We went to breakfast at about 9:30, encountering no food supply problems at this more punctual hour, and felt that the day was off to a good start.

Map of central Ljubljana
In the process of planning our trip, I had sketched out four paths we might follow to see the major sights of Ljubljana, especially the architectural treasures the city is famous for. On this day, we decided to try to fit in the two that were shortest and closest together. All of our wanderings took place within the center of town. Click the map icon on the right to display a map of this area; it will open in a separate window in case you want to keep it open together with this one.

One path began in Prešeren square and would give us a chance to see — besides the market and the baroque cathedral we had visited briefly on Wednesday — some of the best examples of Viennese Secessionist architecture created around the turn of the 20th century. The other would take us along the foot of the castle hill, through Ljubljana’s oldest neighborhoods. Click here for more about the architecture of Ljubljana.

Note: Some of the descriptions that follow may refer to features that you can’t see in the illustrations. Don’t forget that the galleries — there are three for this day — have more pictures of just about everything we mention.


The Ljubljana City Savings Bank
We left the hotel at about 10:30 and walked down the pedestrian-only stretch of Čopova cesta. Almost at Prešeren square, we stopped to look at the Ljubljana City Savings Bank (Mestna Hranilnica Ljubljanska), built in 1903–1904, a fine example of Secessionist architecture, highly ornamented with carving and sculpture. It has Ljubljana’s only surviving sign from that period, with Art Nouveau lettering, framed with in bronze with typically twining vines, and with a little model beehive attached at one corner to invoke the spirit of communal thrift. Above the sign is a slightly floral-looking glass awning, and higher up on the front stand two allegorical figures, a nearly nude man and a flowingly draped woman, representing industry and commerce. The building is still used for banking: it now houses a branch of Ljubljanska Banka, the country’s largest and most abundantly branched bank.

At the Seunig House, a jewelry store for procrastinators
Two doors farher on, at the corner where Čopova enters the square, is the Seunig House — a large square building that none of the guidebooks talks about, rich though it is in Secession details. It was painted (pretty recently, by the appearance) in attractive shades of green and cream, the latter color highlighting some of the details; perhaps it will get more notice in future editions. For our part, we found the building very attractive, though we were a bit disconcerted by the name of the jeweler’s shop on the corner, which prefixes a common abbreviation of Slovenija (as seen on the oval bumper stickers that identify the country in which a car is registered) to a commercially appropriate English word. But the result, in an English-speaking country, would win no awards for effective branding.

The Hauptmann House, renovated 1904
A short distance away on Prešeren Square is the Hauptmann House, built in 1873 and one of the few structures in the neighborhood that survived the earthquake of 1895. Adolph Hauptmann, a manufacturer of either paint or dyes (my sources differ), bought the house after the earthquake and in 1904 had the facade and roof renovated in Secessionist style by the architect Ciril Metod Koch. (A small baroque-style balcony on the narrow end remains from the original building. The facade is decorated with ceramic tiles in geometrical patterns, brightly colored in the Viennese fashion of the time. A pamphlet issued by the Ljubljana Tourist Information Center says that the roofline has unfortunately been altered since Herr Hauptmann’s time, but originally “was concluded in the upper part with sheet metal snow guards with an undulating, somewhat oriental line.” No trace of that is visible now, but the eaves’ colorful decoration still pleases the eye.

The city market
Setting the Viennese Secession aside for the moment, we crossed the square and the Triple Bridge and strolled through the market. On Wednesday we had found it in the process of closing down, but on this morning it was full of buyers and sellers. Not only vegetables, but flowers, clothes, and several other kinds of merchandise were changing hands.

Rain began to fall just as we entered the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas. We had made a quick visit on the walking tour, but today we wanted to explore its rich interior in a more leisurely way.

