Country #50, and I’ve got to say, I didn’t see this coming.
The sun’s rays warmed my toes. Their yellow light intermittently sliced in perfect rectangles, cut so by metal bars.
I sat up slowly. Outside, a man sat guarding the building’s exterior walls. He seemed to be locked into position, frozen with rigor mortis from spending so much time in one place.
Tossing unkept curls from my forehead, I used the knuckles of my pointer fingers to gently rub the corners of my eyes, moving slowly to reawaken the skin stretching along my cheekbones. When my sight became clear once more, I turned toward the door.
A key dangled from the lock, a sure sign of my entrapment.
I rubbed my bare feet together, placing one on top of the other to warm all ten toes. My black pants and t-shirt were soft to the touch and I noticed the collar was looser than most. Perhaps a few sizes too large.
How on earth did I end up here?
In a jail cell?
As I sat in the morning light, the last 48 hours replayed in my mind.
Leaving Trieste Italy, I took a bus past fields of green and mountains of blue. The bus dropped me and a handful of others off at the main station in Slovenia’s capital before it continued to Croatia.
Soon after I left the station, I stopped for the most generous gyro I’ve ever had. Able to finish only half, I wrapped up the remaining portion and continued to my hotel.
Finding a large bland building with a boring sign on which was simply written the word “Accommodation,” I went inside and checked in. A girl barely past her teens checked me in and directed me to the room I’d be staying. The duvet covered matched the exact one I’d had in my last apartment. Orange sporadic stripes strung along a white background: A design only Ikea can get away with. Comforted by a reminder of days gone by, I jumped into bed and worked until the wee morning hours.
Click on an image to view photos of Ljubljana Slovenia up close:
The next day, I awoke, showered and set out to find what makes Ljubljana tick. Instantly I noticed how full of graffiti and unsophisticated parts of the city are. From the phone lines above hung pairs of shoes, once laced together and gracefully swung to the skies. Perhaps I’d chosen an odd street to start my self-guided tour on, finding not a single wall on the entire block which had not been decorated with some sort of blue red or otherwise colorful spraying of symbols and phrases.
Classy graffiti, I adore. True art, I say.
Classic graffiti, I despise. Reckless and shameful, I say.
This was the latter and did nothing but detract from what could be a street of cheery cafes and record shops that even hard-loving Aunt Sally would approve of.
Slovenians had more ways of making their presence known in the city. A few minutes later I came to a series of bridges crossing back and forth across the city’s main river, creatively named Ljubljanica Several of the bridges are guarded 24/7 by Ljubljana’s official symbol: The Dragon. Sea foam green dragons with fire breathing mouths open, tongues out, and wings spread wide are lined up on Dragon Bridge and tourists eagerly take selfies with each one along the route. Why exactly the Dragon is Ljubljana’s official symbol is not quite clear, though somewhere along the line it was believed to have been taken from the national coat of arms.
Beyond the bridge (or series of bridges rather, as many are used to cross Ljubljanica within the old town’s squat span), the Old Town was crowded with fresh food markets, locals drinking beers on cafe patios, tourists scoping out the best view of the castle, and my personal favorite – a miniature theater set up just for children. I managed to spend the entire day walking from street to street, finding little Slovenian quirks along the way, even without going to the castle, (Shame isn’t it, that traveling through Europe will make one desensitized to the excitement of castles after a while?
My final stop of the day was in the yard of an old military barracks. I’d passed it the day before and stopped to admire a sign, “Refugees welcome. Tourists go away.” Young men and women dressed in baggy black clothes and loud metal jewelry sat on tops of picnic tables chatting quietly amongst themselves. I approached a group of four to ask for directions, clearly ignoring the sign that’d caught my eye earlier.
Click on an image to view photos of Ljubljana Slovenia up close:
“Excuse me. Do you know where Hostel Celiac is?” I asked the bunch.
The guy with spiked hair over a foot long pointed behind him. “Around the corner,” he said with a surprisingly thick German accent. After thanking him, I took a half step away, then rocked back to my starting position. Curiosity had gotten the best of me.
“What is this place?”
“It’s our place,” he replied, in a soft but confident voice. “We have concerts here. We have one tonight. And tomorrow. You can come.”
If only it was that simple. Of course I could come, but first I had to figure out what was going on in the rest of this tiny self-proclaimed city. A concert venue, a theater, little aliens dangling from the facade of one of the buildings. Punks. Everywhere. None of them threatening. All of them calm and kind. And at the end of the road, “Around the corner,” as I’d been directed: a jail.
Click on an image to view photos of Hostel Celica in Ljubljana Slovenia up close:
I walked into Hostel Celica with cautious steps. Above the front door, a circular window stands as one of the only on the front facade. A wrecking ball had once made its mark in this exact place twenty years ago when the city had intended to tear the place down. Luckily, the community stepped in with vigor. They fought hard for a place they’d felt a connection to: A jail of all places.
In 1991, Slovenia gained its independence from Yugoslavia and the building was abandoned. Squatters and artists took to the grounds but caused various bureaucratic issues to be raised in years following. Finally in 2003, Hostel Celica was born. A conglomeration of over 80 artists worked together to shape the jail into they way it stands today: a combination restaurant, art gallery, museum, hotel, and hostel. It’s a truly magnificent place, and one that I can admirably say I was able to spend a good night’s rest in.
Ljubljana throws all kinds of inventive curves at its visitors.
I’d walked into a graffiti lab, continued through to an art center, and went to sleep in a jail cell.
That morning when I woke up to the sun’s rays hitting my bare toes, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the opportunity to stay in such a unique space. I imagine not everyone who has woken up there felt the same. But in that particular place, on that particular circular lofted bed, it was the truth.
By the way, I’ve added Hostel Celica to your list of “Must Visit Hostels and Guest Houses” (CLICK HERE to read). If you end up there, let me know! Sweet dreams!!