10 reasons to travel to Ljubljana

Ljubljana travel
When I found cheap airfare from Istanbul to Ljubljana, I didn’t find many other travelers who’d been there or even say for sure which country it’s in. The tiny of country of Slovenia is slightly smaller than New Jersey and its capital city isn’t known for much other than being difficult to spell and pronounce (say “lyoob-lyAH-nah”). After spending a few days there last month, I quickly fell madly in love with the city, and recommend to everyone to add to their travel list.

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Here are some reasons to love Ljubljana:

1. It’s Prague without the tourists – Ljubljana has been called the next Prague for at least the last 10 years, but the comparison is still apt. Architect Jože Plečnik is known for his work at Prague Castle, but he was born in Ljubljana and is responsible for much of the architecture in the old downtown and the Triple Bridge that practically defines the city. While Prague is a lovely place to visit, it’s overrun in summer with backpackers and tourists. In Ljubljana, the only English I heard was spoken with a Slovenian accent, and there were no lines at any of the city’s attractions.

2. Affordable Europe – While not as cheap as say, Bulgaria, Ljubljana is a lot easier on the wallet than other European capital cities and cheaper than most of its neighbors. I stayed in a perfect room above the cafe Macek in an ideal location for 65 euro a night. A huge three-course dinner for one with drinks at Lunch cafe was 20 euro, and a liter of local wine in the supermarket is around 3-4 euro. I paid 6 euro for entrance into 4 art museums for the Biennial, and the same for all of the castle, including the excellent Slovene history museum, and the funicular ride there and back.3. Everyone speaks English – Sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. Everyone I met in Ljubljana spoke at least a few foreign languages including English; one supermarket cashier I met spoke six languages! While a language barrier shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying a foreign country, it’s great when communication is seamless and you can get recommendations from nearly every local you meet.

4. A delicious melting pot – Slovenia’s location also means a tasty diversity of food; think Italian pastas and pizzas, Austrian meats, and Croatian fish. One waiter I spoke to bemoaned the fact that he could never get a decent meal in ITALY like he can in Slovenia. While I’d never doubt the wonders of Italian food, I did have several meals in Ljubljana so good I wanted to eat them all over again as soon as I finished. Standout spots include Lunch Cafe (aka Marley & Me) and it’s next-door neighbor Julija.

5. Great wine – Slovenia has a thriving wine culture, but most of their best stuff stays in the country. A glass of house wine at most cafes is sure to be tasty, and cost only a euro or two. Ljubljana has many wine bars and tasting rooms that are approachable, affordable, and unpretentious. Dvorni Wine Bar has an extensive list, and on a Tuesday afternoon, there were several other mothers with babies, businesspeople, and tourists having lunch. I’m already scheming when to book a stay in a vineyard cottage, with local wine on tap.

6. Al-fresco isn’t just for summer – During my visit in early November, temperatures were in the 50s but outdoor cafes along the river were still lined with people. Like here in Istanbul, most cafes put out heating lamps and blankets to keep diners warm, and like the Turks, Slovenians also enjoy their smoking, which may account for the increase in outdoor seating (smoking was banned indoors a few years ago). The city’s large and leafy Tivoli Park is beautiful year-round, with several good museums to duck into if you need refuge from the elements.

7. Boutique shopping – The biggest surprise of Ljubljana for me was how many lovely shops I found. From international chains like Mandarina Duck (fabulous luggage) and Camper (Spanish hipster shoes) to local boutiques like La Chocolate for, uh, chocolate and charming design shop Sisi, there was hardly a single shop I didn’t want to go into, and that was just around the Stari Trg, more shops are to be found around the river and out of the city center.

8. Easy airport – This may not be first on your list when choosing a destination, but it makes travel a lot easier. Arriving at Ljubljana’s airport, you’ll find little more than a snack bar and an ATM outside, but it’s simple to grab a local bus into town or a shared shuttle for a few euro more. Departing from Slovenia, security took only a few minutes to get through, wi-fi is free, and there’s a good selection of local goodies at Duty Free if you forgot to buy gifts. LJU has flights from much of western Europe, including EasyJet from Paris and London.

9. Access to other parts of country – While Ljubljana has plenty to do for a few days, the country is compact enough to make a change of scenery easy and fast. Skiers can hop a bus from the airport to Kranj in the Slovenian Alps, and postcard-pretty Lake Bled is under 2 hours from the capital. In the summer, it’s possible to avoid traffic going to the seaside and take a train to a spa resort or beach. There are also frequent international connections; there are 7 trains a day to Croatia’s capital Zagreb, and Venice is just over 3 hours by bus.

10. Help planning your visit – When I first began planning my trip, I sent a message to the Ljubljana tourism board, and got a quick response with a list of family-friendly hotels and apartments. Next I downloaded the always-excellent In Your Pocket guide, which not only has a free guide and app, it also has a very active Facebook community with up-to-the-minute event info, restaurant recommendations, deals, and more. On Twitter, you can get many questions answered by TakeMe2Slovenia and VisitLjubljana.