St. Nicholas Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace
Like many European cathedrals, St. Nicholas is closely surrounded by buildings of various kinds including the bishop’s palace (now the central office of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Slovenia, though whether the Archbishop still resides there I haven’t been able to find out) and the archdiocesan seminary. Other buildings crowd in as well — the city first grew up in the narrow space between the castle hill and the Ljubljanica, only expanding across the river in comparatively recent centuries. Not much building space is available in this area. So it’s hard to get a picture of the whole cathedral without using a helicopter; on the ground, you can only see one side at a time, and you need to stand close and point the camera up. This picture of Dorothea’s, which shows the bridge connecting the bishop’s palace with the cathedral, gets about as much in as we could manage.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, interior
Although its dome (added in 1841) and towers, as seen from the marketplace and nearby streets, have an attractive gravitas, it is the inside that makes the cathedral spectacular. A pamphlet published by the Ljubljana Tourist Information Centre (TIC for short) says that the appearance of the church was modified during the 19th century — not only by adding the dome, but also by fully renovating the interior in 1859–1860. Before this, according to the author, the cathedral’s “original appearance ... was undoubtedly more Venetian than it seems today: gilding and reddish marble replaced the [original] white and gray colour scale in the interior.” However it may have looked before, however, the cathedral today can impress a visitor (at least, a vistior open to such experiences) with a sensuous opulence quite in keeping with the late Baroque style. Click here for more about St. Nicholas Cathedral

We spent quite a while in the cathedral, looking around and taking pictures, but it was still raining lightly when we came out. Back at the Triple Bridge, we went into the tourist information office to ask if we’d need a reservation to visit Jože Plečnik’s house the next day, and were happy to take No for an answer.

Ribca's arches beneath the market colonnade
Because of the rain, we decided to go down the stairs for an early lunch at Ribca, the fish restaurant we had been to on Wednesday. We sat at a table next to one of Plečnik’s massive arches, where we had a fine view of the Triple Bridge and the River. Our lunch was simple: I had fish soup — a broth rather than a chowder — and polenta fried in slabs; Dorothea had a Greek salad and some of Ribca’s fine French fries, and we shared a bottle of Radenska. Simple didn’t mean cheap, however: the bill came to €17 (about $25). However, the municipal loos that occupy the embankment’s lower level on the opposite side of the river (men’s southwest of the Triple Bridge, women’s northeast of it) were very reasonably priced at 1/50 the cost of our lunch (i.e., 17 Eurocents apiece), and on leaving the restaurant we were glad to make this modest investment in comfort.

It wasn’t raining as we crossed Prešeren square to return to our exploration of Ljubljana’s Secessionist buildings. The ones we’d already looked at were on the west side of the square, to the left of the bright red Baroque Franciscan Church of the Assumption. Miklošičeva cesta, the street that comes in immediately to the right of the church, is the city’s central repository of this architectural tradition. It runs for a long block to the small, green Miklošičeva Park. All the way there, the street is lined with wonderful buildings, and many more cluster around the park. The reason for the rich concentration of Secessionist buildings is the damage done by the earthquake of 1895, which hit this prosperous and commercially important area very hard. Rebuilding went on for two decades and more, but most of it was concentrated in the first decade of the 20th century — the heyday of Secessionism (and its international brethren, Art Nouveau and Jugendstil).

Centromerkur department store, 1903
Facing the square on the opposite side of Miklošičeva cesta from the church is Ljubljana’s oldest department store, Centromerkur, built in 1903. In keeping with its name (something like “Mercury Center”), the building is surmounted by a statue of Mercury, the Roman god of commerce — he was also the patron of thieves, but we shouldn’t let that reflect on the enterprising Ljubljana merchant, Felix Urbanc, who founded the store. (It was a radical commercial departure for a small city with 40,000 inhabitants, who up to that time had been accustomed only to small, specialized shops.) The building’s other main feature is the glass roof that projects from above the front door. Like the awning of the Municipal Savings Bank, it resembles the petals of a flower. I was used to associating floral and vine motifs with Art Nouveau, but many of the Secessionist buildings surprised me with their frequent use of statues as ornamentation. Apparently some Secessionists, including Oscar Wagner, the architect who took part in founding the movement, preferred a plainer style, but others were prepared to lay on the sculpture with abandon. Centromerkur was designed by an Austrian, Friedrich Sigmundt of Graz.

Hotel Union, 1903–1905
A little farther up the street on the same side as and just behind the Franciscan church (as seen from the square) is Ljubljana’s first modern hotel, the Union, built in 1903–1905 to the plans of a Croatian architect, Josip Vancaš, who also designed the City Savings Bank. According to the Rough Guide, it is still the city’s finest. (We’ll have to take their word for it; we didn’t have the time to look inside, much less the money to stay there.) When it opened it was the city’s largest building and (according to the tourist center’s pamphlet on Secessionist architecture in Ljubljana) “boasted the grandest ceremonial hall in the whole Balkans.” Its “complex iron roof construction ... was also regarded as an outstanding technological achievement.” In the picture, you can see part of the church on the left and a bit of the Centromerkur’s glass front-door canopy on the right.

