Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in the lovely country of Slovenia. Located just east of Italy on the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia grabbed my heart. I fully plan to move there for a year or 30. I felt as though I had stumbled home, to a place that had the proper priorities. Thinking about the mindfulness, natural beauty, and people of the country has my mind playing with the possibility of buying a one way ticket. Here are a few of my reasons:
There is a clear priority on family and friends. Unlike the US, its unheard of moving 3000 miles away from your blood ties. Even if you move to a different city, its geographically impossible to move more than a three hour drive away. Late one night, I stumbled into the coastal city of Koper, dragging myself to the first blinking white and red ‘Hotel’ sign. The place seemed more than adequate (free breakfast, cheap room, slightly aggressive concierge who was focused on the clock ticking down to the end of his shift instead of answering my questions), so I got a room, and tried to get a few hours of sleep before I met my new friend, Matevz, in the morning. Of course, not only did Matevz live a 5 minute walk away, the hotel was owned by his childhood friend of 40 years, and three of us chatted over espressos in morning. While these coincidences happen in the US, they are much more rare. It seems as if our national goal, our American Dream, is to run away from our foundations, so we can be self-made in a new city, and forget about the people who have helped us in the past. Matevz has streamlined his life to allow him to focus his time on what he cares about, and it isn’t money, business, or extrinsic success. He lives in a house in the center of Koper, a beautiful 1500 year old city on the Adriatic coast. The roads around his house were built too narrow for cars, so the city can only be navigated by foot. People do own cars, but park them outside of the city center. Both Matevs and his wife work at schools (university and primary) that are within a 10 minute walk. They have three highly intelligent children who walk as a group to the school around the corner each morning. To me, this life style makes sense. Why put time into commuting when you can can take part in great things across the street? Instead, put this time into things you truly care about. For Matevz, this is family, windsurfing, and LEGO robotics. A man after my heart. Or rather, I am definitely a man after his.
While its not a country that currently focuses all of its efforts on industry and business, everyone I met was incredibly mindful and thoughtful. Granted, I was hanging out with a population who worked on improving the educational system. Every conversation was littered with comments of nuance, curiosity, and genuine interest. Not only that, these people were acutely aware of the world around them. Fascinated, I asked question after question about the massive immigration into Europe, and how that effects a small nation of two million people. Slovenia is far from immune from these acute social and humanitarian issues, and erected a wall around the country. I can only imagine the moral debate these voters and policy makers go through on a day to day basis. Their answers are intimately tied to their perspective, experiences and history. And what a history. In 1990, Slovenia was a part of Yugoslavia, and many of its current citizens saw first hand the conflicts and political upheavals that occurred. Additionally, Slovenia was an active battleground in both WWI and WWII. Alenka, Matevz wife, mentioned a few conversations she had with her grandfather, who fought in WWI. The mental summersaults this man went through must have been astounding. I saw a few of the bunkers and battle sites in the Soca River valley. I always imagine World War battle sites as I’ve heard the Western Front described, muddy, cold, ugly. These were the opposite. A glorious green steep valley, with an aqua river running through its center. The blood, death, and fighting that occurred here seem out of place, to say the least. Alenka was unable to learn much, as her grandfather didn’t want to talk, always saying “Oh, that was so long ago, another time”. But this man watched his city, his home burn. He was left with nothing. I am always interested in hearing the perspectives of our military, both active and veterans. Though, to me, their stories always feel so foreign. A picture will come to my mind, but it is not of any place I have considered home. America’s fighting, for the most part, has occurred over seas. For better or worse, this helps me compartmentalize these wars. I wonder how Alenka’s grandfather dealt with this, whether he could mentally separate his home memories from his war memories even though they occurred on the same piece of ground.
Soca River and Bunkers from WWI © Woolf 2016
On the other hand, The beauty is astounding. Giant mountains in the north, full of hiking trails and mountain huts. Beautiful river valleys, carved out by thousands of years of glacial melt. I didn’t make it to the east, but I hear its full of natural thermal springs to swim in. I spent a day climbing Triglav, the tallest peak in Slovenia. It towers up at 2864 meters (9396 feet), where you can gaze out over the entire country (actually, on a clear day you can see Austria, Italy and Croatia). A delightful and strenuous climb. The steeper trails are lined with ‘via ferrata’, Iron steps and holds that make it possible to navigate sheer cliffs without falling. Often, people will use a climbing harness to clip in as the traverse the rock.
Via Ferrata, Triglav © Woolf 2016
Slovenia’s national identity is tied to enjoying the natural beauty We heard dozens of times, “In order to be a true Slovenian, one must climb to the top of Triglav”. So, I guess I am well on my way. Everywhere, you see Slovenians, hiking, biking and exploring. Clearly the people use this beautiful land it its full potential. Slovenia is the home of many world class skiing competitions, including the Ski Flying World Championships, and designers from the country fly around the world to design new slopes. I’ll have to go back in the winter to explore.
I already am working my way to fluency in the language. Though, it will take quite a bit of work, as these Slavic languages are some of the most difficult in the world to learn. I have already surpassed the fist hurdle, humor. (Lets see if this anecdote transfers well via written english…). On my last day in the country, we hiked down to enter the cavernous limestone caves in southern Slovenia. The tour had been split into two groups, Slovenian and English. The Slovenian group entered first, and I watched 30 or so people enter the mouth of the cave. As they entered the darkness, I called after them one of the few phrases I had picked up, “lahko noč!” (pronounced “LaKaNoteCh”), which translates to “Good Night!”. I got at least six chuckles, which is impressive for a group of often reserved Slovenians.
So, if you ever want a couch to sleep on in an amazing country, drop me a line. I’ll be there living life how it should be lived.
Piran © Woolf 2016
Header photo © Sam Woolf 2016