Visit to Ljubljana, Slovenia

A 3-day trip to the capital city of Slovenia in the former Yugoslavia with my wife at Easter. Featuring some of the major architectural sites of Ljubljana and a trip to Lake Bled in the Julian Alps.

We arrived in Ljubljana to a downpour that lasted into the evening, Easter Monday. We wandered the rainy streets taking in Jože Plečnik’s Central Market and the Dragon Bridge, then ate Ossobuco with crispy greens and risotto for a late lunch. The youngsters in the restaurant spoke with the intonation of Italian but containing Slovenian words. I’ve been fascinated with this cultural soup ever since my wife started to explain her father’s complex personal history – born in interwar Italy in a region that became Yugoslavia after the Second World War rendering his family stateless. His parents though, had been born in the same town when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, his father an ethnic Italian, mother Slovene-Hungarian. That town is now in Slovenia. We recently discovered Heidi’s great uncle Zorco’s Wikipedia page where his Profession is listed as ‘Warlord’. After the war he served as the Italian military attaché in Czechoslovakia and died on a level crossing in the Czech Republic some years later. We once visited the castle in Merano, Italy near Bolzano where he served in the Italian military – a place where the primary language is German.
The old buildings in Ljubljana reeked of the postcard idea of Mittle Europe I’d been carrying in my head. A city long held by the Habsburg Dynasty it’s threaded through with European history, and now ranks amongst the continent’s most successful cities (depending on which metrics you apply).

Lake Bled Cafe, Slovenia

On our second day we took the bus to Lake Bled in the Julian Alps. We arrived to an intense hail storm and took refuge in a cafe where I became fixated by a painting of a rural scene showing an old house with a round-towered church on a hill. It’s exactly the kind of feature that W.G Sebald would have injected meaning into – I guess here I’m thinking of his brilliant book Vertigo which I associate with the border regions of this area.
(I later discovered that the painting appears to be by German artist Christian Friedrich Mali, Ländliche Idylle , 1860)

The rain cleared and we walked the path that lapped around the shimmering alpine body of water. Sunbeams broke through the storm clouds to illuminate the church on an island in the lake. We ate a traditional apple cake with cream.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Back in Ljubljana early evening we went hunting a socialist modernist (soc mod) masterpiece spotted from the bus. I got a rush of adrenalin when we found Milan Mihelič’s Petrol station on the edge of the city centre. The concrete bloom caught the sunset. Aside from the time spent with Heidi it was the highlight of the trip.

Petrol Station Ljubljana

On our final day we took a boat trip on the Ljubljanica River, and wandered the streets spotting more Soc Mod masterpieces and other fine buildings. It was the first of what I feel will be more journeys exploring this part of Mittle Europe.

Read: Socialist Modernism in Ljubljana

1 Comment

  1. Gerry King   •  

    Brilliant! Thank you John. I’m reading your piece while lounging in Wales. Love the architecture.

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