Some of our travel journeys are impulse decisions, usually in response to a last minute bargain flight deal, but the trip to Ljubljana was planned well in advance because we were acting upon a recommendation and because it was a destination that sounded interesting and that appealed to us both.
I was looking forward to getting my hands on the Slovenian bank notes, the Sit, because the guide book said that this was probably the most attractive currency in all of Europe, so I was disappointed when the clerk at the exchange bureau gave us the news that Slovenia had adopted the Euro in January so sadly there were no new notes or an unusual currency to get to grips with for this particular trip. Helpfully she showed us a picture of what they were like before they were replaced and although they were interesting I have to say that I don’t think they would have been a match for the colourful Swiss bank that remain my personal favourites.
This was an Easyjet flight and there was some turbulence during the journey, especially over the Alps, and when the plane arrived in Slovenian air space there was a massive thunderstorm accompanied by torrential rain at the airport that prevented us from landing for fifty minutes whilst we circled several times at nine-thousand feet, which at least gave us the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the geography. At one point the pilot was good enough to comfort us that passenger safety was the primary concern and we shouldn’t worry because he had plenty of fuel on board. I wondered if he was reassuring the passengers or himself and the rest of the flight crew and I had a vision of him optimistically tapping the fuel gauge with a nervous index finger to try and persuade the indicator needle to stay out of the red.
Eventually the storm passed and the rain cleared and we landed on a steaming runway as the hot sun appeared and evaporated the puddles. After clearing customs and arrivals there was a forty-minute bus ride to the city through some scenic countryside and green arable fields flanked by the Julian Alps in the background.
We had had some difficulty in finding some suitable accommodation in Ljubljana and had eventually decided upon the Hotel Park which although suspiciously cheap and almost certainly basic sounded as though it would provide us with a good central location for our visit and we committed ourselves to a booking. After we had orientated ourselves and found our bearings we set off on the short walk to our chosen lodgings. After a few hundred metres we turned a corner and there towering above us was an ugly concrete structure and a sign confirming our worst nightmare, this was the Hotel Park; Oh My God!
Despite a commendable attempt to improve the external appearance of the building this had the look of an ex military police barracks that had been converted into a cheap hotel (probably not actually, but that is what it put me in mind of) and the situation didn’t improve after we had booked in. The corridors had asylum like stairways, concrete walls and floors and our room had cheap lino laid over the concrete, what was clearly end of the line MFI equivalent furniture and no air conditioning or hair dryer (we were unable to agree about which was the more serious omission). There was a curious smell and the window looked out towards a nearby church and bell tower. This did not look promising at all and it got worse when we returned to reception and discovered the place overrun with hyperactive children on a school trip.
Kim could see that I was in serious need of a drink so we were in and out of the room as quickly as possible and away into town to find a bar. We made our way to the river and crossed the Dragon Bridge, which was built in 1900 to commemorate the forty-year anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Josef and is so called because of the four large green dragons, which sit at each corner of the structure. After a short walk along the south bank of the River Ljubljanica we crossed back to the other side and found a nice little bar called the Café Promenada with outside seats overlooking the river so we took a table and we had our first Slovenian beer, a Lašco Zlatorog, which was a very acceptable brew indeed.
And then we were forced to have a second because a huge black cloud rolled in and there was a sudden and dramatic thunderstorm with rain so heavy that it bounced off of the pavement like shrapnel and started to come through the gaps in the umbrellas that were sheltering us. Ljubljana claims to be the wettest capital city in Europe and at one thousand three hundred and fifty millimetres a year (fifty-three inches) that would certainly take some beating. Before I knew this I would probably have guessed that it would be Cardiff, in Wales, because that is fairly damp as well but the Welsh capital city is left trailing way behind at only one thousand and seventy four millimetres. When the rain finally stopped we strolled back to the hotel for a very quick change and return for evening meal.
Soon we were back in the city, it was still wet and it was a strangely quiet and deserted so we walked around for a while and eventually selected a restaurant from the guidebook called the Gostilna Sokol, which apparently has a reputation for big meals. We were mindful of this advice when we ordered because all around us there were diners tackling large plates of food, including some of the teachers of the children at our hotel who had clearly abandoned them for an evening of peace and quiet.
We ordered a meat and cheese platter to start with and a game plate to follow, both to share. The waiter was concerned about potential under nourishment and invited us to reconsider whether this would be enough but we resisted the challenge to order more and stuck to what he considered to be our modest and inadequate selection. We were so glad that we did because we received two very substantial plates of food, which was more than enough for the two of us and we were left marvelling at Slovenian gut busting appetites.
After dinner we returned to the hotel via the Café Promenada and after a final drink or two we walked back past an even worse hotel than ours that turned out to be a converted prison block which it has to be said hadn’t done a great deal to transform itself. It was so bad in fact that we were almost glad of the Hotel Park.