As we went on up Miklošičeva, the rain began to fall again, but not heavily enough to be a real nuisance.

People's Loan Bank, 1907
On the side opposite the Hotel Union, we came to an elegant white Secessionist building that the tourist info pamphlet identifies as the People’s Loan Bank (Ljudska Posojilnica) but doesn’t explain the words Zadružna Zveza (‘Cooperative Association’) across the front. Is there some relation to the later Cooperative Bank next door? Both the lettering and the wrought iron trim that supports it look as if they belong to the original building, so the naming remains mysterious. It may be worth mentioning that at least a couple of banks have offices on the ground floor. This building is another of Josip Vancaš’s works, built in 1907, and the sculpted faces looking down at pedestrians are certainly reminiscent of the City Savings Bank’s facade. The pamphlet provides more detail about the statues on the roof than we were able to see from the sidewalk: “two seated figures, barefoot and with exposed shoulders, holding a pouch, beehive, and cartridges [cartouches?] on which are depicted a bee and an ant, the symbols of thrift, diligence, and capital wealth.” Sounds like a bank, all right. However, if these two insects were really universal symbols of capital wealth, the Communists would probably have found some way to liquidate them during the four-plus decades when they were in power.

Cooperative Bank, 1921
Next door to the People’s Loan Bank or Cooperative Association (take your pick) is one of our favorite buildings in Ljubljana — and to judge from the number of pictures of one can find in guidebooks and websites, we’re not alone in this feeling. This is the Cooperative Bank (Zadružna Gospodarska Banka, which actually translates as ‘cooperative commercial [or credit] bank,’ but perhaps the second adjective is redundant). It was built later than its neighbors, in 1921, designed by the Slovene architect Ivan Vurnik in a “national style” that is related to Secessionism but clearly distinct from it. Vurnik, who studied and worked with Oscar Wagner in Vienna, began as a Secessionist. However, he moved to Ljubljana in 1919 as Slovenia, now a part of the new Yugoslavia, was beginning to assert its Slavic identity. The bank building is modestly Secessionist, though less flamboyant in basic structure and form, but its painted decoration is a different story. The architect’s wife, Helena Vurnik, was Viennese, but enthusiastically adopted Slovene nationality, and, being an accomplished decorative artist, she was given charge of the building’s painting, both exterior and interior. She researched Slovenian folk art, using it as a basis and starting point, but the dazzling facade is ultimately her own creation.

It’s a unique creation. Nothing quite like it can be found anywhere else. The Cooperative Bank stands alone. Ivan Vurnik, in fact, had second thoughts about this effort to create a “national style.” The Cooperative Bank didn’t blaze a trail for other architects to follow; such efforts could only be imitations. By the late 1920s, Vurnik had turned to the deliberately plain style called Functionalism. But I’m willing to award Helena Vurnik the prize for Coolest Paint Job of the 20th Century, based on anything I’ve seen so far.

Bust of Franc Miklošić in the park named for him
We were now almost at Miklošičeva Park, dedicated, like the street, to Franc Miklošić, a 20th century Slovene scholar of the Slavic languages. The area of the park was a project of Maks Fabiani, who with Vurnik and Plečnik is considered one of the Big Three of Ljubljana Modernism. The earthquake had damaged this area so substantially that restoring it required not merely an effort of architecture but of city planning as well. Fabiani’s submission defeated several that took a more traditional approach. (A partial exception is the District Court building on the north side of the square, which was built during the same period, but in the older Neoclassical style.) Fabiani envisioned the square surrounded by buildings of equal height, with a turret at each point corresponding to a corner of the park. According to the tourist info pamphlet, “This concept especially suited the wishes of mayor Ivan Hribar that post-earthquake Ljubljana should be renovated on the model of Prague.” The planner didn’t design all the houses himself, but his plan was followed by the other architects who contributed.

