President-elect Donald Trump took office January, 2017. The White House welcomes a new First Lady, Melania Trump. Ms. Trump, born in Slovenia, is the second First Lady born outside of the United States. John Quincy Adams’ wife Louisa was first lady from 1825-1829. Louisa was born in England. Melania Trump became a U.S. citizen five years after receiving her green card in 2001.
Melania was born in the small railroad town of Sevnica. Her son, Barron, speaks Slovenian fluently. Melania speaks fondly of her childhood in Slovenia. Slovenia used to be part of Yugoslavia. It borders Austria to the North, Hungary on the northeast, and shares a 416 miles border with Croatia south, southeast, and east. To the southwest Slovenia is adjacent to Trieste, an Italian port city on the Mediterranean. Slovenia is a small European country roughly the size of New Jersey.
The country itself is an interesting example of transition, modernity and deeply-seated culture. Melania’s Slovenian heritage is sure to put the country on the tourism map.
A brief history of Slovenia
The United States is sometimes referred to as the “Great American Experiment” because it is a relatively new country, less than 250 years old. However, the United States is mature compared to Slovenia, who won its independence on June 25, 1991.
The Slavs, the ancestors of the Slovenes, spent much of recorded history under foreign rule until the 20th century. After World War I, Slovenia became a part of Yugoslavia, which became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after World War II. After 70 years of Yugoslavian rule, the Slovenes rallied for independence. In 1990, almost 90 percent of the population voted for independence in a referendum election.
In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared their respective independence, and the Yugoslavian army attempted to intervene. About 100 people were killed before the European Union (EU) declared a ceasefire. The next year, the EU acknowledged Slovenia’s independence. In the following years, Slovenia became part of the United Nations, joined the International Monetary Fund and associated with the EU. Slovenia would become the first formerly communist state to assume the presidency of the EU in 2008.
Today Slovenia is asserting its identity and working its way onto the world stage. With its storied culture, beautiful landscapes and pioneering emphasis on environmentally-friendly living, it’s a fascinating country with plenty to explore.
Things to do
Slovenia calls itself the “New Zealand of Europe” for the sheer variety of scapes and sights found in the country. You can have it all in Slovenia – bits of Italy, Austria and Hungary, folk tradition, modern art, dense forests, open pastures, storied cities, coasts and mountain slopes. Here are just a few things to explore while you’re in Melania Trump’s homeland:
1. Food: Slovenia borrows a lot of sumptuous flavors from its neighbors, including Austria, Italy and Hungary. You can find strudel, gnocchi, goulash and seafood all in the same area.
To experience the best traditional Slovenian cuisine, plan to visit one of 850 organic tourist farms, where fresh flavors come together straight from the source. You can enjoy good meals and accommodations in scenic countrysides.
A great way to sample traditional and innovative menus is to visit town food markets, they are called Odprta kuhna which means Open Kitchen. Slovenes eat a lot of meat, mostly pork, beef and poultry. You won’t find lamb, rabbit or venison on the menu often. Potatoes and soups and are popular. You might try these Slovene dishes during your stay:
– Kraski prsut, dried ham
– pumpkin oil (bucno olje), a dark oil used on salads
– zlikrofi, potato filled dumplings
Slovenian foods are understated. Recently. Ana Ros, star chef of the Netflix series “Chef’s Table,” hails from Slovenia. She has been revolutionizing her country’s cuisine for 16 years and is helping Slovenia drum up a reputation as a key destination for international foodies.
If you travel to Medana visit Aleks Klinec, a great winemaker who runs a restaurant and cosy B&B. Try a trendy new orange wine made with macerated, skin-on, white grapes. It has an amber flare with an earthy autumn taste similar to mead.
2. Art: The future First Lady stylish persona is a shining example of culture and arts of her birth country. Maribar, Slovenia is a culture hub. It has been a center for avant garde art and jazz for years.
Tourists who want a more historic art experience can find it at the National Gallery of Slovenia, in Ljubljana. Its permanent collection includes works from famed artists like Michelangelo, Giuseppe Zola, Janez Subic and native son Ivan Grohar.
3. Beautiful Scenery: Slovenia’s bucolic countryside and mountain vistas are a picturesque backdrop for photos. Lake Bled is Slovenia’s most popular resort. This glassy lake is full of wonders like a medieval castle, a church sitting on a small islet and a view of the craggy Julian Alps. Its innate beauty makes it a destination for hikers, backpackers, watersport enthusiasts, and, of course, photographers.
Go underground to an exceptional canyon of Skocjan Caves. There are thousands of underground caves in the country. These deep caverns are the result of river erosion beautiful karst caused by water erosion on water soluble rock, such as limestone, causing sinkholes and large aquifers. Explorers have been recording visits to these caves as far back as 1689.
Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana is home to about 300,000 people. It’s also the European Green Capital of 2016. Cars are banned from most of the city center. Bicycles and foot traffic are common. Wander through cafes, bar, galleries and boutiques and cross the triple bridge over the Ljubljana River. Admire historic architecture such as the Ljubljana Castle, Franciscan Church of the Annunciation, Visitation of Mary Church on Rožnik Hill and Kazina Palace at Congress Square.
