Its got a great sounding name, Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. A totally beautiful South Eastern European city, which has become much more well known in recent years following the break up of the Balkan states, and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, may it rest in peace and in history books. On route to Maribor (north west Slovenia) in October 2008, I ended up spending two nights and a wee bit more in Ljubljana. I didn’t expect much from it before I went, having been slightly underaud by Prague and Vienna on previous visits. I thought Ljubljana might be more of the same. Rude people, tourist trap, over commercialised from its traditional roots and lacking atmosphere. It was the complete opposite. Ljubljana sounds like “Lubbly Jubbly” if you are a bit silly and in true Del Boy (from “Only Fools In Horses”) style I embarked upon it ready to see what it had to offer.
My first visit to Ljubljana lasted about 38 minutes, where our bus from Trieste, Italy left us at the central train station where we hung around before getting a train to Bled. Even in that time, we saw glimpses of its beauty. The traditional coloured buildings, the friendly people, the pretty girls, the general cleanliness. That day we headed to Bled and returned to Ljubljana finally the next day after less than an hours sleep, so the story of me in Ljubljana will start properly on that “second” time there…
Andrew Gilmore and his wife Trudy were driving myself and Graham Anderson to Ljubljana. This was a kind gesture and we still owe them a favour for it. They dropped us off somewhere in the city centre of Ljubljana. I have no idea where, but it was fairly central. We were both knackered and I had booked us into the Hostel Celica near the city centre. I had heard this was an ex-prison which had since become a hostel. I remembered my mate Lee Price (from Essex, who I met in Toronto) had stayed in a place like this in Ottawa, Canada. It was a nice idea and so I booked a room for 4 of us (John Hart and Nolers also joining us, but staying three nights there as they missed the Bled trip). Graham was knackered more than me, and we both needed sleep. I was in awe of the beautiful city, but soon had walked past the main square asking directions to our hostel, finding it quite easily and then checking in. The next memory was a nice pillow and a sleep. The room was small, cosy and clean. The sleep was needed. When we both woke up, mid afternoon, we finally got round to seeing Ljubljana for real and to see if it was really “Lubbly Jubbly”
IT was quiet and tranquil and very very different to the streets I was used to in Bangor, Belfast and Bournemouth. Even the city centre didn’t seem all that busy. They use the Euro now in Slovenia, and surprisingly we found it hard to find a really cheap dinner. We finally crossed the area of the “three bridges”, near the main square at Presernov Trg. The large pink church is a beautiful building and stands proud in front of the river. The Church is the Franciscan Church and just across the river, we walked a few streets before finding a nice quiet restaurant. It was just me and Graham looking for food and drink. This time it wasn’t alcohol. Too much carnage had been had already and we opted sensibly for orange juice, coffee and pasta. We found the Zlata Rubica and thats where we had dinner. On a quiet table at the back, dressed in normal clothes. We didn’t want to appear Northern Ireland football fans for once. For that night and at that time, we were just two travellers or visitors to Ljubljana.
The menu wasn’t in English, but we both understood it and chose a pasta dish anyway. It was nice. A really peaceful and needed meal break. That was on the south east side of the river on a street called Cankarjevo Nabrezje. After this a leisurely stroll took Graham and I riverside again where we blended into an obvious local population. In the background distant Northern Irish drummers could be heard where a minor sea of green, white and blue cast Ulsterisms on the Ljubljana locals. They welcomed it and enjoyed the ambiance and passion of my fellow countrymen. For one night only, Graham and I didn’t join the Northern Ireland fans, instead doing our own thing by having a quiet relaxed beer and mature chat by the Ljublijanica River (original name or what?). There we sat right by the river’s edge going through many subjects in life. I even found time to flirt (in English) with some very pretty Slovenian ladies. I feel they respected my honesty and genuine interest in their lives, even if they didn’t understand me, or my appararent madness. Soon Graham and I were tired again. We’re old men…
That was the cue to go home or back to the hostel, located close by. Outside the hostel, lots of local youths hung out with their carryouts and cigarettes. They were surprisingly friendly and unobtrusive. I felt comfortable and would even have joined them, had i not been so knackered with so little sleep the previous few nights. However once back at the hostel, we had another sit down and chat in the nice comfy hostel bar, where ye need te take yer shoes off to go in. I had some tequila/beer mix in there and that soon sent me upstairs and to sleep, where I could dream again…
I usually take advantage of FREE breakfasts in hostels and hotels and the Hostel Celica did this from 7 am to 11 am, so Graham and I were up early and headed down around 7.39 am. I had about 4 cups of tea, 4 glasses of orange juice, a bowl of cereal and some of the lovely bread with cheese and ham. It was all included in the price, I even came back for more and took a yoghurt away with me. It’s important to take advantage of these types of offers in life to save money. So many people don’t bother. I have been guilty of this a few times myself, all down to over use of alcohol the nights before. I’m so glad I’ve kicked that bug. Somehow I cannot see myself ever doing that again!
After breakfast the plan was a bit of sightseeing on the cheap, basically walking around the city for free, going up to the Castle and taking some nice photos. I also wanted to send a postcard to my brother, as I always do. We found the local post office very easily and in there I was amused by a yellow sign with black writing saying NI VSTOPA (or something similar), it was a picture of a man having sex with a woman from behind “doggy style” as some say. I found it funny that it said “NI”, the initials of Northern Ireland. Of course I don’t get a lot of sex anyway, and it’s normally quite irregular and spontaneous anyway, but it was amusing and made my photo album, and Grahams…then the pink church by day was the scene of more photos, this time we met up with the Far East NISC (Neil Burnett) and a random Slovenian guy dressed as a green dinosaur for more photos of our SOENISC supporters club fleg.