On the corner of Miklošičeva and Dalmatinova ulica, which runs along the south side of the park, we passed one of Fabiani’s buildings, the Bamberg House, a massive structure built in 1906–1907 for Oscar Bamberger, a prominent printer and bookseller. Later than most of the other buildings around the block, and lacking the turret called for in the plan, it has less of a Secessionist feel than its neighbors. The tourist info pamphlet describes it as “more a reflection of the local late Baroque tradition of patricians’ residences.” (It may also have reflected the client’s sense of his social position.) The eaves are decorated with sculpted busts of great printers of the past, gazing solemnly down at the street from the height of four stories.

Krisper House, 1900–1901
On the next corner, however, at Tavčarjeva ulica, which borders the north side of the park, is the Krisper House, which which Fabiani built in 1900–1901, a purer example of Secessionist style. Its turret facies the park’s northwest corner. The house is distinguished by stylized, vinelike botanical ornamentation of a kind characteristic of Vienna at the time. (It looks familiar to anyone who has ever taken an interest in the products of the Art Nouveau movement.) This decoration was requested by the client, a lawyer and city councillor named Valentin Krisper.

Turret of the Regalli House, 1904–1906
Abutting the Krisper house at the southwest corner of the park, across Dalmatinova from the Bamberg house, is the Regalli House. Though it was designed not by Fabiani but by Franc Berneker (a sculptor rather than an architect by profession), its style corresponds closely to that of its neighbor. We took very few pictures of it because, unfortunately, it’s in sad condition. (I’ve since learned that it still has bronze doors sculpted by Berneker, but unfortunately we didn’t go close enough to notice these.) The house would be well worth restoring. This picture of the turret shows how it has deteriorated, but I hope also makes an argument for restoration. Like many other cities, Ljubljana has had to balance the preservation of its heritage with the sometimes conflicting demands of the economy. A parking garage has been scooped out underneath Miklošičeva Park, and the south side is now given over to undistinguished commercial development. The tourist info pamphlet describes some original architectural details in wrought iron that (being small and removable) have disappeared from the Regalli House. The existence of the pamphlet shows that the city is aware and proud of its treasures, and we can only hope that it will find the means to preserve them.

Čuden House, 1901
Bypassing the “Palace of Justice” on the north side, we found three very interesting houses facing the other end of the park, on the east side. All three were designed by the same Slovenian architect, Ciril Metod Koch (who, despite his Germanic surname, was named after both “apostles of the Slavs,” Cyril and Methodius). The first house we came to, at the northeast corner, is the Čuden house, built for a Ljubljana clockmaker whose golden initials appear on the tower (“FC”: his first name was Franc). The Rough Guide describes it as “perhaps the most flamboyant example of Secessionist architecture in the area.” The cocky little globe-topped tower (aligned with the corner of the park, in accordance with Fabiani’s plan) certainly supports this contention, as do the undulating “waves” and botanical forms molded into the plaster and echoed in the wrought-iron work, the colored tile “dots” above the windows, and the vertical gold bars that embellish the eaves.

Door of the Pogačnik House, 1902
The contrast between the Čuden House and the Pogačnik House, which stands next to it in the middle of the block, is interesting in that both houses were designed by the same architect at pretty much the same time, yet their styles are quite different. Rather than echo the Art Nouveau twinings and undulations of its next-door neighbor, the Pogačnik House has a comparatively plain front, with rather formal ornamentation — contrasted by the elaborate relief over the front door, a woman in flowing draperies, holding branches out on either side. An online walking-tour guide compares the house’s comparatively subdued style to the restrained approach of Oscar Wagner, while it associates the efflorescence of the Čuden House with the work of another Viennese Secessionist, Joseph Maria Olbrich. So both houses are fully in the Secessionist tradition, but each follows a different path within it. The difference in style may have been influenced by a difference in taste between the two clients, or perhaps Koch merely wanted to try something different. In any event, the lady over the door invokes Nature as surely as do the waves and trees on the clockmaker’s house. In fact, she reminds me a little of some students I knew back in the late Sixties.

