Saturday, 8 May 2010

Ten Fragments of Ljubljana

I’m in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, once the northernmost part of Yugoslavia but nowadays a delightful little nation in the European Union.

It’s the first stop on a journey through Slovenia and Hungary to Poland, where I’ll be updating Lonely Planet’s Eastern Europe guidebook. My other half Narrelle Harris is accompanying me on the journey, and we’ve both been quite smitten by this pint-sized capital of a postage-stamp country.

Here are ten random fragments of Ljubljana that have taken our fancy...

1. Sleeper Cell. The below painting is part of the decoration in our cell... er, room... well, cell in the Hostel Celica. The hostel was once a military prison, built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and used by the Yugoslav army until Slovenia’s independence in 1991. The building was saved from demolition by protesters occupying the site, then turned into a hostel with each former cell decorated by different artists.




2. Heavy Metal. The hostel is located in Metelkova, a former military garrison. After independence it became a hub of alternative culture, with nightclubs, bars and galleries dotted through the crumbling old army quarters. It’s a fascinating place to visit, and enjoys a measure of semi-official tolerance by the city authorities.




3. Quake Remake. After a devastating earthquake in 1895 levelled a fair amount of downtown Ljubljana, the city gained a number of good looking art nouveau buildings. This is the lively former bank building at Miklošičeva cesta 8.




4. Just Musing. This bust of Julija Primic gazes across a square to the statue of Slovenia’s celebrated poet France Prešeren, whose writing was inspired by Primic’s beauty.




5. Sausage Sizzle. Yes, this is a wooden model of a sausage. Don’t ask. Any resemblance to South Park’s Mr Hankey is entirely coincidental.




6. Lounging Lizards. One of four dragon statues on the aptly-named Dragon Bridge across the Ljubljanica River. The dragon is an emblem of the city, which seems a bit of a copyright infringement as Kraków, Poland, also claims it. Presumably there are enough dragons to go around.




7. Skull! Skull! A skeleton in a gibbet hanging outside the delightful Caffè del Moro, which has a charming skeletal motif. 



8. Imperial Edict. A bust of the French Emperor Napoleon, fondly remembered in Slovenia as he set Ljubljana up as the capital of his Illyrian Provinces in 1809, thus allowing a short period of Slovene independence from Austrian rule and the freedom to teach and publish in their own language.



9. Irish Passage. This piece of street art encountered unexpectedly at the train station is a monument to Irish writer James Joyce, who passed through Ljubljana in 1904.



10. Alternative Universe. Finally, here’s Metelkova again around midnight on a Friday night, when the courtyards, bars and clubs were packed with locals. It was a chilly night but a distinctly warm social scene, with people milling around drinking beer, chatting, and trying to live up to the outrageous public art above them.



Next stop: Hungary!