luck next time?
I went up and down the river again, on both sides, as I had done plenty of times by now. Everything looked so different now. Bigger, somehow. Softer. Private. The birds in the trees that grow alongside the river were ridiculously loud.
Sometimes it was just noise, sometimes it sounded like distant screams, that’s how overwhelmed my ears were. So of course a crime story unfolded in my head as I snapped photos of a candy floss coloured sky above dragon statues.
At some point during those soft, yet oddly loud moments I started being followed by a man, and as soon as I was convinced he didn’t just happen to walk the same way I did I headed to the market where some sellers were already setting up their booths. Another brisk walk and a little heart attack.
The light changed quickly, the street lights went back to sleep and the city awoke. Seemingly all at once. It was time for me to get a little rest and figure out where to go for breakfast, so I returned to the hostel for a bit.
This is where my memory is particularly unclear again. Did I head to the market again to buy fresh fruit for breakfast, or did I go to the top of the Nebotičnik, the skyscraper and once tallest building in all of Yugoslavia, to warm up with yet another cup of tea? I’m not entirely sure, though the more I think about it the more I get convinced it was still early-morning-cold when I was at Nebotičnik’s café, and that I sat there waiting for something. Waiting for the market to open? Waiting until the last minute to check out from the hostel? I can’t quite tell. Shoutout to my camera’s time code for remembering the order of events for me!
As it turns out I first went to the market after my break at the hostel, then to the Nebotičnik!
To set the scene again: it was still quite cold, slightly overcast, and I was getting hungry. Naturally, my steps lead me to the organic market just down the road from the Triple Bridge. Even though I arrived when the market was already officially open, there weren’t all that many people, and vendors for that matter.
I inspected the first booth I reached, the honey, strawberries and greens that had grown in the Slovenian countryside. Organically, by the man I just asked for the price of a bag of strawberries. We chatted a bit, about growing crops, Slovenia and my journey. He made me smile from ear to ear when I mentioned that he hadn’t suspected I was a tourist when I first greeted him in Slovenian. His wishes for me to further enjoy my stay and enjoy the city sounded so refreshingly sincere, not like phrases you say out of routine, but coming from the heart. It was a delightful interaction, and I so wish I still remembered all of it.
Equipped with fresh strawberries and chocolate cookies in my bag I made my way up the castle hill – I had decided that the castle was the perfect place to have an impromptu breakfast.
And oh it was! Hardly any people were around by the time I got up, I found a place that overlooked the city and well – I got comfortable. Munched on my strawbs and cookies, gazed down on the city I had entirely and completely fallen in love with by now. Quite frankly, I felt on top of the world. From somewhere underneath me a few soundwaves of a classical song found their way to me. It sounded like a practice and I took every note in, as if I heard it for the first time.
By the time I got down again it was still quite early, but at least the Nebotičnik was finally open. I took the elevator up to the rooftop café and restaurant, where a waiter greeted me with a surprised smile. Two people, deep into a passionate discussion, were the only other guests.
I got to chose one of the tables with the best view. On the castle hill I had just been on, and the city that grew around it.
I ordered yet another cup of tea, scribbled down the first sentences of the story I dreamed up the evening before, and just let my thoughts wander for I-don’t-know-how-long. It turned off my sense of time completely, after all I had no where to be for the next few hours. Until I had to check out off the hostel.
The rest of my stay can be sumerised quite simply: I continued roaming the streets and little alleys of Ljubljana, in search of hidden gems and a souvenir for my sister.
I suspect she didn’t really understand where I was going, but when we kissed good bye she asked me to bring her a plant from the place I was headed. And oh I’d bring her that plant! I also found something for me to bring back home – two different teas. In one of those whimsical little shops that are scattered all over town. The perfect souvenir.
On my way back to the train station my heart felt heavy. I kept turning my head, thinking how I didn’t want to leave just yet.