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Joze Pucnik Airport (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

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Main airport in Slovenia.

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      23.05.2012 11:16
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      Ljubljana's little airport

      When I first started travelling to Slovenia in 2004, you had to fly with the country's national carrier Adria if you wanted to arrive from the UK; this was, of course a relatively expensive flight and most travellers who were paying their own fare, preferred to use Ryanair and fly to Trieste, Klagenfurt or Graz, depending on which part of the country they were heading for. In those early days we hardly ever used Ljubljana airport, or to use its full name Ljubljana Joze Pucnik Airport, but now a daily Easyjet service flies to and from Stansted Airport and Wizz Air, who used to fly to Slovenia before we started visiting, are making a much welcome return with flights to and from Brussels and London Luton from the autumn of 2012.

      The airport is at Brnik, about forty minutes north of the capital and about thirty minutes from Lake Bled, one of the country's main tourist hubs. There's a bus from outside the main train station in Ljubljana to the airport every two hours; this is a local service which stops at every little place on the way and the timing of the service may mean you end up arriving at the airport way earlier than you need to. As it's a fairly small airport you'll not need to allow a lot of queuing time to pass through security. The fare costs only a couple of Euro and you can buy your ticket from the driver, or from the office at the bus station.

      Your hotel can usually arrange a shuttle service which will pick up from a few hotels then go straight to the airport which means you won't be sitting around so long before your flight. I know a lot of people like to make sure they've built in enough time to browse in the shops at the airport but Ljubljana's shops - a tiny branch of L'Occitane and the usual duty free shop selling wine, confectionery, perfumes and cosmetics, toys and souvenirs - won't keep you entertained for long.

      If you haven't remembered to buy souvenirs along the way, or thought you'd just grab something at the airport then you are lucky because the duty free store does sell some quality items. The best Slovenian wines can be bought here (if you want something good but inexpensive a Teran is a good choice as even the cheaper ones are good); there are some excellent reds from the west of the country while the sparkling whites from the Slovenske Gorice are an excellent alternative to champagne and beat a Cava hands down, but for something a little different and typically Slovene, then a bottle of Cvicek is what you want - it's a light red, but not a rose, and it comes from the Dolenska region near the Croatian border) as well as some excellent (and quite expensive) pumpkin seed oil which is a Styrian speciality. Bath salts or salty chocolate from the Piran area on the Adriatic coast are also a nice souvenir and make good gifts.

      There are two cafes, both through security. One is upstairs past passport control and is smaller and more limited in what it sells than the other so my advice would be not to go through passport control until you really need to. If you do go through passport control you'll also find another much smaller duty free shop but that only opens half an hour before a flight departure; most flights go from gates on the lower floor where the bigger store is and relatively few flights go from the first floor gates, hence the shop only opens as necessary.

      The café on the lower floor is staffed by a rather grumpy man who we try to make smile; he's been working there for years and we've never seen him crack his face yet. I can guarantee he won't smile but there are a few things you can do - or rather not do - that will at least stop him from getting too cross. There are two domestic beers, Union and Lasko; the airport café only sells Union so do not under any circumstances ask for Lasko (even if it does taste much better) as doing so usually results in an ill-tempered response. The soft drinks are displayed in a glass front fridge on the public side of the counter; however, this fridge is kept locked so don't try to open it. I've seen people nearly crushed to death as they pulled the fridge door handle so hard the whole thing started to teeter. Finally don't make jokes about your inability to grasp certain points of Slovenian grammar; even the French would appreciate you giving their language a try, but this fella looks disdainfully if you don't make your nouns and numbers agree. In spite of this we are quite fond of him.

      The upstairs café is much less entertaining; there are only a few tables so consequently most people take their purchases over to the seating areas by the gates. Both cafes sell pre-packed sandwiches, panini, crisps and pastries. There is nowhere in the airport to get a hot meal and nowhere else to buy food items unless you want to gorge on Mozart liqueur chocolates. A newsstand/bookshop before security sells a limited selection of boiled sweets and chewing gum.

      Free wi-fi is available throughout the airport; it tends to work pretty well with only the odd slow spell. Usually there's plenty of seating but during the ash cloud carry on when flights were arriving late and others were cancelled it did put a strain on the airport's limited facilities. Other than the seats at the cafes, there are no seating areas other than those at the waiting area for each gate and I believe that this makes people feel more impatient when flights are delayed because they've already been sitting at the gate for ages.

      All the staff you're likely to encounter speak excellent English and (with the exception of our barman, of course) are very friendly and happy to help. I do feel that the security staff could be a bit more proactive in making sure that passengers are prepared to go through the scanners because it is not uncommon for the queue to slow down for someone to peel off three layers of outer clothes. In winter you are very likely to be asked to remove boots; the tiled floor in this part of the airport gets very cold so when I travel through Ljubljana in January I try to take a pair of foldable lightweight hotel slippers in my hand bag to keep my feet off the cold floor (I have an extensive collection of these thanks to extended travelling in the former Soviet Union where such items are de rigueur and issued free of charge in even the most down-market hotels).

      It's hard to judge this airport in terms of passenger information. As there are relatively few flights they have the luxury of being able to make announcements (many larger airports have suspended these as there are so many that passengers simply switch off) but it can be difficult when there are delays to get a definitive answer. During the ash cloud crisis our Easyjet plane was late coming from Stansted and nobody would tell us when it might be expected. Fortunately we were able to log on to the Stansted Airport website and see that it was still boarding and passed the information to our fellow travellers. The problem is that only Adria have permanent staff based at the airport so you have to hope that the floating staff covering several airlines can help you.

      We almost always fly with Easyjet when using this airport and always with hand luggage only. Although both airlines claim to have a 'one piece of hand luggage' policy it can depend on the airport, the day of the week, the number of 'e's in the month name or whichever crew are supervising boarding. Bizarrely, though, whenever we fly from Ljubljana with Esayjet the rule is strictly enforced whichever staff are working so do make sure that all items can fit into one bag and this does mean any duty free purchases too. The Sunday evening flight in particular tends to be one for which most passengers bring hand luggage only which means the overhead lockers are very full so the cabin crew are always looking for bags to move into the hold. Be warned.

      A lot of money is being spent on upgrading the airport though this is more about the additional buildings rather than the terminal. Construction work has been in progress for several years and looks to be nearing completion; mostly these look to be commercial buildings for associated businesses. Hapily my favourite part of the airport, the 'check in hall' (which sounds much grander than the reality) is virtually unchanged and is the sort of thing that fans of 70s design will love. Once you get past security it's all very modern and slick.

      With new destinations being added all the time the future of Ljubljana Airport is starting to look a little brighter. Air France, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines operate flights from here and destinations include Prague, Warsaw, Belgrade, Podgorica and Moscow. I like to watch the departures board and dream of flying out to Skopje, rather than back to the UK.

      While we mostly tend to accept an airport's faults because we have little choice of where to fly to and from, it's not the case with Ljubljana Airport; there are a few airports to choose from fairly close by. However, using Ljubljana tends to be, in my experience, a pleasant and mostly hassle free experience.

      Letalisce is the Slovenian word for airport

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