I promised this video was for my personal collection but… I lied. Here is the New Year’s Eve gang singing the Slovenia national anthem before we all took a shot. Na zdravje! or… Cheers!
Four months ago I’m not sure I could point out Slovenia on a map. I already had plans to be in Venice, so when I met Boštjan in September while he was surfing my friend’s couch outside of New York, it wasn’t too far-fetched to add a few extra days in Slovenia and see a country I might otherwise never get to know.
Nova Gorica is a small town by New York standards, though one of the biggest cities in the country. It’s nestled up against Italy to the west, a fact that seems to really bother the residents I spoke to. It was in Nova Gorica that I learned the most about the history and culture of a country, probably much more than the other places I visited combined.
Boštjan and I took trips to Ljubljana (the capital) and the largest cave system in all of Slovenia, the Postojna Caves. They aren’t kidding around. Postojna has 20 kilometers of caves. We didn’t quite get to go spelunking, but this place is nonetheless worth spending some time. Dark caves and cell phones don’t really translate into blog-worthy photos but, well, you get the idea.
Ljubljana felt much like a modern Bratislava. A castle on the hill and a river running below it. Ljubljana is another city where it isn’t necessary to sight-see, it’s best experienced with a leisurely stroll, even better with a Slovene boy himself. The Christmas markets were still up and running so we grabbed some food, I ODed on vin brûlée, and we watched the sun go down and the lights come on.
The biggest thing going for Slovenia though is clearly it’s outdoors. We spent an entire day driving around the Soča Valley with the stunningly bluish-green Soča River in sight from practically any point on the road. To see a river this color in a nearly land-locked country feels strange. The water looks like it’s from any Caribbean beach, and it’s easy to picture all the swimming, kayaking, and rafting activities that take place in it during the Summer months. The entire valley is peppered with small villages, each one with it’s own quaint little shops, unique look-out points, and maybe a wooden bridge or two. I’ve never been to Vermont, but I couldn’t help but think the two are very similar: a skiers paradise in winter, and a lush, green, mountainous beauty when it’s warm.
I have so much to thank Bostjan for, especially with all the driving and taking me to the airport and such. The time I got to spend with Boštjan’s friends and family made me feel really lucky, and I learned so much about Slovenia that I definitely wouldn’t have ever known. It made for a New Year’s I’ll remember for a long time, although…. the embarrassing dance with his dad is one part I wouldn’t mind to forget. ;)
I spent most of New Year’s Day face-down on the living room futon. I woke up still wearing the two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, and three sweaters I’d worn out to celebrate, and it was all I could do to ditch a pair of pants, eat a sandwich, and go back to sleep.
Our NYE started early, walking to the city center of Nova Gorica where many of Boštjan’s friends gather at the local record shop every year to share some beers and food beginning at 1pm. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to check out the selection of music which was light on the Pop and heavy on the Southern and Hard Rock. The local music scene pretty much only consists of everyone going to see Bruce Springsteen. Next summer.
Around 4pm we left and walked to Sebastjan and Janja’s house where they so graciously hosted a delicious traditional Slovene dinner for us all. Everyone taught me some essential Slovene NYE vocab: Hvala (thanks), Srečno novo leto (happy New Year), na zdravie (cheers) and I also whipped out some of the things I brushed up on at home: to je moje pivo (that’s my beer) & kje je božiček (where is Santa?) Trust me on this one. Learn to ask for Santa in a foreign language and you’ll have the locals laughing for hours.
Sebastjan and Janja also surprised me with gifts which was extra meaningful since they were the only Christmas presents under the tree I had this year.
Many drinks and an overwhelming amount of food later, we walked back to the city center where we reconnected with many people we’d seen earlier at the record store and the thousands of Novia Gorica residents who had come out to celebrate. There wasn’t a collective New Year countdown which confused me, but nonetheless there were fireworks and champagne (the essentials that really matter.) Every few minutes someone was refilling my cup. I’d already lost count long ago.
When I woke up in the morning the end of the night seemed only slightly blurry. Boštjan and I had stopped to visit his parents on the way home. It wasn’t until later that the details started coming back to me. “Did we eat pasta salad with your mom?” was the first thing. Then later, “Um, did I dance in the kitchen with your dad?” Yes. Yes, I did.
New Year’s day was meant for resting, so that’s exactly what we did. I think every single Lethal Weapon movie has aired back to back and I’ve been staring at Mel Gibson for hours. Tomorrow is my last day of the trip and I’m starting to feel the anxiety of getting back to work, looking at my bank statement after 18 days on the euro, and all the other stresses of home, but this trip was the perfect length because I was also gone long enough to mentally check out and have a vacation from thinking about that stuff. I’ll be home in exactly 48 hours. I’m loving it here, but I’m ready to get back in the swing of things. 2012 is going to be huge. Bring it.