Leaving Austria filled me with excitement. After a five weeks and three days living in a tightly knit group among some amazing people in the clouds and rainbows of the Austrian Alps there was something liberating about setting off on my own for a week with no goals, no motives, nor weighty ambitions to fulfill. I had nothing to learn, nothing to do and nowhere to be until Venice the following week. Just the freedom to go where my whims and limited cash reserves took me.
The train entered Slovenia by way of a tunnel so long that I began to forget that it was a bright summer day and started to imagine that I was traveling by night. Once through tunnel the buildings were poorer in quality, the orchards more free and the farming methods more old fashioned than what I’d seen in Austria. It’s more like Czech there with beautiful red tile roofs alongside concrete panelac buildings.
The Julian Alps faded away as we moved towards Ljubljana, guarding the northern borders but always remaining visible. Even once we’re in the city the horizon is crested by sheer mountains. It gives the whole nation a comfortably small feeling, as though we’re tucked inside a closet.
I arrived at the main station around three, shouldered my pack and walked about five minutes to the hostel I’d booked the night before. Hostel Celica, a renovated prison, is a medium sized building set inside a concrete courtyard decorated in skilled and unskilled graffiti alike. Shoes hang in pairs from a wire across the courtyard as if it were the opening scene of a film set in Compton.
The internal renovations have the faded look of a place that was crisp five years ago but have never been refinished or replaced. I slept in the cheapest accommodation, a 12 person dormitory situated in a beautiful attic filled with exposed wood beams.
After taking a moment to bask in the warming glow of free I set out to explore the city. Ljubljana is tiny, much like Salzburg. It’s centered around a castle roosted on a steep little hill over a tiny river which bends though the city like a aquamarine water snake. The architecture is much like Prague’s, though there seems to be more Roman influence.
I can see how different my trip would be if I came with friends. There are lovely cafes resting just over the river and near the central square where a talented little jazz band is busking. If I weren’t alone I’m sure we’d be sampling the local beer for a few hours as the sun set behind the castle. Instead I listen to the music until they finish, donate a coin and move on down the river admiring the quaint little squares, proliferous sculpture and the autumnal appearance trees which must be suffering a dry summer (odd considering how much rain we got over the mountains in Austria). When I find a comfortable spot along the river bank to rest I pull out my book, read for a bit then drift off for a short nap (something of a new travel tradition).
Back at the hostel I met some of my roommates – two boys from York, a couple girls from Lancashire, two guys from Sweden, and three Portuguese meatheads – and join some of them for a taste of the local beer in the hostel bar. Everyone else goes out for the night while I join four or five anonymous sleeping bodies around midnight.
In the morning one of the bathrooms was flooded. During the night one of the boys from York tried to clean up his puke using the shower head, after passing out in it. As one of the English girls put it that morning, “Did you fall asleep in your own sick?” Then added, “That’s a low point in your life.” Maybe I’m too old for the hostel scene.
In either case I bailed for another hostel after breakfast that morning. Fluxus Hostel was more of a flop house than anything. A couple of rooms filled with bunk beds, a kitchen, and a tiny, smelly, messy shower. I could hardly sleep later that night for all the people coming and going, ruffling through bags next to my bed, talking in loud hushed tones, and climbing up and down the flimsy metal ladder of the bunk.
That day was productively used for exploring. In the morning I wandered among the old town until I found the roman market place alive with knick-knack, clothing, and produce vendors. After buying a kilo of peaches and apples from a ten-year old and a grandmother respectively I wandered through some of the adjacent neighborhoods. Once I’d slid out of the tourist section the city appeared quite livable. There were small cafes and hip restaurants tucked into the buildings. Trees line most of the streets and the horizon almost always has a view of a green hill.
I wandered up towards the castle from the back way, stopping to sketch and play on some ruins. The castle itself was a trendy blend of old and new, stone and glass, canons and art exhibits, armories and restaurants. It’s not just some relic but still the living cultural heart of the city. That night I watched a screening of Two Days in New York at the castle and got lost when the French bits were translated into Slovenian (much to their amusement, at least).
In the afternoon, after the castle, I visited the other main park in Ljubljana and found a weird jazz band randomly playing at the large manor house centered there. Instead of patronizing the café I fell asleep in the grass listening to the music then went back into town, stopped at the grocery and watched Olympic kayaking with a Danish guy from the hostel until it was time to head out for the movie at the castle.
The next morning I woke from an uneasy sleep and split to the train station to catch the 8:15 to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.