Our morning started off with the now customary basement breakfast buffet at Penzion Kaps. Whilst I enjoyed eating from the decent spread, I would later find out again that there was something in my selection that did not agree with me at all. Once again I would find to my distress that it would be the second lunch in a row where I had the runs… Fun times, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We checked out and settled up in cash as for some reason Penzion Kaps chooses not to take card payments when you book with them directly. We then took a slow and slightly sad walk along the edge of Lake Bled for one last time. Whilst the both of us were looking forward to exploring the capital city of Slovenia we knew we were going to miss the beauty of the lake and even now writing this up I do hope we can find the opportunity to return to Lake Bled in the future.
The bus to Ljubljana ran every half hour from Bled and just like our previous trips on the bus it was late and busy. The initial part of the journey was incredibly scenic and the strong air con meant we quickly forgot about the heat outside. The journey took about an hour and much like arriving into any large city our final approach into Ljubljana took us past all the least scenic parts of town from industrial buildings, the Union Brewery and some derelict land, before we pulled into the giant bus terminal adjacent to the main train station. Our first impressions of Ljubljana left us with feelings of regret that we’d decided to spend two full days in the city rather than allowing ourselves some extra time to enjoy the beauty of Bled.
It only took a moment or two to get our bearings before Google Maps showed us that our hotel was just a short walk in a straight line from the bus. Nice!
We arrived about three or four hours early for check in at the Grand Hotel Union. Despite the hour, first impressions were excellent. The staff were friendly and offered us the option of a twin room if we wanted something straight away or we could wait till check in time if we preferred to stick with the double room we had booked. We were also allowed to use their ‘Business Centre room’ to change clothes and repack our bags. Before we headed out into the sunshine I also asked the concierge to book us a table at Gostilna Na Gradu the slightly cheaper of the two fine dining restaurants at the Ljubljana Castle.
We left our baggage at the hotel and headed out into the midday sun for Park Tivoli. Despite the heat we quickly got a feel for Ljubljana. Small car free streets, lots of independent shops and restaurants, galleries plus a healthy mix of tourists and locals. On the way to the park we passed a couple of museums before taking the underpass into Park Tivoli. At the entrance to the park there was a small outdoor photography exhibition on the sights of Ljubljana, one of exhibits even mentioned the restaurant we’d booked for dinner.
Looking past the exhibition and towards the highest peak of the park were a couple of large houses. We paused for a moment to argue over our lunch options. The downside to our approach for this trip compared to some of the more micro managed trips we have done in the past is that when you lose your guide book you are at the mercy of the internet. So as became the custom for this Slovenian adventure, we fired up Google Maps for food options. Let’s say the results didn’t look great. Most of the places coming up were nowhere near the park except for one which was right slap bang in the middle, the alpine lodge like building in our sights was apparently a restaurant with rather good reviews. However, the website was not particularly helpful. The set menu looked awfully cheap compared to the pictures on the site and most of the information seemed to be about booking the place for a wedding.
Seeing as we had little choice if we wanted to lunch at the park we headed up the hill, past the Tivoli Mansion home to modern art and a children’s’ play area and up to the second building. Approaching from behind Bistro Švicarija (a.k.a. The Swissery) didn’t look much like a restaurant but we did see a few mostly empty tables out front and as we turned to face the restaurant we spotted a waiter bringing wine and plates of food to a table of guests. Anne-So picked us a sweet spot in the shade and we waited for service. Something seemed a little off that the set lunch of soup, main and salad was only 9€ but what the heck, for that price we thought we’d give it a try!
After waiting just long enough for us not to walk away, our waiter came over to take our orders (in English) whilst apologising for his language skills. We told him there was really no need. My thoughts are when you are a guest in another persons country it is your duty to try and learn a little of their language and not the other way round. In fact our waiter’s English was pretty good. We both ordered the set lunch. Anne-So had the fish and a soft drink whilst I had the gnocchi with turkey and a fresh glass of Slovenian wine. We did feel a little sorry for our poor waiter who was very friendly and good humoured in the way he complained of being a touch tired from a rather brutal sounding shift pattern. Having had the fun of working with the public and doing the occasional 10 days straight from time to time I had some idea how he felt. Whilst it will never win any prizes we both really enjoyed the food and setting, plus at 25€ for the both of us Bistro Švicarija was a total bargain.
Whilst we were eating a familiar sounding brass band started up in the distance. We enjoyed the musical entertainment at first thinking nothing of it. I was especially pleased when they played a James Bond medley.
After finishing lunch we got up to have a closer look at the source of the music and having joked at how funny it would be if it were the same band that we caught at Lake Bled, we were in hysterics to see that it was indeed our orange clad friends from Copenhagen playing their hearts out and having lots of fun.
