“What music do you like?” If I could pick one question that I never want to be asked it would be this one. It is a loaded question. Do you answer truthfully or pluck an answer from thin air that you think will appease the person asking you? I usually do the latter. Hard when the person asking you is a Slovenian taxi driver you first spoke to less than five minutes ago. Wondering whether I lost my backbone on the flight from Stansted to Ljubljana I plucked an answer from my pretty standard repertoire of smalltalk nonetheless, “erm anything, probably dance if I had to pick one thing.” To which the driver reached over into a bag on his passenger seat. Great he’s got a gun and he’s going to kill me because I answered the world’s worst question wrong. Wrong. He pulled out an iPad. Why does a taxi driver need an iPad at work? Surely he should be concentrating on the road. Naturally British politeness meant this question was never spoken aloud. We’d rather die a horrific death than offend someone, it’s in our DNA. Before I knew it, a classical cover of an Avicii song was playing in the cab and the subtle glances in the rear view mirror from the driver were, I’m pretty certain, intended to gauge my reaction rather than to see what the traffic behind us was doing. If this was to set the tone for three weeks of interrailing it was going to be an interesting experience to say the least, and I hadn’t set foot on a train yet.
As we arrived at the accommodation in Ljubljana the driver turned to me, “tell people you know Two Cellos and you are the main one.” It turns out that the classical covers were not the driver’s weekend project but actually a musical act from Slovenia named Two Cellos. I wonder what instruments they play… Apparently they are kind of a big deal (and I assume they have bookcases full of leather bound books). Lesson one of the trip was learned on the cab journey, and I am not talking about the musical interlude, I should have booked a transfer from the airport in advance. The cab was expensive. However a good thing about taxi travel in Slovenia, at least with the firm I used was that pricing is connected to a central system so the taxi drivers cannot take you for a ride while, erm, taking you for a ride. The driver was tipped, thanked and thrust a business card into my hand, “for when you fly home.” That British politeness reared its head again, rather than telling the driver I was flying home from Amsterdam in three weeks time I just nodded along. I still have the business card in my wallet however for the next time I’m in Ljubljana on the off chance.
Checked in and not unpacked (what’s the point when you’re moving on every three days), it was late afternoon and time to have a quick recce of Ljubljana itself, which was only a five minute stroll away. The city announced itself to me with one of its major landmarks first, the triple bridge. A great spot for a photograph, as a fellow tourist agreed, standing on my toes trying to get her own snap in exactly the same spot I was occupying. She turned to me and I was expecting a telling off of some kind even though I was in the right, for the record. Instead she offered to take a picture of me. So I handed over my brand new phone, which of course I hadn’t bought a case for or insured, I’ve never broken a phone in my life and I didn’t intend to start with this one. Apologies for that tangent, back to the story. Before handing over my new phone I had already decided that if the retirement aged woman decided to do a runner with it I could catch and disarm her easily. I’ll give her her due, she wanted to make sure she got the perfect shot capturing me and the background in unison, we basically had an impromptu photoshoot (an example of said photoshoot can be found above) and she went into full David Bailey mode imploring me to “look away, it will make a great picture.” I’ve never been a fan of the back of the head in front of a nice scenery shot, I’m going too grey to do it justice so warily I half turned away. As I did so my peripheral vision caught the sight of an iPhone falling through the air. It looked just like the brand new iPhone I had bought before my interrailing trip. Oh. It was my iPhone. That tangent makes sense now doesn’t it… Somehow in the slow motion melee that followed the elderly woman morphed into the second coming of Peter Schmeichel and plucked my phone out of the air. There is a photograph of me during this moment sitting on my laptop. It will never see the light of day, sorry!
With that hair raising moment behind me it was time to have a beer. Just to settle the nerves you understand, and it was also dinner time. As is the case in many major cities, restaurants hunt in packs, generally alongside water. I was already on one of the three bridges that straddle the Ljubljanica so I didn’t have far to go to find sustenance. Dinner is important and I didn’t want to walk into the first restaurant I stumbled across, so I made my way up and down the riverside perusing the options and dodging menus being thrust at me by door staff. Seriously, why do businesses think it is a good idea to try and browbeat you into their establishment while you walk past it? After much deliberation I finally opted for the first restaurant I’d stumbled across. But the extra walking I’d done surely meant I could have more beer and dessert too…
Can I remember the name of the restaurant I ate in? Of course not. However, it didn’t rock my world truth be told. I had a “Ljubljana Steak,” a breaded pork steak stuffed with ham and cheese. A local delicacy I thought. Until I saw the same thing advertised in various other cities on the interrailing trip advertised as the “Insert City Name Steak.” It was reasonable enough and ticked the boxes nonetheless. My naivety in picking something with Ljubljana in the title in an attempt to embrace the local culture stretched to dessert, however the “Gibanica” I had was most certainly a Slovenian creation and I most certainly didn’t like it. I promised you honesty here. Rather than fudge my way through explaining the intricacies of the Gibanica like a nervous Great British Bake Off contestant looking for a Hollywood handshake, I will pop an ever reliable Wikipedia link here so you can read all about Gibanica yourself. All I can tell you is that it was incredibly dry. But some people like that.
