We often consider the world around us to be something automatically created and given. Something which has always been and will always be, thus everything we can see and experience is natural and evident for us. However, sometimes it is worth it to stop and think about the fact that maybe there is nothing we can really know and explore completely, but the magic is rather the fact we have the chance to get closer to the truth.
This was my greatest lesson I have recently learnt, while getting a visit here in Maribor by a friend of mine from Hungary. Although I assumed that I had met and seen everything in my area in Slovenia, I could discover a lot of hidden mysteries and treasures due to guiding my friend and showing him the city and its surroundings.
This observation also gave me the hope that nothing is final and fully-known, and there is always something new in the air - we just have to see the world with a newborn baby's eyes, and being a voluntary tour guide taught me to look at the same things from a different aspect.
Many people claim that it is pointless to go to another town or another forest, because they are all the same, but I think this cynical point of view does not really lead anywhere or shows us the real beauty out there. Ultimately, as a matter of fact, everything and everyone is the same, if we observe the structure, the surface, or the shell, if I may use such a metaphor.
The true nature of the wonders can be found in the small differences though: the special tones and shades that characterize them and make our horizons wider and our spirit richer. Not all the miracles of creation are obvious, and while I felt that I was becoming more like a local person, I could see the importance of everyday amazements.
Traveling does not mean only the circumstances, because inner journeys are at least as important as the outer ones - it is only up to you where and how you are going to find your inspirations. You should not feel ashamed of anything or desire too much, because being constantly on the road without stopping, watching and truly appreciating what’s around can be as harmful as living in a bubble and being unnaturally attached to your home environment.
There are various personalities though, and the amount of adventures we need can be indeed different, so the golden rule, as always, is to find a balance, the aurea mediocritas (‘golden mean’) as ancient Roman poet Horace said in his works.
Well, mentioning Romans, do you remember Poetovio, the ancient Roman settlement of Ptuj? Even though it is possible to explore the old town just in a couple of hours, it gave me a hard time after my arrival to find the Roman camp (in Slovene: Rimski kamp), which was a couple of kilometers away according to the navigation. Last time I took the wrong way, but returning to Ptuj with my friend, I decided to give it another try.
To be honest, it was a real challenge to find the outdoor museum, since it was not advertised that much. There were no signs at all and we were about to give it up, while we were passing by beautiful wheat fields, vineyards, farms and gardens. At the meantime, we also found Mestni Vrh (‘city peak’), the highest spot of Ptuj apart from the castle hill.
Then we could finally see some posters with ancient Roman designs of red flags and golden laurel wreaths, so we knew it must have been the right location. However, we faced another common problem of Slovenia, namely that sometimes it is not clear if something is a private property or not, and if a tourist is entitled to enter or not, but finally it turned out we could come in the yard.
The ancient columns standing on the green hill made it clear that we were in the place where Poetovio used to lie, and even though I did not understand why the Romans did not use the castle hill of present-day Ptuj instead, I could feel that there was something special in the view and the atmosphere of the whole valley.
Unfortunately almost nothing was left from the original city, but it was visible that the municipality, the archeologists and some local investors could see an opportunity in this heritage, and many buildings were under construction: especially the round-shaped ancient theater and some town houses and wooden stakes.
Someday the original vibes of the colony will be shining again, said everything around us - and until then, the city has its ancient Roman festival to celebrate the oldest settlement of Slovenia.
However, Poetovio’s historical festival is not the most important celebration in Ptuj, but Kurentovanje, a traditional ethnographic carnival before the fast period (pustni karneval) which is even recognized by the UNESCO world heritage program.
We learnt about this event completely by chance, while walking in the city centre: first of all, we saw it on some posters, and second, some shop windows had the special costumes and masks of the carnival. And this is what made us to stop and wonder, because the scary, devilish faces with horns, sheepskin and insane smiles immediately reminded us to the Busó - the famous characters of the Busójárás in Mohács, Hungary, which is the best-known winter carnival of our country.
According to our legend, the Christians who lived in the island of Mohács under the Ottoman rule dressed up like demons to chase the invaders away from the territory, and it is usually considered as an indigenious Hungarian custom for the carnival season.
After reading about the topic though, it turned out that Busójárás is connected to a Southern Slavic minority, the Šokci people (Hun.: sokácok) at least as much as to Hungarians, since the Kurent and the Busó traditions both share the same roots, and similar carnivals can be found all across the Balkans, for instance in Bulgaria. I also learnt about another celebration in Ptuj, Festival Arsana, a music event which takes place each summer, usually in July.
My beloved city of residence, Maribor, also kept some surprises for us. Since we are both huge fans of hiking and nature with my friend, it was obvious that we would go to Pohorje together, and thanks to the additional time we had, we could continue our walk along the ridge, until it turned out that our 1042 meters were still not the highest point of Pohorje, but it was only the top of the part that faces the city, Mariborsko Pohorje.
The real top of the mountain is Črni vrh ('Black Peak') with more than 1500 meters, that we could not reach unfortunately, but had some adventures in the pine forest, explored a church and small monostory, while we found another great spot in the middle of the green meadows and were watching the herd of cows, which was a very authentic, picturesque Alpine view.