Corner of the DeGhengi House, 1904
The DeGhengi House is on the other side of the Pogačnik House, facing the southwest corner of the square. Koch made the initial plan, in which, according to the tourist info pamphlet, “the facade was richly embellished with typical Secessionist plant ornamentation.” But the house was built, in 1904 on a final plan produced by another architect, Viljem Treo, who had been working in Ljubljana well before the birth of Secessionism — for example, he designed a “Neorenaissance palace” built in 1883–1885 that is now the National Museum of Slovenia. Although his redesign didn’t rob the building of its Secessionist identity, it replaced Koch’s vines and leaves mostly with rectangular blocks and large panels of stucco. Whether this policy was dictated by conservative taste or necessary economy I can’t say. The ground floor, says the pamphlet, was done in “red brick” that contrasted with the upper stories. I’m wondering if this might not be a mistranslation that should read “brick red,” because, although the ground floor is brightly painted in an intense shade of that color, the surface beneath the paint is smooth plaster, not brick. The contrast with the upper stories, whose paint is obviously much older, is presumably greater than either architect would have preferred. At the bottom of the turret, above a first-floor window, is a typically Secessionist detail, though atypical for this building: a sculpted head. But she is neither an Earth goddess like the girl next door nor a Bacchante like the two that howl from the Čuden House tower; she looks more like a prim Hausfrau reacting to an excessively familiar remark by a delivery boy. All the same, this little nook has been painted carefully to emphasize the grace of the surrounding curves and details, so it appears that someone, at least, loves this building. Perhaps the rest of it will be as attractively restored in the future.

The south side of the square was never finished the way Fabiani had planned it. Nothing new was built there until the 1920s, and one large building went up as late as the 1960s (not a great time for architecture in Socialist countries), so the Secessionist part of our day was now done (except for a couple of buildings we came across later in the Old Town).

Zlata Ribica restaurant
It was now a little after two, and we walked the few blocks back to our hotel to get off our feet for a while. By three, we were ready for the day’s second itinerary: a walk through the Old Town, the neighborhoods squeezed between the river and the foot of the castle hill. The rain had stopped, though it threatened to take up where it had left off at any moment. On our way to the Town Hall, where we intended to begin, we detoured to make a reservation for dinner at Zlata Ribica, the restaurant we had been too late to get into on our first evening in Ljubljana. It’s on the castle side of the river, in a corner location where one side faces the riverside quay and the other faces tiny Fishermen’s square (Ribji trg), which Zlata Ribica shares with Abecedarium, the restaurant we ate in that first evening. Both restaurants had outside tables; a double row was set up along each side of Zlata Ribica.

Robba's Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers, 1751
The Town Hall faces Town Square (Mestni Trg), which is fairly wide at that point, but tapers into a street leading south (the upriver direction). When it reaches its narrowest width, the name changes to “Old Square,” despite the absence from this stretch of even the slightest widening. Other streets in this oldest part of the city are named in the same way: just to the north of the Town Hall, Town square becomes Cyril-Methodius square (Ciril-Metodov trg), a street that runs eastwards (following the curve of the river) along the side of St. Nicholas Cathedral. It widens a little after passing the market, but its whole extent is designated a square (whose name honors Cyril and Methodius, the Byzantine saints credited with converting all the southern Slavs to Christianity). At the juncture of Town square and Cyril-Methodius square stands the master work of the 18th-century sculptor Francesco Robba: the Fountain of the Three Carniolan Rivers: the Sava, the Ljublanaica, and the Krka. (The first two come together just to the northwest of the city; the Krka, however, flows through the southern part of the country and joins the Sava near where it crosses into Croatia.) The rivers are represented by bearded river-god figures emptying water out of jugs, an idea that was not original with Robba, who seems to have been inspired by Bernini’s fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome — which Americans of a certain age might remember as being associated with three coins. The river gods and dolphins look pristine compared to the obelisk; this is because the original figures were recently replaced with replicas and moved into the National Gallery, where they are safe from cold weather and corrosive emissions. Beyond the fountain, this picture looks up Cyril-Methodius square past the Cathedral.

Town Square
This picture shows the front porch of the Town Hall, flying the red, white, and green flag of Ljubljana, the national flag (almost completely hidden), and the blue flag of the EU with its circle of gold stars. We saw the EU flag next to the flag of Slovenia almost everywhere we looked in Ljubljana, but whether this was a permanent arrangement or just a celebration of the fact that Slovenia was then taking its 6-month turn in the EU Presidency, we don’t know. In the background you can see Town Square about to narrow into its southward run. The black building is the Miklavc Department Store, built in 1914. The style appears transitional: most of the black marble facade shows the simplicity of Functionalism, but the modestly ornamental bit on top, plus some gold dots adorning the eaves, “recall the fashionable Secessionist styles from the turn of the century,” according to the tourist info pamphlet on Secessionist architecture, which on those grounds admits the building to its pages.

