Ljubjana is your quitessential bike, walk, bus city. Bus service throughout the city and the surrounding municipalities is amazingly efficient. Despite being a large-ish city you can reach most of your destinations in town on foot within 20 minutes or less. If your walk is longer than 20 minutes there will most definitely be a bus that can get you there sooner. If you decide to commute by bike, which we quite often do here, you are very well served by an extensive network of well marked and very well protected bike lanes. These bike lanes are not just indicated by a white line painted along the side of a busy thoroughfare. More often than not it is a wholly separated lane specifically designated for bikes.
We all have town bikes here. One of our first objectives upon arriving in Ljubljana was making sure we each had bikes to get us around town. We visited numerous shops. There are over 15 bikes shops in town. Many bikes were deeply discounted for the winter (sounds familiar) and we found a couple of second hand shops. In the end we each found ourselves a town bike for very little cost. We have already made good use of the bikes and it is only January. Spring time is still a ways off so our bikes are sure to get plenty of use.
We have also taken advantage of the excellent bus service Ljubljana has to offer. All you need is your Urbana card. In fact, the buses do not accept cash, they only accept your Urbana card. You can purchase an Urbana card at any local kiosk – the ones where you by the daily paper, cigarettes and gossip magazines. Load the card up with a few Euros and you are ready to explore town. Hop the bus, press your card against the card reader and you are good to go.
The Urbana card is good for far more than bus rides. You can use it to pay for parking, use it to get into museums and I am now using it to get into my local gym. I signed up for a gym membership in the hopes of maintaining a bit of fitness through the winter. With a little bit of will power I manage to get into the gym about three days a week. My Urbana card also locks and unlocks my locker in the gym. That little card is pretty handy around here.
One note about the gym. The locker rooms are co-ed. Boys and girls changing in to their workout clothes or swim suits side by side with all the banter and chatter you find in any other locker room. It has been a few weeks since I joined and I am still feeling a bit prudish and trying to find my comfort zone. At least the showers are not co-ed. Am I just an uptight American? Perhaps.
Folks that live in Ljubljana are exceedingly fashionable. Everywhere you go people are always well dressed. The city is not huge but it is a national capitol. Being fashionable and well dressed is clearly important to folks in the city. This time of year fashion incorporates shades of black on black, and yet while I walk around town I still feel like a pauper dressed in old faded jeans and a random synthetic fleece pull-over. I definitely do not fit the latest motif.
If I do stand out on occasion I can take a bit of solace in my anonymity. Ljubljana is a big city by my standards and I am a visitor here; another transient face amongst the crowd. On a crowded bus or walking through a bustling and busy downtown plaza people will rarely make eye contact. Occasionally I see people talk to each other on the bus or stop each other on the street for a quick chat. They live here, this is their home, not mine. They have something in common. Where they went to school perhaps, mutual friends, or maybe their grand parents grew up together in a nearby village when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. Me, I am a visitor. I am just passing through. I will be gone by the beginning of summer.
I have found some comfort in the anonymity. There is something serene about walking through a crowed market virtually unnoticed. But the best part is being able to walk away from an awkward situation. Mostly it has been something as un-remarkable as having everyone in line behind me at the grocery store looking at me quizzically while the cashier gives me a stern look. I have absolutely no idea what I may have done wrong but my faux paus earned me a long line of frustrated stares as well as a few disapproving shakes of the head. Was I supposed to weigh those lemons and get a price print out before I went to pay? Geez. I’m not sure.
I am not accustomed to the anonymity that I have here in Ljubljana. It is another adjustment. There was period, shortly after I arrived, where I was nearly certain that I saw someone in town whom I was almost sure was someone from Missoula. The doppelganger. For about two weeks I continually saw someone that reminded me of someone from home. I don’t know what to attribute it to but perhaps it is just an unconscious way for my mind to find something familiar in a vast and crowded place that is still so unfamiliar. Quite in contrast, the wonderful thing about Missoula is that nearly everywhere I go in town I a sure to be greeted by a friendly and familiar face. Anonimity has its benefits but familiarity is a much better reward.