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Off the European Peace Walk: Days 18, 19, 20 & 21 in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge

Note: My adherence to the itinerary of the European Peace Walk went off the rails on Day 13.  Any information after this day loosely follows the EPW guide. Ljubljana is a destination on the EPW.

After a 90-minute bus ride from Zagreb, Croatia, Senja and I arrive in Ljubljana, Slovenia (pronounced loo-bee-ah-na). Disembarking, Senja informs me that our hostel is three kilometers away which causes me to whine like a child. How quickly I have become a lazy bum! Where has my walking ambition gone?  She smiles kindly at me. And walks. I stop whining. And follow.

We pass gorgeous neoclassical buildings and hundreds of teenagers – school has just let out – until we arrive at Ljubljana’s famous Dragon Bridge which is flanked by dragons on all sides with Ljubljana’s Castle high above as a backdrop.  It seems I have been deposited into a fairytale.

The bridge crosses over the olive-green Ljubljanica River, which flows torpidly through the city center. Beside the river, we stroll the promenade which is lined forever with outdoor cafes and restaurants, each a scene from a painting.  It seems impossible that so many people could have the time to enjoy lunch on a Friday.  Does anyone work in Ljubljana?I think to myself.  Maybe, as with most Europeans, they do work, but they are much better than American’s at savoring life’s joys, such as eating a lovely meal with lovely company beside a lovely river on a lovely summer day.

Locks on Bridge

Love locks on the Butcher’s Bridge in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Later in the afternoon the group reunites after four days apart. Several of us went our own way after becoming dissatisfied with the walk.  Upon seeing each other again, we hug like old friends. Struggle always creates strong bonds.  We are quite the motley crew but we share this experience.

We enjoy dinner together on the river promenade.  A young and heavily-made-up waitress takes our orders over the course of an hour.  Her false eyelashes bat in frustration because we can not all order at once.  We are too busy exchanging stories and catching up like old schoolmates reuniting after summer break.

I don my sweater as the temperature drops and relish my mushroom risotto while a torrential rainstorm begins.  It’s a long walk back to the hostel, dodging between raindrops.  The locals say it never rains this time of year, a story I hear everywhere I go.  The weather is changing and unpredictable.

The next day, Senja, Mike, John, and Gerry set out early in the morning for their day’s hike.  The rest of the group continues to go their own way but we all agree to meet in Trieste, the finish point of the European Peace Walk, in five days.

I stay behind to enjoy Ljubljana.  Enjoying means early morning walks, coffee on outside terraces, daytime naps to recover sleep lost in an eight-bed hostel room, listening to a cacophony of church bells, a ride on a funicular to Ljubljana’s castle, touring the castle grounds (including the torture museum), eating fresh croissants, stumbling into amazing vacant churches, and admiring all the wonderful architecture and art scattered everywhere.  The whole city is art and beauty.

Riding the funicular to Ljubljana Castle. I’m a scaredy cat.

Enchanting.  That is the word that describes Ljubljana.  It’s the most beautiful city I’ve seen in all my travels. And better yet, it was a total surprise. I’d never heard of Ljubljana a month ago!  The city is a manageable, walkable size, which avoids sightseeing-overwhelm.  It’s incredibly romantic and relaxed.  There is plenty to see and do for the art lover, the food lover, or the history lover.  Delightfully, and surprisingly, it’s not overrun with tourists or cheap souvenir shops.  Ljubljana is a rare treasure and a destination I highly recommend visiting.

My time in Croatia and Slovenia was all too brief and I realize a much longer trip to these countries is needed.  This appetizer has been so good.  I’m grateful for the experience and I look forward to the full meal!

Thank you to an anonymous donor for sponsoring this experience and this post.

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Photos of Ljubljana, Slovenia (click to view):

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