One of the things we most appreciate about participating in Alzheimer Europe over the years is that the annual conference has taken us to countries we would otherwise not think to visit. In at least one case – Poland - the initial visit resulted in Susan making a connection to the University of Warsaw that took us back and likely will again. We now have a dear friend in Warsaw, and have learned a great deal about their tragic history and vibrant culture.
Certainly we would not have thought to visit Malta on our own, and had a delightful time there. This year’s conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia sent us scurrying for maps, sorting out exactly where Slovenia is. For those scratching their heads, it is the westernmost nation in the region termed “central Europe,” sharing borders with Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. In its long history it has been part of the Roman and Austro-Hungarian empires, and more recently Yugoslavia. It is a small, largely rural nation with a population of slightly more than two million. Its largest city and capital, Ljubljana, has only 300,000 residents.
It is a beautiful nation of mountains (the Julian Alps line its northern border), lakes, forests and fields. Geography has favored it in multiple ways: it was able to largely avoid the horrors of the Balkan wars, and it has prospered far more than some of its Slavic neighbors since the advent of democracy. At least in the cities, almost everyone speaks at least passable English (when there are only two million of you, you do not expect visitors to learn your language, which is a good thing given that the Slovenian language is unique and has 42 official dialects). The people are warm and hospitable.
Cultures, including culinary cultures, collide in wonderful ways. Slovenians argue, and not without reason, that they offer the best pasta and gelato outside of Italy. Austrian and German influences also abound. There is a distinctly Slovenian cuisine, and also what gets termed “ex-Yu” cuisine from the broader Slavic culture. International foods can also be found: our favorite restaurant, Okarina, in the resort city of Bled, combines traditional Slovenian food with Tibetan offerings because, well, because it does.
I will write specifically about the capital city, which travel writer Rick Steves terms “the next, next Prague,” and the beautiful resort town of Bled. I doubt that anything I write will cause many people to put Slovenia on their “must visit” list, lacking as it does major tourist magnets. Yes, it has cathedrals, castles, and museums, but no one travels to Slovenia to see specific attractions. Rather, one goes to experience a beautiful place, to learn about a people’s history and culture, and to appreciate a setting that is distinctly different from the United States and Western Europe.