by Tamerlie Philippe
“Honestly, she thought, no one ever knows where Slovenia is.”
I used to belong to that group of people and I knew nothing about Slovenia.
In Veronika Decides to Die, a novel written by Paulo Coelho, the story is centered around the titular character , a young Slovene who tries to commit suicide. She’s neither depressed, ill, nor scorned, but simply feels life has nothing to offer.
On the surface Veronika appears to have a fine life, yet she makes the decision to end her life taking an overdose of sleeping pills. After she takes the pills she sees a magazine article “Where is Slovenia?” She writes a letter that her suicide is justified because no one knows where Slovenia is and she wakes up in a mental hospital with only a few days to live because of her overdose.
In 2021 I moved to Hungary. Debrecen, currently my home, is advertised as the second biggest city in Hungary. I fell into the trap and foolishly believed the city to be big. I’m grateful for its small size however. I sometimes believe that if I had stayed in Budapest, I wouldn’t feel the desire to travel as much.
The day I boarded the plane to Hungary, I felt a rush of excitement I was afraid to admit. I wasn’t happy to leave my family, but happy to discover new places. The list was endless, yet Slovenia was nowhere in mind.
When I did know of its existence, I paid no attention to it, other than the unusual name of the capital, Ljubljana.
“If they don’t know were Slovenia is, then Ljubljana must be a myth.”
I had been to Czechia, Spain and Slovakia, which funny enough I knew existed way before Slovenia.
Then, my first summer in Debrecen began. I was gleeful at the thought of my adventurous dreams and ideas. Those quickly died as I was once again a struggling student. My plans changed as I could not afford summer in Europe. Norway and Iceland could wait a little more. I thus turned my sights to Hungary’s neighboring countries where I found Slovenia.
My journey began when I boarded the train to Ljubljana. The weather was quite ambiguous, grey skies appeared one moment and brightly lit blue skies the next. It continued to toy with me and the rest of the travelers I didn’t know. As I sat in the car alone, I paid little attention to Hungary that was now familiar to me. Every now and then I’d look up from my book to see the endlessly confused sky until I reached the border that separated the two countries. The change in the atmosphere caught me entirely by surprise. My heart began to palpitate the way it did when overjoyed. I suddenly didn’t care about my book nor the ambiguous skies. I was sad that no one would share that moment with me. Riding the train felt like flying through the mountains of Slovenia as each new scene seemed more beautiful than the last.
After walking through the cobblestone streets of Ljubljana, I find it hard to understand how she could leave the city behind. I followed the streets with no clear agenda in mind and lost myself between the pastel-colored buildings. I wandered along its river that separated the old from the new. I crossed its many bridges simply because I could. And I enjoyed the music filled evening by the statue of Preseren, Veronika referenced ever so often in the book.
The next morning I woke up eager to see what else Slovenia had to offer. I left my hostel at 7 a.m. unbothered by the cloudy sky. When I reached the train station I realized my data was no longer working, which strangely enough I was used to. I was disconnected from the rest of the world and I didn’t care. I continued my journey and headed for Podhom. A little more than one hour later, I started my trail to Vintgar Gorge. I was alone in the little village of Podhom, safe from the occasional passing car. The sky was still grey and little droplets of water threatened to shower the countryside with me as collateral damage. It took me 20-35 minutes to reach the entrance of the gorge. Despite being early morning there was quite a number of people waiting to enter the trail. But then, I finally stepped onto the boardwalk that span alongside the mountain. Once again the need to share this experience with another person overwhelmed me. The Radovna River, emerald and crystal-like, was enchanting. As I walked on the suspended boardwalk, I had one thought only; to jump in the clear blue water. The desire lasted, for nearly two hours until I reached the end of the trail. A café waited for us tourists at the end of the road. I sat and enjoyed my cup coffee, quite happy with the decisions I had made in life.
My journey wasn’t over though. Rather than turn back on my heels, I decided to hike the mountain and follow the trail to lake Bled. One of Slovenia’s famous attractions. I hardly broke a sweat as I walked through the woods and began my ascent. When I later emerged out of the forest, the clouds were no where to be seen.
The turquoise blue untainted water of Lake Bled twinkled under the sunlight. It was the perfect end to my journey and I would forever know Slovenia.
Tamerlie attends the University of Debrecen, where she majors in Marketing. She is a writer and aspiring author. An internship with Literary Traveler is a stepping stone towards that career path. She currently lives in Hungary and takes this time to travel and discover new cultures around Europe. Follow her on Instagram.