Backpacking around Eastern Europe with 3 of my uni friends was one long blur of pivo, art galleries, Becherovka and oddly enough, churches. I have my friend Maeve to thank for booking us into a prison (bear with me here) rather than another terrifying hostel with ghosts, crying babies and complementary pills between the sheets.
Hostel Celica in Ljubljana’s defiant Metelkova district used to be a military prison until 1991, but has been transformed by artists, architects and local university students into a technicolour artistic hub.
The hostel features 20 cells (they still have the original bars) individually designed by artists and 8 more traditional rooms, just in case the barred windows bring back all too familiar memories for travellers – hey, who am I to judge?
Our favourite area was the oriental cafe, a moroccan den with hookahs and giant pillows, but there is also a cyber cafe and Slovenian ‘gostilna’ to have drinks with your new prison mates before heading into town (a walk of about 700m).
But Hostel Celica’s unusual location is equally intriguing and has a pretty complex political history. Metelkova Mesto is an independent commune in the centre of Ljubljana that incorporates 7 buildings within a former military barracks. Since forming in 1993, the self-described ‘Autonomous Culture Zone’ has fiercely fought against modernisation and the city’s commercial aspirations through creative and physical resistance, but still its future existence relies on keeping the developers and authorities at bay.
The surreal mini city is now home to clubs, art galleries, live music spaces and artist studios and there’s always some kind of party going on.
Keeping with Metelkova’s inclusive spirit, Hostel Celica has a Point of Peace, a room for prayer, meditation and reflection for all religions, which could be useful after a sinful night of partying. It has even been blessed by influential spiritual leaders in Slovenia.
There are a handful of creative communes still standing in Europe, the most well-known being Copenhagen’s long-standing ‘freetown’ Christiania, but their survival is always hanging on a shoestring. Staying at Hostel Celica is the best way to experience and culture and parties but still have a comfy bed to go back to – quick though, before it’s too late.
Hostel Celica Metelkova 8, SI – 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia