Ljubljana: biking for gold

Ljubljana:
biking for gold

R comme reflet La règle, ici, pour que le roman s’invente : qu’un mot en reflète un autre et qu’il en brouille le contour. De billard à pillard1, le reflet trace la route.

1. Dans Comment j’ai écrit certains de mes livres, on apprend que c’est la transformation d’une première phrase, «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard» en cette autre «les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard», qui a produit le roman Impressions d’Afrique.

R as in reflection A ground rule for constructing the novel: each word always has to reflect another, blurring the contours. From billard to pillard,1 the mirror effect paves the way.

1. In Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of My Books, we learn that the novel Impressions of Africa is based on the transformation of the opening phrase“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du billard” into this other one“les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du pillard.”

Vasily, full-time bike courier and bike builder.

Vasily, full-time bike courier and bike builder.

Slovenska Street, a pedestrian zone with bike lanes in the city center.

La villa Élise accueille la Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, dédiée au peintre britannique.

Villa Élise houses the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, devoted to the Irish-born British artist.

Ljubljana, surrounded by wooded hills.

Ljubljana, surrounded by wooded hills.

The Rog insignia, symbol of the Slovenian bicycle.

A comme Afrique. Impressions d’Afrique Avec un peu d’imagination, avec quelques accessoires aussi, avec une allée et des palmes, la Sicile, c’est aussi l’Afrique. Il ne s’agit pas d’arpenter la ville. Ailleurs est ce qui arrive.

A as in Africa: Impressions of Africa With a bit of imagination and a few accessories, such as a path and some palms, Sicily can also be Africa. You don’t have to amble all over the city. Afar is what appears.

The bucolic banks of the Ljubljanica River.

The bucolic banks of the Ljubljanica River.

The Classics Experience recreates the world’s great cycle races in and around Ljubljana, adapting them to the local terrain.

The Classics Experience recreates the world’s great cycle races in and around Ljubljana, adapting them to the local terrain.

The Neboticnik (skyscraper), built in the 1930s.

M comme miniature Des miniatures à côté des miroirs, des minarets, les mêmes que dans la ville mais moindres1, les merveilles du monde dans une maison de maître2. Images au mur, ou mirages sur la mer ; masques, têtes de pierre ou cires anatomiques : des machines à songes. En un moment, l’œil ému mêle les mondes. Et rien ne manque à ces paysages minuscules3, pas même le myrte au parfum de musc.

1. À Palerme, on admirera la belle église San Cataldo. 2. Tel le Palazzo Serra di Cassano de Naples. 3. Certains lieux transportent les visiteurs dans des mondes en réduction, décors de tapisserie, paysages imaginaires : à Naples, l’hôpital des Incurables et son musée d’histoire de la médecine ; à Palerme, la Palazzina Cinese, dans le Parco della Favorita.

M as in miniature Miniatures next to mirrors, minarets, the same ones as in the city but smaller,1 the marvels of the macrocosm in a manor house.2 Images on the wall, or maritime mirages; masks, stone heads or wax anatomical models: dream machines. In a moment, the eye is moved, as it mixes and matches worlds. And nothing is missing in these mini-landscapes, not even the myrtle with its musky scent.3

1. The lovely church of San Cataldo can be admired in Palermo. 2. Like the Palazzo Serra di Cassano in Naples. 3. Certain places whisk visitors away into miniature worlds, tapestry motifs, imaginary landscapes: in Naples, the Ospedale degli Incurabili (Hospital for the Incurables) and its Museo delle Arti Sanitarie, a museum of the history of medicine; in Palermo, the Palazzina Cinese, in the Parco della Favorita.

water trees

Y comme y compris Tout laisser derrière soi, y compris sa bibliothèque. Et faire feu de tout bois, y compris les anecdotes, les légendes. Collecter les histoires de la route, y compris des gestes, y compris des instants1.

1. Locus Solus passe pour un «livre amorphe et déconcertant décri(vant) minutieusement les curiosités abracadabrantes de la villa du savant Canterel», cf. François Caradec, Raymond Roussel, Fayard, 1997.