Something that wasn’t dry was the beer. One of the most exciting parts of interrailing for me was getting to try beers from around Europe. This is something I will go into more detail on in a separate post but some of my favourite tipples of the entire trip came while I was in Slovenia. Lasko and Lasko Golding seemed to be the prevalent beers of choice within Ljubljana, despite the city housing the Union brewery (which I wish I had known offered tours while I was in town). Now I’m not a beer connoisseur so I can’t talk too much about base notes, after taste and hops etc. but I found Slovenian beers to be light and refreshing. Plus a glass emblazoned with the Lasko logo is infinitely more Instagramable than a Fosters pint glass! Beers imbibed and stomach full it was time to get a good night of sleep ready to spend day two venturing to Lake Bled, which I will cover in a separate post. This entire paragraph has turned into me talking about things I will cover in other posts. Let’s call it foreshadowing and not a waste of time though eh?
The majority of the second day of the trip was spent at Lake Bled. On returning to Ljubljana there were two items on the agenda. Food and watching the Champions League semi-final. As a Gavin and Stacey fan I was always going to be enticed by a restaurant called Carpricio’s, but I didn’t have the gnocchi in homage to Uncle Bryn. I find when travelling it is as important to relax and do what you want to as it is to tick off boxes on the tourist card. I’d spent the daytime at Bled seeing the beautiful sights so the evening was mine to eat a Pizza (which was really good) and watch the football. Fany and Mary was the busiest bar, possibly due to the name, so it was the natural location to watch Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0. The place erupted when Liverpool scored the winning goal. I’m not a Liverpool fan so I was ambivalent but I could appreciate the feat they had achieved. I was expecting a similar mass reaction when Spurs scored their late winner to beat Ajax in the same bar the following evening. I am a Spurs fan, so I went crazy. Apparently though I was the only one in Ljubljana that evening as I jumped out of my seat, I drew the eyes and ire of all the other patrons.
Ljubljana Castle was on the agenda for the final day in Slovenia. Having done a lot of walking the previous day at Bled it made sense to ride the funicular to the castle. I mean it has fun in the name so you know it must be good right? As we left the ground I felt like Charlie in the great glass elevator (why was that book never made into a film?). Before long I was exploring the castle and heading to the highest tower to get a panoramic view across the rooftops of the city and further afield, not to mention those pictures of me for the gram. Which incidentally were ruined because my T-shirt was too small for me. I’m man enough to admit that now. It doesn’t make you look more muscly, it makes you look like a pleb. It took a morning to see all there was to see at the castle, culminating in an interesting museum documenting the history of the country and how it gained independence from Yugoslavia.
The day was punctuated with a stop for lunch at Cafe Romeo, set in a basement along the banks of the Ljubljanica I had walked past on my first day in the city noticing people eating crepes and drinking cocktails at around shin height. So I had to investigate for myself. Hawaiian Nachos and a Strawberry Daiquiri was the order of the day. The pineapple on pizza argument is so last decade, we now need to wonder whether pineapple works with tortilla crisps, cheese and chicken. In my opinion it does. Sue me. This was followed up by a Nutella crepe, other hazelnut and chocolate spreads are available apparently. Now the pieces of the jigsaw are starting to fall into place with regard to my T-shirt being too small.
Sartorial issues aside, how would you finish your trip to Slovenia’s capital? Not by gatecrashing a seminar on CPR in the local park I bet. That’s what I did. The last stopping point in the city for me was Tivoli Park, where it turned out I had to walk through the aforementioned CPR seminar to reach the main park itself. If looks could kill. At least there would be someone around who could revive me. You won’t be surprised to find out that I didn’t spend too long in Tivoli Park. I had to pack my bag anyway as I had an early train to catch the following morning…
Slovenia was an incredible starting point for the three weeks of interrailing. Ljubljana is a stunning, yet compact city while there is plenty of natural beauty around in easily commutable distances. It is the kind of place I could go back to again and again without growing tired of it and I feel there is plenty more exploring within the country that I could do. This post will not be the last mention of Slovenia on the blog. As previously mentioned I want to dedicate an entire post to Lake Bled which is probably for the best before this post turns into War and Peace 2: Electric Boogaloo. I have also now shared my knowledge of Two Cellos online, so in the words of my taxi driver, I am the main one.