2009 TNT Travel Writing Awards entrant.

Author: Lucho Payne


“If my parents could see me now, they would be so proud… they think I’m still in prison!” We had arrived in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, during a street theatre festival and Ljublana’s central square, Presernov Trg, was buzzing with excitement. The large crowd alternated between hearty laughter and wild applause as the bare-chested performer, perched high in the air on a chair attached to a flimsy-looking pole, continued with his wisecracks while juggling several flaming torches.

We paused to appreciate the scene and then carried on over the Triple Bridge, walked through the hustle and bustle of the terraced bars alongside the Ljubljanica River, weaved through the al fresco diners on the busy Stari Trg and finally arrived at our destination – the quiet cobbles of Gornji Trg. A picturesque square, Gornji Trg is home to many of Ljubljana’s artists and also, handily, to several restaurants.

The Taverna Tatjana had been recommended to us but as we approached the cottage-like building, there didn’t seem to be anyone about. We ventured in cautiously and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a lady appeared. She led us through to a delightfully secluded courtyard, sat us down and gave us our menus. She asked if we liked fish. We nodded hungrily and she said she would be back shortly with today’s choices. She soon returned with four large fish on a wooden platter describing the fish as sea bream, sea bass, sole and “the ugly one”.

Avoiding “the ugly one”, we made our choice and then we commenced with the most sumptuous seafood meal that we’ve ever eaten. Four courses of mouth-watering food combined with two bottles of fabulous Slovenian white wine and several schnapps (on the house) for good measure.

Halfway through our gourmet dining experience, there was a loud crash. Startled, we turned to discover that a large black cat had finished prowling around on the courtyard roof and had decided to jump down on to a table which had only just been vacated by a lone diner. The cat was now looking around arrogantly as if to say “Hah, I was Roof Cat and now I am Table Cat. Welcome to my lair.” The lady informed us that this was Mischa and he had recently landed a bit too close to a diner while performing this trick, spilling wine on her blouse which made the diner “slightly hysterical.” We decided that Mischa was probably the best fed cat in Ljubljana.

After about three hours, we reluctantly left the Taverna and made our way back to Presernov Trg. To our surprise, the square had changed beyond all recognition and we began to think that the Slovenian schnapps was stronger than suspected and we were now hallucinating. The square was completely covered in frothy bubbles and right in the middle of it was a large ship sporting the skull and crossbones. Yes, it was a pirate foam party. Revellers were dancing waist deep as loud funky music blasted out and unfeasibly excited children and dogs were jumping, rolling and generally disappearing into the foam. Fuelled by our wine and schnapps we immediately joined in. But the party was soon over and it was getting late. There was only one place for us now… Metelkova.

We began wending our way North through the city and as we got closer to Metelkova we noticed that the surroundings began to change. The urban greyness and formal lines were gradually being replaced with colourful graffiti and irregular patterns. A once distant beat was getting progressively louder and we quickened our pace. Eventually we turned into the Metelkova complex – a former military barracks – and found an explosion of music, art and colour.

As we wandered round, some people approached us and ask if we knew the way to “Tiffany’s”. Amazing – thanks to our earlier consumption of Slovenian wine and schnapps, we now looked like locals.

The night was drawing on and, of course, Metelkova was starting to come alive. We explored further and spotted several clubs that seemed to be fairly crowded with people and so we settled down at a chilled outdoor bar with a dj playing some mellow tracks. We enjoyed some cold beers and good conversation in the offbeat surroundings. Fond memories of a similar haven of alternative culture – Copenhagen’s Christiana – came back to us and we decided that more cities should have places like this.

Suddenly we remembered that, in the rapidly approaching morning, we were due go on a tour to the alpine lakes at Bled and Bohinj. Should we head back to the hotel for a few hours sleep first? Or should we just stay in Metelkova until the sun comes up? We ordered some more beers to help us decide…