Day 509 – 22 July, 2016
Three months after we last saw each other, Martyn met me in Ljubljana. Now that I was back in Europe, it would be much easier for him to take short holiday trips to and from the UK, but this first time, in Slovenia, he would get to stay for 10 days. This would be our third continent if anyone is keeping track and I, for one, was thrilled. Both of us were really intrigued by the thought of Slovenia, in the little nook between Croatia, Austria, and Italy, often confused with Slovakia. While a small country, it has ocean and mountains, limestone caves and crystal clear lakes. In a word – beautiful. Martyn, of course, had done his research so he knew where we should go and what we should do while I was happily along for the ride. I am always thankful for someone else to take the reins for a few days!
Ljubljana has an emerging hip food culture so the very first night he arrived, we found a food and wine festival with local and international favorites. Martyn chose a salmon burger and I settled on my hometown Chicago dog. I would rarely eat a Chicago dog in Chicago. Only have I ever had one at a Cubs game (NL Central Division Champs 2016 – go Cubbies!) and even then I would really prefer just a soft pretzel with mustard and a watery beer in a plastic cup. BUT I’m homesick and sometimes we do weird things when we’re homesick like smear our face with condiments while eating a giant Chicago dog prepared by a Slovenian who has never been to Chicago. My rating was average.
The next day Martyn had planned a few surprises under the guise of a birthday gift. Even though my birthday had been about six weeks earlier, we didn’t get to see each other and so thoughtful that he is, he arranged for us to go on a private food tour with Iva from Ljubljanajam. I haven’t really done any food tours or cooking classes for two reasons – they are usually on the pricier side for what I’m willing to spend and also because they can be kind of boring if you go by yourself. Martyn knows my interests, though, and a day with Iva was inspirational to say the least. She took us through the local market where we sampled sheep cheese from Bovec and apricots from the local market. Our day included stops at Ucilna Okusov for zucchini (that’s courgette for those speaking the other kind of English) soup and vegetable struklji, a puff pastry Slovenian specialty, and cucumber lime gelato at Gelateria Romantika, quite possibly the best gelato outside of Italy. Main courses of roasted chicken drumsticks with fig and white polenta and stuffed tomatoes with zoodles came from Repete. Aside from the amazingly spirited restaurants, Iva introduced us to Olivier’s & Co, where we tasted cold pressed and roasted pumpkin seed oil and local honey, and Ziferblat for organic and fair trade coffee. At Ziferblat, you pay only for your time spent there – the coffee, cookies, and board games are free. I was stuffed and satisfied by the time we parted ways with Iva. She was a terrific hostess and really helped foster my love affair with this city.
On a recommendation from Iva, Martyn made reservations at Luda, a trendy boutique eatery with options for a three or five course set menu. I was thrilled for the chance to dress up and wear makeup until I looked in my backpack and remembered that I’m not carrying around any red-bottomed heels and the only item I have worth dressing up is a stinky old dress that I’ve worn about 100 times and makes me gag to look at it. The fact that I am desperately sick of my wardrobe does not get nearly enough attention in this blog. Anyway, I digress. Dinner was an indulgent parade of raw tuna with watermelon and beetroot, duck ragu with fresh pasta and cherries, and figs accompanied by jasmine ice cream. Polishing off a bottle of wine and the last morsels of dessert, I was well aware that Martyn was spoiling me. I would have been happy with only that but there is more he told me.
The final surprise of the night (which wasn’t so much of a surprise after Iva accidentally gave it away) was an outdoor movie at Ljubljana castle. Since I’ve been traveling, I don’t watch any television and not nearly enough movies so I consider this somewhat of a guilty pleasure these days. But it’s pretty hard to feel guilty, when you’re watching a movie in a magical place with a special person on a perfectly clear warm night under the stars. I felt content.