Hi everyone. This is the start of a trip around Slovenia, a small country sandwiched between 4 bigger neighbours – Austria, Italy, Hungary and Croatia, with a few kilometres of coastline on the Adriatic. First impressions from the view from the plane window and the walk into the airport can be summed up in one word – neat. Having picked up a car it is a short drive to Ljubljana, the capital, through forests and farmland backdropped by layers of sharp mountain peaks like the bottom row of teeth in a shark’s mouth.
As an introduction to this small country, Ljubljana is magnificent. Walking to the centre takes 10 minutes along wide boulevards lined by tall, grand buildings, punctuated with parks and trees. The centre is protected from the motor vehicle, the only permitted vehicular transport being the occasional electric buggy and the bicycle. The rest of us have to get around the cobbled streets and the open squares using our feet.
The great thing about the city is that it is small and compact with a warm, familiar feeling that makes the visitor feel immediately welcome and at ease. Through the middle runs the river, a gentle waterway for the chunky sightseeing boats that chug their way between riverside promenades lined with the tables and umbrellas of the cafe culture that pervades this friendly city. Overlooking this elegant patchwork of grandiose buildings and ornate bridges stands the castle, stretched up high along the ridge, protecting the locals and visitors alike.
Several bridges cross the river, many guarded by statues, some of which seem to find it difficult to hide their inner feelings. “Oh no. Not another coachload of tourists.”
One bridge, Cobblers Bridge, attracts the romantic amongst us and the attention of the young and the old.
Yes, it is busy and yes, there is a constant flow of people from all over, but the place has a real buzz to it, making you feel at home. It just so happens that this first day coincides with the food fair when local businesses from across the country bring their fayre into town to share and sell. Choices are made. An Egyptian wrap and cheese ravioli are purchased and swigged down with excellent local wine. The atmosphere is one of acceptance, of diversity, of welcome.
As dusk falls this buzz is amplified and the city takes on a charm of its own. The tables fill up with diners and drinkers, families promenade, lovers cuddle in wrapped arms, locals look on and buskers busk. The volume of conversation and laughter is gradually turned up, backed up with the bass tones of church bells sounding out the hour and the various rhythms and sounds of street performers banging out their different styles of music.
A wonderful, magical first day.