Like many other serial travellers, my life looked much different before COVID struck. I was living a digital nomad lifestyle and the place I called “home” changed at regular intervals. Also like many other serial travellers, I have spent this year missing travel—a source of joy, inspiration, and identity. As 2021 dawned, I reflected on what I missed most about travelling. To my surprise, what I actually miss most is living in a European city—one that excites all the senses as it begs to be discovered.

Sight

From the summer of 2018 to 2019, I called the charming Slovenian capital of Ljubljana my home. For those of you who have yet to experience Slovenia, it is a feast for the eyes. You’ll find this small ex-Yugoslavian country tucked between Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. It may be a tiny parcel of land, but as you drive across the country (a feat that can be accomplished in just three hours), Slovenia offers diverse and magical scenery. Its jagged alps transform into rolling pastoral hills dotted with historic villages, limestone caves, and Tuscan-like vineyards before finally meeting the balmy Adriatic sea. 

Adriatic Sea - photo by Luke Wilson
Adriatic Sea. Photo by Luke Wilson

Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana (pronounced Lyoo-BLYAH-na), sits proudly in the middle of the country. A day of travel in any direction will lead to sought-after destinations including Venice, Vienna, Budapest, and Dubrovnik. While its strategic location for exploring Europe lured me there in the first place, the city itself won me over throughout my time there. Ljubljana is nestled beneath an 11th-century hilltop castle where a dragon-embellished flag waves from its highest turret. A gentle river winds through the historic and pedestrian-friendly centre known for its architectural treasures. Decadent Art Nouveau bridges arc over the river, connecting cobblestone streets full of boutiques, cafes, Gothic churches, and Baroque squares. Strolling through town or its bustling market is a scene out of a fairytale.

Ljubljana city center. Photo: Trixie Pacis
Ljubljana city center. Photo: Trixie Pacis

 Sound

Ljubljana is a vibrant destination year-round. Especially in the summer months, the town is filled with the bustle of locals and tourists alike. With cafes and restaurants spilling onto the streets and riverside, the clinking of espresso cups and lively chatter is a staple soundtrack. Slovene is a Slavic language that pleases the ears with its strong consonants and soft “sh” and “zh” sounds. It’s also common to hear Italian, German, English.

Drifting between Ljublana’s street corners, you’re bound to hear live performances by street musicians, jazz singers, students of the Ljubljana Academy of Music. Best of all, the music is regularly punctuated by the atmospheric ring of centuries-old church bells. Come night, there’s no shortage of bars, clubs, and nightlife. Places like the graffiti-laden Metelkova, an autonomous social and cultural centre in abandoned army barracks, hosts all kinds of concerts, DJs, live shows, and improv acts.

The sound of music in Ljubljana. PHoto: Trixie Pacis
The sound of music in Ljubljana. PHoto: Trixie Pacis

Taste

Slovenian cuisine may not be world-famous yet, but it certainly is worthy. Heavily influenced by its geographic location, Slovenian cuisine combines the best elements of Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Balkan gastronomy. Slovenia puts its spin on dishes like Wiener Schnitzel, pasta, pizza, risotto, goulash, burek, and cevapcici. In general, Slovenia’s hearty and comforting foods embody a farm-to-table spirit, whether it comes from Michelin star chef Ana Roš (featured on the Netflix original series Chef’s Table) or your local neighbourhood gostlina (pub).

A trip to Slovenia is not complete without trying wine from each of its three distinct wine-growing regions. Viticulture existed in this region long before Romans introduce wine to the likes of France, Spain, and Germany. With Slovenia’s long-standing wine traditions and unique terroir, it’s no wonder Slovenian wines are beginning to gain notoriety at global wine competitions. My favourite local varietals were Malvazija, Refošk, and orange wines (the wine is not made of oranges; the process prolonged grape skin contact to make white wine with a fantastic golden orange colour and notes of dried orange rind, juniper, and honey. Slovenians also uphold the tradition of making homemade schnapps including blueberry and lemon honey thyme—something no gathering is complete without.

Smell

Slovenian’s mouth-watering cuisine produces many great smells but what stands out most in my memories is the smell of the great outdoors. Ljubljana was named Europe’s Greenest City in 2016, partially due to its vast city parks and accessible outdoor spaces including Tivoli Park and the Ljubljana Botanical Garden. The city often smells of flowers and fresh bread, especially in the springtime. Slovenia is also known for its natural wonders. Hiking through Triglav National Park and rowing a boat across the famous Lake Bled were the best ways to immerse in the sights, sounds, and heavenly smells of nature.

Smell - Triglav National Park photo by Trixie Pacis
Smell – Triglav National Park photo by Trixie Pacis

Touch

We tend to use our other senses more heavily while travelling but in retrospect, there were many moments where physical touch forged a deeper connection. Those that stand out most are picking fruit and rifling through antiques in the market, diving into the frigid Soča river, summiting Mount Triglav (Slovenia’s highest peak), and wading into the salty Adriatic with the warmth of the sun on my skin. I even joined a local women’s rugby team, which involved an even mix of tackles and high-fives. Last but not least, it is customary for Slovenians to greet with three kisses on the cheek. All of the Slovenes I met were welcoming, warm, and quick to embrace me in different ways, starting with the cheek kisses. Given our current situation and the necessity of social distancing, I appreciate these moments of physical connection more than ever.

Touch - Soča River - Photo by Tadej Anclin
Touch – Soča River – Photo by Tadej Anclin

Explore With All Five Senses

Looking back, I truly cherish the opportunity to explore freely with all five senses. I’ve realized that it’s okay to miss travel. It’s also okay to miss the places I’ve transformed into a temporary home. More importantly, I now realize that I have the same opportunity before me. I simply happen to be in a snowy Canadian mountain town instead of an elegant European capital. Though I no longer have that hilltop castle, atmospheric church bells, orange wine, a botanical garden, or the sparkling Adriatic Sea, I will always have those memories. 

Author Bob Bitchin once said, “Attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.” While there’s no denying the ordeal that 2020 has been for many, I’m inspired to see how embracing this philosophy and exploring with all of my senses can enhance my next big adventure.

  • Lake Bled photo by Trixie Pacis
  • Ljubljana river walk with castle in background. Photo: Trixie Pacis

Cover: Riverwalk in Ljubljana. Photo by Trixie Pacis