Tag Archives: old town

Slovenia – Ljubliana – various impressions of this delightful capital city.

Ljubliana must be one of the smaller capital cities in Europe (population 400,000 in a country of 2 millionP) but it packs quite a punch. Clear influences from Austria and Hungary are all around but the prices are (still) cheaper.

I rented a great apartment just 6 minutes walk into the main part of the old town but with panoramic views in all directions – windows and terrace on both sides!

Views from my lovely panoramic apartment

The old city centres around the river which is bordered by cafes, restaurants, shops, art galleries and pretty buildings and many dinky little bridges. It is also possible to take a boat ride down the river for a different perspective.

The Dragon bridge below is one of the most well known bridges. There is a dragon at each of the four corners as the dragon is seen as the symbol of Ljubliana. Many myths abound as to why. Apparently he lived (or still lives) in the surrounding hills. He was the dragon that Jason slaughtered on his quest for the Golden Fleece or he was the dragon that St George caught or he escaped and is living in the mountains and when he has a cold and breathes heavily the mist descends over the hills until he is feeling better!

A continuously photogenic riverside makes it hard to know when to stop taking photos!

Riverside view, a dragon on the bridge and the main squares of the Old Town

The colourful building below was an attempt by the crafty artists to develop a “Slovenian ethnic style” back in the day but it never took off. However I am glad they kept this building as an example as it is really quite pretty – although I am not sure I would like a town full of this!

By the river and in the old town of Ljubliana. Ljubliana Castle in the distance at the top of the hill

Everyone goes to visit Ljubliana Castle which looks down on the Old Town. It has gone through many iterations and many rebuilds and repurposing. Of course it was originally built to defend the town from the Ottomans but subsequently became a prison and these days is a cultural centre which hosts events, allows visitors, has open air movies and concerts etc. I took the furnicular up and walked down but I did walk up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower for the views. The spiral staircase is designed on two levels so it looks like one but in fact it is one staircase above another so people go up on one and down on the other. Very clever. The views are impressive as you’d expect. Also pretty at night.

Ljubliana Castle, the spiral double level staircase, the views and the castle at night

The main church has an impressive metal carved door which tells stories from the bible and also local struggles. It was dedicated to the ever popular Pope John Paul who seems to pop up everywhere I go! The bit I liked the best though is if you look at the photo on the right hand side you will see a tiny shiny bit at the bottom. That is actually the artist’s signature and is an engraving of his face on its side as shown in the zoomed version bottom left. Obviously he didn’t keep this a secret as everyone has touched his face for luck and that is why it is shiny!

The entrance to the main Catholic church in Ljubliana

Another person you hear a lot about in this city is the resident acrchitect Joze Plecnik. Most of his work was between 1920 and the mid 1950s and he is absolutely everywhere so I decided to do a Plecnik focused walking tour of the city (there was only 3 of us and the other couple were from Melbourne and their son works for ANZ – of course!).

Apparently he was very grumpy (shades of FLW I think) and the photo is a very rare one of him smiling – usually he looked more like the bust below – dour. He designed the two storey market building that runs along the riverside. At ground level it is all restaurants and a few market stalls and at river level it is a full fish and meat market and houses art galleries.

Fish as art?

Also in the Center of the old town are the three bridges – Plecnik built the other two around the original first one. He always used polished concrete or limestone (it was cheap and plentiful) and recycled everything. He also loved curves and these are classic examples of his work. He liked to build on to what was already there – like on the Roman Wall below.

Examples of Plecnik’s work in Ljubliana

His most famous large building is the National and University student library – exterior shown above. Bit hard to see but the windows at the top jut out in a triangle shape so meant to look like open books.

The interior is also all his own design. We couldn’t take photos inside the study area
(which was spectacular) as there were students studying but we got to see the main entrance and have his favourite tea in the student cafeteria. The entrance staircase was meant to inspire students to work hard – carry all your books up the stairs to the “light at the end of the tunnel” and also where the study area is. He deliberately made all the chairs hard as he felt chairs were not to be lounged in but a place from which to study!

Interior of the National and University Student library building

We went on to visit the photography school that he and his pupils designed which was formerly a monastery.

Former monastery, now the school of Photography

He also designed the bridge below with the pyramid (he liked them too) which is one of the few in the world that has trees on it. The symbol on the house at the bottom right was put on houses during the plague to show that the plague stopped at this point.

Turns out Mr Plecnik was a very grumpy workaholic. The house he lived in was bought by his brother and he was supposed to live there with his three siblings. In the end only one brother lived there at the same time but they were such different characters – the brother loved people and his lady friends; his workaholic brother liked neither – so that didn’t last long and Plecnik lived here alone. He even bought the next door house so that he wouldn’t have any neighbours other than the church. Basically he used to walk into town every day either by the river or the main road and 90% of his work in Ljubliana is in that small area.

Plexnik’s house and the church next door. He was religious and got on well with the priest but no-one else

Interior of Plecnik’s house with uncomfortable chairs to discourage visitors (this one is also a self portrait) plus easy access to his coffee and the garden.

Finally of course a food tour with Jasmine – and I lucked out again as this time it ws only me on the tour. Lots of opportunity to sample local wine and local dishes in some interesting spots. I liked the soup below – meat and turnips and then you pour in the pumpkin oil. Sounds strange but it was very good indeed.

Bulgaria, Plovdiv – 2019 European City of Culture

Plovdiv is a charming town in central Bulgaria and worth visiting but I think it can be done in two full days. Plovdiv is remarkably the oldest inhabited city in Europe but it is also gently modernising.

The main shopping street in Plovidv

It consists of an old town with an excellent Roman amphitheater and we were lucky to be able to watch an orchestra play on a warm sunny evening. A special treat.

Listening to the music at the Roman Amphitheatre

Visiting the Old Town of Plovidiv is a must. Full of quaint houses, a few shops and people practising old crafts – it has a quiet vibe and is a great place to walk around – with comfortable shoes.

The charming old part of the City

The Old town also has many revivalist homes that allow you to see what life was like in the early part of the 20th century as modernization was taking hold and the Ottoman Empire rule was declining. These houses have been lovingly restored.

The inside of Balabanov House

The Ethnographical Museum also in the Old Town was a beautiful building but sadly no inside shots allowed.

The Ethnographical Museum (with pesky children having their lunch)

The city still has a large mosque which towers over more ancient Roman ruins and it is a mosque you can visit inside so we did – it was splendid. I do enjoy the way there are so many layers of civilization in this part of the world. The deeper they dig the more they find.

The Mosque in Plovdiv perched above the Roman Forum

The trendy and arty part of town is called Kapana and is where all the bars and restaurants are plus some street art. I think this is where most of the events linked to European City of Culture will be focussed as the summer season gets into full swing.

Street Art in Kapana

Some good restaurants in Kapana and we were especially enamoured of Tam’s House – the chefs were Bulgarian and Peruvian who trained at a Michelin starred restaurant in the Napa Valley and now they are in Plovidiv. The food was amazing as was the local wine and the cost was just AUD50 a head for a meal that was top class and would cost three times that in Melbourne.

Tam’s House – strongly recommended if you can find it!

Spain – Old and new on a day trip from Bilbao – Vitoria-Gasteiz

I jumped on a bus and rattled into the pretty countryside outside of Bilbao heading for Vitoria-Gasteiz – which I had never heard of although it is the capital of the Basque Country in Spain.

It was full of surprises. Not too many people. Lovely old alleyways but also splashes of fabulous street art which I always love especially when it is in places that are very old. The pinxtos were pretty good too.