After leaving the planning to her friends, Christiana Bishop finds unexpected beauty and a rare atmosphere in a country she did not know she would come to love.
When my friend suggested Slovenia as the destination for a girls’ holiday this past summer, I have to admit my first thought was one of slight apprehension. To my ignorant mind I questioned what there was to see in Slovenia during the summer, as we were neither hikers nor canoe-ers. However, determined to visit, my friend convinced us that we, as energised young twenty-one-year-olds, should strive to seek out the lesser known destination hotspots, as opposed to visiting the typical cities found marked out on a conventional inter rail trip around Europe. Therefore, during the last week of August I found myself boarding an EasyJet flight to Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Slovenia’s national history is a diverse narrative of a country joining and detaching themselves to and from different empires. Until 1918 Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then after the second world war the country became a founding member of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia until 1991 when Slovenia’s independence was finally established. This diverse political history and exposure to differing cultures is manifested in the nation’s various cities’ architecture and atmosphere.
Upon arriving in Ljubljana, the capital and biggest city in Slovenia, I finally realised what my friend had been so enthusiastic about. The city was overflowing with beautiful architecture and ambiance, almost an amalgamation of all the many cities across Europe. A small canal ran through the centre of the town, with stone bridges flying above making the image as you looked down the river reminiscent of Amsterdam. The cobbled streets and small market squares had a distinctive Viennese feel, with the architectural style embracing large open windows with detailed stone masonry borders.The cultural influences of Slovenia’s neighbouring country Italy can be distinctly felt especially at night, with live music playing and coffee shops and ice cream counters buzzing into the early hours, as families and locals sit out watching the world go by.
These western European influences in Ljubljana established a unique feel, which was only enhanced by a particularly invigorated creative atmosphere. On almost every street my friends and I marvelled at the numerous displays of imagination, from statues to intricately patterned walls; this city was unlike any other. Pivotally, this freedom of creative expression seemed to be respected amongst locals, as you may find in other cities graffiti having an overbearing presence as the ‘street-art,’ in Ljubljana the artwork was diverse and, once completed, left untouched.
Our hostel was in the located near the Metelkova City, the unofficial arts quarter of Ljubljana. Formerly a military barracks, local artisans squatted on the site in 1993, and the micro city has since become the sovereign social and cultural centre of Ljubljana, with many art galleries, bars and artesian studios all taking residence in the quarter. This alternative cultural community is clearly thriving, with many drawing comparisons between the energy and imagination seeped in Metelkova with those of Copenhagen’s Christiania district.
After the excitement of Ljubljana, my friends and I then headed north out of the city to visit Lake Bled, quoted as being “One of the Top Natural Wonders of the World”. The scenery surrounding the lake was breathtakingly beautiful, with the town surrounding the lake and the lake surrounding Bled Island, where a church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary was built during the seventeenth century. 98 stone steps lead up to the church, and my friends and I were told by a local that it was tradition among couples that married there for the groom to carry the bride up the entire baroque stairway!
The tranquillity of the Lake was equally magnificent as the vibrancy of Ljubljana. I am not sure many people would call my friends and I ‘outdoorsy’ kind of girls, but the beauty of the scenery and rejuvenating air at Lake Bled inspired us to embrace the outdoors. From walks in the pouring rain down the river gorge to white water rafting, we immersed ourselves in every activity Lake Bled provided, almost feeling it would be an injustice to such a beautiful place not to try everything it had to offer.
Slovenia, with its unassuming sophistication and breath-taking scenery, is a perfect place for anyone wishing to take a European trip this autumn. The cultural diversity and natural beauty make Slovenia truly unique, and as an understated tourist destination it is a brilliant place for frugal students travelling on a budget!