Finding Myself in Slovenia

It’s a curious thing how we form connections with people and places. I think about this a lot, and I don’t know that I have any answers.

It’s definitely deep, and it’s definitely something experienced emotionally and spiritually. I could add physically, too, because I have felt Slovenian earth beneath my feet over hundreds of kilometres of walking paths within cities, towns and countryside: mountain paths, pilgrim paths, literary paths, river valley paths, wine paths, coastal paths, forest paths, historical and cultural paths, beekeepers’ trails, peace trails and labyrinths. Sometimes I felt like a trailblazer, at other times I felt that I was in the company of all whose steps had passed before me.

It was an encounter with an adventurous, Slovenian backpacker trailblazing his way into vintage in the Barossa Valley, and sharing his love for his country, food and wine that led to my first foray onto Slovenian soil – at his invitation.

In preparation, I read Lonely Planet about three times, reread specific sections many more times, pored over the atlas and highlighted every part of the regions that interested me – which was all of them! I searched online for Slovenian authors and found a range of novelists, poets and philosophers all published in English. I devoured those and continued to collect new translations of literature published each year. And I learned my first phrases of a very strange sounding Slavic language. That was in 2011.

In the course of tracking down one novel that same year, I discovered that a huge labyrinth of art had just been created in an outer suburb of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s charming and captivating capital city. It was designed and constructed to celebrate Slovenia’s nomination as Book Capital of the World in 2010. Because of my involvement in establishing the Barossa Valley’s community labyrinth and my interest in experiencing labyrinths wherever possible, I reached out through Labirint umetnosti’s website, made contact and was warmly welcomed when I finally arrived in Ljubljana. My connection with the labyrinth has continued and each year I am surprised at the growth of the Canadian Hemlock trees that mark the path. They have made it a truly three-dimensional experience on the unilateral walk. And the book nook at the centre is a never-ending source of discovery. The Australian books I leave there each year are never on the shelves for very long.

The third connection that I had established, in preparation for my first visit, was to make contact with the pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bodonci, a small town in north eastern Slovenia, and the only church to have website presence at that time which made contact easier.

Even with all of that, nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming hospitality I encountered when I arrived. Ljubljana enchanted me as I explored the Old Town following the gentle curve of the Ljubljanica River that snakes its way between the Castle Hill and Tivoli. The forests where I walked every day, while being accommodated with my adventurous backpacker’s family in the Doljenska region, captivated and embraced me. The Labyrinth team shared the joys of their creative work, and little by little my horizons broadened. I was continually moving from known to unknown; my perceptions, awareness and understandings were on steep learning curves. And somewhere in all of that I resolved that I would learn the Slovene language.

Meanwhile, the Lutheran church folk in Bodonci took me under their wing when, having taken a taxi for a twenty-minute drive from the regional capital of Murska Sobota, I arrived for worship one Sunday morning. After that service and a quick ritual espresso coffee across the road at the local Gostilna (pub) I was bundled into the back seat of the organist’s car with his keyboard, and the pastor’s goods and chattels, and we zoomed over the hills and dales for a second worship service at a tiny “outpost” chapel (total worshippers eight) near the Austrian border. And then there was a birthday lunch for one retired pastor at another Gostilna. Sunday lunch is such a ritual that it is practically sacred: beef broth with egg noodles, meat and potatoes or dumplings in one of many forms, salad – in this region dressed with pumpkin seed oil and vinegar – and apple strudel or something similar. And wine. And more wine! Slovenia’s food is influenced by all of the cuisines of the surrounding countries.

It would be fair to say that when I’m in Slovenia I get off the beaten track. Yes, I have been to Lake Bled which is justifiably beautiful, and I have visited the Postojna Cave which is undeniably breathtaking  the two places that most visitors go to. But I like nothing better than to pick a place on the map, go, and see what I can discover. That’s where the hidden treasures of Slovenia lie. It’s full of them. The most used websites on my iPad are the bus timetables and the train timetables. I am still moving from the known to the unknown, and it’s not over yet!

About the Author

Louise Mason

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