I have already mentioned a lot that Slovenia has an extremely great cultural diversity due to the fact that the territory of the country was influenced a lot by neighboring nations in the area. It is also true, that the different regions of the country usually have a completely different past and historical development, and they did not use to be as much connected as they are nowadays, since the establishment of Slovenia, which first was a member state of Yugoslavia, then it became an independent nation in 1991.
Thanks to this rich environment, heritage and the historical differences of the regions, it was necessary to find out what these lands have in common in order to unify the young, newborn Slovenian nation.
As far as I have noticed it, this project of creating own identity from the inside and focusing on the national myths and characteristics has been very successful: namely, wherever I traveled from the East to the West, from Styria to the Julian Alps, I could see that there was some kind of spirit everywhere that held these places together, and which was far beyond the national flag and other symbols of Slovenia.
I have decided to show the different, but connecting faces of this fascinating country by describing the contrast of two entirely distinct cities. The first one is the fourth biggest city of Slovenia, Kranj, which can be reached from Ljubljana by train in just half an hour.
In fact, it really surprised me that the place has such an honorable ranking in the country in terms of population, because the special structure and location of the city rather gave me the impression of a small town at the beginning. And that’s true: the cosy old town, sitting above the fast-running waves of Sava, looks like a place where the time completely stopped if you look at the city's architecture.
Speaking of the river, it was a particular moment for me to see it, since Hungarians traditionally talk about four iconic rivers of the Carpathian Basin: Danube, Tisza, Drave and Sava (Duna, Tisza, Dráva, Száva), although the last member of this group had never really been the part of our heartland, but it is mainly related to Slovenia and Croatia.
Now I have officially seen all of them, so maybe I am able to say that I am familiar with the close neighborhood of my country, and also the one of Slovenia.
Nevertheless, the sight of the bluish-greenish foams with all the hills around, and the distant, rocky peaks of the Alps provided me with a supernatural feeling, like if I was in another continent or historical period.
After all of that, no wonder that this area is called Gorenjska (or Carniola), which is most probably derived from the word gora meaning mountain in many Slavic languages. The region, which is also known as Krajna in Hungary, has many of the most important natural beauties in Slovenia.
First of all, we have to mention Triglav, the highest mount of the country, that got its name due to the fact that its three peaks look like three stone heads of a giant - as a matter of fact, Triglav is also the name of a three-headed ancient Slavic deity. The mount is the number one national symbol of the country, and everyone has definitely seen it at least in the coat-of-arms of Slovenia, which is also included in the corner of the flag.
Apart from the national park (Triglavski narodni park) all around, this region is also the home of Lake Bled, the most famous lake of the country, and Lake Bohinj (Bohinjsko jezoro), another popular destination, where you can see the statue of the legendary chamois, Zlatorog ('Golden Horn') from the Slovenian fairy tales.
According to the legends, when Zlatorog started bleeding, its blood could grow flowers that were able to heal any kind of injury or disease, and the animal also knew the way to the treasure of Triglav, since his horns formed the entrance key. There is also a tragical story about a hunter and his lover connected to this legend.
Well, unfortunately I did not have the chance to meet him, but I could experience a lot of other miracles of the city. I could discover spots such as the old town’s square or the gothic cathedral of Sv. Kancijan among many other small, but impressive churches, including Catholic, and even Orthodox ones, which are basically used by the local Serbian and Macedonian communities. There is a tiny fun fact: although as far as I know, the place has nothing special to do with Poles, the flag of Kranj is the exact twin of the Polish national one, although I assume that it is just a coincidence.
The real master piece for me was the composition of Plečnik Stairs, that threw me straight back to the middle ages - but besides the Catholic Europe, it also reminded me to some Ottoman and Moorish ornaments. Anyhow, it was a lovely and magical spot in the city, especially with the elegant fountains and arches it had.
Seeing all of these centuries-old, artistic places, it was a huge switch to walk on the modern streets of the city, where many buildings, especially public institutions, sculptures and monuments also summoned the communist era. Kranj is indeed a city merging past and present in a contemporary way, even if some tourist would describe it as small.
I also have to talk about the general view that I could experience. The greatest thing in the upper town was the fact that it seemed to be a huge window, or balcony on the whole area for me, since there were castle walls and ruins everywhere on the top of the slopes.
I just did not know if the valley, the houses or the fabulous mountains of the horizon mesmerized me more. I could find many interesting bastions too, like the Pungert, that was a very classic and magnificent complex for sure, but I also remember Stolp Škrlovec ('Škrlovec Tower') a lot, because it completely looked like Vodni Stolp in Maribor to me.
