Note: I'm going insert the pronunciation of Slovene words into this blog post in case you're not familiar with the Slovene or Croatian alphabets. This won't be exact but it will go a long way to being able to pronounce Slovene or Croat words instead of them just looking like a bunch of mishmash. Not all of these letters are available in both alphabets but they're pretty close. Slavic languages look cryptic but are phonetic – you have one sound per character so the pronunciation is very easy to predict unlike English or French.
The simple stuff
j = y
Lj = ly sound like ll in million
Nj = ny sound like n as in minion
c = ts
Any letter with an accent over it is the complex version of that sound in English and often you just add the letter h to it.
č = ch (harder)
ć = ch (softer)
Dž or Đ = j
š = sh
Ž = zsh
Things that are the same as English but without exceptions
g = always hard g
d = always hard d
a = a as in car
e = short e
i = ee sound
o =long o
u = long as in ute
If you don't want to remember all of this just add an h to any letter with something over it and you probably won't be far off.
There's no antidote for Ryanair better than Slovenia!
There's just something about that Slovenia that exudes peace and calm. It's about as anti-bad-Ryanair experience as any place could be.
However, Ryanair doesn't fly to Slovenia – it flies to Trieste Italy. We've done this connection in the past and it's not that difficult but there are a few necessary steps. The Trieste airport is north of Trieste but the city bus #51 takes you downtown in about 50 minutes for a reasonable fee. Once downtown people have a few choices – tram, bus or taxi to Villa Opicina. The area around Trieste has gone back and forth between being part of Italy and part of Slovenia when it itself was part of the Austria-Hungry empire. Just up the hill from Trieste is the Italy/Slovenia border and there's an historic tram that climbs the very steep cliffs to the Italian border town of Villa Opicina. The tram was out of commission for years but they got it working again last year and we attempted to take it then. In the morning we saw it running, so we got lunch and did some site-seeing and in the afternoon it was broken again so we had to take the #4 bus to Villa Opicina. The bus did so quickly enough but with less fanfare. From Villa Opicina we had a Slovenian taxi pick us up and drive us to Ljubljana.
Ljubljana is pronounced lyoo-blee-yana for the most part. I've heard variations where they drop the y sound but I never know if it's just slang or the real way.
This year we planned on getting to Ljubljana as we have in the past with the only difference being that our flight was coming in later in the day leaving no time for site-seeing and there were 5 of us including a wheelchair.
Upon arriving into Trieste our time was short as our Slovenian taxi was going to be in Villa Opicina at 7 pm to pick us up. This ruled out the historic tram and the bus so we waved down a taxi who said he couldn't fit our stuff into his car. Then we tried another one who said the same thing. I walked to the train station and flagged down another one who also didn't have room. It seems 4 people is the maximum for most small Italian cabs. As time ran out a larger taxi came along and picked us up. He asked why we were going to Villa Opicina so we told him a Taxi was taking us to Ljubljana. He then offered to take us the whole way for 160 euros. I told him our taxi was willing to do it for 80 euros and he said “Slovenian?”. He then declined to take us saying he couldn't do it for that.
The road from Trieste on the waterfront to Villa Opicina is a breathtaking one as you climb the high cliffs over the city until everything in view appears to be minuscule. The view is absolutely marvelous. One day I'll be able to take the historic tram with it's helper 'push car' that pushes the train up the steepest part.
On the way up the hill I noticed that signs were in both Slovenian and Italian. Knowing already that this land was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire along with Slovenia at one point I asked our Italian driver why the dual lingo signs. “Because there are quite a few Slovenians who live here”. Heh, riiighhht. I guess that's one way to look at it. In the early 1900's there were more Slovenians in Trieste than in the capitol of Slovenia. Trieste only became part of Italy in 1915 at which point there were a couple hundred Italians living there and half a million Slovenes. As Italians poured in for the next 10 years they became threatened by the large Slovenian middle class and a surge of forced “Italianization” happened where Slovenes were persecuted and forced to speak Italian. Many Slovenes escaped to the newly founded Yugoslavia. After WWII Trieste became an independent city state for about 7 years before it became Italian property once again in 1954. The border between Italy and Slovenia wasn't agreed upon until 1975. So why are there dual language street signs? Because Trieste didn't belong to Italy for most of it's existence or we can believe an Italian taxi driver who thinks there's a few Slovenians living there.
Today's travel hint: Use a Slovenian taxi and not an Italian one, you'll save a bunch of cash…
As our Italian taxi dropped us off next to the tram station in Villa Opicina I saw a mini-van parked in the parking lot across the street and an attractive blonde lady in her 30s with short cropped hair and large sunglasses standing next to it. This I took to be our driver. I can identify a Slavic woman from 50 ft away so we dragged our bags over to her van and she loaded them up.