As I mentioned before, Pohorje is not really magical because of the sight on the top, but rather for the spiritual, peaceful and aesthetic moments you can get on the path. However, I already had another unfinished journey in my mind that I finally wanted to fulfil: conquering the gloomy slopes of Boč, where I met similar difficulties of not finding the right way. In fact, I was very lucky to have a friend, because the mountain was such a mission and it took such a long time that I would not have done it on my own.
The forest looked like a real jungle, full of leaves, roots, remains of dead trees, gorges, limestones, rocks, caves and valleys, and sometimes it was not an easy way to climb and keep the balance. However, we could see some courageous people of different ages, and I even remember an old Slovene man with his German Sheperd dog answering our English question in German about the duration to the top: eine Stunde ('an hour').
Well, it took at least the double all together with the wrong ways, breaks and sharp uphills, but it was a great experience for sure. Since it was the part of a national park, we saw some birds like thrushes or finches, and most probably the noises we heard belonged to deers, boars or maybe chamois, the symbolic animal of the country due to the legend of Zlatorog.
We also had to be careful in general, because the sunny days were attractive not just for insects and lizards, but for other reptiles such as snakes, although there is a very-very low chance to have trouble if you stay on one of the signed routes.
Speaking of the top, it was all worth it: we were a bit uncertain for a while die to finding old partisan bunkers and a military base with fences and wires, but the other hikers also made it clear that we were in the right place. Although the broadcast tower was a little bit higher officially than the public watchtower we could visit, the view from the 'top of Slovenian Styria' was incredible: blue mountains, distant rocks, light green lands, gorgeous slopes and a completely bright sky above all of that.
It was exactly the situation when I could recall many memories about seeing such panoramas, but Boč just pushed us away from the ground and gave us a flight with no wings, while we could feel that the whole world was a chess board we could play on.
Another important hill by the border with Croatia, Donačka Gora (Mount Saint Donatus) was also visible with its particular solid features and ancient curves, but no matter how tempting it was, we both knew that it would take another one-day trip, which was left for next time.
Maribor also waited for us with another important hill, Meljski hrib (‘Meljski hill’), which can be found relatively close to Piramida along river Drave, but already close to the neighboring village of Malečnik. Unfortunately this adventure had to be done by me alone, but this way I could just improvise and find another miraculous shore of the river, that looked like the islands on the Danube which I know from my childhood in Hungary.
There were swans and ducks, while the area seemed to be an enchanted forest or a swamp, and the hill itself looked so serious as a place where I could find the gates of Underworld. At this point I would also like to mention Maribor Island (Mariborski otok), which plays a bit similar role to Margaret Island (Margit-sziget) in Budapest as a spa and a park. It is totally on the other end of the city, but if you have a chance, it might be a good idea to check it out.
Instead of fantastic creatures, Meljski hrib provides a shelter to some animals, who are not less fantastic though, especially birds, but it also had some archeological excavations before due to some Celtic remains.
If you follow the wine route (vinska cesta) you can find not just a great view on some local vineyards, but you can also try to reach the top of the hill, although, as it turned out, it is completely owned by a horse club right now, which destroyed my illusions about any spectacular panoramas. However, that did not ruin my first impressions about the place that reminded me of Monte Pellegrino in Sicily due to the gigantic stones and cliffs I observed.
Another fun fact about wine, since Maribor is famous for it: the oldest Vine in the world, which is also introduced to the Guiness World Records, also comes from the city: it is called stara trta ('old vine'), and even though it is around 450 years old, it is still alive and sprouts fruits, and the grapes which are gathered from it during the harvest season are accompanied by a huge festival each year. Regarding the price of some wine you can get from such a Methuselah, well, you can imagine...
Last, but not least, one of the most charming and romantic places in Maribor had been resting just in front of my eyes: it was the city park (Mestni park), that I already mentioned, but as we explored, it continues and goes deeply inside the valley. Its most beautiful jewelry is probably the lake, which is the home for many swimming ducks, sunbathing turtles and impressive species of flowers, particularly lilies.
If you spend a longer time in Maribor or moved to the city like me, you can climb two smaller hills too: Mestni vrh (‘city peak’, like in Ptuj) and Stolni vrh, which is close to vinska cesta and has a huge cross on the top.
There is another fascinating sight, which is a bit far away, but if you have a company or a ride, or you just like walking, give a visit to the Three Angels (Trije Angeli): three tall stone busts in the middle of a field outside of the city, that are a little bit similar to the statues of the Easter Island or the ones from the socialist era.
Maybe you have to cross the whole city to finally meet them, but these guys are always open for some pictures, while guarding the pride and genuine glory of Maribor with their majesty.
They also made me realize another crucial thing: traveling, hiking and sightseeing are not just about adventures, memories or fun, but they are also about inhaling the pure spirit of culture. Every monument, forest, street and trail connect us to those who had stepped by in these places before we did - but they are also a bond to the ones who will be coming there in the future.