Monday, May 26, 2014

A Rainy Day in Ljubljana -- Where?

The Ljubljanica River running through Ljubljana, Slovenia
I hear you. Ljubljana? Is that even a word? What's with those Js? you ask. Now, don't starting whining about not being able to pronounce it. It's pronounced just like it looks--as long as you know the Js are pronounced like Ys. But just between you, me and the fence post, I've never been quite sure I was pronouncing the name of Slovenia's capital correctly. I mean, how often do you get the chance? Before our trip there a few weeks ago, I'd never done more than drive (nowhere) near it on the interstate toward Croatia.

It's not cheap to drive to Ljubljana from Munich. First, you have to drive through Austria, which requires what the Germans call a Vignette (a cool false friend that doesn't mean they have to perform a short scene), which actually means the road tax sticker you put on your windshield (around 8 euros for 10 days). Then you'll also need to do the same for Slovenia. It adds up. The shortest period you'll get for Slovenia is a week. It'll run you around 15 euros. Petrol is fairly cheap in Austria compared to Germany, but of course driving anywhere these days digs into your travel budget.

Ljubljana isn't exactly a stone's throw from Graz, the capital of the Steiermark in Austria, where we're staying. It takes almost two hours to reach Ljubljana, but I think this is mainly owing to Andreas the Lightning Bug Taxidermist's need to see the lush green Slovenian countryside.

"Why don't we try to find those famous Slovenian caves?" I ask. We're already seven pop songs away from the interstate, careening along lonely country roads somewhere in western Slovenia. "I'm about done with lush."

"Caves?" says Andreas the Lightning Bug Taxidermist.

"You've never heard of them, have you?"

"Of course I have." He's lying.

"They're famous." I pout. "I sure do like famous things. Seeing them and such." But then the new Shakira song comes on the radio and I forget all about the famous caves. Eight pop songs off the interstate now. Jamming.

With the scenic route thoroughly checked off our list of things to do in Slovenia, we finally arrive in Ljubljana. The first thing I see when I get out of the car? Graffiti touting a band, I hope, called Star Trek Pussy. Um.OK. Right. Despite the ever-present street art and what appears to be more vandalism than art, Ljubljana has a reputation for being one of the safest cities in the world. Bike theft is pretty much their only worry.

A few random drops of rain dapple our shoulders as we wander aimlessly down to the river. Our umbrellas are in the car and I'm dressed a bit too lightly for this crisp, cool day.

As you might expect, I know nothing about the town upon arrival--every corner a potential discovery, a WOW! moment, a find. Like many European cities--or any big city in the world for that matter--Ljubljana doesn't stand out until you reach the old town. Outside these centers, European cities tend to be uniform mazes of five-storey buildings, shops on the lowest floor and apartments above. The town's character is really at its heart, usually down by a river.

The center of Ljubljana is stunning in a quaint-yet-cool way. Just from a brief stroll, you can tell this place is populated by a young arty crowd. And there's no better place to see this than along the banks of the Ljubljanica River. Oh wait. You might like the view better from the castle, accessible on foot from the alleys in the old town. Just keep walking up. And up. You can also drive to the castle, but walking is so much better for your butt.

As we start the steep climb to the castle, Andreas the Lightning Bug Taxidermist gets pissy. He wants me to carry him, I think, so I walk faster. Halfway to the top, the dappling drops of previous shoulder fame have begun to dapple much faster. If we don't hurry, we'll be soaked--a serious danger since I'm primarily made of sugar. 84%.

We make it into the castle just as the heavens open. Lazy tourists with noticeably out-of-shape butts are running for their cars. Backpackers huddle together under eaves. Cameras are getting wet. It's pandemonium (lower case p).

I shake myself off like a Cocker Spaniel and look around. "It's a museum," I say, horrified. We're stuck in a museum. Trapped.

"What shall we do?" Andreas the Lightning Bug Taxidermist looks just as horrified as I do, but he's wetter.

"I'm going to take pictures of free stuff," I say and amble off to do just that.

Apparently once the dungeon for VIPs.

We found refuge under the castle.
A map of the castle. We were somewhere under 5. I think.
Ljubljana from the Castle. Rainy day in Slovenia.

The Funicular back down for 2 euros a person

Some fun facts about Ljubljana in case you're ever on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire:

1. The city hosts over 10,000 cultural events each year. EACH YEAR. Do they have time to do anything else?
2. The city has had several names, including Laibach, Laybach and Lubiana--the latter under fascist Italy.
3. The city has been destroyed several times by earthquakes, the worst in 1895. The 6.1 quake leveled 10% of the buildings in the city.
4. One of its many twin cities is Cleveland Ohio.

I must be off,

Have you started writing your entry for the Second Annual I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest? Check out the guidelines HERE.


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, PANK, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.