Ljubljana, The Jewel of Eastern Europe

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In summer 2015 I toured Europe for ten weeks, starting in Eastern Europe. My 2 ½ hour train ride from Zagreb, Croatia to Ljubljana (pronounced “Lublana”), Slovenia revealed lush green countryside and rivers blue in the June sunlight. The Hotel Center was indeed in the city center, an inexpensive, clean 2 star with a private bathroom. The high end, large shopping district and numerous banks told the story of a surprisingly prosperous, eastern European city in what used to be a part of Yugoslavia. An abundance of young people walked the crowded sidewalks and dined and drank in the many cafes and restaurants. Prices were much lower than in cities to the west and north. The equivalent of two dollars bought a decent glass of wine.

The most appealing feature of the city is the Ljubljanica River, numerous shops and cafes in buildings hundreds of years old adorning both sides. Except for the ancient architecture, it reminds me of the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas. Sitting at one of the outdoor tables, sipping a glass of wine provided excellent people watching, as well as a pleasant ambiance.

When I arrived in Ljubljana I was tired and tense from having toured four cities in eastern and Central Europe in the previous ten days. Balancing activities and relaxation was easy in the relaxed atmosphere of Ljubljana. As is my habit, on the first afternoon I walked around the city to get my bearings and a taste of what the city offered.

Most of the locals spoke English, were very friendly and curious about Americans. The streets and sidewalks were clean and inviting. Even the public restrooms were clean. On my initial walk I found Tivoli Park, a huge open space with plenty of walking trails, and flora. There were also many smaller parks decked out in summer flowers and lush surroundings.

The main event of Ljubljana is their summer art festival, featuring visual and performing artists from all over the world. The first festival was in 1893, and it has flourished every year since, even during the war years. Much of it is free. It attracts tourists from all over Europe and gives the city a festive atmosphere, especially at night around the main square by the river. As I walked through the neighborhoods I often heard music from musicians practicing in their apartments.

My people watching by the river included two young boys playing with a ball. Children are pretty much the same all over the world. It is when they grow up that differences develop, and those differences create fear, which in turn creates bigotry and sometimes violence.

I splurged on dinner at a fancy restaurant in a hotel. My salad of spring greens and duck breast was fresh and tasty. My fresh, local sea bass sautéed in olive oil with asparagus was delicious, as was the local red wine. The crème broulee with lavender ice cream was scrumptious. It was top was soft instead of the crisp top in the French version.

Before dinner the next evening I sat at an outside café table and sipped white wine across from a toy store owned by a young couple who played with their two boys 11 months apart in front of their store.

Most people in Ljubljana ride bicycles, but the era of the automobile is fast coming. Now, as one man put it, the only danger in the city is getting run over by a bicyclist.

Whether you are a baby boomer, senior or a traveler of any age, if you love art and music, as well as a relaxed city full of color and don’t like crowds of tourists, I highly recommend Ljubljana. It is one of three cities I visited during my ten week European trip that I would return to.