Ljubljana, Slovenia

After Vienna, I made my way by train to Ljubljana, the capital city of the tiny-but-wealthy Slovenia (pop. 2 million). The Austrian Alps are incredibly scenic. The rolling mountains are dotted with castles, some of them fairly intact and really spectacular. Just imagining California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, wandering through this countryside as a young body-builder-in-training gave me a feeling of comfort and serenity. Coincidentally, there was another guy from Austria who became a powerful leader in another country. Adolf something …

Nah, I love Arnold. He’s so plastic and lovable. Plus, he’s too busy driving his Hummers and groping chicks to engineer the mass genocide of several million people.

Ljubljana was a welcome change from the big-city bustle and grandeur of Vienna. Only about 250,000 people live there. There’s one university, one of three in the entire nation. The city has a bit of a Venice feel to it, though, with the Sava River running through the middle of town in a sort of canal spanned by the Triple Bridge.

Eating horse burgerWhen I arrived, I was starving and headed for the middle of town with an Australian duo to get a “horse burger” at a place called Hot Horse. The Lonely Planet guide actually referred to it as a “‘horse burger’” with the quotes and everything (what the hell is that wink-wink use of quotes called? anyone?), so I assumed it was not really horse. I mean, who eats horse? They’re for riding. It doesn’t seem economically viable, really. And horses are nicer than cows. The more friendly the animal, the less likely it is to end up on a plate, right?

Well, we ate whatever the hell it was, and it was good. It didn’t taste like cow, or, well any meat I’d ever had. So maybe it was a blend, a meat potpourri. Slovenian meatloaf, of sorts, perhaps.

Between the three of us, we managed to reason that we had not, in fact, eaten horse. Flicka had not died for our insatiable human appetites for meat. It had been some stupid, unfriendly cow, or at worst, a mule or some impossible creature.

The next day, I cruised around the city, checking out the commanding view from the castle (any good city has one, you know) and taking photos of photogenic things. Yeah.

That night we went to a great bar called Pr’skelet, or the Skeleton Bar. It’s a cellar bar in the heart of the old city, done up to look like a dungeon and best of all, it’s decorated with skeletons everywhere – hanging on the walls, in cages dangling from the ceiling, and even turning in their graves in the see-through floor. There’s apparently no bathroom … until you push on what looks like a bookcase, which swings open to reveal a fairly normal commode.

It was there (at the bar, not the bathroom) that I met two very friendly locals, Simona and Tina. They spoke great English and, well, I mostly forget what we talked about because I was drinking a fair amount of beer. I had one nagging question, though, that I had to have answered: Was it horse?

“Oh, yes,” they nodded vigorously, with no sign of a smirk from either. “We eat horse in Slovenia.”

So I ate horse. I half-apologized to Simona, a vegetarian who actually prefers to ride horses rather than eat them.

Later, they took me to club – again in a cellar – where we drank and talked more, concluding the evening with a visit to the local kebab shop. (Believe me, my American readers, late night kebabs are the bomb. Why the kebab phenomenon hasn’t hit America – or California, at least – is beyond me.)

Before we parted ways, Simona offered to drive me around the countryside the day after next. Stoked, I accepted. (Hint: Getting to see a country with a local is almost always better than any tour or guide book.)

I walked a cold half-mile back to my ultra-hip, ex-prison hostel as Simona and Tina drove back to their respective villages on the outskirts of the city.