Ljubljana is a historical city hidden on the edges of the South-Eastern Europe. It is a bit of a hidden treasure, being the capital of relatively newly independent and relatively small Slovenia. There is certain atmosphere about it, however, that can make it appealing for geeks and fantasy fans. Fantasy writers and creators may find it a very stimulating environment with some material for inspiration.
Here Be Dragons
Ljubljana’s past reaches deep into the Roman times, when a settlement named Emona stood here, and today, the city’s dominant is the reconstructed medieval castle overlooking the city from a central hill. One thing you see on all postcards from Ljubljana, aside from the castle itself, are pictures of the Dragon Bridge, guarded by four dragon statues. Dragons are an important symbol for the locals. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised if you see a random café showing dragon-related quotes from A Song of Ice And Fire scribbled on their boards.
One thing that should be noted is that despite its relatively small size, Ljubljana is surprisingly “international”. It is very tourist-friendly and you can get along with speaking English without any problems – many people speak it perfectly fluently.
The Air of History
Dragons are only one piece of the puzzle. Ljubljana has a picturesque center, with the winding river Ljubljanica and the castle. The museum of national history and natural museum (both situated in the same building) have some interesting exhibitions about Roman and medieval times in this area, but also about prehistory. Undoubtedly the most interesting piece is the oldest musical instrument in the world: a bone flute, which is also the only musical instrument known that was used by the Neanderthals. Clearly something to poke one’s fancy.
The Museum of Illusions
For the physics geeks, the masterminds and generally the more “science”-oriented scifists, the Museum of Illusions is a place worth visiting. On two floors, you can find rooms designed to experiment with your perception. There are mirrors, rooms that mess up with your vision depth or a “vortex tunnel”, my personal favourite. Pictures of known and less known optical illusions adorn the walls, accompanied by text (in several languages) explaining their origin and how they work. On the ground floor, there is also a selection of puzzles and mind games that can capture your attention for hours. One can also buy some mind games from the museum store.
If You Are Nearby
Ljubljana’s chief advantage is that as a city, it isn’t very big. You can find everything worth seeing located around the river, in the walking distance from the main station. It is an ideal pick if you are passing through the region and want to make a nice day trip.
Ljubljana is not as lively as many cities – you’ll be disappointed if you are looking for a busy metropolis. Of course if you want to party, there are many places you can find. And it isn’t like the streets are dead. But it is rather the right place if you are looking for something quieter and less busy than your average tourist destination.
Into The Mines of Moria
Let me finish with mentioning a few noteworthy places that lie nearby. Ljubljana itself may be small, but there are many places one can easily make a day trip to from there. One place everyone in the region should see is Lake Bled, with its castle towering above the mountain lake and a small island with a church in the middle of it.
But the place with the definitely geeky appeal are the caves in Skočjan: a place that looks like a mirror image of Peter Jackson’s vision of Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring.
There are actually many cave complexes in the Slovenian mountains, but Skočjan is on the UNESCO list of natural monuments. It features an underground river, which is open for extra visit in the summer months. But even off-season, there is enough satisfaction in the journey through the Silent Cave and the Murmuring Cave (where the underground river flows) for about 2-3 kilometers.
There are large caverns that reminded me of the “wow” moment when Gandalf lights his staff in Moria in the LotR film. There are passages where you can see the enormity of the underground space around you. And there is even a bridge not unlike that of Khazad-dum – fortunately somewhat wider and with railings. Nevertheless, when looking into the depths from it, one can definitely get a taste of what the Fellowship felt like.
The Dragons’ Treasure
Ljubljana and its surroundings are worthy of perhaps more notice among sci-fi and fantasy fans than they get. They may be a hidden gem, a quiet but at the same time friendly retreat with all the comforts of big cities. Perhaps not the classic tourist destination for an overlong stay, but it is easily reachable from all neighbouring countries (for example from Trieste in Italy, it’s reachable in under two hours). If one finds oneself in the area, it is a visit worth considering.