In an ideal world, I would set aside a fortnight for each of my vacations: a week to visit the major attractions in a place, and a week to experience daily life there. To the latter, there’s something to be said about taking a walk to the park, people-watching at a café, visiting the grocery store or the shopping mall or the movie theater. Indeed, to try and catch the rhythm of a place, to feel the heartbeat of life: that’s the part of being an expat I’ve treasured most. Of course, such time – ironically – is a luxury afforded to few on vacation. I don’t think I’ve actually ever spent two weeks in a single locale when I wasn’t living there.
True to form, I had a week in Slovenia. I chose Slovenia for a few reasons. First, taking advantage of my continued presence in Europe, I wanted to go somewhere new on the continent. Slovenia was new. Second, I had heard good if somewhat vague things through the grapevine. Slovenia was apparently fun, beautiful, and relatively undiscovered – all fantastic qualities. Third, I learned through a precursory Google search that the country was quite Christmas-y. That the weather and prices there would be far more agreeable than in Finland and Iceland, for instance, was the cherry on top.
The capital city of Ljubljana – the proper pronunciation of which I would only retain two days into my stay – would serve as my base of operations. Originally I had flirted with the idea of taking a bus to Zagreb for a two day sojourn but tepid reviews of the Croatian capital (and its museum-centric disposition) combined with the tightness of the schedule had given me pause. As per my aforementioned vacation ideal-type, I wanted – if not quite a full week – a taste of life in Slovenia, and thus decided to stay in the country the entire time in search for some of those low-key moments amidst the madness of touristic travel.
Even limiting my week to Slovenia though did not prevent a rather hectic pace for portions of the trip. That the country was relatively small and accessible by public transport only increased my ambition in putting together my itinerary, which featured an approximately two-hour bus ride on each of my last four full days there. All told, I ended up spending a day and a half in the Lake Bled area in the northwestern part of the country, a day and a half between the Skocjan Caves and the coastal city of Piran in the southwestern part, and the rest of the time in the central capital.
I of course cannot profess to have a feel for Slovenia and the Slovenian people given my limited time there. A week is a week, after all. Of course, I marked the essentials off the tourist checklist. I visited castles and churches and toured old towns and caves and took a Pietna boat to the only island in the country. I drank mulled wine at Christmas markets, and had sausage and cream cake and seafood in the places where I was supposed to have sausage and cream cake and seafood. I took the same pictures that other people have taken from the same places that other people have visited.
But in that week, I also got to experience a cross-section of Slovenian life. I visited the same restaurant twice, and tired of the local cuisine enough to go for sushi one evening. I did a couple of short hikes lakeside, even got lost – naturally – in the process. I chatted, albeit briefly, with locals: the woman who picked me up at the airport, the guide on my walking food tour, the young man working at the sushi restaurant. I got a sense of life during the offseason, both in the Bled resort area and in the laid-back Italian/Mediterranean coastal region. And I got a haircut, shopped at a grocery store, and went to an independent cinema.
I spent a week in Slovenia. It’s a small country, as its denizens seem all too eager to admit. It was a short week. But it was a long week too, in a good way. I’ll treasure it.