Head shop off Town Square
Apart from the quayside, Town Square/Old Square is the only street that runs between the river and the castle hill at this point. The buildings on the side at the foot of the hill are mostly large, and many have courtyards that provide light and (often) balconies for the apartments in the upper stories. (Typically, there are four or five stories.) Small shops and boutiques often occupy ground-level space in one of these courtyards; we could see their sandwich-board signs on the sidewalk and in the tunneled walkways that connect the courtyard with the street. This is clearly low-rent commercial space; one doesn’t find the fanciest jewelry or latest couture on sale in the courtyard shops, but it looked as if the commercial side of Ljubljana’s youth culture was thriving there. We were reminded of the “hippie enterprises” that sprang up in the low-rent quarters of many American cities back in the Sixties — an impression that was strengthened when we came across this little head shop. It could have popped, whole and complete, out of a time capsule, with its Timothy Leary poster and a printed textile image of Shiva that I think I last encountered on Harvard Avenue in Allston, Mass. about 40 years ago.

Doorway of the Schweiger House, 18th century
Town Square connects with the riverside, by way of a couple of short alleys and, at Fishermen’s Square, a walkway between the intervening buildings, given a tunnelish appearance by arched buttresses that seem mainly designed to keep the buildings from leaning into one another. Most of the buildings we passed looked to have been built in the 18th or 19th century, either Baroque or Habsburg Neoclassical in style. We did see one jewelry shop in Old Square with an Art Nouveau front, though I suppose this might have been added as a bit of postmodern fun. One 18th-century building, the Schweiger House, has what the Rough Guide describes as “a splendid Rococo facade.” (For those keeping score at home, Wikipedia says that Rococo was a refined French style, developed out of Baroque after the reign of Louis XIV. It was taken up in other European Catholic countries, where it merged with and complemented Baroque. Some art historians consider Rococo a significant style; others think it was merely precious.) Dorothea took this picture of the Steiger House doorway, with a photographer who is neither significant nor precious lounging in front. The bust at the left of the doorway is modern; it honors Lily Nova, a poet who owned the house for a while during the 20th century. Above the door is a telamon (i.e., a male figure who, like his female counterpart the caryatid, supports some part of a structure on his head). This one commemorates the name of the original owner, Schweiger (‘one who kieeps quiet’) by pressing a stone finger to his stone lips. During this part of our walk a sweet shop also attracted our attention, but with chocolate rather than architecture.

While Dorothea was browsing in one of the shops, I found one — less a music store than a curiosity shop — that had several djembes (West African drums like the one I play, pronounced ‘JEM-bay’) in the window. I went in to check them out, but most were untuned and so slack that I could barely get a sound out of them. The shopkeeper, a friendly young man, apologized and pointed out the one that was closest to being in tune. I gave it a few whacks in what I hoped was authentic Guinean style, and went on my way.

Old Square ends by opening out into Levstik square (Levstikov trg), named after Fran Levstik, a 19th- century Slovene novelist. It’s a broad triangular space, but compared to other Old Town “squares” it really is a square (at least, if you’re not a stickler for geometry). It contains a fountain with stone dolphins and a high pillar surmounted by a statue of Hercules killing a lion. Although at first glance it looks antique; the fountain dates only from 1991. Hercules, however, is copied from a statue that once stood in the Town Hall’s courtyard, but has been moved inside for preservation. In the past an older fountain here in Levstik square had a wooden statue of the same hero, for whom Ljubljana has a special fondness: Hercules was the preeminent hero among Jason’s crew of Argonauts. As previously mentioned, they are alleged to have passed this way on their way home with the Golden Fleece, stopping to slay a dragon (now memorialized on the city’s flag and the Dragon Bridge) and, in some accounts at least, also to found the settlement of Aemona, Ljubljana’s ancient predecessor.

