Monday, August 6, 2012
Up at 4:30AM, ugh. This means Janel and I slept all of 3 hours, but the sheer excitement of adventure is on our sides.
Pre-dawn hike to Cibeles to catch the airport express bus. While we waited, a couple of guys tried to solicit bus riders into sharing a taxi fare, but there were no biters (since it’s the same price).
At the airport, we endured the silly Ryanair visa/passport check, which seems to serve no real function except to generate penalty fees. Our flight departure time was moved forward from 6:55AM to 6:30AM, so it’s a real good thing we made it to the airport early.
First to London-Stansted airport. Flying Ryanair is equivalent to flying Southwest in the States. Both of them make no pretenses – they are the lowest budget operations possible. Break one of their rules or procedures and face a fee. Even the inside of the planes are bare bones – feels like a school bus. Janel slept while I just endured – as usual the seats were uncomfortably small for me.
In London, we located 2 Priority Pass lounges, and selected one closest to our connecting gate. It turned into a really long walk all the way out one terminal, only to find that the lounge accepted only Ryanair passengers – and we were traveling onward with Easyjets!
Long walk back, finally to the other lounge. A well dressed guy with a wonderful clipped British accent took our coffee orders, and then even served us tableside while we relaxed on the couch. Add croissants, cereal, and a bulgur wheat/argula salad. Nice layover!
On to Ljubljana! Janel again slept, while I again endured in a seat too tiny for sleep. As we descended out of the clouds, Janel and I were both excited to see snow covered Alps.
Down at the Ljubljana airport. Where are we? Four months ago, I couldn’t have told you where Slovenia is located. We stopped at an information desk and asked about getting downtown, and were told 40€ for a taxi or 5€ for the bus.
With forty minutes to kill for the bus, we found a hightop outside the terminal and ordered our first beers – Laško on tap. Marvelous! Welcome to Slovenia!!
After a thirty minute bus ride, we reached the downtown train and bus station. First impression of Ljubljana: a bit stark, less urban than imagined. We used a pre-printed map to get oriented, hiking a few blocks southeast to our lodging for the night: Hostel Celica. (http://www.hostelcelica.com/)
Janel had found and booked this place and I was eager to check it out. I’d never stayed at a real hostel before. [Our lodging in Madrid was called a “hostel” in name only.] How to describe Hostel Celica? Wow, first off, it’s pronounced “TSELL-eetsa,” not “SELL-i-ka” like you might think. Second off, the place is a renovated prison! Janel and I checked into our “private” room for two, a narrow former prison cell with a curved roof complete with bars on the door, metal loft bed with a skinny steel ladder, little windows, no furniture or A/C, and a grid of local art on one wall. Bathroom is shared, down the hall. Downstairs was an art gallery, a bar that serves Laško on tap, affordable Slovenian and Italian dishes, free wifi, outdoor seating, regular parties and other events such as live music, a buffet breakfast included, on and on. All this for about 38€ a night (and the multi-party rooms are cheaper). Lonely Planet labels Hostel Celica the “hippest hostel in the world.”
How cool is this?! I’m thinking I might even be their oldest customer. While I took a wifi break, Janel went out on a mission to score some contact lens solution and shampoo. She found a pharmacy nearby and returned with her goodies, and I could tell she was already charged up to be in a new place, with new conventions and a new language. Adventure!
Dinner calls, and Janel has made us a reservation. We found it with online maps and set out south on foot. Our hike led us first to the Dragon Bridge that crosses the Ljubljanica River, and then to the Butchers’ Bridge, adorned with love padlocks.
We were immediately loving the vibe in Ljubljana. Chill. A European café culture, but with a communal, laid-back quietness to it all. As if people here simply know the value of enjoying their time.
We found a pretty little street called Stari Trg and our destination: Restaurante Marley & Me. Our outside table lay waiting for us with a “Reserved” sign on it.
Laškos to start, bread, and then a shared bowl of tasty traditional Slovene dumplings with ham and potato and grated cheese. This alone would have been enough for dinner. Instead, we then dove in to a shared plate of monkfish with truffles. Our very friendly server brought us white wine, too. Janel decided it was tasty, with a “smack of ham,” which cracked us both up.
Seated next to us was a friendly couple from Ireland who’d been touring both Slovenia and Croatia. After a few minutes of conversation, they planted a notion with us that renting a car here might be a worthy idea.
For dessert, an outrageously delicious chocolate and pear torte. If you go to Marley and Me, be sure to have a slice. Luscious!
Stroll back to our warm jail cell, and crash. I found the skinny steel ladder difficult to climb in bare feet.
Great travel day – great to be here, beginning a new adventure!