In the summer of 2012, I toured Europe for 10 weeks, starting in eastern Europe. My 2 ½ hour train ride from Zagreb, Croatia to Ljubljana (pronounced “Lublana”), Slovenia, revealed a lush green countryside and blue rivers in the June sunlight.
The Hotel Center was indeed in the city center – an inexpensive, clean two-star with a private bathroom. At the high end, large shopping districts and numerous banks told the story of a surprisingly prosperous eastern European city located in what used to be Yugoslavian territory.
An abundance of young people filled the crowded sidewalks and dined and drank in the many cafes and restaurants. Prices were much lower than in cities to the west and north. The equivalent of two dollars bought a decent glass of wine.
The most appealing feature of the city is the Ljubljanica River, adorned with numerous shops and cafes in hundred-year-old buildings on both sides. Aside from the ancient architecture, it reminds me of the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas. Sitting at one of the outdoor tables and sipping a glass of wine as it provided me with excellent people watching, as well as a pleasant ambiance.
When I arrived in Ljubljana, I was tired and tense from having toured four cities in eastern and central Europe in the previous 10 days. Balancing activities and relaxation was easy in the relaxed atmosphere of Ljubljana. On the first afternoon, I walked around the city to get my bearings and a taste of what the city offered, as is my habit.
Most of the locals spoke English and were very friendly and curious about Americans. The streets and sidewalks were clean and inviting. Even the public restrooms were clean. On my initial walk I found Tivoli Park, a huge open space with plenty of walking trails and flora. There were also many smaller parks decked out in summer flowers and lush surroundings.
The main event of Ljubljana is the summer art festival, which features visual and performing artists from all over the world. The first festival was in 1893, and it has flourished every year since, even during the war years. Much of it is free of charge. It attracts tourists from all over Europe and gives the city a festive atmosphere, especially at night around the main square by the river. As I walked through the neighborhoods I often heard music from musicians practicing in their apartments.
My people watching by the river included the sighting of two young boys playing with a ball. Children are pretty much the same all over the world. It is when they grow up that differences develop.
I splurged on dinner at a fancy restaurant in a hotel. My salad of spring greens and duck breast was fresh and tasty. My fresh, local sea bass sautéed in olive oil with asparagus was delicious, as was the local red wine. The creme brulee with lavender ice cream was scrumptious. The top was soft, opposed to the crisp top in the French version.
Before dinner the next evening, I sat at an outside cafe table and sipped white wine across from a toy store. The owners, a young couple, played with their two boys, 11 months apart, in front of their store.
Most people in Ljubljana ride bicycles, but the era of the automobile is fast approaching. Now, as one man put it, the only danger in the city is getting run over by a bicyclist.
Whether you are a baby boomer, a senior or a traveler of any age, if you love art and music, as well as a relaxed city full of color and don’t like crowds of tourists, I highly recommend Ljubljana. It is one of three cities I visited during my 10-week trip to Europe that I would return to.