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Introduction to Slovenia
North Americans may not think of a former Yugoslavian republic as a desirable tourist destination, but savvy Europeans know better. Slovenia is one of the Europe’s biggest travel secrets. Gorgeous scenery, friendly people, and cheaper prices make this a great place to visit.
For centuries, Slovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For a while, it achieved independence, but was then combined with other states into the nation of Yugoslavia. During the fall of communism in eastern Europe, Slovenia was the first Yugoslav republic to declare independence, which it was granted after only two weeks of fighting.
Since then, Slovenia grew in prosperity, and became a leading candidate for joining the European Union, which it did in 2004. Although it still has a long way to go before the standard of living reaches west European standards, life in Slovenia has much the same quality as in its northern and western neighbors.
Although Slovenia is dominated by Slovenes, there are many Italians living in the south-west corner of the country. Before the Second World War, towns like Koper and Piran were part of Italy, and today, Italian is an official language in that part of Slovenia. Furthermore, there are many people in the northern countryside whose first language is German.
Since there are only about 2 million people in Slovenia, most people speak a second or third language. Restaurant menus are commonly printed in four languages: Slovene, German, Italian, and English. If you know a few of these languages, you won’t have much trouble in being understood anywhere in the country.
What’s there to see in Slovenia? Expect to find many of the same types of things that you’d expect in Austria or northern Italy, such as old towns and castles. Skiing is very popular in the winter.
Museums are about as common as elsewhere in Europe, but expect to be guided through them. In Celje, a town that goes back to Roman times, we visited the town museum, which has some fine collections. Our guide didn’t speak English, but I was able to translate his German into English for Sylvana. After being shown through the main part of the museum, we wanted to see more. The guide relented and then showed us a room of Roman antiquities uncovered during routine building construction in the town.