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food / travel

My Trip Back Home Finds A New Face Of Slovenia

Sax Bar, a popular place in Ljubljana in the 80s
Sax Bar, a popular place in Ljubljana in the 80s
Andrej Mrevlje

LJUBLJANA — I have been traveling for a few weeks now, on a journey filled with inner dialogue. Searching first for long-desired destinations, I was soon digging deep into my childhood. It was a walk toward the past — a backtrack of the images and sensations that were important in forming my personality. Doing it together, in part, with my siblings, I was able to recreate some of the events I'd forgotten, and also shed a different light on the events that had anchored themselves in my mind for decades. My trip was sort of like the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, in which all the protagonists have different recollections of the same event; different narratives that only manage to offset the subjectivity of events by adding them up, reconstructing them, and, in Kurosawa's case, explaining a murder. No murders in my case.

My travel took me to different places, starting out by crossing the Atlantic on the magnificent Queen Mary 2. Some of Yonder's readers had the impression that I did not have a good time on that boat. I loved it, it was a great experience, but it was a different kind of travel than what I expected, or what I wanted it to be for many years. It did trash my old quixotic notions of crossing the Ocean, replacing it with a more realistic one, enjoyable nonetheless.

The monument to Alma Karlin (1889 – 1950) in Celje Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

No surprises of this kind in London, where I walked through Soho on the way to the National Gallery, the wealth of the wealthy on display in the windows of high-end shops, fancy bars, and restaurants that no longer belong to locals (already a loose term in this city). London is changing fast and will be the first capital to be overrun by rich populations that some decades ago were called foreigners. If the referendum on the EU would have been called a few years later than it was, Britain would have never, ever voted for Brexit.

I was also very glad to see my own country prospering. Very few Slovenians in the past would have admitted what some do now: Slovenia has a very high quality of life. The surprising thing is that it accomplished it with much less wealth than London. The country has a much smaller GDP and people have lower salaries, but they are surrounded by beautiful nature and good food that is getting increasingly better, even selective. If only they would smoke less! For someone who is used to the crowded streets and noise of New York, Slovenia seems to possess endless space and that deep-resting silence and peace. And yet my small country is somehow also a hard-working, bustling place.

The money in once-sleepy Ljubljana seems to be well spent.

What makes me even happier about today's Slovenia is that it is investing money to unearth historical sites, including an entire Forum of a small city of the Roman Empire, or some medieval palaces and tombs that for many years were covered by some socialist trash. Even in a small city like Celje, where I was born, there are now cultural and historical sites that I never saw when I was growing up. We had our fun as kids, but instead of having it among the Roman ruins, we played among big socialist planters.

Ljubljana, the town I consider mine in Slovenia, has gone through a real urban revival. Sure, being the nation's capital, the city is spending more than any other, upsetting other cities like Maribor. But the money in once-sleepy Ljubljana seems to be well spent and the city is now blossoming, crowded with mostly young visitors, as shopkeepers and restaurant staff in the old part of the city have stopped using the local language. Meanwhile, some visitors are trying to learn some of the Slovene language.

Ljubljana Photo: Andrej Mrevlje

When I lived in Ljubljana, I seemed to know every single foreigner who came to town. It would be a guest professor, lecturer, some foreign friends of friends, my friends visiting. Ljubljana is now flooded with tourists coming from all parts of the world. There is a very systematic effort to offer a fresh look that respects the original aesthetics, traditions of the country. That includes some old ideas that were made for the city at the beginning of the last century but were never implemented. It is so nice to see those old plans coming out of the drawers, being altered, improved, then implemented.

The city is in the hands of the youth. Finally.

There are new bridges and rejuvenated life on the small river Ljubljanica, which curves through the city. There are so many ways to walk the city and find new perspectives, added to the old ones, all the small details and renovations that make the city a subtle testament to our culture and our modernity. There are also lovely bars and restaurants on every other corner. The city is in the hands of the youth. Finally.

There is more to say and other stories to tell, but in the meantime, I wanted to send this postcard of my old city and its new world.

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