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Conner's Big Adventure 2017

Slovenia - Ljubljana Culture

SLOVENIA | Friday, 4 August 2017 | Views [405]

Slovenia was a different experience for us because this was the first leg of our journey where we didn’t have a car. Because of that almost all of our experience in Slovenia was in Ljubljana. And that’s ok! Wow, what a city. Natural beauty, impressive architecture, simple layout, friendly people, great public transportation, festivals, music, food, Ljubljana has it all. What better way to experience the culture of a country than through food and festivals? That is just what we did, and we did it daily.

We arrived in Ljubljana late afternoon and headed straight to the apartment to unload our bags, and ourselves. The taxi driver was very friendly and the ride cost us just $5 (it wasn’t very far, but more than we wanted to walk with all of our stuff). Our host met us at the apartment and showed us the ropes, then left us to unwind. Exploring the apartment took about ten minutes total since Gregg could walk from one end to the other in about six strides (eight for me). Remember that piece I wrote about living small? This one put a topper on that. With a total of two rooms, the second being the bathroom, this was by far the smallest apartment I have ever been in.  Kitchen, dining, living, and bedroom were all one and the same. There was also a small balcony with a table and two chairs, and a fantastic herb garden for us to enjoy! Although this place was tiny, and I do mean Thumbelina tiny, it was so well laid out that it felt completely comfortable. Every inch of space was designed with clever purpose. We even had a hammock chair inside! Brilliant. Bright white mixed with exciting color patterns and a wall mural done by a local artist made the apartment cheery and welcoming. So uplifting was the space that we were all quickly restored and ready to go seek out a dinner spot. I know you’re thinking “here we go again” and you could be right, but I am happy to say that this time it was easy peasy!

We decided to just start walking around downtown and stop when we saw something that looked good. In Zadar it was very easy for me to find gluten free options on most menus and I was hoping Ljubljana would be the same. We stopped to look at a couple of menus and on one of them I saw they had lamb which I know Gregg loves. I had just started to look to see what else they had when a Canadian couple came out and chatted a bit with Gregg. They said they had just finished dinner and the place was absolutely fantastic and they highly recommended it. Perfect! Relatively inexpensive, lamb, recently recommended, sounds great! We sat down at a table outside so we could look out over the river and the boardwalk. Looking over the menu I quickly discovered that the restaurant was an Indian restaurant. Well shit, that would explain Gregg’s hesitation when I asked if this was an ok place to eat. Gregg is an avid curry hater, and even non-curried Indian food is a huge turn off for him. Normally. Forgetting that his wife is about as perceptive as a frightened ostrich, he assumed that I had seen the name of the restaurant “Namaste”. Well that would have been a dead giveaway if I had seen it, but honestly all I saw was “lamb…$12”. Not wanting to repeat our rather epic failure in Marseille he decided to not make a fuss about it. Well what a happy oversight on my part, and lucky that Gregg went along with it, because everything we had there was delicious!! It was one of the best meals we had the whole time we were there. We had a wonderfully light and crispy tempura appetizer. Gregg was happily surprised by his aromatic lamb and tomato stew and Conner and I shared one of the best things I have ever eaten which was a yummy cashew chicken (and I can’t remember the Indian name so don’t ask), and we all left full, happy, and satisfied with our first meal in Slovenia. Win!

The trend only got better as we explored the vast array of foods Ljubljana has to offer. We had sushi, Pad Thai, ramen (real ramen, not the $0.10/pack shit we all lived off of in college), traditional Slovenian cuisine, fish n chips and frog legs next to the fish market, unique pastries, and gelato until our eyes popped! Seriously, everyone eats gelato in Slovenia. Daily. It’s kind of like coffee, you don’t even think about it, it’s just part of your day. “What time are we having gelato today?” One of the best food experiences in Slovenia was at the Friday food festival they have in the main market. Every Friday local food vendors set up booths and serve a couple of their favorite dishes to the milling masses of hungry locals and tourists alike. It was a wonderful look into Ljubljana food culture. I saw a crazy Ethiopian open grill, Thai woks, a four foot wide skillet with a giant pancake scramble, vegan, organic, steakhouse, horse burgers (yes Gregg ate one, and yes it was delicious), ice cream rolled into tubes on an anti-griddle, dumplings, Indian food, and on and on and on. And wine! Always lots of wine. In real glasses too, not the little plastic ones where the bottom falls off. People would take the wine, sit somewhere in the square or at one of the communal picnic tables, and then bring them back when they were done. It was an incredible place to spend a Friday afternoon. Conner’s favorite by far was the tortellini because he got to help make it. They had a giant cheese wheel that was probably two feet across and into the center of it (which was melted into a shallow bowl the first time we were there and a much larger bowl the second time!) they poured hot tortellini and a cream sauce with asparagus. Conner got to mix it all together with a giant metal spoon and voila! Cheesy, gooey tortellini with a fresh bread roll. The portions were large and the prices very inexpensive with the average meal going from $6-10. The only place that, for me at least, topped the Friday market was a tiny little restaurant called Cojzla in the BTC commercial zone. This was a delightful little gluten free restaurant with delicious food that I couldn’t stay away from! Chicken sandwiches, sautéed veggie sandwiches, mozzarella and prosciutto melts, buckwheat noodle salad. I think I ate there five times in four weeks, it was so good. Two full meals including dessert (apricot dumplings, apple strudel, chocolate coconut cake balls!!) cost us about $15. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