Our lovely Slovenian driver deftly rowed the manual shift lever of our diesel mini-van as necessary to keep us up with traffic. We traveled through beautiful emerald green valleys dotted with little Slovenian villages each possessing semi-onion domed churches. All of them beautiful and quaint. It takes about 90 minutes to get from Villa Opicina to Ljubljana Slovenia by car with the border crossing. At the border people basically slow down to go through the crossing and speed back up again. One of the benefits of the European Union.
We hired our taxi from Taksi Legende in Ljubljana. The website stinks but the service is excellent and the price is very reasonable so I highly recommend them. I mention the website only because this is how we attempted to book the taxi and only managed to say we wanted a taxi from Villa Opicina to the Ljubljana airport which probably doesn't make a ton of sense. Our driver took her oversized sunglasses off for a moment to look in the rear view mirror in a way only beautiful Slavic women can and asked where we wanted to go. There are some languages that are beautifully spoken like French – you know why you're enamored – it sounds good. And then a Slavic woman talks to you and you can't think straight but you don't understand why. She could have a giant mole on her nose, only two teeth – one pointing one way and the other pointing in the opposite direction and all you can see is Paulina Poriskova. That happens in Slovenia. I did manage to tell her that we wanted to go to Kongresni Trg (Congress Square) one of the main squares and not the airport. A few moments later she dropped our bags at the curb and motored away.
Ljubljana is a really, truly, lovely city. The architecture in the historic center is baroque and art nouveau with a dash of local flavor as well. Overlooking the city is an ancient castle originally built in the 11th century that looks to have been a little over renovated making it look fairly new. Running through Ljubljana is the Ljubljanica (lyoo-blee-an-itsa) river and all along the river's edge are ice cream shops, cafes and bars.
When I'm in Slovenia I think of the Galapagos Islands. On those islands I've heard that the animals come right up to you because they aren't scared – they have no natural predators. Slovenia is the Galapagos Islands for humans. They act as though they don't have a care in the world. Every night people are lounging along the river in cafes, laughing, drinking and listening to music. Families wander across the triple bridge to pick up ice cream and sit on the base of the monument to France Prešeran (preh-shur-an) - a poet. Most cities have statues of famous war heros in their main squares but not Ljubljana, they have a poet. Mr. Prešeran is looking off into the distance. As the story goes he was of humble birth and fell in love with a girl named Julija Primic from a noble family who lived right on the main square. Alas it was not to be as those social boundaries couldn't be crossed. France Prešeran became famous and a statue was erected in his honor and Julija faded into relative obscurity and we only know of her by association with him. Now the square on which she lived is called Prešeran square. On the wall where Julija lived is a relief of her face and France Prešeran is forever gazing at her from his pedestal. This is where everyone says ahhhh...
Over the years I've been to Ljubljana 4 or 5 times and as such have stayed in various parts of the city. Last year we stayed in a loft apartment right on the river. This year we got this really eclectic apartment that's on the top floor of a hotel. We were really drawn to it because of the overly sunny 'Cuban' colors in the kitchen and the beams in the ceiling. The owner wasn't going to be around so we had the concierge let us in and we immediately fell in love. There were rooms everywhere, little steps down into bedrooms, stairs up to the loft where there were two additional bedrooms and a bathroom with a tiled wall plus a hammock! Any place with a hammock will be popular with our family. One wall of the living room was all books clear to the second story ceiling so there was a ladder to reach them. Overlooking the courtyard from the living room was a balcony in case we wanted to sit outside and enjoy the scenery. Because this apartment was in the very top of the building the balcony was inset into the sloping roof allowing you to look straight out onto the roof tiles on either side. To this day this apartment is our favorite. Each person in turn asked me if we could just move in and live here.
As soon as we got acquainted with our apartment we set out for one of our favorite restaurants – Zvezda Bistro (http://www.zvezdaljubljana.si/en/), right on Kongresni Trg. Zvezda means star in Slovenian so it's easy to pick out as their logo has a star on it. Zvezda isn't a traditional Slovenian restaurant – it's new, exciting and fresh. This doesn't mean we don't like traditional Slovenian food as we like it a great deal and we ate at the traditional Gostilna the next day so I'll cover it later.
Zvezda has what they call “Crunchies' which are essentially spelt cracker crust pizzas. The difference between crunchies and pizzas is that the toppings are very exciting new flavor combinations and you get 5 or 6 on one Crunchy so each row tastes different – great for sharing with guests. I would They also have a smattering of pasta, fish and chicken dishes. On the side of one they had pureed carrots that were groundbreaking! They had the texture of mashed potatoes but the color and flavor of carrots.
After dinner we did what Slovenians do – walked the river, ate gelato and listened to music. Such a life.