We arrived into Ljubljana a bit earlier than expected, but excited nonetheless. We were right on time to watch the Christmas lights start going up and in just a few days the city would be lit up! In the meantime, time to get to know the city behind the dragon.
Ljubljana is a great mix of everything I love to see in a capital: laid-back vibe, easily walkable, great cafes and restaurants, and plenty to see. The central market was perfect for grabbing everything we’d need. Besides the fresh fruits and veggies, there were cheeses galore, mountains of sauerkraut, fresh flowers, and even, if you so desired, running shoes. The Christmas markets were just getting going, mostly Advent wreaths in every size, shape, and colour possible.
I didn’t really know much about Advent before coming to Europe (with the exception of chocolate Advent calendars… But while delicious, I feel like that doesn’t count). At least visibly, it’s a more prevalent part of the Christmas traditions here. Advent candles, burning down the days to Christmas eve, and wreaths, marking the passage of the four weeks of Advent, are everywhere you go.
Another tradition that we have started to see (and are really curious about) is Krampus. I won’t go into too much detail because we’ve only seen glimpses of him so far… But I have a feeling he will be making a grand appearance when we arrive in Austria 😉 In the meantime, check out this chocolate Krampus devil (next to the Saint Nicholas, of course) that I thought was awesomely hilarious. Note the chains and a bag full of… Apples? Bells? Children’s heads?
The Butcher’s Bridge is a bizarre sight. On one hand, the glass panels and love-locks (both of which look dazzling when they’re lit up at night) give the bridge a romantic atmosphere that invites couples to walk hand-in-hand along the rails. On the other, the creepy and slightly gruesome statues kind of kill the mood. Sitting on top of the rails are bizarre fish/frog-like creatures, some of which look more like skulls. Funny enough, these guys have mouths packed with locks too. Down the centre of the bridge, you can find Adam and Eve (running towards Ljubljana Cathedral after being banished from paradise), Prometheus (a gutted ribcage on legs), and a Satyr (that one looks pretty normal). Actually, the statues are pretty interesting once you get over the initial gruesome-ness.
When you’re visiting Ljubljana, be sure to take advantage of all the lovely walks along the canal at your disposal. Bridges with pizazz and personality criss-cross the canal, like the above Butcher’s Bridge but also the Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge, and the Cobbler’s Bridge are all worth a look.
When you get to the Triple Bridge (my favourite and the most famous of Ljubljana’s bridge collection) you’ll find yourself in one of the prettiest city squares you’ll ever see. Prešeren Square, named for the most beloved Slovene poet France Prešeren whose bronze statue decorates the eastern side of the square, is home to some of the city’s most beautiful buildings. Tall, salmon-coloured, and lovely the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation stands centre-stage, with the impressive Central Pharmacy to one side and the Hauptmann House on the other.
Sitting on top of a hill overlooking the downtown is the medieval fortress of Ljubljana castle. The area around the castle has been settled continuously since 1200 BC! The oldest mention of the castle is from around the beginning of the 12th century, and has probably been fortified to some extent for much longer. While we didn’t go into any of the museums, we wandered the courtyard and around the strange, modern labyrinth of stairways leading to different level below the main square. You were free to wander around the centre grounds, the chapel, and while we thought the prison exhibit was free too, apparently it wasn’t… Even though the door was open, there was no sign, and the ticket office was upstairs from the main entrance… Oh well. The grounds surrounding the castle were nice and we even found a free library attached to a post, bonus!
Something I really loved in Slovenia were the incredible, painted beehive panels. I first saw them in the gift shop of the castle, and honestly these paintings were so beautiful. While it sounds lame how much I liked something I saw in a gift shop, don’t judge because this is a legitimately cultural art form! This folk art dates back to the middle of the 18th century and is apparently pretty unique to Slovenia. While these aren’t our photos, check out some pretty examples of the incredible workmanship that goes into these open-air galleries:
And now ladies and gentlemen, the moment we’ve all been waiting for… Let there be lights!!
Ljubljana was lit up in all it’s lovely, creative brilliance the evening before we left, perfect timing! Even though it was drizzling the streets were packed, not just with young people tossing back cups of hot wine but with families too. The city had been setting up lights even before we had arrived in Ljubljana and the result was fantastic. The bridges were lined, buildings were draped, and suspended above the canal were artsy creations (check out the boxes and the polaroid above!). My favourite though, the math equations and solar system! How awesome and non-traditional is that? E = mc 2 rocketed past shooting stars and swirling galaxies of light, and line graphs depicting wave functions lined one of the main streets. Fantastic.