The real spirit of a country and its people does not always lie within the enormous and spectacular historical monuments, but sometimes it hides in the smooth everydays and the land where it stands. I have already mentioned before that Slovenia has a special and close relationship to nature, so based on my possibilities I tried to catch this feeling, and I had got a small overview from high mountains to lovely hills and from forests to charming, sleepy towns.
Although I visited the centre of Maribor, the discovery of its area is far from being finished yet, since the perfect location of the city at the border of mountains, plains and rivers gives the visitor a great access to the neighbourhood. That is why I could reach some nearby villages, like Počehova, Kamnica, or Limbuš: especially the last one was memorable because of the beautiful shores of Drava, which you can walk on both sides along the river. It is not just the gorgeous panorama of Maribor with its bridges, towers, bastillions and walls that stay in your mind for sure, but also the intact wilderness you can reach just a few kilometers away from the old town.
First the landscape turns into a sort of park, then a village, and finally the traveller is surrounded by light green leaves and bowing trees, while the sun tries to sneak inside the woods: there is a wonderful vegetation around Drava and its isles. At the same time, the water attracts dozens of ducks and swans.
Due to the lucky situation that I could be there in May, I also had a chance to watch the little nestlings making their first toddling steps and bird couples hatching their eggs. Sometimes they tried to hide, but there were some extreme 'solutions', therefore the authorities used special signs to protect those who had built their nest on the other side of the road, because apparently they did not mind the people that much...
Anytime I go there, the whole journey seems to be a peaceful, meditative trip, and I always feel that I can listen to nature and myself; that I did not have to feel shame, lack or sorry for anything, and I am just a humble part of the entire creation who wants to understand it.
In the meantime I also explored another interesting district of Maribor: the forest of Stražun, which is a piece of green island in the heart of the city, but closer to the suburbs. Apart from the fact that it could remain completely intact and natural, surrounded by main roads and modern buildings, it was also amazing to see the small gardens, huts and weekend houses only some metres away from the noisy urban life.
I was also seeking a similar spirit, when I had finally made up my mind to conquer the highest peak of the territory, Pohorje, which turned out to be higher with its 1042 metres than the highest top of Hungary, Kékes, which has 1014 metres, and unfortunately I never had an opportunity to climb it yet. It is very likely that apart from my flights it was the closest point to heavens I had ever got to. As I mentioned, the curves of the mountain are visible everywhere in Maribor and they guard the city from the distance, which makes it a remarkable symbol of the whole area.
At the beginning the trip seemed to be a challenge, but when I could finally see the top of my journey in the starting point, I thought that it was going to be a bit easier than it looked. Well, I was wrong. Indeed it seemed to be easier as long as I was just following the line of the cable cars (vzpenjača in Slovene) and I was not in the complete middle of the forest.
Later the trail, and even the climate changed though, and the slopes that were very friendly at first were getting sharper and gave me a real adventure after a long time. In general I still think that Pohorje is not a mission impossible and the route is safe and clear, and the fact that I could see people of different ages from children to elders, individuals and groups, or amateurs and professionals both, also confirms it.
The only thing that one has to be careful about is the track for bikers and the small possibility of meeting some wild animals, but there are usually a lot of hikers which makes it comfortable to go even on your own if you prepare yourself with some snacks and of course, plenty of drinks.
However, this was also my only concern about the place. Since it was a ski resort in the winter and thus very popular in every season, there was an entire industry and infrastructure constructed on this business, and the amount of random bars, pubs, restaurants and accommodations in the middle of the forest really took some of my illusions, not to mention the cars, that could also reach such natural habitats and that should nothing to do with the place I think.
Apart from this dissonance of our modern civilization, I can definitely recommend Pohorje: it is worth it not just for the fun, sport or experience that you achieve a goal and get a fabulous sight, but also because of the additional inspirations waiting for you along the way.
For instance, the atmosphere that the pine trees, oaks and beeches were creating all around really put me in the middle of a mythical tale and it was also a spiritual path to find something deeper in my soul: while being amazed of the Alpine meadows full of flowers and the rocks that seemed to be standing there from the birth of times, I could feel that a little bit of my dreams came true and I was somewhere I could only read or watch movies about before.
I felt an infinite and mysterious respect towards life itself when I was gazing at the wonderful landscape, and the silence made me write and reconsider things from the past I thought were important. They turned out not to be anymore. Only the moment existed.
