We arrived in Ljubljana last night with few expectations, figuring only that we would be hard pressed to find any open restaurants or stores today, which is Easter Sunday. But it turns out that Ljubljana has such a lively, gracious cafe culture that not even Easter Sunday prevents crowds of friends and family from gathering along the riverside walkways and cafes.
The part of Ljubljana that interests weekend visitors like us is the scenic Old Town, whose streets center on the banks of the Ljubljanica River. Like Old Towns across Europe, there is a lot of charm by way of cobblestones and brightly-colored Baroque buildings, but what sets Ljubljana’s Old Town apart is how well-maintained and “human scale” everything is. The green weeping willows that line the River and the city’s pedestrian bridges are uber-poetic. I’d love to return sometime soon.
Things to Do:
The Ljubljana Castle is a little disappointing as castles go, mostly because there doesn’t appear to be a lot of historical significance to the building. Instead, the Castle has been modernized so that you can have your wedding or private party there, or you can climb a modest clock tower for views of the city below and then watch a 30-minute computerized rendering of Ljubljana’s development and growth from around 500 AD to the present.
Jon and I laughed when we followed signs to a “gallery” and found ourselves gazing at 20 photos of construction workers putting together the funicular that connects the Castle to the Old Town below. In an attempt to find the gallery exit, we ended up in some little cave that housed a weird art installation. Lights with smurf-hat-shaped glass covers grew “up” out of the cave floor, as if they were stalagmites, and playing in the background was this creepy, echoey, New Age-sounding music. We high-tailed it out of there as fast we could. You just never know what you’re going to find at a castle, I guess.
Overall, the Castle’s worth a climb and a look because it’s so easy to reach from Old Town, and the Castle cafe is sleek and comfortable when you need a break. But if you don’t make it up the hill, it’s not a huge loss.
We tried to visit the Slovene Ethnographic Museum (because there’s a special exhibit taking place about China’s influence on Slovenia – curious, no?), but it was closed for Easter Sunday. The sleek cafe (yet another museum with a really nice cafe!) was open, though, and packed with guests. Again, no doubt about the strong the cafe culture here.
Although our trip to the Museum was a bust, we loved the walk there. We passed through some run-down-looking areas, and highlights were the “Boston Fried Chicken” and the “Red ‘N’ Hot Horse” restaurants. The latter actually specializes in horsemeat, and the former – well, who knew Boston was famous for its fried chicken?
Because most cafes were open today, Jon and I grabbed a riverside seat this afternoon at an inviting place called Corso. We read novels (Suite Francaise is stunning, by the way), nursed our blood-orange Oranginas, listened to passing oompah bands and accordion players, and basked in the sunshine while the world walked by. Very action packed day.
The one open shop that tempted us today was the salt boutique. Cooking has definitely risen in prestige when there’s a salt specialist sitting next to the Bang & Olufsen. The place is called Piranske Soline, and according to a 2007 New York Times article, Alain Ducasse and unnamed top chefs favor salt from this place. Although the store helper couldn’t explain the differences among the various salts for sale, we took it on faith (in Alain Ducasse?) that at these prices, the salt has got to be out of this world. So we will report back if our 15 euros’ worth of salt isn’t worth the money.
Where We Stayed:
Our hotel, the Antiq Hotel, sits on one of the Old Town’s charming cobblestoned streets and is within a 10-minute walk of most shops and restaurants. The room we have is enormous but still welcoming, and at 153 euros a night, including breakfast, it’s a great value. The hotel is a family-run business housed in what looks like a former townhouse, and the service is very friendly and helpful. My one complaint is that our shower was a little iffy when it came to consistent hot water, but overall, I would stay here again.
Eating in Ljubljana has also been great value. The food we’ve had is very similar to Italian food – lots of fresh pastas and pillowy-soft gnocchi, for example. The Eastern European/German influence shows in the popularity of stewed meats, and this blend of influences works fine.
Zlata Ribica (“The Golden Fish”), near the city’s famous Triple Bridge (photo at top of this post), is casual, friendly, and served great soups and good pastas. Jon’s roasted garlic soup was deliciously creamy and sweet. Sopping it up with bread was like eating the ultimate fondue. My beef broth with noodle soup was refreshing and packed with flavor, but it was no show-stopper when compared with the garlic soup. Jon’s tagliatelle was fresh and al dente, and my gnocchi was fluffy (though mixed with a slightly-tough pork stew), and we were happy as clams pairing everything with a decent, slightly-watery local cabernet sauvignon (2004 Vinakoper Capris). Total tab: 37 euros. Brilliant.
Paninoteka: For 2,80 euros each, we gorged ourselves on fresh arugula, prosciutto and cheese panini. We couldn’t have asked for a quicker, tastier lunch than the hot sandwiches from this small shop on the west side of the Cobbler’s Bridge.
Julija: Because it’s around the corner from our hotel, Jon and I walked by this restaurant half a dozen times today, and we were drawn to the menu (seafoods, pastas, risottos) and the decor (cheery, whimsical Baroque, like at Serendipity 3 in New York).
So when our friends, Colleen, Sarah, and Damon, arrived in Ljubljana this evening, Julija is where we headed to dinner. Our starters were good, especially the grilled eggplant-and-cheese (fresh ingredients hot and cheesy, where can you go wrong?). My risotto with clams was al dente and chock full of clams for a mere 9,50 euros. Spaghetti carbonara was unusually, but addictively, nutty and creamy (I feel like I ate most of Jon’s and Sarah’s orders), and the gnocchi eaters claimed much fluffiness was in effect. The white we ordered, a sauvignon blanc from a local vineyard, Kristancic, paired well with our meal, and we left full and happy campers with a bill that came to 15 euros a person.
Tomorrow, the five of us are driving down to Istria, where we hope some fun in the sun awaits!
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