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Conner's Big Adventure 2017

Slovenia - City Living

SLOVENIA | Friday, 4 August 2017 | Views [519]

Ljubljana is an incredibly easy city to move around in. Though I was a bit sad we didn’t get to see more of the natural side of Slovenia, having a car in the city would have been a complete waste. The bus system in Ljubljana was cheap, clean, efficient, and broad. You could take a bus anywhere in the city in under 40 minutes. The main routes have buses that run every 15 minutes or so, so missing a bus is never a crisis. They are easy to use because everything is done on a single card. You pick up a card at the tourist office for $2 and then you can load it there, or at any of the green kiosks around the city. Swipe your card when you get on and you’re done. $1.20 gets you anywhere in the city with 90 minutes to transfer as many times as you want. Also, Conner was free which was nice. The buses, however, were only a secondary form of transportation. The best, and most common, form of transportation around Ljubljana was bicycles.

Ljubljana is a city made for bicycles. Roads have designated bike lanes, there are bike racks everywhere, and even the sidewalks are split between bike lanes and pedestrian lanes. Sidewalks are either painted with specific bike lanes (and they are strictly observed) or the sidewalk has two tiers, one for pedestrians and one for bikes. Almost everyone owns a bike with a basket and a bell. For those that don’t the city has a bike rental program with bike stations located all around the city. Each station has 20 bike stalls and a kiosk where you walk up, scan your Urbana card (the same card that serves as your bus pass, isn’t that convenient), choose your bike, and walk over and push a button to unlock it. Your first hour of riding is free after which you can choose to pay $1 for the second hour, $2 for the third, or $3 for 24 hours, or you can simply plug it into any stall near you, wait five minutes, and check it out again for another free hour. They have an app that lets you check how many available bikes, or empty stalls, are at each station at any given point in time, and a van that runs around the city taking bikes from full racks and spreading them out between empty or low racks. How cool is that!? So cool that we decided we had to get a bike for Conner so we could explore the city the way the locals do.

This led us to find the local Sunday flea market. And possibly my worst experience with buyers’ remorse ever. We had read about the flea market and I figured if everyone here rode bicycles there should be a pretty good selection of cheapies there. We hopped on the super smooth bus and rode out to the edge of town where we found a great sprawling affair in a fenced in dirt lot. I was pretty excited actually, I remember going to flea markets as a kid and they were huge, spread out events that took hours to walk through (ok part of that was probably because we went there with my dad, but still, they were big). Lately the flea markets we’ve found have been more like small rummage sales with a few tarps thrown out with clothes and old books, and booths with local crafts. Nice enough, but not a real flea market. This was definitely like what I remembered and we did spend hours there. We actually had to pay to get in, which was weird, but it was only $0.50 so not a big deal. We walked around looking at every bike in the place four times. The problem was that Conner was right in between the two kids’ sizes we found. They were either too small or just a smidge too big, and if he had been riding more than just one month last summer we probably would have gone with the larger one no problem, but my mind was envisioning the epic melt downs that would inevitably occur if he couldn’t get right on and go, and so we went with a smaller bike. Well, we waited too long and the two that we had been looking at were gone and we ended up getting a crappy little thing that probably wasn’t worth the $15 I paid for it, but it was only for a month so what the hell. I would regret not forking over the $30 for the much nicer, much better suited bike for the next damn week. Nevertheless, Conner was ecstatic and we left the flea market with our goal achieved. Conner now had a bike and a helmet. How far away from the gate do you think we made it before we had melt down #1? I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you that it was about 65 feet. Full scale tantrum laying in the gravel in the parking lot. Riddled with my buyers’ remorse, I had zero patience and was absolutely not able to deal. Thankfully Gregg was not suffering the same effects since he hadn’t been the one to say “sure, we’ll take it”, so he patiently worked Conner through it and by the time we reached the bus stop he was one happy, bike riding kiddo. The bus. Shit. How the hell are we going to get a bike back on the bus?? One would think that would have crossed our minds before we even got on the bus to go and get the bike. One would also think that in a city made for bicycles the buses would all have bike racks, right? Wrong. Because the city is so bike friendly, why the hell would anyone want to take a bus if they had a bike? This was the only thing that I will say may have made the small bike a better buy than the big one. It was small enough that the bus driver didn’t complain when we brought it onto the bus and stood with it in the stroller zone. We made it back to the house with a brand new, super junky, too small bicycle and Conner was the happiest kid on the block.

