So, you are probably going Ah Who??! Or maybe, Ah What??! Not surprising! Ljubljana is one of the better kept secrets of the planet, a delightful little city in a delightful little county located just south of whatsitsname and just east of wheresitat.
And then again, maybe not. If you got to this page at all, then you are probably more geographically savvy than just about everybody else, and you probably know at least that that delightful little country located just south of Austria and just east of Italy is Slovenia, and you may even know that Ljubljana is its delightful little capital.
And I am here in Ljubljana without my Bike Friday, a conscious decision.
There was a time when I practically lived in Ljubljana. Prabha and I spent a large part of a sabbatical semester here. This was about ten years ago; I was collaborating on some research project with my friend and colleague Tomaz at the university here. I returned for more long visits in the subsequent years, and even brought students here. One was my masters thesis student who came here to work with Tomaz. Another two were also masters students in the teaching program, who I brought for research exposure and to show them high schools in both Slovenia and neighboring Italy. With Tomaz I have gone on several long hikes in the Alps, which form the north and west of the country, and with other friends and colleagues I have gone on walks and bicycle rides in the border region between Slovenia, Italy, and Austria where several peaks come together. Trieste in Italy is only an hour away by car, and Venice another hour from there, and I have driven to both places several times from Ljubljana during my past visits. I have very fond memories of my sojourns here.
But I had not been to Slovenia in the past six years, and I was beginning to miss it. So I decided to repair the situation and to renew my personal and professional connections with Tomaz and others here by attending a triennial conference organized by the faculty of the University of Ljubljana. I was planning on bringing my Bike Friday along, until just a week or so before I left, I read that Ljubljana had a public bicycle sharing program, much like Velib of Paris (which has become the model of bicycle sharing programs around the world, including several in the United States). I decided to leave my bicycle at home and check out the Ljubljana program.
Which I did, the very evening I landed. The system is simply wonderful! For just a euro a week, you can check out a bicycle from any of several bicycle stations scattered throughout the city, and ride free for an hour, returning it to any station that you are close to, and you can do this as often as you like during the day! There is a bicycle stand very close to my hotel, and I got myself a bike and rode all over my old haunts, reliving my memories of the place! I was pleased to note that Ljubljana, always a rather “green” town, has transformed itself to an Amsterdam like city: there are bikes just about everywhere! The city has consciously promoted cycling as a means of transport by banning cars on more and more streets in the city center, creating more bicycle lanes, and of course, instituting the bicycle share program. As a result, you see men and women in business suits, students and grandmothers in all kinds of clothes, and women with infants in special seats behind them, all riding bicycles all around the center. Mostly beat up bicycles, but functional commuter ones: with racks and fenders and lights and baskets and so forth.
More on Ljubljana in my next post. But I leave you now with a picture of a bike share stand and of a whimsical penny-farthing-themed thing I found leaning against a shop entrance.