My first official post abroad.
I am almost hesitant to write this down for fear of jinxing myself, but I am going to say it anyway:
Our experience of leaving Chicago and flying across the world to Slovenia has been nothing short of perfect. I feel like I need to say it, because it is so easy for me to complain when everything goes wrong, but I want to also acknowledge when things go right.
We flew through security at O’Hare, got upgraded on our 10 hour flight to Istanbul, were given unlimited free wine, passed out the entire flight, woke up in time for our landing in Istanbul, and then hopped on our quick 2 hour flight to Ljubljana, Slovenia.
When we got to the Ljubljana airport, we were the ONLY people there going through customs, so it took us less than one minute. Once we walked out of the airport, it was raining a bit, but the temperature was perfect. It felt like walking out into the freshest crisp fall mountain air (because that is exactly what it was). We looked up to the sky and, I shit you not, there was a giant rainbow over our heads.
Yep. A rainbow covered the sky, over the mountain ranges, welcoming us to Slovenia. I know, you probably want to throw up reading that, but it is what happened. Just giving the cold hard facts here.
After that, we decided to try and grab our rental car a few days earlier than planned, so we could drive ourselves into the city center. So we did, and then they upgraded us to a brand new car. The ticket agent laughed and said, ‘is it just getting better and better for you both?” Yes, ticket lady. It was. Al and I couldn’t believe our luck. I don’t know who was looking out for us that day, but we have never been so thankful.
Now, we’re in our Airbnb and getting ready to drive to our second destination, but I knew I had to write about Ljubljana before we go, while it is still fresh. The past 32 hours have been a complete whirlwind, but we have absolutely loved every minute.
I had a strong feeling from the day we decided to start our adventure in Ljubljana, that I was going to fall in love with Slovenia. I didn’t pay too much attention to this feeling, because I did not want to set myself up to be in a situation where my ideals and dreams of how I think something will go, far exceeded the disappointing reality.
Well, it turns out that the strong feeling I attempted to ignore was somewhat legitimate. It sounds cliche, but Al and I honestly haven’t stopped looking at each other every few minutes since we have arrived in Slovenia to giddily announce to one another (on repeat) “I cannot believe we are here!’ It is just that cool of a place, and we are so happy to be in it.
Because I really don’t know how else to describe our experience, I will just go with a random compilation of things that (in my opinion) make it so cool:
Today (on our free walking tour of the city) I learned that Slovenia was not declared a country until 1991, which means that technically, I am five years older than this country. Although I am sure you aren’t shocked to know, the people and landscape of Ljubljana have been around quite a bit longer than me.
We also learned that Ljubljana was named the “European Green Capital of 2016” and it was easy to see why from the moment we arrived:
- This is the only capital in the world that puts out less waste than it recycles. They live by a ‘zero waste policy’ and accomplish this with mandatory recycling stations that are positioned everywhere across the city.
- Their public transportation of choice is either through the bike sharing system or electric cars (which is FREE to use for everyone!)
- There are no cars allowed throughout the city center, and it is all completely walkable.
- Everyone here is constantly on bikes. The bike to car ratio is something like 10:1
You can feel how clean and well cared for the city is as you walk around. The best way I can think to describe it, is that Ljubljana is just so approachable. There is not one ounce of pretentiousness to it. It is truly everything you could ask for in a city, without the overwhelming crowds or intimidating feel of the more popular European cities. Not to mention, the whole city is divided by a gorgeous river outlined with beautiful greenery, in front of a castle on a hill, which gives visitors (and locals) breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the wine was $2 USD a glass.
Plus, their city flag is a castle, with a dragon on it. This emblem is even shown throughout their sewage system. Dragons EVERYWHERE!
We ended our short stint in this city by walking up to the top of Ljubljana Castle with a bottle of wine in tow. We sat on the edge of the castle walls for about 2.5 hours, just watching the sun go down behind the Slovenian mountains, while listening to the live music coming from the main square (this is the kind of thing you can do when you are traveling and unemployed. I’m still getting used to this). It was exactly what we hoped it would be. I don’t think I could have dreamed of a more perfect first day for us.
There is one story that I heard today which I will share, that really summarized my view of Ljubljana; In the center of their main square, they have a statue dedicated to their most famous poet, France Prešeren (just the fact that they chose to erect a statue of a poet, and not of some war hero says a lot in itself). This particular poet wrote their national anthem, which goes as follows:
God’s blessing on all nations
Who long and work for that bright day
When o’er earth’s habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway
Who long to see
That all men free
No more shall foes, but neighbours be
The only national anthem in modern history that not only mentions other nations, but wishes blessing and peace to them all, whether they be enemies or friends. I started feeling emotional when I heard this, and found myself thinking about all the terrible things that have been going on in the world as of late. It really hit home to me in that moment not only how happy I felt, but how lucky I was to be standing in this tiny capital that seemed to be the only place in the world right now who is getting it right.
I found myself wishing I could give Ljubljana a hug this morning as we left, just to thank it for existing, and for being the perfect city to help me transition into this long-term-travel thing in the best way possible.
And now, a photo dump:
Where we stayed:
Al and I stayed 3 nights in this Airbnb. It was honestly perfect for us as a couple. Modern, small, and extremely clean. It is located on a very quiet street, that is only about a 10-15 minute walk from the city center. The host was great to work with as well.
What we did:
We only had one full day, so we decided to do this free two hour walking tour, which I would definitely recommend as a way to get familiar with the city.
We also walked up to the top of Ljubljana Castle which is only about a 10-15 minute walk slightly uphill from the city. We left our Airbnb around 7:30pm with a bottle of wine and a camera to take in the sunset, something that was suggested to us by a local, and I would highly recommend (which is also free!)
What we ate:
Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but Al and I are both vegetarians, so our options are somewhat limited, so I wish I could help more here. We just sat down at random places and ordered margarita pizza and wine. The pizza was amazing though, and reminded me of the pizza I had in Italy over 10 years ago (Slovenia is right next to Italy, so that’s no surprise.)
What we spent (They are on the Euro here, but I converted everything to USD for myself):
So far, Slovenia has been really affordable, and we’ve managed to stay under our original daily budget, so win!
$42 a night (August is the height of tourist season, so we still felt that it was a reasonable price)
Breakfast: $3 for a croissant and a coffee
Lunch: $8 for two slices of pizza and a diet coke
Post-Lunch Beers: $3 a beer (we opted for the local beer, Lasko)
Dinner: $13 for a split dinner of salad, bread with tomatoes and cheese, and a bottle of wine
What I wore:
Just kidding. Nobody cares what I wore.