At the meantime, I was wondering the fact, how it was possible that the cone on the opposite side, Šmarjetna gora did not become the castle hill of Kranj, because it must have looked very incredible in such an environment. However, history had different paths, and the top is the home for Sv. Marjeta, another authentic church of the city.
If you are totally into castles, just like me, you do not have to get disappointed, because the enchanting Brdo Castle can be visited from Kranj by taking a car or a bus relatively easily - you just have to remember that the lines are not very frequent and they are usually not available for the late afternoon and the evening. Last, but not least, the legendary Slovene poet, Prešeren died and was buried in the city as well, so today both a theater and a museum are dedicated to his legacy.
Let’s say goodbye to these timeless mountains and ancient walls for now, and let’s move to an utterly different part of Slovenia, Prekmurje (in Hungarian: Muravidék), which is an extremely exciting area, especially from my perspective. The territory, which is the essential part of Pomurska region, is located along river Mura as its name suggests.
Thus, the majority of this land is flat and wide, and it also implies that this is among the main agricultural centres of the country with many crops and fields everywhere. I can just confirm that based on what I saw there, since this area was somehow the straight continuation of Zala for me - the Hungarian county that borders Slovenia.
The history of the area is interesting firstly, because it was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary and given to the Serb-Croat-Slovene State, the predecessor of Yugoslavia. During the years, the Hungarian population almost completely disappeared, but regarding this complicated past, Hungarian is still a recognized minority language in Slovenia as well as Italian.
I also have to mention the Vend people, who traditionally originated from Prekmurje, and they are even called Prekmursci in Slovene instead of their international name. However, unlike in the case of Hungarians and Italians, Vends are not recognized as an official minority in the country, but as a dialect and a subcategory of the Slovenian nation.
Since this term was used in my language historically for all Slovenes in general, it is very confusing and difficult to distinguish what a separate tongue or dialect is, and this can still be a sensitive issue. Especially that Slovene has at least 48 (!) of them dividing the 2 million native speakers, while the reason for that is basically the geography of the country that isolates certain areas, towns and villages more from each other.
Just to compare it, Polish, which is a vast language compared to that, has maybe 4 or 5 dialects in its own country, and Hungarian, being smaller than Polish, but much bigger than Slovene, has more or less 10-12 of them.
Back to the region, there was one city I surely wanted to see: Murska Sobota (Hun.: Muraszombat), which is not just the capital of Prekmurje, but obviously the cultural centre of my people who still might live in the whole area until today (6,000 of them based on the last census).
Due to the special situation that I visited the city when Slovenia was celebrating its 30th anniversary, I could see many transparents and open exhibitions all around to learn about the complicated past of this place.
The pictures and descriptions really helped me to understand better the last days of the Yugoslav era here, since I could get some information about the protests, changes and the short, but important independence war the country had. Besides, I also realized that the local people experienced it as a national trauma, when Hungary regained this territory for some time in the Second World War, and relocated teachers and officers to the city.
Fortunately, nowadays the two countries and cultures have a friendly attitude towards each other, but it is always shocking to see the storms of history with all the losses which different sides, and particularly the ordinary citizens suffered.
Murska Sobota is not the city where you can spend many weeks as a tourist - in fact, you can explore it in a couple of hours. Yet I would really like to recommend it for a day, because it keeps some interesting surprises for you, beginning with the Evangelical church and the Victory Monument in the centre, which represents Yugoslav partisans and Soviet soldiers.
The monument is certainly a memento of the communist times both based on its style and function, and as I could see on the old photos, the square was completely crowded when the sculptures were inaugurated. To be honest, I think one can see it as a piece of art, and it has found a new role for itself in the contemporary city, even with the tanks, machine guns and the inevitable red star on the top of the column.
However, the greatest sight of the place is the Sobota- or Szapáry Castle (Soboški grad), as it is referred to in Hungarian after the family that owned it.
The smooth, white shapes and modest tones of the building reminded me of many mansions I have seen in this part of Europe, while I had a very unique feeling of being home and abroad at the same time. The best is if you approach the castle from the boulevard that leads to the facade and main entrance, but the pure and inborn majesty of the building can be felt everywhere in the air, wherever you watch it from.
The interior with the loggias, balconies, stairs and castle yard still talks about the centuries of virtue, courage and honor, and the enormous park around is a silent and peaceful zone of relaxation and admiring nature. No matter if you do it in the shadows of the trees, in the emerald grass meadows or at the gorgeous, little pond, inhabited by fish and ducks - have some time for walking, sitting and thinking here.
Then you will definitely realize what a gift it is to wander and explore the world, because I can assure you that this can also be the way to explore life itself.