Y is for yes Leave everything behind. Including your library? Yes. Try anything and everything. Anecdotes, legends? Yes. Collect stories along the way. Gestures too? Yes. Moments? Yes.1

1. Locus Solus has been described as an “amorphous, somewhat bewildering book describing in detail the outlandish curiosities of the scientist Canterel’s villa.” Quoted by François Caradec in Raymond Roussel (Fayard, 1997).

The stairs inside the Neboticnik lead to a 360° panorama of the city.

The stairs inside the Neboticnik lead to a 360° panorama of the city.

Skatepark built inside the former Rog factory.

Skatepark built inside the former Rog factory.

Tina / Identity Series / Ljubljana, a portrait painted by Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, on the facade of a building in the Siska district.

Tina / Identity Series / Ljubljana, a portrait painted by Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, on the facade of a building in the Siska district.

The Triple Bridge, spanning the Ljubljanica.

The Triple Bridge, spanning the Ljubljanica.

Colorful facades in the historic center.

Colorful facades in the historic center.

The artists’ collective that founded the prolific Universal Atelier of Street Art.

The artists’ collective that founded the prolific Universal Atelier of Street Art.

Vander Urbani Resort

La villa Élise accueille la Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, dédiée au peintre britannique.

Villa Élise houses the Francis Bacon MB Art Foundation, devoted to the Irish-born British artist.

Vander Urbani Resort

A comme Afrique. Impressions d’Afrique Avec un peu d’imagination, avec quelques accessoires aussi, avec une allée et des palmes, la Sicile, c’est aussi l’Afrique. Il ne s’agit pas d’arpenter la ville. Ailleurs est ce qui arrive.

A as in Africa: Impressions of Africa With a bit of imagination and a few accessories, such as a path and some palms, Sicily can also be Africa. You don’t have to amble all over the city. Afar is what appears.

With its picturesque streets and squares in the historic center and network of cycle lanes extending to the outskirts, Slovenia’s capital is ideal for a leisurely exploration on two wheels.

Often you make a city’s acquaintance by being dropped off with your luggage in the middle of a street in the center, as if you’d landed bang in the middle of its face. It’s a form of introduction that would be worth experiencing in reverse sometimes. It would be a bit like shaking the hand of a stranger for the first time while keeping your eyes cast patiently downward, lingering on the bend of her thumb, the curve of her wrist and the texture of her palm. Once you’d observed these peripheral bodily features, you’d raise your eyes to her face to discover the oval shape of the cheeks and the delicate folds of the ears, finally venturing to examine the color of the irises.

If you were to apply this courtesy to Ljubljana, your first approach would be from the top of the endless Celovska Avenue. Turning its back on the white line of the Alps, it runs down from the north all the way into the meandering streets of the old city center, slicing decisively between concrete blocks and architectural curiosities in the form of gray and yellow towers, near windowless cubes and symmetrical outgrowthsevocative echoes of the Socialist Republic, when times were different and Europe was a far-off place.

Cycle-friendly city

The interminable oblique line soon gains an escort along its asphalt edge: two pale ocher ribbons in the form of cycle lanes. Sometimes these mount the sidewalk, or turn into white dotted lines at crossroads before carrying straight on, giving cyclists a head start on the cars. A piece of Ljubljana’s history is reflected in this long, cracked stretch of ground. It’s one that’s less well known and lacking the beauty of the baroque facades and classical ornamentation designed by Joze Plecnik, architect of the intricate Triple Bridge. “When the city expanded in the 1960s, it incorporated the bicycle directly into its urban development,” says historian Tomaz Pavlin, professor at Ljubljana University’s Faculty of Sport. “There’s something of Denmark in these cycle paths that are merged with the road, yet protected. But mostly it’s very Slovenian, because the bicycle has been part of our culture since the late 19th century.” The professor, himself a former hockey champion, likes to see his fellow Slovenians as “outdoor people” who love walking in the woods in spring and skiing down slopes in winter.

