After an eleven day splurge in Italy, we found ourselves crossing into the country that we’ve had our travel sights set on since we began planning this adventure over a year ago. Something about Slovenia has been drawing us in like a magnet, and now that we’re here, it’s quickly and unabashedly revealing itself to us. Our first stop, the capital city of Ljubljana is only a few hours drive from Venice, but it bears very little resemblance to that epic port city, and indeed the entire country of Slovenia takes on a completely different feel than it’s neighbor to the west. The first thing I noticed was the air. It’s got a quality to it that is crisp and delicious. And it smells good here. Then there’s the water. Slovenia is renowned for having some of the finest drinking water on the planet, and they know it. The government declared in 2016 that access to pure water is a sovereign right for all citizens and therefore has placed strong protections on maintaining pristine water throughout the nation. It is now written into the Slovenian constitution that water cannot be regarded as a market commodity, and that international corporations cannot exploit Slovenia’s water resources for commercial gain.
For a citizenry that places so much importance on it’s water, it comes as no surprise that there’s a profound reverence for nature here. It took us nearly a week to realize what’s missing in this country, but the other day it dawned on us what it was… litter. There’s hardly any trash on the ground whether you’re on a city street or walking on a mountain path. OK, sure, there may be the random wrapper here or there, but there is by far less visible garbage than anywhere else I’ve seen in the world, including Singapore, where heavy fines are imposed on litterbugs. As far as I can tell, fines aren’t needed here, as Slovenians just get it. They respect the land that provides for them, which unfortunately seems to be the exception rather than the rule here on planet earth.
Their gentleness with nature seems to translate to their kindness amongst one another, as there is definitely a relaxed and friendly vibe everywhere we go, especially outside of the city. It seems like every day we’re meeting at least one, if not many cool people here. It certainly helps that most people in Slovenia speak pretty good English, especially amongst the younger generations. The older the Slovenian, the dicier their English tends to get, but generally communication is not a problem here. That is except when it comes to place names in this country. It doesn’t matter how good someone’s English is when it comes to referring to a town, store, restaurant or other location that has a Slovenian name. What matters is our ability to speak and listen to those Slovenian names.
Here’s a few examples: ‘Ljubljana’ (the capital) is pronounced Loo-blee-yana. ‘Slnmcn’ (a restaurant near our Airbnb) is pronounced something like schlahm-cahn. ‘Prešernov trg’ (the main square in the center of Ljubljana) is pronounced Preh-sher-no Turg. ‘Cerknica’ (a town we visited) is pronounced Serk- nee- chyah. Covfefe (the Slovenian word for bullshit) is pronounced Cow-fee-sees. So, you get the idea. Even ‘hello’ isn’t so straightforward, as ‘zdravo’ is pronounced zdra-voh. But still, that’s a lot more manageable than the other word for hello which is ‘pozdravljeni’ (pos-drahv-eh-ye-nee).
After spending 5 nights in an Airbnb in Ljubljana that was much more like a homestay than a typical Airbnb setup, we felt like we were getting a grip on Slovenian pronunciation. Our host, Sylvija, a super sweet Russian woman who speaks fluent Slovenian and her Slovenian husband, Urosh gave us plenty of practice, and we were feeling pretty confident when we went to the bus station to buy bus tickets to our next destination, Zerovnica (Zeh-rohv-nit-zah).
We got on the bus and started bounding down the road, while looking forward to spending some time in the southern region of Slovenia. However, about 20 minutes into our journey, it became clear to me that we were definitely heading north. I quickly checked google map on my phone, and I felt an instant little tingle of horror when I realized that we were heading for a town in northern Slovenia called Zirovnica (Zee-rohv-nit-zah). At the next stop we got off the bus to reverse our tracks. I think the bus driver (and probably all of the passengers) thought we were crazy, as apparently he had never heard of the tiny village of Zerovnica that we were intending to visit. When we returned to the bus station in Ljubljana, we went to the same clerk we purchased the tickets from, and to our surprise, she was legitimately apologetic about the mix-up. She refunded our original tickets and then issued us new ones, which were slightly less.
While the mishap set us back a few hours and few euros for the return trip back to Ljubljana, it was a tremendous travel lesson which added another layer to our sense of humility, which seems to increase with each passing day. Mistakes like this happen on the road, and we can’t let embarrassment or pride get in the way of righting the ship as soon as possible. It pays to be forward, to ask lots of questions and be as thorough as possible regardless of how ridiculous we may look. We’ve learned that we need to write down tricky place names and show people the spelling rather than rely on our sketchy pronunciation when we’re trying to get somewhere.
It also didn’t escape our attention how special and rare it was to receive a heartfelt apology from a bus station employee. It was actually the third time we’ve been earnestly apologized to by a Slovenian in the space of a week for pretty minor infractions each time. That may be more apologies than we received during 4 months of travel in Guatemala, Mexico and Italy, where apologies don’t come easily. For Haruka and I, saying “I’m sorry” in the local language is a regular part of traveling, as we are inadvertently making little mistakes all the time. An apology eases the tension of the situation immediately and provides an avenue for both parties to quickly move along to whatever is next. But most importantly for me is that an apology is a critical tool for releasing the weight of guilt, shame or other unneeded emotions from my being. Learning the art of the apology makes us much lighter as human beings, and we are delighted to find that Slovenia seems to be a place where that art is being practiced and embraced. By the way, ‘I’m sorry’ in Slovenian is ‘Oprostite’ (Op-ros-tee-te).