Fancy yourself an orthographer? Try spelling the name of the capital of Slovenia: Ljubljana. Like Reykjavik and Yogyakarta, it’s charming to visit, but impossible to spell.
It’s pronounced “Loob-lee-ana,” but what’s the story on the silent “j” at the beginning, and the “j” with the long “e” sound a few letters later? Without fail, I have to look this word up whenever I type it. Luckily, this delightful city is easier to visit than spell, and is definitely worth the effort.
Located at the extreme northern end of what was formerly the communist stronghold Yugoslavia, Ljubljana will impress you in different ways depending on the path chosen to enter. It’s only 25 miles from Austria’s southern border, and if you travel in this way, it will seem like another attractive, picturesque European city. But, if you arrive the way we did – flying in from the south after a few weeks in Bosnia and Croatia, it will feel completely different.
Slovenia and its capital Ljubljana, like Yugoslavia’s other member countries, became independent in the early 90s. But this shared independence is where the similarities stop.
Missing are the bullet-pocked, bombed-out buildings, and the other all-too-obvious signs of the horrific Balkan war. Mosques and their melodic call to prayers are few, and the Turkish influenced architecture so common farther south, is rare.
Known as “Yugoslavia’s well-to-do sibling,” Slovenia isn’t war-torn and is much more prosperous than other Balkan countries. Like many Western European capitals, Ljubljana has an active cafe culture that loves to socialize. Its old town is fairy-tale scenic, and strolling the meandering, tree-lined embankment of the lovely Ljubljanica River is popular with locals and tourists alike. And of course, how could it be a proper fairy tale without a hilltop castle and a fierce-looking dragon standing watch?
We have a test of how well we like a place. First, would we come back, and second, could we spend a month there? In the case of Ljubljana, the answer to each of these questions is an enthusiastic yes. Slovenia shares borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, and Ljubljana would be the perfect base for exploring the area.
Photo Credits: 1. Wojgniew