A Semester Abroad: My Ljubljana Experience

I fell blindly into the trap of travel seduction. Arriving to Ljubljana in late September I wasn’t sure what to expect from this city. Ljubljana was my first choice for a 5 month exchange abroad and without a doubt I can say that it was the best choice I’ve made in a long time. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Ljubljana.
At first I was actually really nervous. People see me as an outgoing person but I’m very shy when I’m a lone soldier. We all know that it’s always easier to meet people when you’re with someone else. However, one of the best aspects of my exchange turned out to be the fact that I went alone. I was forced out of my comfort zone by not having a friend to rely on for company and support. The people I met became some of the most wonderful and like-minded friends! We became one big dysfunctional family and did everything together. Without these people my experience abroad would not have been nearly the same.
Ljubljana may be small and old-fashioned but the energy in the city screams youth, hipsters and happiness! A blurb about the citizens of LJ would say: happy, upbeat, and quite seriously active people. Walking the old streets, passing buildings that are deteriorating with flowers hanging from the balconies, there were always groups of extroverted people chatting over drinks on one of the many patios in the center of the city. And I literally mean ALWAYS because I saw people outside on patios in winter! Brave souls! This energy is one of the reasons I fell in love with Ljubljana. I lost count of the many times I found myself walking through Persern Square, over the many bridges and along streets lining the Ljubljanica River. Speaking of Persern square, every time I walked through the square there was the same accordion player bestowing some beautifully composed music. He was ALWAYS there! This one chilly evening I walked by and the poor guy had fallen sound asleep in his chair. But best of all, something was always going on in the city. When I first arrived in Ljubljana the amazing Friday food market was still open. I miss those days going to the center to browse the market and having my biggest struggle in life be choosing what to eat from the many food vendors. Or the many nights we’d travel to the center to walk the streets and drink numerous hot wine from the Christmas Market. The laughs, those good conversations, the hot wine against our cold skin are memories that will always stay with me. The people of Ljubljana LOVE Christmas. The city literally exploded in cheers and pure joy the night the city Christmas lights turned on. Whatever day of the week, the center would be packed with couples, families and way too many cute dogs for me to handle. I’m not exaggerating either! I feel as though Ljubljana is the city of cute married couples with little adorable babies and the most beautiful beastly dogs.
Persern square Christmas lights!
Now the thing about Ljubljana is that it’s really unique. It’s beautiful in a black swan kind of way and you learn to appreciate its beauty through the rich history of the city. I lived in a Yugoslavian architectural dorm building with a bomb shelter but the center of the city showcases the beautiful Austro-Hungarian architecture and damn it’s lovely! But it’s not that perfect beauty you’ll experience in Vienna or Paris; it’s a type of blemished beauty that creates a youthful energy in the town. The narrow buildings aren’t restored, some are deteriorating and I often found myself walking down eclectic side streets that had teenage style graffiti to artistic graffiti lining the building walls. In a sense it offers something for everyone. You can walk the striking cobblestone streets in the center and shop the many ritzy boutiques or you can venture into the artsy corner with graffiti streets and unique shops with old war memorabilia, hand made goods and hippie cafes. Better yet, I can’t talk about Ljubljana and it’s uniqueness and not mention the famous Metelkova. Metelkova is a place that can be strangely awesome at night but it’s definitely worth checking out during the day as well. The story of Metelkova is interesting! Metelkova was formally an army housing base which was abandoned after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Now fully covered in unique artwork such as tile mosaics, questionable rusty sculptures and artistically finished graffiti, it is home to one of Europe’s biggest squatting complexes. I really regret not spending more time at these illegally occupied buildings! They are too cool to miss out on!
Metelkova by day
On a personal level, let’s talk about my addiction to food. I was happily surprised to find out that Ljubljana has a foodie scene! Better yet, being a student in Ljubljana grants you access to what they call ‘student coupons.’ These coupons allow students to eat at over 200 restaurants in Slovenia and the Slovenian government subsidizes the cost. Stating the obvious, I ate out basically every day and was one very satisfied student. Knowing Ljubljana is a quaint little capital, I was stunned to see how multicultural the food scene was! The city offers cuisines such as: Mexican, Brazilian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, French, Balkan. You can even try horse and bear to tick some food oddities off of your list! I can contest that they are all delicious (except I didn’t like horse)!!! But best of all, LJ takes pride in the food scene and showcases amazingly organized events such as a chocolate festival, hamburger festival and an open food market during the summer and fall months! Being a North American I naturally had to make my way down to the hamburger festival. More curious than anything, I was really eager to try Ljubljana’s take on an American burger. But, being as indecisive as I am, I drove my friends crazy trying to find the perfect burger booth that suited my cravings! Needlessness to say, it was pretty delicious.
PicMonkey Collage
I don’t know about you but I get this weird anxiety when travelling. I always get worried that I won’t have enough time to properly explore cities. It gets particularly bad in large cities like Istanbul, Paris, and Rome…etc. Well the good thing about Ljubljana is that the city is so small that it’s easy to explore! But don’t get me wrong, you’ll never tire of walking the cobblestone streets over and over again. Coming from a large city in Canada, it was refreshing to be ‘small.’ I absolutely loved the small town vibe. I really miss the days of walking those same streets, each time noticing something different from the time before. There is definitely a sense of security and friendliness in the city.  The quaintness of the city accepted me and I somehow felt like I was just where I was supposed to be at that time in my life. It’s a nice thing not to have any doubts about your choices in life.
Now my experience in Ljubljana would not be complete if I didn’t visit the beautiful Ljubljana Castle time after time. I just love castles so much!!!! The castle that is beautifully perched on a hill overlooking the center of the city serves many purposes. While my favourite use of the castle was the many parties, especially the Halloween ones, it was always a great place to watch the sunset, learn about the history of Ljubljana and the castle itself, and show your visitors a beautiful 360 view of Ljubljana!
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It turned out that 5 months wasn’t long enough. The most heartbreaking part of exchange was falling so in love with a chapter of your life while knowing it’s going to end in the near future.  I could have easily spent another 5 months in beautiful Slovenia!

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