Here is what was so cool about Conner having a bike in Ljubljana. First off, the apartment building had a big brick courtyard where he could ride around and around without having to worry about traffic, car or pedestrian. Second, once he got comfortable riding again it made runs to the markets and parks SO MUCH FASTER! Conner has the energy of a damned hamster on crack when he’s doing something he wants to do. When doing something he doesn’t want to do he turns into the child equivalent of a mega stoned three-toed sloth, and walking is something he really doesn’t like to do. I was in fact terrified at the prospect of taking him through the crowded sidewalks downtown with all of us on bikes, but somehow he ended up being very good at playing follow the leader and we rarely had any issues. Fully mobile now we were free to explore the markets, shops, and parks around Ljubljana.

Ljubljana has one huge open air market right in the city center with fruits, veggies, flowers, and a few stalls selling clothes, shoes, or local crafts. On the same strip are permanent fish markets, cheese shops, and butcher shops. The produce in Ljubljana was fresh, delicious, and reasonably priced, and we ate tons of cherries and apricots. Gregg and I are so used to farmers markets in Alaska, where you can count on paying at least double what you would at a grocery store, that it is still a shock to find it the other way around. Grocery stores in Ljubljana had small produce sections, but there really wasn’t much and it was always more expensive than at the market. Possibly the best part of the market though was off to the side where there was a row of vending machines. These vending machines did not hold candy, chips, or soda though, they had fresh dairy! When I say fresh, I mean local, raw milk, yogurt, and cheeses. We saw a milk vending machine in Croatia, but never tried it because we weren’t quite sure how it worked. The milk in Ljubljana was one of our favorite parts (yep, we’re that lame). The fresh yogurt and cheeses were delicious and inexpensive, and they also had one machine filled with fresh apple juice varieties. The milk machine was the coolest though. You could bring your own bottles or you could buy a plastic or glass bottle for $1. Milk cost $1/liter, so you put $1 in, put your bottle inside the filling station, push the button and wait. When it’s done filling it stops automatically and then you take your jug out and it closes a door and sanitizes the filling station. They fill the machines daily and it was always cold and delicious. And open 24 hours :-) :-).

Ok enough about milk, I know. So what else is cool about Ljubljana? The parks. Aside from the river running through the center of the city, which had nice areas to sit and enjoy the shade of the weeping trees and watch the ducks and river boats floating by, Ljubljana has a wonderful variety of parks and playgrounds. The park downtown we talked about already, and Gregg and Conner found some pretty cool playgrounds around the city, but the two standouts were Smartinski Park and Tivoli Park. Smartinski Park was Ljubljana’s equivalent of Margaret Mahem Park in Christchurch, but “not quite as good” according to Conner. It had a smaller water course with a big sand box in the middle, a giant slide, lots of spider web ropes courses, a square swing set which was pretty cool, and a little road course for kids to ride bikes and scooter on. Plus it was backed by an enormous greenbelt with walking trails and picnic tables. Tivoli Park was a huge expanse around a mountain that we never actually made it all the way around. There was even a zoo on one side that we didn’t manage to see. Tivoli had three playgrounds, a duck pond, lots of bike trails, a botanical garden, and two cafes, one with a mini golf course. Ljubljana had water stations all over the city and in the parks which was great because it was damn hot and humid while we were there and you can only carry so much water with you, comfortably at least. Another awesome thing about the parks is that some of them have mobile libraries! A local group created these little mobile libraries using crates of books, sitting cushions, and small sling chairs. They spread them out in the green areas in the parks and they are free for anyone to sit and enjoy. All around Ljubljana, the public services and events were unbelievable, with the one exception of there not being public bathrooms in the parks which I think is weird and a bit annoying. There were a few public bathrooms downtown under the bridges, but none in the parks. But wait, I didn’t do my bathroom rave yet! Ok, so here it is. In the BTC shopping center we saw possibly the coolest bathroom yet. Not as new age or fancy as the talking bathroom in Christchurch, but equally cool because the entire bathroom was child size! The urinals, the sinks, the toilets, even the stall walls were short. The whole bathroom was designed strictly for children and it was awesome.

With that out of the way, I will finish by saying Ljubljana you are an absolute joy of a city to be in and we will be back some day.

Tags: bikes, city life, ljubljana, parks, public transportation

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