Slovenia charmed me from the get go. The Lippizaners and Skocjan Caves were my introduction, on a fantastic day that I would happily repeat. Ljubljana was a gem we didn’t spend nearly enough time exploring, though we were really fortunate to have a sunny Saturday to spend there. The Soca River with its (un)natural beauty, the wonderful Vila Dobra Hotel, the majestic Vrsic Pass with its incredible birches. Lake Bled was like a storybook adventure…walking in the countryside surrounded by wildflowers, cows, the distinctive hayracks and beehives. The lake itself, so picturesque, rain or shine, and the phenomenal Vintgar Gorge. And friendly people were everywhere!
Something refined and naturally elegant, an impression of smooth, fine, elongated about Slovenians.
Croatia had to grow on me. The people, like the landscape, a bit craggier, rougher. Rocky, chiselled faces are stronger, their seriousness may appear to be gruff. How much does the focus on German tourism affect that impression? But cumulative good experiences over the week built a favorable impression. Though I might not have loved it from the start as I did Slovenia, I came to like it very much. I had to give people a chance to show me their friendliness.
Key to my appreciation of both of these countries was the ability to communicate. I did try to acquire a few words to use in both countries – the absolute essentials like “hello”, “good morning”, and “thank you.” But Slovenes and Croats alike are mind-bogglingly polylingual. Their command of English is just one more language they can speak – and the quality of their English pronunciation is outstanding.
This facility with language comes with an interesting attitude: ours is a small country and the only one to speak our language. Better that we learn to communicate with the world, than expect the world to learn to communicate with us. You can imagine the tourism doors that opens!
Both countries depend upon tourism for a fair share of their economic activity, and they safeguard that revenue source with high quality experiences for visitors. Friendly, immaculately clean, multilingual – the rest of the world can take lessons!
And, since both are well-traveled by Europeans but not the world at large, the experience of being a visitor is that of “one among some” not “one of the hoard”. These are countries to explore and discover now, before the secret gets out and they become overrun. There are treasures here: the Soca River, Lake Bled, Ljubljana, Istria, the Croatian Islands and the best of all, Plitvice Lakes National Park. I cannot put Dubrovnik on my list, because I haven’t been yet, but many people rank it high on theirs.
The modern history of this area is not easy to sort out. The frequent changes of government and national control, the multiple ethnicities, the role of Tito in the formation and life of Yugoslavia (an event of my childhood), the horrible wars fought in the 1990s. Now it all makes more sense to me, and I respect the Slovenes and the Croats more knowing that they have built their current countries despite the efforts and legacy of Slobodan Milosevic.
I do hope to return. I would like to go back to see the Lippizaners perform, to explore the Soca River Valley in the sun, to go to Piran, Pula and Dubrovnik, as well as to revisit the Skocjan caves, Ljubljana, Plitvice and the coast.
Instead of crossing it off my bucket list, I now have it underlined twice!!