The food in Ljubljana was top class, but if there was one thing that could have topped it, it was the festivals. There was something going on every night downtown even if it was just a couple of street performers. The street musicians were mostly people I happily would have paid money to see, and so we did. Conner, being the music lover that he is, insisted on stopping to watch every street performer we passed by (which made for some late lunches and slow walks…). After he had watched a song or two he would go and drop one or two euros in the hat/basket/guitar case and would usually get a “hvala (thank you)” or at the very least a smile and a nod. He danced on bridges, chased bubbles around the square, clapped his little heart out, and I enjoyed it all the more watching him. We saw folk music, classical flutes, Indian flutes, drummers of all sorts, a Dixieland band (about the last thing on earth I expected to hear in Slovenia!), jazz groups, comedy shows, break dancers, accordions, string quartets, a classical guitar duet,  a handpan, a violin, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Day and night people played the streets and they were generally really good. Then there were the big events. In the main park in the center of downtown there was a full size concert stage that was up when we arrived and only came down two days before we left. On this stage we saw ballet dancers, puppet shows, rock bands, orchestras, something like a charity concert with many different performances and poetry readings in between, and a full blown production of Carmina Burana! One of my highlights for sure. The arts are incredibly important in Slovenian culture and it shows in the quality of the artists we saw while there, and in the daily lives of the residents. You could walk down the street and see people drawing in sketch books, inspired by local architecture or beautiful fountains. More than a few times we heard classical music being rehearsed through an apartment window or an open doorway. Friends would get together and play music and sing in the park or on the steps by the river. There is a cafe downtown called Plato and every Thursday night they turn their large courtyard into a dance floor for their “Salsa nights”. People took to the floor and it was like watching the finals in a Latin dance competition! One with small children weaving in and out of the crowd of dancers ;). I asked one of my Zumba friends if everyone in Slovenia was born dancing and she laughed and said “No, we take lessons”. We also stumbled into some sort of circus festival that closed down the main street through downtown for three days. But this was a much more dark-side style circus. They had strange ladies in alien costumes doing a wacky hair competition. Stilt walkers that were more than a bit creepy in dress and in character and scared the ever living shit out of Conner who promptly ran down the street in the opposite direction after one of them came over to me and examined my head with the end of a garden hose…. A kids circle where oddly dressed people ran around with the kids on what I am guessing was some sort of imaginary adventure, “Oh no! There are monsters this way and they want to eat us, run!!” We saw improv dancers, a cool kids’ science block with fun experiments and carnival style games, acrobats on a giant spinning ladder pretending to be birds, and an acrobatic comedy show, think Cirque de Soleil meets Pink Panther, where two bumbling cops tried to re-apprehend a con after she escaped their custody. But the highlight for Conner was most definitely the fire dancer. The park has a center section that is all dirt and while walking past we spotted a sign that just said “Start 9:30” with a little candle lit up next to it. There was a man setting up speakers and some other things, and Conner decided we had to be back by 9:30 to see what it was. When we made it back there it was about 9:45 and it had already started, but we couldn’t see what it was because of the huge crowd around the circle. We nudged our way in and discovered a man dancing around with different instruments of fire. He had batons, ropes, cups of fire that he threw, flammable powder, fire maces, and music mixed with a way of moving that was trance inducing. It was very impressive and we went back the next night, early, so that we could watch it from the beginning (and not through a sea of heads and legs). It was just as impressive the second time. Ljubljana never disappointed on our nightly walks, there was always something worth watching and every bit of it was free (though we voluntarily contributed to almost all of the street performers in Ljubljana). What an incredible place :-).

 

Tags: culture, entertainment, food, ljubljana

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