My Working World: L is for…
It’s the first Monday of March, it’s time for another in the series of My Working World and today we’ve reached L. If you want to read any of the earlier ones just click on the appropriate letter below. But in the meantime, let’s move on.
There are nine countries in the world beginning with L: Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, and Luxembourg. I’ve worked briefly in one of them, Lebanon, and visited Luxembourg once to spend New Year’s Eve with friends. But neither trip really added much to my working life.
However, if we look at cities, there’s much more material to delve into. According to Wikipedia, there are nearly 200 major cities beginning with L. I’ve visited ten of them for work over the years, although I’m going to dismiss Los Angeles, as I never made it out of the airport. I’ve attended meetings and conferences in Leicester, Liverpool and London, but that’s hardly very ambitious for a work travel blog. This leaves me with Lagos, Lilongwe, Lima, Ljubljana, Lusaka and Lviv. And I thought I’d concentrate this time around on just one of those, where I spent some very happy times.
Built on the site of a Roman settlement called Emona, Ljubljana was established in the twelfth century. An important part of the trade route between the Danube and the Adriatic, it was under Hapsburg rule from several centuries until the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918. During WWII, it was occupied by Italy, and latter by Germany. It became the capital of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia after 1945, until the break away from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, when Slovenia became an independent state.
With a population of almost 300,000 people, Ljubljana is twice the size of my adopted home city of Exeter. Yet, the former feels even smaller than the latter. The river Ljubljanica, overlooked by the castle on the hill, winds through the centre and the many open-aired restaurants along either bank are buzzing with both locals and tourists throughout most of the year. Strolling along the river in the warm evening sunshine is a popular pastime from April to October. And although there is much modern building in the commercial parts of the city, the old town is cobbled and the buildings comfortably aged.
Ljubljana is served by one main airport, just on the outskirts. It was always quiet and formalities were kept to a minimum. One of the measures on which I judged my favourite cities to visit on business was the touch-down to pillow time. After a day spent driving to an airport, waiting for a flight, and then taking that flight, the sooner a business traveller can get to bed to rest before the next day’s meetings, the better. In Ljubljana, my record for the time from when the plane’s wheels touched the runway to the point at which my head touched the pillow was just 25 minutes.
But there were many other reasons why I so enjoyed working in Ljubljana. Most people spoke very good English; everyone was friendly and helpful; and it was one of the safest places I have ever stayed. I spent many evenings there on my own and never felt anything other than completely secure. Apart, that is, from the time I found myself alone in the back streets on Halloween. But I got a great bit of flash fiction out of that and even managed to incorporate the magnificent stone dragon guarding one of the bridges!
It seems rather ironic now, but the project I was working on in Ljubljana was helping the medicines inspectorate get their systems and documentation up to scratch before, during and after the country’s accession to the European Union! It was a fascinating time and we all learned something about regulations and bureaucracy from the exercise.
But my lasting memory of the city was seeing a poster one night for a performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet on an open air stage, during the summer music festival. It was being held the following night, but to my surprise, I was able to buy a ticket, and had the immense pleasure of seeing a very elderly Mstislav Rostropovich at the rostrum. He was too weak to carry his own score on stage, but once he picked up that baton, he was like a young man again.