I used to be a local and now I’m an outsider – in a strange, still interconnected way. My top vacation place is now what I used to call my home. Does this weird position give me a different perspective? Maybe, but then it is a kind of love-hate relationship. I understand very well why I left it and still want to stay out of it, but at the same time it has never for a minute lost all the possibilities of being absolutely gorgeous to me. There has been more and more talk about our little precious country, though still not as much as about our beloved seaside destination Croatia, and while I travel or make new friends more and more people are asking me about it. Those at least who know where it is or are not ashamed to admit they don’t.
So, I started thinking how and why it sincerely is a place worth visiting.
1. The cutest capital. It is one of the smallest ones, yes, but that is not so important – besides the fact that you’ll probably never have to use public transport to get around. Ljubljana is pretty and welcoming, perfect for walking through the old centre and relaxing on the river banks or Park Tivoli. It won’t fascinate you with its majesty, but will grow on you in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to get away from its simple and modest charm, although I am biased – to me, it is the family I never got to choose, but love profoundly, because it was always there to imprison, gently bite or comfort me. It does it all well. One day is already enough, in two days you will know it as the inside of your own pocket and then… try to resist the temptation to just move there for good because it is oh so pleasant and comfortable. Or be like me and only come back when you need a bit of time off. Climb the castle hill, chill out on the ”beach” or Metelkova at night (or Trnovo, especially in the month of August), and check out the markets, food, art or antique ones.
2. Diversity. While in Ljubljana, you are never more than one or two hours away from climbing and skiing destinations, beautiful lakes and rivers, seaside, vineyards, caves and Pannonian fields. It is all there, the richness of different landscapes on a small hen shaped land. It is something we keep repeating to ourselves as some kind of comforting mantra, a solace for our inferiority complex. It is no less true, though – we are caught between Mediterranean, the Alps, Karst and Pannonia, and of that at least we can be proud of, sort of… Let’s not even begin to dissect all the dialects and accents a seemingly unimportant Slovenian language can boost about!
3. Culture. No, it is not a cultural history of one of the Grand European Nations, still there is something about it. It might be a culture of a peasant and too-long-opressed nation as we keep seriously joke about it, yet it is there, it survived, although it never triumphed. When I think about it like that, I feel there is beauty in this fact alone. An old history that is very far from being uninteresting. The pacifist hymn and all the beautiful paintings, writers who seemed to be so close to the heart of the people in its misery and drunken joys…
4. Expansion. A certain youth of our country (it is of my own age) and culture gives me a feeling of growth sometimes, even though I’m far from being patriotic. I know most Slovenians wouldn’t agree and would only see a naive or idiotic child, nevertheless I do see it in the occasional buzzing of the actual youth and its projects. In the midst of suffocating simple-mindedness, there are living and breathing and beating individuals and groups. We have a tradition of meaningful art and even rebellion, and it is good to notice it is still there, in music, films or lines worth paying attention to and it might even be finding some new grounds, precisely because not everything has already been done and seen. Best of all, it is not only happening in the capital.
5. Nature. We could go on forever. When you get out of the city, green surrounds you everywhere, and even in the city it’s hard to avoid it. Still, go far out. To Soča, for example, a pristine river of stunning colours. To Bohinj, a lake to meditate next to. Or Cerkno, to wonder about all the holes in the ground. To Postonjska jama, the cave, to indulge your touristy needs, or Rakov Škocjan if your needs are less touristy. Or turn to the other side and explore the charms of Štajerska and Prekmurje. Climb some hills, appreciate the forests, observe the fields. Just find your own little haven.
6. Food & Wine. We won’t pretend we are France or Italy, but if you want to, you can eat and drink so well in Slovenia. A few restaurants that would definitely deserve Michelin stars and vineyards that are already gaining international reputation. Traditional food might be heavy, yet finding a good place to eat with a bit of an effort shouldn’t be so hard. And what you get for the price you pay it’s usually still far more satisfying than in some other corners of Europe. All in all, quite a few chances it might positively surprise you.
Just like the whole country can, I believe.