Making tracks

In the wooded Tivoli Park, where people come to stroll every Sunday, the razed velodrome built in 1897 has left a kind of clearing. The 21st century and its drive to put nature back into urban areas have recast this past in a new hue. Named European Green Capital 2016, Ljubljana now boasts some 220 kilometers of cycle tracks. Counting devices, tall black boxes that blink with satisfaction at each passing bike, have been installed along some of them.

So you pedal happily on, nose to the Balkan breeze or the Italian wind, until you reach the city center and the tranquil emerald gleam of the Ljubljanica River. In 2007, Slovenska Street, a traffic artery for many years, was turned into a pedestrian zone, along with part of the surrounding area. The wide steps lining the riverbanks are called dnevna soba, “the living room,” where weeping willows drape their curtains and a carpet of gravel crunches underfoot.

A fresh perspective

Yet as you take in the prettiness all around you, the curving Art Nouveau lines and spruce bell towers, you feel the urge to get back on your bike and head out, away from the center, to get a better picture of the whole. For this small city with its 280,000 or so inhabitants feels like a district within a megalopolis. And, in a country full of forested hills, it conveniently lies in a plain. So you take leave of its shady small streets, cycle past the arcades of the covered market with its stands laden with baskets of wild asparagus and dried apples, glancing at the people sitting at café terraces, cross an arm of the river and head south toward the suburbs of Krakovo and Prule.

On the way, the older cycle lanes become a bit bumpy, and pedestrians patiently share the wait at red traffic lights that click out the seconds. You may well draw up alongside Vasily, bike courier and “cycle fanatic” who happily divides his time between his eight hours of deliveries per day and training circuits on his days off. Beneath his cap, he fittingly sports a handlebar mustache.

Urban effervescence

As in all cities that have grown in fits and starts, the urban sprawl has little by little eaten into the fields and meadows. Yet it has left them space to flourish, in the shade of a house or nestled between two concrete blocks. At every turn, orchards, rows of tomato plants or mosaics of lettuces hold their ground. And farther on, the city suddenly stops altogether. Without warning, a fallow field swallows up a lone building that has failed in its urban conquest. Hidden from view, a bend winds around the hill where Ljubljana castle’s white turret stands close by the funicular. At nighttime it lights up with a somewhat un-medieval green glow.

A short ride away from the center, the disused Rog bicycle factory plays out its own dialogue between the eras and the copper roofs. The white walls have grayed here, the courtyard gate has long fallen off its hinges and through the tall windows you can catch sight of the exposed beams. Between 1951 and 1991, these workshops produced thousands of Rog bicycles that were used throughout the former Yugoslavia. All over Ljubljana the three-letter logo still adorns the robust two-wheelers, squat or high-seated, orange, blue or gold, ridden by generations of students. In 1982, people used these bikeswhich were not really designed for purposes of speedto compete in the first Franja cycling marathon; the event still takes place every June, over a distance of 156 kilometers around the Slovenian capital.

Rog moved to new premises and the old building was never renovated, but today it is home to a host of artists’ galleries and small music venues with elusive programs, where DJ sets and bands liven up the quiet suburban evenings. In the voluminous ground-floor space there’s a skatepark, whose static waves in metal and wood were built by anonymous individuals. People stand around waiting for the key. A screw gun is produced; the door jumps open with a screech, and is closed the same way after each session. The high-ceilinged hall fills with boards, scooters and BMXs, rubber wheels rumbling over the plywood surfaces. Figures in midair are silhouetted against the soft light filtering through the windows. The site has been occupied in an extraordinary but orderly manner here, as it has in the neighboring Metelkova, former barracks that have become an almost institutional street-art spot with eclectic graffiti work. You don’t lay down your mattress for the night; you sweep up before you leave. You almost feel like shaking hands goodbye before hopping back onto your bike.

 

So you pedal happily on, nose to  the Balkan breeze or the Italian wind, until you reach the city center.

Vander Urbani Resort

Glimpsed from the slopes of the castle hill, a rectangle of turquoise stands out amid the little streets, surrounded by ocher roof tiles and rounded tops of bell towers. The Vander Urbani Resort’s rooftop swimming pool, set in wooden decking, crowns a bold contrast: four houses in the medieval center merged into a single address, the first in the country to receive the Design Hotelstm label. It’s a contemporary establishment set inside a historic shell, with mirror walls, concrete arches and a glazed atrium that creates shifting light patterns. The owners, Slovenian Aleksander Vujadinovic and his Australian wife, Amanda, met on the banks of the Ljubljanica, and lived for a while in one of the white and mauve rooms overlooking the river.

 

VANDER URBANI RESORT

6-8, Krojaska ulica.
Tél. +386 1 200 9000.

www.vanderhotel.com
Crète Ammos Hotel

Next

Island hopping

Carnet d’adresses

À faire

Universal Atelier of Street Art

This new gallery, opened by a group of artists a stone’s throw from the vibrant city center, rarely closes. There is always someone drawing, painting, sculpting or making coffee in the studios at the back. Precocious talents Spela, Marko, Sai, Lauro and friends organize a new exhibition every month in an attempt to shake up the capital’s art scene.

7, Gosposvetska ulica.
Tél. +386 68 631 670.

www.uauu.si

Watermelon

When he is not pedaling along tracks through Alpine forests, Tevz organizes cycle tours on impeccable Italian bikes, in search of Slovenian history or to check out a new backstreet café that has recently opened. Tours can be tailored to individual requests and are perfect for an introductory exploration of the city’s side streets.

Tél. +386 40 552 572.

www.ljubljanabybike.com

Centre d’informations touristiques slovène

To be guided along the way, grab a bike map at the tourist offce showing four itineraries, from baroque architecture to excursions out of town. Bike rental available.

10, Krekov trg.
Tél. +386 1 306 45 76.

www.visitljubljana.com

Cafés

Alter

After following the riverbank and watching how the vegetable gardens slowly eat into the urban fabric, you can tie up at the pontoon by this bistro next to a kayaking school. With its wooden benches, it’s an unpretentious spot, but you’ll feel as though you have the refections of the Ljubljanica all to yourself, far from the café terraces of the center.

16, Livada ulica.
Tél. +386 31 560 982.

Neboticnik

Completed in 1933, the frst skyscraper in Eastern Europe houses a café-restaurant on its top foors that resembles a control tower. The deep armchairs revolve 360 degrees to take in the view. Aim to go in the morning, when the clouds scatter shadows across the urban patchwork.

1, Stefanova ulica.
Tél. +386 40 233 078.

www.neboticnik.si

Bi-Ko-Fe

With its multicolored benches, DJ sets in the evening and friendly service, this tiny address near the left bank, whose name means “Would you like a coffee?,” is a relaxing spot.

2, Zidovska steza.
Tél. +386 40 168 804.

Shopping

Pici Bici

“You won’t go anywhere by bus”: so goes the mantra of the shop opened fve years ago in the Siska district by former students and avid cyclists. They import, construct and customize the best equipment. They are so thoroughly keen on speed and style that they will even build you the shiny bright cycle of your dreams. Their models are now highly prized in Austria, Italy and even Australia.

50, Celovska cesta.
Tél. +386 68 618 347.

www.pici-bici.com
Address Book

Going There

www.airfrance.com

Flight frequency

Chaque jour, AIR FRANCE dessert Ljubljana par 6 vols au départ de Paris-CDG.

Arrival airport

Aéroport international de Ljubljana-Brnik.
À 26 km.
Tél. +386 4 206 19 81.

AIR FRANCE office

Igriska 5.
Tél. +386 (0)1 888 86 91

Bookings

— Depuis la France : Tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.

Car rental

Hertz, à l'aéroport.
Tél. +386 (0)4 201 69 99.
www.airfrance.fr/cars

Further reading

Ljubljana Gallimard, coll. Cartoville.
Mort d’une prima donna slovène Brina Svit, Gallimard, coll. Du monde entier.
Cette nuit, je l’ai vue Drago Jancar, Phébus.

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Carte illustrative, non contractuelle Map for illustration purposes only