I explained why I don’t like living in the U.S. anymore to the manager of Hostel Val in Piran: the work, work, work; money, money, money; buy, buy, buy mentality that has become so pervasive in American culture. She reflected on my comment for a moment before replying, “But it is becoming the same for us.”
Later, after dealing with a sneering woman in the Slovenia tourism office, who might as well have thrown brochures at me, I fled to a place in this enchantingly beautiful village where I knew I could find friendly people: Pirat Restaurant. In a lull moment, the owner asked how I was enjoying my stay in Piran. Sadly, I had to say that I was disturbed by the unwelcoming attitude and indifference I had experienced from most of the tourism offices around the country. He grimaced and set down his tray on my table. “Life here used to be different,” he explained. “We did not have a lot, but we had enough. And we enjoyed life. Now we are a tourist destination and we must work much harder. We have less free time, less time to be with friends and enjoy life.”
The town of Piran, on the cost of Slovenia, was my final stop on a two-and-a-half week of tour of Slovenia. I had begun in the eastern part of the country, in the village of Ptuj (pronounced Pah-TOO-ee), an ancient town on the Amber Trading Route, where cobblestone streets spiral uphill to an historic castle that has withstood untold sieges over the centuries. I’d chosen Ptuj rather than nearby Maribor, the second largest city in Slovenia, after more than three weeks of waiting, unsuccessfully, for a reply from any of three tourism officials I’d emailed. I wasn’t asking for free accommodations, meals, or transportation. I simply asked for their assistance in planning a concise itinerary around the country, as I had only 17 remaining days in the Schengen Zone, of which Slovenia is a member. I just didn’t want to miss anything important. Read More
It was drizzling by the time I arrived at Vintgar Gorge, but not enough to discourage me from making the hike. Truthfully, the gorge had not even been on my radar. I had taken the bus to Lake Bohinj in Slovenia‘s Triglav National Park the day before, intending to work my way back to Ljubljana via Lake Bled, stopping for a few hours in each place. But one look at Lake Bohinj, with its encircling Karst limestone towers, emerald water, and pocket beaches, and knew I had to hike around it.
I asked how long it would take to make the hike and was told two hours, three at the most. I made a quick calculation. Three hours to circle Lake Bohinj and a 20-minute bus ride back to Lake Bled would give me three or so hours to see Bled and perhaps climb to the castle before I had to catch the last bus back to Ljubljana. It was doable, if I didn’t dilly-dally. Read More
The man behind the counter at Ptuj Castle suggested I begin my tour at a display of costumes and masks from Slovenian folk traditions and tales. “But I have to warn you,” he said. “Just the other day a man told me it was the scariest thing he’d ever seen.” He shook his head when I laughed. “I’m not kidding. The guy was practically shaking when he left.”
Curious, I wandered among abominable snowman-like creatures with feathered headdresses, devils with long red tongues, headless hens, and old women carrying old men in baskets strapped to their backs. Believed to assure good luck and productive crops, for centuries these scary looking magical beings were known only to rural villagers in the northeast corner of the country, especially around Ptuj, the oldest city in Slovenia. Each spring, they would make their appearance during a three-day carnival, or Kurentovanje, which commenced exactly 46 days before Easter. Read More