Ljubljana, like all of Slovenia was a pleasant surprise. Before we got here our research told us the city was being dubbed “the new Prague” for its still undiscovered Eastern European elegance that has not yet become a mainstay of backpacker’s itineraries. The city center is compact and filled with modern restaurants and various shops offering eclectic selections of well designed goods and all things uniquely Slovenian. The city has a hip style, where the classic and the modern seem to flow together in a way that made us think of it as the type of city all kinds of designer’s would enjoy living in. It’s size and style in many ways is what would be expected from the capitol of a small eastern european country. It has a simple elegance about it; mellow, small and lacking the hustle and bustle vibe that is so common in most large cities.
We have never been to Prague, but we imagine that Ljubljana does not share the same splendor and grandness nor its tourism boom, but this quiet beauty is what make the city so special. There are little treasures found here. There was an eintire store devoted to different kinds of salt and a pastry and ice cream shop called Zvedza, with a surprising selection of vegan ice creams and traditional varieties that are equally delicious. Just a few steps away from the city center is a large park the size of the city itself where we found residents jogging (video below), rollerblading and groups of people practicing yoga in the lush green peacefulness of the park. There is no doubt that the city has a lot to offer, and we had the sense that we would have discovered much more about it from a more extended stay, but we plan on returning to discover it more.
Our Night in a Prison Cell
The prices in the city seemed to be on the cheaper side for Europe and that alone should make it a city worth visiting these days. However, for a the same can not really be said for our hostel, which as far as they go was on the higher end, but we figured it was worth the extra cost seeing as it had appeared on many travel lists as one of the ‘ultimate places to stay’ because of idea that your room is a converted prison cell. But really Hostel Celica was just a hip hostel with the addition of cell doors on the room, and a ho-hum location within the city’s former army barracks. We can’t say that it felt like staying in a prison cell which would either be a pro or a con depending on the type of “experience” you were looking for. As far as hostels go it was very nice, but for the same price you could get a equally nice room with an attached bathroom probably somewhere closer to the city center.
It is hard to know what to expect from a city and country in general that most westerners have little reason to know anything about, but part of the wonder of being in a city like Ljubljana is that the entire visit can be a complete discovery. Unlike Paris where plenty of movies and abundant travel information are bound to make you familiar with its sights and overall vibe before you even get there, it is unlikely that you even know anyone who has been to Ljubljana and even more unlikely that you can pronounce its name. But shouldn’t that be all the more reason for going there? We found it a relief to be in a city that we had little expectations for. It is places like Ljubljana that feeds our curiosities about the seldom talked about corners of the globe. We are proud to say that we have been there and can now pronounce its name!
We left Ghisalba with a great experience, lots of burned mix CD’s and other gifts, and a snack pack from Franco and Mariella filled with fruit and meat sandwiches. The drive to lake Bled took us east toward venice where Megan tried her first squat toilet in the basement of an Autogrill (she enjoyed it very much). After passing Venice we headed north through lots of long tunnels with expensive tolls into Austria for only a few minutes before heading South into Slovenia and to Lake Bled. We arrived around midnight, looking for Megan’s parents to lead us into our cabin at the Pension Mayer. For only $150 per night, our family of 5 slept very comfortably in our newly refurbished 2 story villa. Our long drive caused us to miss the fabulous dinner earlier in the night that the Meyer’s had at the Pension Mayer’s restaurant.
Lake Bled: Where Fairy Tale Castles and Sunken Treasure Really exist!
More than any other place we have been (even our beloved **Neuschwanstein**) Lake Bled is truly a picture perfect fairy tale setting in every sense of the words! We spent the day walking the 3.75 miles around the lake (twice), taking a ridiculous amount of pictures, each one coming out more beautiful than the next and visiting various scenic lookouts. We rented a wooden row boat on the lake to row out the the picturesque island where we climbed the impressive staircase leading to a church. Later we stopped for a the delicious famous cream cake and lunch before scaling the mountainside up through the enchanted forest (if we have ever seen one) to the castle with the best sweeping broad view of the scenery. On the way back walking along the wooden path over the lake, Megan’s ‘strapped for cash’ sister Michelle, spotted some treasure sparkling in the water below. Immediately after spotting this wishing rock she promptly de-robbed and jumped in to collect the booty. Megan, of course followed suit and was in there grabbing coins left and right. They made out with about $10 in change of various currencies, but contend there was a wealth of more coins hidden beneath and if they had the luxury of goggles they would have made a killing. They each emerged about 3 1/2 Euros richer and dried off before we all went swinging and plunging into the water once again at the tree swing we had found earlier. Lake Bled has many stone steps going down into the refreshing cool water for swims. It is ideal to swim because there are no motorized boats and the water is clean. Before we retired to bed, we went out to eat at Okarina which we really enjoyed the food.
Lake Bled is in the Julian Alps in northern Slovenia. From one view it looks perfectly preserved with only a small section of the lake reserved for newer hotels and buildings. For the most part there were few tourists and we felt quite isolated walking around the lake and on the trails. We can’t really think of anything negative about this place. The fact that you can’t really fly directly into it is actually a plus, keeping it in a more remote location. We were sad to go, as we could have spent much more time here, but excited to get to the motherland.
*Click here to read Megan’s dad’s article in The Orange County Register.