I have it on reasonably good authority (a real-life Slovenian called Igor) that’s it’s pronounced ‘Loo-blarna’. Hopefully that clears that up from the outset.
We arrived early and checked into our hotel, which was one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. More about that later. We had chosen to visit Ljubljana as it was (as of 2016) the proud owner of the European Green Capital of the Year, thanks to some great environmental initiatives over the past decade. I took great delight in wandering through the recently-pedestrianised streets, gleefully pointing out recycling bins to an underwhelmed Nicola. Ljubljana, you see, has buried all its Biffa bins underground with a narrow street-level chute at for depositing rubbish. For the cost of a few holes and some metal piping, the roads are beautiful, the backs of restaurants and bars are pristine and there is rubbish nowhere. I spent a lot of the weekend slightly disappointed that we had nothing to throw away.
We had a day to see the city, which turned out to be plenty of time, as the capital is pretty compact; nothing is more than a 15-minute walk from the middle. The highlight (other than the subterranean bins) is the castle, perched high on a hill above the red rooftops of the city. After taking the funicular to the top, we wandered around the museums within the castle grounds, including the extraordinary Puppetry Museum. Marionettes and Slovenian equivalents of Muffin the Mule line the walls, and Nicola and I treated one another to a series of increasingly ridiculous puppet shows.
After our first successful foray into the world of Eastern European Punch and Judy, we climbed the 95 steps of the double-helix staircase to the top of the castle’s turret. From here, we watched the sunset cast a fiery red light over the distant Julian Alps. Despite being stunningly beautiful, it was also perishing cold, so we descended and went down to the Christmas markets for some mulled wine and a good chat about recycling bins.
The Slovenians do Christmas markets properly. Mulled wine, a decent selection of wooden tat, and a selection of the most amazing and bewildering Christmas lights I have ever seen. One street had mathematical equations and mapped algebraic graphs, one bridge had a camera-style viewfinder above the river, some streets were celestial and space-themed, while one decoration in the main square could only be group of sperm fertilising an egg. How very festive.
Anyway, back to the hotel: Hotel Cubo. It’s well-deserving of its number one spot on TripAdvisor. The staff were so friendly and helpful, the room was beautiful and serene and calm, with an amazing view of the castle. Our room had a well-stocked minibar with bottles of wine and beer, while the breakfast each morning was perfect and authentically Slovenian. The spread included plates of cheeses, meats, pickles, sausage, eggs and every type food I love from central Europe. It could only have been improved with the addition of some sort of regional equivalent of black pudding, which goes for every meal in every country, always.
On our last evening, in search of some more traditional cuisine, we headed out to ‘Gujžina Premurska Gostilna’ and ordered some very Slovenian-sounding dishes. When they were brought out from the kitchen, it turned out that I had ordered two solitary sausages, and Nicola had ordered a plate entirely filled with potato dumplings. Between us, we crafted two plates of relatively normal food, and washed it down with local beer and wine. After a long day exploring the city, it was ideal. We paid and headed into the frosty evening to return to the hotel; fingers-crossed the maid had left a bottle for me to recycle.
We stayed at: The excellent Hotel Cubo (hotelcubo.com)
We ate sausages and dumplings at: Gujžina Premurska Gostilna (prekmurska-gostilna.si)
We Punched and Judied at: Museum of Puppetry (ljubljanskigrad.si)