It was very tricky that I was thinking in every single minute that I could be on the top soon, then I was always proven to be wrong, and there was always a next step until I got to the end station of the cable cars and found the touristic centre. Maybe it was not the best spot for a nice view, but I felt that I had officially fulfilled my plans and I worshiped a monument of nature and left a part of myself there.
Since my childhood I had admired two types of territories, and most probably both of them because they were somehow distant and exotic for me: one of them was the sea coast, and the other one was the wilderness of high mountains. None of them disappointed me in reality, which I am very grateful for.
Have you seen adventure films like The Lost World, Jurassic Park, King Kong or Indiana Jones? These are the jungle vibes I exactly experienced in the middle of this miraculous, enchanted forest, full of ferns, bushes, creeks and sources with perfectly clean foams. I was ready to see some medieval knights, bandites, Native Americans, bears, wolves, ghosts, fairies or dinosaurs in every moment, and it was also a little bit like in the famous introduction of Dante’s Comedy: “In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood…” and so on, through the transcendent spheres of Heaven and Hell.
We have a proverb in Hungary, that men may make plans, but it is God who makes decisions. Well, in a sense I experienced the surprises of some kind of power, whether it was coincidence or fate, otherwise I would not have found another great hiking area in my neighbourhood.
Namely, I had ended up in a village called Pojlčane by accident, and as it turned out , there is a giant, dark green cone nearby, which is named Boč, and even though I did not know about it before, I already had a feeling that it should not be underestimated. Later I learnt that it had the honorary title of ‘Triglav of Slovene Styria’, which indeed shows that it is something very iconic for this region.
Unfortunately I realized that just like Pohorje, this peak would also take almost one day to be reached and explored completely, but even the first few kilometres towards the deep forest amazed me a lot. The farms with sheep and chickens, straw bales, lovely roofs of cottages and stone churches can create a very authentic environment, and as you enjoy the sight of the vineyards, waving hills and emerald fields, you are likely to imagine yourself being the protagonist of a traveling movie or a historical drama.
The landscape is a genuine mixture of Greek, Italian, Austrian and Hungarian features as well as the lifestyle of the locals, while the sounds, smells and colors throw you into a forgotten age or a colony of an unexplored planet. The hawks, eagles and kestrels flying and howling still build a magical atmosphere to the place and one can surely suppose that the woods keep on protecting their legends just as they have been doing it for so many centuries.
Maybe it is not a good idea to go hiking alone due to safety reasons, although it can also have its charm and can refresh both body and mind. Besides that, I really wished sometimes to have a bike that can make it easier to reach some further locations, because the public transportation might be complicated.
For example it was the case with Slovenska Bistrica (in Hungarian: Vendbeszterce), that I tried to reach by foot in the beginning. The journey was not completely successful, because it turned out that it was not exactly the name of one town, but it is rather a bunch of settlements among the hills, and Bistrica, named after its river, was the most important of them.
On my way there I could see another face of Slovenia too: the mysterious spirit of polje, which is very difficult to translate to other languages. In general it means a field or a meadow, and it is also the term for a specific karst land, but its interpretation is far beyond that. Polje is also the magical plain in the Southern Slavic tales where you can meet the dangerous dwarfs of the crops, the Polevik, or the malicious Noon Witch (Polednice) - the allegory of sun-stroke, whose figure inspired one of the operas by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák.
Whatever is the truth about these legends, the people who can admire such a landscape will surely be under a magic spell as I was when I got to the highest peak of Slovenska Bistrica, which can be found at the cemetery (pokopališče), supported by mesmerizing slopes and hills.
The castle and its park, the old town houses and churches like the one of St. Joseph’s or St. Bartholomew’s are very interesting in the city as well, although I somehow felt sorry for the fact that many of them were abandoned and would deserve more attention. Also because the area has a special heritage due to the Wend people (Hun.: vendek), a special and debated subgroup of Slovenes with their own dialect.
All these towns, villages I visited, all the streets and roads I have been down to asked me the same question again that I had in my mind each time when I was in Italy or Czech Republic: I was wondering how the lives of those local people could look like, how it could be to be born and spend entire years on these places, and how you could feel and see it for a couple of hours what they did.
I have always looked for these characteristics in common between abroad and myself, while I tried to find the vibes of a homeland and peaceful community everywhere. It is great to be a tourist or a hiker, but by now I have understood that it is also fantastic to become a scuba diver: a diver of the culture.