After a long but luxurious bus ride from Vienna, Austria to Maribor, Slovenia (with onboard toilet!) we arrived in Graz, which is on the border of Austria and Maribor.
We were excited about seeing our cousin Vesna and her husband Bojan but they were nowhere in sight. It was freezing and hanging outside with big suitcases at night is not the safest thing to do. We spotted a McDonalds and headed to the comfort of the golden arches. Almost two hours had passed and the security guard was eyeing us up…we kept ordering food…to keep him off our back…Our cell phone was almost dead and I was contemplating how the security guard (who looked like the Russian Mafia along with all the other customers) would take it, as I opened up the beast and started searching for the power adapter and phone charger, when Vesna and Bojan walked in!
It was an emotional meeting for Adriane who had been skypeing with her for years. After lots of hugs and laughter, we realized that there were two bus stops in Graz and they had gone to the wrong one. And to make things worse, there are lots of McDonalds and one-way streets.
Coming back to their home which was our grandparents house, was surreal. I was six when I had left Europe but Adriane had strong recollection and was overcome by a flood of memories. I on the other hand was flooded by red Slovenian wine and the best goulash I had ever tasted. Bojan, who is an amazing chef, had a pot ready to go with dumplings. OMG I couldn’t stop eating. It was 5 am when we finally went to sleep.
We were awakened the next day by a knocking, it was dinner time! Everybody had assembled in the house waiting for us as we staggered in.
Our cousin Bojan (Vesna’s younger brother), his wife Lidija, and their daughter Jasmina, along with Vesna, her husband (also named Bojan) and their son Niko.
It was hard to believe that the young teenager with long hair was this grown man with a lovely wife and beautiful daughter.
And after we are all stuffed up and couldn’t eat anymore Chef Bojan brought in the biggest and best tiramisu we had even tasted!
Adriane had a lot more memories here than I did. We enjoyed visiting the special places that were still in her heart.
The elementary school and the church, and walking down the river (Drava) that was always associated with my memories. We followed the same path and walked into the historic downtown.
Maribor was already established when Marco Polo was born.It has a rich history and was ruled by Austrian Habsburgs until the end of the first war. It’s rich in heritage and culture but also has a lively beat as a centre for university students, with the University Of Maribor and numerous schools in the area.
Tourism is popular as the city enjoys the mountains (Pohorje) and skiing as well as a thriving commercial wine growing industry including the home of the world’s oldest grape. And trust me, we lost no time visiting that and enjoying some samples.
For me Maribor was were we spent our summer holidays with our grandparents and aunt.
I can still smell the oil and earth in my grandfather’s workshop where I “helped”, my Aunt Stefka, reading my future in the grounds of a coffee cup, and my grandmother, hair pulled back in the kitchen laying out a potica rich with walnuts, rum and raisins.
As they days lengthened my memories also came back, sometimes unexpectedly. Grandpa in the cellar checking on his wine, me hoping for a taste when grandma wasn’t looking. Our cousins and uncles, our parents and us laughing.
When I stood still in the garden of my grandparents’ house I could hear them again. But now there was a new chorus of young voices, new generations that were adding to this marvelous ancestral tune playing through the centuries and connecting us all. I wondered where Marco Polo fit into our family history and would I recognize his voice when I heard it?
WATCH our video. Marco Polo Family Ties: Maribor, Coming home