Ljubljana, Capital of Slovenia

One of the joys of travel is finding places that exceed one's expectations. I had planned to spend two nights in Ljubljana and ended up staying for four (perhaps to the detriment of other parts of the country) and would have been happy to stay longer had time allowed.

The historic part of the city is compact and easily navigated on foot. There are many fine and well- maintained buildings to see, several grand, Baroque-style churches, and an ancient castle that rises above it all. There is also an interesting Museum of Modern Art, many other museums as well and shops and art galleries.

But, for me, Ljubljana was more than the sum of these tourist sights. The city just had a nice "feel" to it. The area along the Ljubljanica River is largely a pedestrian zone and lined with lively cafés and restaurants. Peršeren Square, in this same area, offered music, street entertainers and great place to relax and people watch. Throughout the city one happened upon small parks and well-kept squares. And giant Tivoli Park, only about a 15-20 walk from the historic center, is a wonderful urban park – part formal gardens, part natural forest (and a great place for a morning run).

From the standpoint of world history – which is all too often a catalog of wars and disasters – Ljubljana seems to have led a charmed life: nothing much happened here! During Roman times, the city was called Emona and part of a Roman wall can still be seen (Caesar Augustus is said to have laid the first stone in 14 CE). During the 5th century Emona was overrun by the Huns, but a century later the Slovenians' Slav forefathers moved into the area and started rebuilding. The city came under German rule (as the city of Laidbach) in the 11th century and by the 13th century came under the control of the Hapsburg dynasty, and later Austria-Hungary, where it remained until after World War I. Although occupied by German and Italian troops during World War II, the city was spared large scale fighting and destruction. And Ljubljana (like Slovenia as a whole) maintained a fair degree of autonomy during its four decades as part of Communist Yugoslavia and managed to get out of the collapsing Yugoslavia relatively unscathed (at least by comparison to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia).

Today, Ljubljana is a city of some 276,000 inhabitants. It is small enough to get around easily, but large enough to have many urban amenities and cultural events. In short, Ljubljana all around was an unexpected surprise and I highly recommend a visit.

(One word of caution for those, like me, who enjoy strolling around a new city and seeing the sights: the local residents take their bike lanes very seriously here! The lanes are well marked, but it is still easy for the distracted visitor to wander into them and suddenly find oneself in the crosshairs of an oncoming cyclist. Although there are many wonderful sights to see in Ljubljana, it's a good idea to look down from time to time and see where your feet are!)