After this we crossed the bridges and wanted to head up to the castle. Unfortunately it was very very foggy that day and you couldn’t even see the castle, plus the view from the top would have been wick, so we didn’t bother. Instead we toured the wonderful street market, where music was played and I tried free cheese and wine. There was a lot of typical Eastern European food and drink there, and the atmosphere was so relaxed and friendly. Onto another backstreet up towards the Castle we found the Town Hall. By now it was around 10.30 am ish and we heard the beautiful Church Bells ringing (see video below) as we dandered quietly on a Saturday morning up the paved streets. There was another square there, with a minor fountain and further down an old church which I enjoyed photographing. The colours of the buildings were beautiful. It was lubbly jubbly, it was breathtaking, quite the romantic location for a nice girlfriend, I thought. We met Phil Hernberg traipsing through the streets there. A great man is Phil and I’ve met him on 3 Norn Iron away trips, this time he directed us to the wonderful Sokol Bar as we wanted to sample some of the proper local beer.
Within minutes we had just tried what Graham described as “Nectar!” it was beautiful. Possibly the nicest ever beer I’ve had, it came in a glass bottle which was made inside the bar called Sokol. The beer was called Sokol and we sat down beside some nice Austrian guys who shared in our awe at the beer quality. We savoured that beer in the bar, it was gorgeous, it didn’t come cheap though, around 4 Euros if I recall, so naturally we just stayed for the one. The bar was nicely decorated but was also dark. Graham and I looked a bit weary in there, and it was a Northern Ireland match day. After leaving there we posed for photos with our club fleg at various points and again walked through the lovely river side market.
Once there I spotted a lovely green and white scarf and it was souvenir hunting time. I bought some fridge magnets, and the excellent green and white scarf, which was 7 Euros. It was from a local Slovenian team called The Green Dragons, they were formed in 1988. So I bought it and put it on instantly. It surprised me that it was written in English, and a coincidence that they wore green and white. That would be my random scarf for the day, as I didn’t actually bring a Norn Iron scarf with me that trip.
That was that for a while then, as I met up with all the other Northern Ireland lads and lasses as we boarded a “party bus” all the way to Maribor for the match, which we lost 2-0. I’ll recount my time in Maribor elsewhere on a separate post, as this is all about Ljubljana. Then as the dreary eyed and Kibby-inspired (Kibby – a member of the Hillsborough NISC) party bus arrived back in a dark, misty Ljubljana, Graham and I contemplated another night out. But then we didn’t. We realised our long trips were taking their toll (Norn Iron away football trips, which I have now retired from) and it was indeed time for bed yet again, as we would enjoy the final morning just to experience the delights of Ljubljana once again.
It was a Sunday morning, and the plan was another walk through the city centre, including a trip to the castle, right to the top, where a fantastic view of the city could be had. Or at least we had expected it. A last dander by the slow unmoving river saw us glimpse at a sky which offered only mist, fog and emptiness. We looked beyond the river and couldn’t even see the castle! However we still wanted to go up to the top, just Graham and I. And that we did, strolling slowly up a remote side street which led us on a winding path sideways and longways up to the top. It wasn’t a hard walk, in fact quite amusing and relaxing as we stopped for the odd sip of water before disapearing into certain Slovenian mist. In fact if I had died there and then, I’d have been quite happy. At ease with the world.
We soon reached the summit and there it was, Ljubljana nowhere in sight. The mist had truly covered everything from our wanting cameras. There was nothing to see, except the remains of the nice castle, some fellow tourists and mist so deep, gorillas could easily have hid there. I posed for photos by the Castle walls in my Norn Iron fleg and the world seemed to stop and let me in for a moment. It was as relaxing as your Sunday in 2008 could get.
As we walked back down (avoiding again, the lift, which came at a cost), we said our farewells to the far side of the river and dandered slowly back to the hostel to check out. We had of course already took full advantage of the breakfast at Hostel Celica and were packed and ready to leave. There was a bit of trouble getting our 20 Euro deposit back on the room, as they said we didn’t hand in all keys, yet we had done…
That’s where the dream ended for me in Ljubljana, and as I look back on beautiful eastern european cities such as this one, it hungers me more and more to leave this disjointed mess of Bournemouth Dorset, for pastures greener, new experiences and new times in places far afield. I’ll probably dwell on moments like this forever. I didn’t leave any of my heart in Ljubljana, like I have done in Berlin and Taupo before, but I’ll not forget its beauty in a hurry. My bus rode out of town that day on route to Trieste airport and the mellow sound of “Falling Down” by Oasis sentimented my ears away from the joys of obscure former Yugoslavian countryside.
Where I Stayed – Hostel Celica, Metelkova 8, Ljubljana.
Who Went – Jonny Blair, Graham Anderson, Nial Coulter (Nolers), John Hart and over a thousand other Northern Ireland fans.
When Was It? – October 2008.
Strange Currencies – The Euro!
Key Song – Oasis – Falling Down
Night Time at Ljubljana Square:
Inside the wonderful Sokol Bar:
Church Bells at Ljubljana Town Hall: