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Published: October 1st 2019
The first stop of our five week trip through the Balkans was supposed to be Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. However, due to the financial challenges of Adria airlines we found ourselves stranded in Munich after two flights.
We had booked the three flights directly through Etihad, and on the phone before we left they assured us that if anything went wrong they'd be responsible for sorting it out. Their tune changed when the flight was ultimately cancelled and Etihad were useless. Fortunately a very friendly and helpful man at the Lufthansa desk in Munich helped us out, first by trying to get Etihad / Adria to assist, but then by recommending alternative ways of traveling to Ljubljana. Flights were far too expensive / booked out, car hire was too expensive and hotels in Munich were in short supply and prices were heavily inflated due to the Oktoberfest festival. We decided that our best option was to head to the central bus station and try and book a bus to Ljubljana for that afternoon. But first we had to find a way to leave the airport...
The airport trains weren't running due to some fault that they couldn't resolve,
so as we exited we entered a massive crowd of people vying for a spot on the shuttle bus or shuttle taxis to a nearby train station. We asked a staff member which bus to take and he pointed us to a shuttle taxi and said to hop in. We piled into the cab with 4 others (including a Brazilian and Brit working in Geneva and visiting Munich for Oktoberfest) and set off towards the train station. Turns out we'd jumped the not very organised / German queue as the others in the cab had been waiting for 45 minutes.
After arriving at the train station we set off to buy tickets. A friendly family said that they'd purchased extra tickets so we could travel with them for free. Eventually we boarded a train and chatted with the local couple, Brit and Brazilian while waiting to reach our station.
After reaching the central station, and asking for directions from a few different people, we headed off towards the FlixBus station. We had an anxious wait in the (very slow moving) line but managed to buy tickets to Ljubljana at about 4:30pm, 15 minutes before the bus was due
Tickets in hand we headed downstairs to wait for the bus. We asked which 'platform' our bus would be arriving at and discovered that it was delayed by over 90 minutes. Luckily they had wifi so we emailed our hotel to let them know we'd be arriving after 1am....and discovered that the hotel was unable to accommodate check in at that time.
Given the hotel in Ljubljana wouldn't be able to accommodate us, we decided to just cut our losses and spend the night in Munich. We booked the most expensive hotel we've ever stayed in (which wasn't anything special, and probably would ordinarily be in our normal price range), tried to get a refund on the bus tickets (no luck, but now we have 130 Euro credit valid for one year which is very helpful given we live in Australia!) and then headed to the hotel to check in.
After checking in we headed back to the station and booked train tickets to Ljubljana for the following morning and then collapsed into bed exhausted!
The following morning we woke up rather early but after about 8 hours sleep. After getting ready we headed
to the station early in search of breakfast, some snacks and lunch to see us through our 6 hour train journey. Scott thought I was having a Peter moment (you're famous dad) as it seemed like I was ordering enough for an army, but this didn't stop him from enjoying my sensibly purchased snacks throughout the journey.
The train ride took us from Munich to Salzburg and then across the width of Austria to Villach, close to the Slovenian and Italian borders. The scenery was gorgeous, impressive alps and lovely greenery - very different to Australia.
At Villach we discovered that the final 1.5 hours would be via bus instead of train. The bus was direct to Ljubljana so was painless. We finally arrived in Ljubljana at about 2:30pm, just shy of 24 hours later than planned and approximately 49 hours after leaving our house in Melbourne.
Ljubljana, with a population of approximately 280,000 people is the smallest European capital. The city, which was first mentioned in the 12th century, sits on the ruins of a Roman settlement. It was under Hapsburg rule during the Middle Ages until the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War
I. After World War II Ljubljana, like the rest of Slovenia, was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since Slovenia became independent in 1991 it has been the capital of the country.
Our hotel was about a 20 minute walk away from the bus stop. The walk took us through the centre of the old town and along the river.
On arrival at our hotel we discovered they had given our room away (despite us not cancelling the reservation and telling them we'd still be coming), but fortunately they were able to give us another room because someone had checked out one night early.
After checking in we went for a walk along the river in search of a bar to have a drink at. We stopped at almost the first bar and ordered some drinks and sat at an outdoor table by the river to celebrate having finally reached our first destination. As we were about to set off to explore again it started pouring with rain so we ordered a couple more drinks to wait it out.
For dinner than night we headed to Robba which was recommended by the company running
the food tour we'd signed up for. Scott ordered goulash and I ordered a vegetable roulade. The food was quite delicious and the wine was lovely too. By the time we'd finished our meal we were both fairly tired so headed back to the hotel.
The following morning we woke up fairly early so decided to go for a walk to the Tivoli City Park. We left the hotel at about 8:30am. The city was incredibly quiet; Ljubljana is definitely not an early morning on a Sunday kind of place. Finding somewhere to buy a quick breakfast was a challenge, but we finally stumbled across a bakery where we could grab something to tide us over.
Tivoli City Park consists of almost 5 square kilometers of gardens, walking trails, fountains, a castle, a mansion and a hall. We spent about an hour walking around the very pleasant gardens. There were quite a few people walking dogs, some adorable squirrels and some other tourists, but it was fairly quiet.
After the gardens we headed back to the pretty old town to take some photos by the river, and then back to our hotel to read our books for
At 11:30 we met up with the tour guide, Inka, and the rest of our group (Sam and Amy, a British couple, and Philip the American) for our Ljubljana food tour. From the meeting point it was just a short walk to the first stop of the food tour.
At the first stop we tried some vegetable and barley stew, sausage, bread, štruklji (a dumpling type pastry, spread with filling, rolled up and then boiled) with tarragon and cottage cheese and buckwheat štruklji with walnuts. The vegetable and barley stew was delicious and hearty. Scott enjoyed the sausage (but passed on the fresh horseradish it was served with, yuck). Neither of us were particularly keen on the štruklji with tarragon and cottage cheese. The buckwheat štruklji was delicious though. While we were eating Inka gave us a crash course in Slovenian cuisine and culture.
At the second stop of the food tour we got to experience a modern take on traditional Slovenian dishes. Scott and the rest of the group had veal tartar with hazelnut mayonnaise and pickled onion served on brioche. I had zucchini flowers, roasted zucchini, cottage cheese with pumpkin and sunflower seeds
and honey served on brioche. We also tasted some delicious bread (all other bread on our trip will be judged against this one) with pumpkin seed oil. All this was topped off with a glass of delicious Slovenian pinela wine.
At the third stop we visited a restaurant which is more typical of the southern part of Slovenia, close to the Italian border. We shared Istrian fuži (typical Istrian pasta) with creamy truffles, homemade gnocchi with beef ragu, stuffed calamari with cottage cheese, herbs and prosciutto and some more bread. We also had some more Slovenian wine, this time a glass of malvasia.
Our fourth stop was a wine bar where Scott and the others had trout tartare on bread while I had a homestyle vegetable spread on bread. Being a wine bar we of course had to have another glass of Slovenian wine, this time it was kraljevina. During this stop Inka gave us some insight into Slovenian cultural quirks which included that shoes are replaced with slippers inside your house (not that weird!) and that many Slovenians dislike having a breeze blowing through their house.
At the fifth stop Scott and I, despite not being
coffee drinkers, sampled some local coffee while we chatted about Slovenian history (including the 10 day war when they left Yugoslavia; certainly a lot more fortunate than some of the other countries we'll visit on this trip) and the economy. We also discovered another Slovenian quirk when Inka told Amy and I not to put our handbag on the ground or we'd have bad luck and lose money.
Our final stop of the tour was for gelato. I had sour cherry and banana sorbet and chocolate and cherry gelato while Scott chose peanut butter gelato and apple and thyme sorbet. We sat outside in the sunshine and chatted while eating our gelato. Eventually we said goodbye to Inka but stayed chatting with the others. The food tour was a fantastic way to learn about Slovenian cuisine and culture and was a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.
After the tour ended we set off to visit Ljubljana Castle which is perched on top of a hill in the center of the city. The Castle was originally built as a fort in the 11th century. It has been rebuilt / renovated / extended multiple times throughout history and
has been used for many different purposes including as a fort, a prison and a castle.
Fortunately there is a funicular which connects the town and the castle so we didn't have to climb up the hill (for those that aren't so lazy the climb is still an option!). After arriving at the top we visited the various different parts of the castle which provide some insight into its history as well as Slovenian history. The best part of the castle is without a doubt the views it affords over Ljubljana and beyond. We ran into Sam and Amy from the food tour while at the top of the tower admiring the view.
After the castle we headed back to the hotel to relax for a while. We ate dinner fairly late (as we were very full from the food tour) at the pasta restaurant we'd tried during the tour. This time we both had gnocchi with basil pesto and another glass of their wine.
The following morning we started the day with a walk to the central produce market. The market was fairly quiet, but there were several stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables as well
as butchers and delis hidden inside a building.
After the market we stopped for breakfast; Scott had some burek whereas I opted for chocolate and raspberry štruklji which was delicious. We ate at a table outside and enjoyed the sunshine.
After breakfast we bought a sim card and then I grabbed a couple of extra t-shirts (the weather was warmer than I anticipated when packing), before we headed back to the hotel to pack up our stuff.
After packing up we grabbed one of the bikeshare bikes and cycled to the hire car office to pick up the car we'd have for the next week. The hire car office is about 4kms away from our hotel. Ljubljana is well set up for cycling with lots of dedicated bike paths. It's also a fairly flat city which is excellent!
After picking up our car, a Seat Leon, we drove back to our hotel to pick up our luggage. Scott waited in the car near the hotel while I went and collected all our luggage. I looked a little silly with pack on the front and back and backpack slung over my shoulder. Scott thinks he's finally managed
to train me to be a proper wife...
Ljubljana was a great place to properly start our holiday. It's an adorable little city with pretty architecture and great food. The food tour was definitely the highlight.
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