For the geographically challenged, Slovenia is a small country at the top of the Adriatic ocean, with Italy to the left, Austria to the north, and Croatia to the east. Once part of the former Yugoslavia, it joined the EU in 2004. After three weeks of mission in the South Caucasuses, I was winding down my trip with a three day conference in Portoroz. I had two days in Ljubljana and then three at my conference. So two new cities to explore!
The capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana has a long history, dating back to the Roman empire. My hotel was in the centre of town so I started off by running down to the centre of the old town, before heading up to the castle which overlooks town. There was a square down by the river. There were a number of delightful buildings dating back some 100 years–apparently there was an earthquake which led to major reconstruction.
There was a market going on which was fun to look at. Along the river there were some permanent shops in a colonnade, and then stall set up in an open area. Being autumn, there were lots of pumpkins, coloured corn, but also arts, crafts and nick nacks. Lis would have really enjoyed it.
From there it was time to head up the hill to the castle. I wound my way along the narrow streets and eventually found myself running upwards – a good sign. Sure enough it took me to a path which eventually dumped me at the based of the walls.
It was quite an impressive structure, unfortunately I could not find any signs in English which told me of the history. In spite of being part of the Austo-Hungarian Empire for many years, where German was the dominant language, they managed to keep Slovenian alive. Try as I may, I could not decipher anything.
The castle had many sharp angles to the walls and was about three stories high. It was now a conference centre of sorts, and I saw people moving in supplies for what looked to be a wedding. I wandered inside and had a look at the courtyard as well as up on the wall, although unfortunately I could only look over one side where there was a funicular which went down to the town.
I continued along the top of the hill which was a beautiful tree lined path, with the floor covered in leaves. There was nobody about except a few people walking their dogs and I found it hard to believe that I was in the middle of Ljubljana! I got hopelessly lost a few times in the woods as I followed small trails which went around the hill, before I decided to head down to town again. I figured that any path going down would eventually connect me with civilization which it did.
There is a river which runs through Ljubljana so I followed that to the east until I found myself out of the old part of town. Quite boring so I crossed to the other side and headed back. I followed a number of cobblestone roads and passed many people out in cafes enjoying the autumn weather. This was, in fact, one of the memorable aspects of Ljubljana: the cafe scene. Even at night, when it was about 5 degrees, there would be a lot of people sitting outside having their coffees, socializing and watching the world go by.
So my lasting impression of Ljubljana was that it was a nice city for running, with lots of interesting buildings and places to see. There was even the chance for a bit of hill work thanks to the visit to the castle! With a pedestrian focused downtown area it is a good runners city.
I arranged to catch the morning bus from Ljubljana to Portoroz which was about 3 hours drive. Slovenia has about 40 km of coastline on the Adriatic, and Portoroz was a holiday town very popular with tourists. Even though it was out of season now – mid-October – there were still quite a few visitors as evidenced by multitude of languages I heard, and the vehicles from around Europe, but especially Italy which is only an hour’s drive.
It was a perfect autumn day with clear blue sky and warm temperatures so as soon as I checked into my hotel I put on my running gear to go exploring. I was staying right on the Adriatic, with a room overlooking the ocean, so I was very spoiled. Especially compared to some of the one star hotels I have stayed at in China. There was a lot to be said about being able to watch the sun set slowly from your room 🙂
Being on the ocean I had two basic choices: left or right along the coast. I chose right which took me towards this small town I could see in the distance. With the lovely blue ocean, perfect temperature, sunshine and and no wind, it was an ideal day for a run. Although I did not see any other runners, there were many people out strolling along the coast enjoying the day.
The town was a fishing village, but also a tourist Mecca because it was just so ‘cute’. There were these bright coloured houses, narrow winding streets, and it was fun running up and down these alleys exploring new places. Along the waterfront was a continuum of restaurants so at least I found where I would be eating in the evening. I had hoped to run along the coast but the road ended where there had been a land slide which was was a both.
As shown in the photo below, there was large white church with a tower on the hill above the town so I ran up there and was rewarded with brilliant views.
The town was built on the end of a spit of land and and for defence they had put a wall across the land. There were some remnants of the wall so I ran up to have a look. On the way I passed some people who called out ‘we are Canadians too!’, having identified me by my running shirt. I stopped and chatted. They were from Montreal and one was doing a one year exchange study at the University of Ljubljana in international studies while the other was visiting. Later on I met another Canadian couple which surprised me as I would not have thought a lot of Canadians could identify Slovenia, let alone visit!
There were great views from the top of the wall, and the photo below to the left shows the whole town. You can see how with a good wall it would be easy to defend – except from sea attack!
I continued up the hill and eventually crested before running down past my hotel to the main town of Portoroz. There were many fancy hotels and restaurants, with a few casinos as well for good measure. Not my kind of place. I’ll take the quiet fishing village any time, even if it is overrun by tourists. I ran to the marina and then back to the hotel along the coast. There was an excellent path for most of the way. I had to chuckle when I passed the beach area since there were hundreds of poles in the sand for the summer beach goers. My German friend Anke had told me that the beaches in Europe are privately run and inundated with people – something one can visualize from the photo below. Give me New Zealand’s empty beaches any day 🙂
After 18 kilometres I was back at the hotel, and ready for a very large dinner! It was a great way to explore the area and I would get another good run in before my conference ended. I really am blessed to be able to run.