Video: South African biker saves calf from drowning

This guy must be related to MacGyver. While participating in the qualification trials for the Amageza Run, South African motorcyclist Johan Gray didn’t think twice about stopping to save a baby calf who had gotten separated from the herd and fallen into a canal. While it took him a few tries, Gray was able to use his ingenuity to save the animal and bring him home. Thankfully, he was able to record the entire experience on his helmet camcorder.


Ask Gadling: You missed your flight


Even in this day and age of flight delays and cancellations, it’s always not the airline’s fault that you miss your flight. It happens: you oversleep, get stuck in traffic, or just run late on the way to the airport and miss your flight. A few months ago, my husband and I were heading out of Istanbul for the weekend and because of unusually long security lines and non-functional check-in kiosks, our flight closed just before we got to the check-in counter and we missed the flight. Turkish Airlines rebooked and ticketed us on another flight with a small change fee. Recently, some visiting friends missed their flight home though they were *at the gate* due to a last-minute gate change and zero announcements. Despite the fact that other passengers made the same mistake, they paid a change fee plus the fare difference, and they were also flying Turkish Airlines.

So what can you do if you miss your flight?

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.
  1. Proceed to the airport check in counter – There used to be an unwritten “flat tire” rule that meant if you got a flat tire en route, you could show up and be put on the next flight with no charge. That rule seems to have gone the way of the free meal in coach, but many airlines may still try to help depending on demand and schedules. If you are on your way but think you will miss the check in cut off time but not the departure time, try calling the airline in case they are able to check you in and then rush you to the gate. Even if you know you will miss your flight, your odds of being rebooked are better if you are physically at the airport than if you go back home or to your hotel. You may even still make the fight if you can (politely, please!) push through security if you tell other passengers you are about to miss your flight.
  2. Use your status if you have it – If you are flying an airline you hold status with, now is the time to call the Gold desk. Flying a full-fare or upper class ticket can also help. This is not to say you should threaten anyone or act self-important, you want to show you are a valuable customer who would greatly appreciate being accommodated. Missed flights are another good case for travel insurance, if you’ve ensured your trip, you may be able to be rebooked for free.
  3. Be calm and flexible – It may not be your fault that your taxi driver took the long way to the airport, but you’re still in the weaker position and at the mercy of the ticketing agent. It won’t help to be difficult or angry. Additionally, being flexible about your routing can help, especially if you’ve missed the last direct flight of the day. Ask about connections or even flights to neighboring cities where you can take a train or drive the rest of the way. The day we missed our flight out of Istanbul to Pristina, we ended up on the next flight – to Prague. Your travel plans may not always be so flexible, but getting a seat on a connecting flight may mean you get home – or on vacation – faster.

Gadling readers: what’s your experience been when you’ve missed a flight? What airlines do you find to be the most accommodating?

Ultimate recyling project: Building a soda bottle classroom

What happens when Peace Corps volunteers, the non-profit organization, Hug it Forward and a bevvy of school children and teachers in Guatemala recycle plastic bottles and trash? A school classroom.

The collected bottles were stuffed with trash and used to form the walls for a classroom addition at a school in Granados, a small mountain town in the Baja Verapaz region of the country. Amazing.

This video shows how the project was done. The music is a fitting addition to a project that brought the widest smiles to dozens of faces.

Imagine what might happen if similar projects happened on a massive scale world wide. There are a lot of plastic bottles on the planet.

For another version of a building project that fits into travel and activism, check out this gallery on house building with teens, college students and adults in Mexico through Amor Ministries, another non-profit that welcomes volunteers.

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Lost in Rome? Look for a “tourist angel”

Naples may have a team of ex-cons out on the streets helping lost tourists, but Rome will soon have a fleet of angels – “tourist angels”. According to the online Italy Magazine, Rome is currently recruiting a fleet of 60 guides who will zoom around the city on “electric chariots” (souped-up Segways, perhaps?) looking for confused visitors to help out with information and directions.

Rome’s deputy mayor and tourism chief said that the tourism ambassadors will begin work in November and will be wearing red jerseys to be easily recognized. He said the aim of the project is to provide visitors with easier access to tourism services. “This way tourists won’t have to go to information offices. They’ll be reached wherever they are,” he said.

Of course, that may not be entirely accurate. Rome is a pretty big city, with thousands of tourists flooding its streets every day. With only 60 tourist angels on the team (and not all of them working at once I’m sure), they really can’t be everywhere at all times. I imagine they’ll spread out among the major tourist areas, where they’ll be approached by people in need rather than having to seek them out. Still, it’s a helpful service and I’m sure that many lost souls will appreciate the help of their guardian tourist angel.