We’ve been here in Slovenia for over two weeks now, and we could not be happier with our choice to make this the first stop on our big round-the-world trip! In the past week we have been busy going on side trips to some amazing places, and I can’t wait to share them here on the blog. But first I have to sing the praises of the lovely little city we’ve been living in: Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital and its largest city, though with a population of around 280,000 people it’s definitely on the smaller side. Even so, we haven’t gotten bored of it yet or run out of interesting things to do.
One of our goals on this trip (not just to Slovenia but the whole big round-the-world trip) is to travel slowly and live more like locals than tourists. Honestly, it’s a necessity because we know ourselves well enough to know that being a tourist 24/7 is not sustainable for the length of time that we are hoping to travel. Our routine in Ljubljana looks something like this:
We wake up (much later than we used to back at home…we have developed night owl tendencies since leaving our jobs), have breakfast and get ready for the day. Then we work a little or clean/do laundry etc. Depending on our plans, we either eat lunch at home or go out for lunch. In the afternoons we typically do some type of activity whether it’s going to a museum, riding our bikes, or just strolling around the Old Town. Then we eat dinner (sometimes out, sometimes at home) and spend the evening and night “working.” Right now working means a lot of different things for us. Matthew has several software projects he’s working on. My work time consists of journaling, taking an online photography course, blogging, learning Italian on Duolingo, and researching/booking things for our upcoming travels.
As you can see, we have really only spent a few hours per day being tourists, and we’re very happy with that pace. All that being said, though, here are some of the things we’ve gotten up to on our afternoons out in Ljubljana:
1. Walking around. A lot.
From what I understand, Ljubljana has a pretty comprehensive bus system, but we have yet to use it. This city is just so very walkable! There are sidewalks everywhere, and it’s mostly flat so walking is easy. Almost everywhere we have wanted to go is within a 20-25 minute walk of our apartment. It’s amazing how our perspectives have changed. It feels totally normal to walk 25 minutes to dinner, when that’s something we probably never would have considered doing in Nashville.
Sometimes we have a place to go and other times we just feel like strolling. And there’s always something interesting to see, whether its an a cappella group singing on a street corner, a man making bubbles in the town square to entertain passing children, or a guy raising money for charity by allowing people to pay to throw water balloons at him.
2. Bike riding.
Our Airbnb rental came with two bikes. At first I was intimidated to use them because I’ve never biked in a city before. I shouldn’t have been. Biking is a really common way to get around here, and Ljubljana makes it so easy for you. There are bike lanes almost everywhere, and both pedestrians and cars are used to keeping an eye out for bikers. (As pedestrians we had to get used to sharing the sidewalk with bikers. We nearly got mowed down a few times in the beginning.)
Now that we’ve learned how easy it is, we use biking about 50% of the time to get around. Sometimes we head to Tivoli Park, Ljubljana’s giant green space, to go for a ride on the trails.
Ljubljana does not leave you wanting for cultural activities. There are at least 20 museums in the area. Not wanting to get museum-ed out, we narrowed it down to a few that sounded the most appealing to us.
Our favorite museum was probably the Ethnographic Museum. We enjoyed the main permanent exhibit called Between Nature and Culture. It uses the objects that humans create to tell the story of the development of Slovenian society. You see objects used to cultivate food and objects for more sophisticated trades that developed over the years, including bee keeping, blacksmithing, and watch making. You see objects created out of necessity and objects created for artistic or spiritual purposes. Unfortunately, most of the signs in that section of the museum are only in Slovenian, so we weren’t able to learn as much as I would have liked. However, it was still interesting to see the various artifacts and trace how Slovenian society has evolved.
We also enjoyed the Slovenian Museum of Contemporary History. It explains the history of Slovenia beginning with World War I, and thankfully, the info signs were in both Slovenian and English. It was amazing to think about how many political and economic transitions this country has been through in such a relatively short period of time. Slovenia has been a part of at least 10 different nations since 1800, and a person born in 1913 lived under the rule of two emperors, four kings, and four presidents!
We have been to two art museums, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art is fairly small and contains Slovenian art from the 20th century. Modern art is more Matthew’s thing than mine, but even I found some pieces that I enjoyed.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is a quirky museum full of recent art installations. A lot of it was a little “out there” for me, but there were a couple of works that I found very interesting. My favorite was a series of painted maps that were created through interviews with migrants at an asylum center in Serbia. The maps detail the refugees’ paths to get to Europe. Each one was different and so interesting to read.
4. Eating a lot of amazing food.
As travelers, Matthew and I are all about the food, and we are taking full advantage of Ljubljana’s diverse food scene. We are trying to limit ourselves to eating out no more than once per day, and Ljubljana has plenty of affordable options to help us keep to our budget. In Slovenia, lunch is typically the biggest meal of the day, and one of my favorite things about the food culture is the prevalence of “set lunches” where you get a multi-course meal for a fixed price. All over town you can find restaurants serving three-course lunches for only 9 or 10 euro. (That’s just $10-11!) Ljubljana has a nice variety of cuisines as well. In addition to Slovenian food, we have had pizza, Thai, Indian, and Mediterranean food, among other things. We’ve had so much amazing food, that I’m planning on doing a whole post about it so be on the lookout for that.
5. Drinking coffee.
Coffee is really important for both of us but especially Matthew. For him it’s not just a beverage. It’s more like a hobby. He enjoys learning about and trying different brewing methods. And of course we both enjoy drinking good coffee. We make our own coffee at home every morning with our aeropress, but we have also enjoyed trying out various cafés around town every once in a while. Our favorite coffee shop is Café Cokl. They offer coffee made every way you could think of (espresso, aeropress, chemex, pour over…). We also buy our whole beans there for making coffee at home.
6. Going on a Ljubljana Graffiti Tour.
One day we decided to join a free graffiti tour that’s offered daily in Ljubljana. It was so interesting! We learned a lot about graffiti and street art in general, as well as about the street art culture in Ljubljana. We loved hearing the political stories behind a lot of the graffiti around the city. For instance, graffiti depicting barbed wire fences appeared all over town one day after the Slovenian government started putting up fences on the border with Croatia to keep refugees out. This graffiti was a way of protesting the fences. Interestingly, the fence graffiti was censored by the government in many of the central parts of town. (It was cleaned off of graffiti-covered walls, while all the other graffiti was left uncleaned.)
Street art is such a big thing here in Ljubljana that it’s even used for advertising! The piece below was commissioned by a mobile phone company:
7. Checking out the Ljubljana Castle. The castle is Ljubljana’s main attraction, and it stands on Castle Hill right in the center of town.
There’s a funicular that you can ride to get to the top of the hill. It’s free to walk around the castle grounds, but you have to buy a ticket if you want to go into the exhibits or climb the watchtower. One of the exhibits is the Museum of Puppetry, which sounded strange to us but turned out to be a really fun, interactive little museum. Ever tried using marionettes? It’s harder than it looks.
For me, the definite highlight was climbing the watchtower to get a view over all of Ljubljana. Warning: It’s a lot of stairs, but it’s totally worth it.
We just can’t say enough about how much we adore this little city! I never thought I could have anything but positive feelings about going to Italy, but I have to say, I feel pretty sad about moving on from this place. (We head to Italy on June 3.) In happier news, my family arrives tomorrow, and we can’t wait to show them around!
Expect to hear more from me about Ljubljana and Slovenia, as well as our unexpected side trip to Croatia, very soon!