We felt like a nice long walk after all that food and began following the walking trails through Park Tivoli until we heard a clap of thunder. No sooner had the thunder played the opening notes of its tune we beat a swift retreat down the first available path heading towards the exit, we then saw two young German speaking ladies who had the same idea as us make an even hastier retreat.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I don’t recall anybody saying the same thing about thunder or food poisoning! There was another storm brewing for the second time in as many days and with it being too soon to blame lunch for my nasty stomach ache all that was left for me to do was speed walk in the direction of the nearest toilet. Thankfully the National Gallery was right outside the park and I enjoyed its glorious, wonderful free facilities to the maximum! Feeling about a thousand times better after our quick stop at the museum we made our way though the light rain back to Grand Hotel Union to ride out the bad weather.
Hotel Grand Union
Room: Delux Double Room (Room 457)
We were able to check in by this point and our room was very much as we expected it to be. For some reason it made me think of Hotel Okura in Fukuoaka, in that it had a somewhat old fashioned charm and had aimed slightly higher than it was able to pull off. That said we enjoyed room 457. There was plenty of space to dry our still soaked clothes from the previous nights downpour. The fittings in the room were pleasant and the designers had done a decent job of keeping the art deco styling following the hotel’s recent refurbishment. The main difference as you move up the room categories appears to be the art deco finishes, space and castle view.
After deciding that rain, rain had gone away and would come back another day after we’d left the country, we got changed into some nicer clothes and headed out towards Ljubljana’s famous castle which looks out over the city centre and beyond.
Our first stop on the way to the castle was the rather scary clock at the Puppet Theatre where a man and his donkey pop out every hour!
We then made the short funicular ride up to the castle deciding to purchase a full ticket to enjoy all the exhibitions on offer.
The view was spectacular. With the city below and mountains in the distance it was impossible not to be in awe. Whilst the view from the free viewing tower was good, the panoramic view from the paid for viewing tower was significantly better.
We also enjoyed two of the four exhibitions included with our tickets, one a history of the castle which was located in the old chapel and secondly a brief and at times humorous history of Slovenia. We tried to find all the answers to the questions posed by Friderik the Castle Rat but only managed three out of five before dinner. Due to us having so much fun enjoying the views and the castle history we missed out on the Puppetry Museum and Virtual Castle Exhibits.
There are three places to eat at Ljubljana Castle: a cafe, fine dining restaurant and even finer dining restaurant with what looked like a spectacular view from the castle terrace. I liked the idea that there was something for everyone who chose to spend time at the castle and needed refreshment.
As mentioned earlier we went with the fine dining on offer at Gostilna Na Gradu and we were not disappointed. Despite not being massively hungry we went with the five course tasting menu as so many of the dishes really appealed to us and we couldn’t narrow it down. Thankfully it turned out that our apparent lack of hunger would not be an issue. We also picked out a couple of wines to try as we didn’t think we’d manage the full wine pairing, which looked like a bit of a bargain at €25 per person. Good luck finding a wine pairing at that price anywhere back at home in the UK!
Our first course was scampi, cuttlefish and corn. Whilst it looked like something a dog had deposited that had been left out to bake in the sun, it tasted delicious as underneath the crisp shell was some perfectly cooked seafood. It paired nicely with the white wine we had chosen.
The second course was courgette flowers stuffed with cottage cheese and a cheese foam. This dish was also very good, with surprisingly light flavours whilst at the same time being rather filling.
Our third course was some delicious homemade ravioli filled with courgette and again some more of that tangy Slovenian cheese. It was served with a light tomato oil and basil sauce.
For our fourth course we switched to a deep and buttery Slovenian Merlot to accompany our beef.
Our beef was perhaps a little closer in places to medium well than medium rare but it was so soft and beautifully seasoned all was forgiven. The meat was topped with some lard for added flavour and it was probably the best beef I’ve had this year. It was served with a carrot souffle, a piece of beetroot which probably wasn’t needed and a tarragon roll. All in all this meal was becoming increasingly memorable for all the right reasons.
Finally it was time for course number five, dessert! Just as I though the meal could not get any better it did. We were not served the white chocolate, strawberry and meringue dish on our menu, but instead a soft, gooey chocolate fondant with strawberry sorbet and elder-flower meringue. Sometimes life kicks you hard but that evening it was giving us a feast.
The castle courtyard where Gostilna Na Gradu was located also featured an open air cinema during the summer and whilst dessert was being served the film screening commenced. Showing that night was Maria by Callas, a documentary about a famous opera singer of the same name. Whilst we were not familiar with the singer in question her music sounded as haunting and full of pain as her life story. Rather than sit through the movie we made a quiet exit to the rear, taking one last look of the city at night. We then rode the funicular down the hill and headed back to the hotel. We were exhausted but what a great day we’d had.