Ljubljana
 

Throughout our time in Europe, we’ve been blessed with incredible weather - sunny skies throughout, with very few rainy days. Of course, there was no way that could last and our luck finally ran out on us in Ljubljana. On our bus from Croatia to Slovenia we got caught in a horrific downpour, coincidentally on the same day Hurricane Irma was bombarding my home state. The storm was so bad that our bus literally had to make a detour because the road we were on was too flooded - apparently a river overflowed somewhere near Zadar due to the unending deluge. Even after the detour the roads were still quite scary, and for at least half the ride we were staring out the window at the floods below us, wondering how the hell our bus wasn’t floating away and starting to think the whole Noah’s Ark thing might not be made up after all. 

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Luckily once we crossed the border into Slovenia the flooding ceased to be an issue, although the rain never stopped and we wound up paying for a cab from the bus station to our hostel to avoid getting soaked. After talking to our hostel owner, we learned that this kind of weather is par for the course this time of year in Slovenia, and finally had to accept the sad fact that summer is officially over. To be completely honest, I'm pleased to actually get some use out of the warmer clothes in my backpack - I’ve been lugging around a bunch of pants and leggings that I haven’t worn since we left Ireland, so it’s nice to know it’s not just dead weight. Plus now the cold temperatures on our Everest trek won’t be quite as shocking. Hopefully.

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I sort of wish we had planned to spend longer in Ljubljana. Although the city is relatively small, there’s a good amount to see. It’s also affordable, especially compared to Croatia, and it’s very easy to walk everywhere, which was great for us since we’re still trying to burn off all the weight we gained in Greece and Albania. Plus we kinda needed to get our bodies ready for our Nepal trek. If you’re not in fitness mode like us, though, the bus system is reliable and cheap. You just have to buy a reloadable card at any convenience store kiosk or bus stop, and each journey costs around 1.20 Euro. 

Ljubljana is just so cool - it’s really artsy and full of young people, and everyone regardless of age seems to be very well-dressed and hip - a bit like Berlin. Everyone rides bikes, there are vegan restaurants and thrift stores scattered around, and we saw countless bustling bars and cafes. Still, the whole city has an easygoing vibe, people are friendly and welcoming of tourists, and there’s no pretentiousness at all. It’s a fantastic atmosphere, and definitely one of our favorite capital cities. 

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No part of the city is cooler or more unique than Metelkova, an autonomous social collective (!) in the heart of town. During our one clear-weather day of city exploration, we found ourselves absolutely mesmerized by this area. Basically, Metelkova is the result of a whole bunch of squatters moving into this block of abandoned military barracks in the heart of the city. Over time more and more people moved in, and now it’s a haven for all things counterculture. There are bars, art galleries, live music, and more, but above all it’s still a residential area and the people who live here are still technically squatters, although now they use the proceeds from the businesses to pay their utility bills. It’s completely full of insanely cool street art, quirky art displays, and graffiti. It’s also very clear that Metekova is a popular spot for tourists, because there are signs everywhere saying things like “NO PHOTOS OF PEOPLE: THIS IS NOT A ZOO.” We went during the day, so it was pretty chill and there weren’t many people around, but the atmosphere was still totally electric and we loved the contrast between the chaos and color of Metelkova and the old-school European feel of the rest of the city. 

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Outside of Metelkova, Ljulbljana has plenty more to do and see. A particular highlight is the Ljubljanaski Grad, aka Ljubljana Castle, perched atop a hill in the heart of town. Getting up there is a bit of a hike, but it passes through a serene, tree-lined path. We were shocked to see that most of the leaves have already changed colors - yet another sign that fall is officially here. We didn’t actually go in the castle (#budgetlife) but you can wander the grounds and courtyard for free. From here you can also get some amazing view of the whole city with its classic Mediterranean-style orange tiled roofs, as well as the Julian Alps far off in the distance. 

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Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give a nod to Ljubljana’s food. Being a vibrant, youthful city, the culinary scene is just as diverse as you'd expect. As I said before, there are lots of cafes and trendy restaurants offering just about any cuisine you could want. In our three nights in Ljubljana, we had everything from Mexican to Japanese, and it was all delicious and not overly expensive. One of our favorite places was a small underground restaurant called Sarajevo ’84, which as you might guess is themed after the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. There’s Olympic memorabilia all over and the TVs play clips of the games. It was quirky. But the food. My god, the food. We ordered a sampler platter that came with Bosnian bread and a variety of sausages and meats, as well as some roasted veggies and - of course - lots of red wine. The bread was fluffy and warm, the sausages were perfectly cooked and intensely flavorful, and the assorted spreads and dips that came on the side were all mouthwatering. Neither of us had ever eaten Bosnian food before (though admittedly it’s similar to the rest of the region), but now we both kind of wish we had made a pitstop in the real Sarajevo. 

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Even when the weather wasn’t cooperating, we had no trouble finding stuff to do in Ljubljana. Union, one of the most popular breweries in Slovenia, is based here, and the brewery tour (€14, includes 2 drinks and a souvenir stein) turned out to be a great rainy-day activity. Unlike most brewery tours we’ve been on, this one takes you through the whole facility, not just the brewing area and museum but also the actual bottling plant and warehouse yard. Then again I am the kind of person who would geek out about that, because warehousing is what I used to do for work, so maybe don’t take my word for it. Whatever.

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One of our favorite experiences in Ljubljana actually occurred when we passed back through the city from one night on our way from Bled to Munich. We were heading home after dinner and as we passed one of the town squares we noticed a large projection screen and speakers set up. Curious, we investigated further and noticed a small crowd gathering in front of the screen as well as a few beer tents. At that point we realized the whole shebang was set up for the Eurobasket 2017 finals, with Slovenia and Serbia vying for the crown. It was amazing to watch Slovenia clinch victory (they won handily) in a crowd of locals. Despite the fact that it rained rather heavily for most of the match and we were outdoors, that didn’t dampen anyone’s team spirit: people were waving around flags, wearing jerseys and hats and scarves, pounding beer and cheering not only for the team but for the sportscasters, the ads, and just about everything else. After the game ended, we heard car honks and chanting and loud music just about all night. It was a really amazing thing to be a part of, especially for Alex as a huge basketball fan, and it definitely cemented our belief that Ljubljana is a truly special city. It is definitely one place we will be returning to the next time we’re in Europe, and we highly recommend it to anyone out there planning their own trip.