Ljubljana, and yet another hilltop castle

After my hectic day yesterday, I was looking forward to taking it easy today, and it turns out I’d picked the right places for that. Waking up in my own private apartment, and then getting to see Ptuj in daylight, couldn’t have made a better start to the day! The first thing I did was head across the river, as I’d heard the best view of the town was from there. I wasn’t disappointed:

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In the middle you can see the castle, on the hill, which I was determined to see in the couple of hours or so before my train. The town of Ptuj is impossibly cute by day, its alleys and winding streets demanding exploration.

A narrow passageway and a covered stairway led to the castle hill, providing an alternative panorama of the town and its environs.

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It may have been a short stay, but I’m glad I stopped here, it was a good find.

At midday I caught the next train in the direction of the capital, Ljubljana. I had one change, a mercifully painless one this time. A Slovenian guy who spoke English happened to be going the same way and directed me to the train, while we chatted a little about travelling and about his country. Slovenia is a remarkably rural country, full of forests and open countryside. The scenery from the train on the way to the capital was as dramatic as it was diverse, with vivid fields and rolling hills giving way to craggy valleys and distant mountains.

On arrival I checked into my hostel, a former prison, complete with bars on the windows of the private rooms. I’m not staying in one of the cells, so sadly I can’t say I am reporting this from behind bars!

As capitals go, Ljubljana is small, and has a local feel to it. This is to be expected, of course, since Slovenia is a small country with a population of just over 2 million. That’s a quarter of the population of London!

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This mini city has a mini river to go with it, rather creating the impression of a scaled-down Prague or Paris, but without the throngs of cars and people. I love it. For some reason, I had the idea that this would be a great town to be a student in; maybe it was the casual atmosphere or the many young people I saw lazing by the river.

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The centrepiece of the city is Ljubljana Castle, on a green hill right at the centre of the city. I think it says a lot about Slovenia when at the very centre of the largest and busiest city in the country you find: a forest!

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The castle is a really cool building with bucket-loads of history. Renovated in the early 20th century, it features a terrace in the centre with a restaurant, and houses a cultural centre and spaces for events. An interesting, if occasionally cheesy, ‘virtual castle’ presentation documents the history of the area. This CG animation shows the many comings and goings of different people, including the Romans, up until the construction of the current castle by the Hapsburgs.

If there’s been a theme to this trip, I think ‘castles on hills’ would be it. I must have seen about 10 so far. Of course, no hilltop castle would be complete without a tall tower according stunning views across the surrounding terrain, and this one is no exception.

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