One of Slovenia’s top tourist attractions is Postojnska Jama (a giant network of caves). The cave was making headlines because olms, an extremely rare and endangered species that looks like baby dragons, had just been born in the caves. The olm is also known as the human fish due to its skin tones.
The last time I had been in Slovenia I was 11 years old and it was marred with sadness. My father and I flew out to see my grand-father who had been hospitalized with a blood clot. As we drove up to our grandparent’s home, it was strangely quiet. We waited, not sure what else to do, and then the people started coming. I looked at my grandmother – she seemed small and frail– and we knew that we were too late. The funeral was that afternoon.
My father consoled me with a trip to the caves. I remember marveling at this incredible underground cathedral that nature had etched. And him pointing out the olm and how life can adapt. Just like we did – when we moved to Canada, and a new language and customs.
Cousin Vesna and her husband Bojan are driving us to Koper where we lived before coming to Canada. They give us a choice: world famous Postojnska Jama or Koper’s neighbouring coast towns, Piran and Portoroz. Well that was easy. In the Polo’s world — all roads lead to the sea (sorry Rome).
Piran took my breath away. It wasn’t surprising that we fell for it. Our parents had dreamed about moving here to this dreamy seaside town – and this could have been our future home if we had not immigrated to Canada in 1967. We loved Piran. A bus takes you into the old town and its ancient fishing port. It’s pedestrians only. We watched fisherman work on their nets in the centre of town. A seawalk followed the ancient wall, broken by restaurants and cafes serving daily fish specials.
The main square features a statue of Giuseppe Tartini, a famous composer and violinist who was born in Piran. The buildings are gently bleached by the warm sun. We spot a building for sale and dream of living here.
And yes, Piran did have it’s share of pirates. So the stories about pirates in our ancestral background could be true.
And then it was off to Portoroz. Translated it means Port of Roses. For us Portoroz was where we went swimming in the summers. Known for its sandy beaches, the resort town is also home to a number of first class marinas, and attracts tourists. It’s modern, and fun and what’s good for the spirit is also good for the body. Portoroz has a reputation for its health spas that goes back to the 13th century. That’s a lot of detoxing! I can picture the Polo brothers visiting Portoroz’s sandy beaches for a little R & R after a big trade deal.
The beaches were empty when we got there, but they would fill soon enough with sun worshipers. I remember Portoroz and my father teaching me to swim. Up on his shoulders I would go, then 1,2,3, splash, he tossed me in. I would come sputtering up, (my mother would scold my dad, but she didn’t really mean it) and I would beg for more.
Our perfect beach day would end with one last stop. Koper, our home town. We grew silent as we approached our old home. Memories. Voices speaking from the past. Laughter. A child jumping over rocks. Sunburns and ice cream. Long walks wrapped in towels, hair wet and tangled with sea water.
And now here we stood, in front of the apartment building that we called home. Tomas Apartments is a landmark in Koper, a high rise with red exterior, it is easy to pick out in the skyline. Today, it is vacant and the whole building is for sale. We didn’t say much. We didn’t need too. We stood together. And then we started sharing stories and it wasn’t tears that flowed but laughter.
Our journey with Vesna and Bojan was at an end. We had traveled many miles together but even more importantly we had spanned decades.