Hercules Fountain in Levstik Square     Upper Square, from Levstik Square     Upper Square and St Florian's Church     Sweet shop (Slaščičarna) in Levstik Square


Coming into Levstik square from Old square, we had a choice of three ways to continue: turn right, down the short Stiška street to the river; go straight ahead, down a short street considered part of Lestvik square and sharing its name) that leads to one of Ljubljana’s Baroque monuments, St. James’s Church; or bear left into Upper square (Gornji trg), which like most other Old Town squares is just a narrow street. It climbs a low slope along one side of the castle hill, passing some of Ljubljana’s oldest surviving buildings, 500 years old or thereabouts. We chose to go this way, and walked up the hill, looking at the old houses and doorways, as far as St. Florian’s Church, which we didn’t go into. Instead, we retraced our steps and headed for a big sweet shop back in Levstik square. It was located in a large, yellowish Baroque building and had a few tables set out in front. The weather had been a bit damp, but at the moment it was dry enough to sit outside. We needed a break from our long walk, and a dish of sladoled made our feet feel much better.

Boat landing on the Ljubljanica
Refreshed, we walked down Stiška street to the quay. In a building on the corner we could hear classical musicians practicing (separately): a pianist, a trombonist, and a singer. We turned right onto the quay and strolled back toward the Shoemakers’ Bridge. There were more small shops in the old buildings we passed. I went into one that sold music CDs, hoping I might find a disc by the Dixie Sok Band, but the owner, though he was familiar with the band, told me they hadn’t released any recordings. In another shop, Dorothea bought our son Niall a Ljubljana T-shirt. The shops occupied the ground floors of old buildings, mostly (by the looks) dating from the 18th or early 19th century. Not all were in the best of repair, but the ambience was comfortably scruffy rather than run-down. The sky had lightened and a little sun was beginning to peek through; the river was now a pleasant shade of green rather than the olive drab it had been under cloudy skies. It’s possible that the bright orange boats in this picture make the water look greener than it actually was, but I do remember the peace and contentment I felt, lounging on the quay while Dorothea looked around one of the shops.

We passed the Shoemakers’ Bridge and walked up as far as the Ugly Duckling Bridge before crossing the river. In front of us were steps leading to Congress Ssquare (Kongresni Ttg), a green oblong of a park called Zvezda (‘star’) because of the paths that radiate from the center in a pattern reminiscent of the Union Jack. It’s a popular stop for tour buses, five of which we saw drawn up along one side of the park when we arrived. Congress Square is home to several interesting buildings, but, since the next day’s planned itinerary would bring us back here, we did no sightseeing. Instead, we sat down at one of the sidewalk cafés and ordered cool drinks (Union lager for me, fresh-squeezed orange juice for Dorothea).

Back at the hotel at 5:45, we rested for an hour and then set out for Zlata Ribica, where our reservation was for 7:00. Tina, the waitress who had taken our reservation that afternoon, had saved us an outside table on the river side, but told us that an inside table was available if we’d prefer it. Although it wasn’t exactly warm, we chose to sit outside, and were glad we did (even though we had to put our jackets on before the meal was finished). As Dorothea remembers it, “The sun was still shining and happy couples strolled along the river walk next to us. We shared pršut and melon as a starter. Charlie had white fish (orada) with potatoes and chard. I had grilled chicken and potatoes cooked in cream.” Research in Wikipedia tells me that the orada is, in English, the ‘gilthead sea bream,’ and that it dwells in the Mediterranean and is regarded as the best-tasting of the many sea bream varieties. (So there.)

Dinner at Zlata Ribica
To go with our dinner, Tina recommended a white Slovenian wine called simply Zelen (‘green’), which she told us was made from green grapes, like Portuguese vinho verde. It came from a winemaker named Franc Potočnik in the Vipavska Valley, in Slovenia’s western province, Primorska. In keeping with its name and fundamental ingredient, it tasted, as Dorothea noted, “leafy, dry, and fresh.” The gracefully shaped bottle reminded me of a Victorian lady in a wasp-waisted ball gown. We concluded the meal with apple strudel (me) and chocolate cake (Dorothea), and Tina brought us a complementary cordial made with figs.

Sitting at the table next to ours, close enough to make conversation easy, were a father (about our age) and his daughter (perhaps 40) from Seattle. We exchanged information about Bled, where they were going, and Croatia, where they had been. At Dorothea’s request, they obligingly took the picture above with her camera.

It was 9:30 or 10:00 when we walked back to the hotel, passing through Prešeren square, where we saw many people strolling, listening to a singer/guitarist outside a café, or eating sladoled. In our room, we watched a bit of the news on CNN and BBC before we went to bed.