"To Travel is to Live"
I am fortunate to be quite familiar with the continent of Europe, having traveled there so often throughout my life, and lived in both London and Germany for a time. Two weeks ago, I hopped a plane for my annual girls’ trip and headed for a place I had never been: the tiny nation of Slovenia.
Leading up to the trip, most people asked, “Slovenia, where is that?” And I would explain it’s just to the east of Italy and south of Austria, next to Croatia on the Adriatic Sea, formerly Yugoslavia. That didn’t always help. Most people thought I was going to Bosnia (which is close by) or in my son’s case, to Russia (which isn’t). The Slovenian culture is an incredible mashup of various surrounding regions; in fact, the geography of the country itself is so diverse, you can experience Mediterranean climate one moment, and quickly move to wine country with its hills and trees, and then again to the alps, rivers, and caves in the span of an hour.
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The cuisine too offers such a unique blend of Italian and Austro-Hungarian, depending on where you are. On the small coastal (Istrian) region, there are endless fish possibilities (most of which I’ve never even heard of). Throughout the entire area, pork is featured (especially cured, like prosciutto) as well as pasta and risotto. Let’s not forget the wine. Every dinner starts with a glass of Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), then follows a signature Slovenian white called Malvazija and/or a red Teran, which has been prescribed by doctors for its health benefits. (Learn more about Slovenian wines).
Aside from the beautiful landscape and gastronomy, the Slovenian people really made this place such a delight to visit. Everywhere we went, they were genuinely helpful and eager to give you the best experience they could, whether it be at their restaurant or on the tour bus. It wasn't just 5-star service at the hotel, either. One lady who owned a tiny shop in Piran was curious where we had come from, what we had seen, what did we enjoy. Practically all Slovenians speak English because, as one tour guide told us, they all know that no one outside their small population of 2 million is going to speak Slovenian. With such kind eyes and smiles, and a cheeky sense of humor, I fell in love with these people.
In the span of a week, I wandered the Venetian style port of Piran, experienced the underground Postojna caves, discovered the beauty of Bled, relaxed with outdoor salt spa treatments, delighted in a sunset boat cruise and jumped into the Adriatic Sea (my favorite part of the trip), fulfilled a childhood dream of being up close with Lipizzaner horses, enjoyed wine tasting at the oldest family-run vineyard in the region, ate Turbot and smoked swordfish, met some amazing people, and learned quite a bit of history. Plus we took a quick road trip to Venice (which, while so amazingly beautiful, especially at sunset and sunrise, avoid in August when it’s hot and full of tourists).
As I sit here and reflect on this amazing opportunity to see a new place in this world (and attempt recovery of some terrible jet lag), I am reminded how big, and yet small, it really is. Traveling to those places beyond our norm is a privilege and gift that I believe grants us greater understanding of each other. When we can move outside of our own comfortable space, open up to new cultures, new ideas, new thoughts and language, we become fully connected, not just with other people, but with ourselves.