If you’re interested in visiting the town where Melania was born go to Sevnica, a town of 5,000 people snuggled in the foothills of the alps. Until recently, the small town was unaccustomed to tourists, but there are predictions that Sevnica will become a tourist attraction in light of Melania’s newfound fame.
4. Animals: Slovenia is home to many interesting species. Brown bears, wolves and lynx are found in protected Slovenian forests. There’s also an abundance of red deer, roe deer, wild boar and ibex. Bird lovers will be excited to catch a glimpse of a golden eagle, a Ural owl, and woodpeckers in green, black and gray.
5. Winter Activities: Skiers and snowboarders will love Slovenia’s relatively low-cost and high-quality ski resorts. Vogel is one of the country’s most renowned ski resorts. It is located in the Julian Alps. Travelers can enjoy beautiful runs and warm up over a hearty bowl of fried cheese and sausage stew.
Beginners won’t have to worry about slowing anyone down. Many of Slovenia’s resorts have trails available for people of all experience levels, and many of the instructors are fluent in several languages. It’s easy to go straight from the slopes to the streets. Many ski resorts are located just outside towns and cities.
How to Depart Smart
Enjoy Slovenia. There are a few habits to encourage safety and comfort. The United States Department of State want you to:
1. Prove who you are: Always make sure you carry identification. All foreigners are required to carry an ID when they tour Slovenia. Make sure your ID is available and not easily accessible to pickpockets.
2. Know your emergency numbers: Slovenia’s emergency service system different numbers for different situations. Keep these numbers close at hand in case you need help. English and German are widely spoken in Slovenia.
- There’s a general emergency: 112
- You need the police: 133
- There’s a medical emergency: 144
- There’s a fire: 122
- There’s a gas-related emergency: 128
- You need a mountain rescue: 140
- You need rescue or an ambulance: 144
- You need child emergency services: 147
- You need your local embassy during the day: 386-1-200-5595
- You need your local embassy after hours: 386-1-200-5556
3. Dos and don’ts: Some parts of touring Slovenia are breezy and foreigner-friendly. Slovenia’s currency is the euro. Slovenia is part of the Schengen Zone, about 26 European states that have abolished passport and border checks. There are just a few considerations.
a. Animals: All animals coming into Slovenia need a passport and a veterinary certificate proving they were vaccinated against rabies.
b. Alcohol and tobacco: There are restrictions on bringing tobacco and alcohol into the country.
1. EU citizens can bring:
a. 800 cigarettes, OR
b. 200 cigars, OR
c. One pound of smoking tobacco
2. Non-citizens over 17 can bring:
a. 200 cigarettes, OR
b. 50 cigars, OR
c. 250 grams of smoking tobacco
1. EU citizens can bring:
a. 10 liters of spirits with alcohol content over 22 percent, OR
b. 20 liters of spirits with alcohol content under 22 percent
2. Non-citizens over 17 can bring:
a. One liter of spirits with alcohol content over 22 percent OR
b. Two liters of spirits with alcohol content under 22 percent
c. Money: There are also differences in how much cash you can bring from abroad into Slovenia. Here’s how it breaks down:
1. EU citizens can bring any amount of cash they want
2. Non-citizens can bring up to 10,000 euros in cash
d. Firearms: If you’re an EU citizen traveling with your gun, you must travel with a European Firearms Pass and a firearm certificate. You must also have document that you are coming to Slovenia to hunt. Non-citizens will have to declare their weapons to customs and fill out sufficient documentation, available through the Slovenian Customs Administration.
4. Careful with your car: Vehicle break-ins are a frequent problem in Slovenia. Make sure you take your valuable possessions with you after you park.
5. Follow the news: Know that there are migrants coming into Slovenia over the borders. This has not yet been a problem. Some borders are being controlled in order to curb illegal immigration. Keep in touch with your local embassy for updates.
6. Don’t buy counterfeit: Look out for counterfeit or pirated goods. Counterfeit items have been on the rise in the EU, especially in Greece, France, the Netherlands, Romania and Slovenia. Though they may be a good deal, most are stopped from leaving the country at customs.
7. Keep your receipts: Slovenian inspectors can request receipts to prove purchases as you exit businesses. You could be fined if you cannot produce a receipt.
8. Be prepared: If you or a loved one are traveling with a disability, exercise caution. Many buildings will not be easily accessible. Most major tourism spots are handicap accessible.
9. Remember your vignettes: Highway vignettes are stickers drivers purchase to use highways. They are required for all motorcycles and passenger vehicles. Plenty of U.S. tourists get in trouble with the law in Slovenia by driving on a highway without a vignette.
10. For LGBTI travelers: There are no federal restrictions on same-sex relationships or LGBTI gatherings or any “known safety or security issues.” However, same sex marriages are not legal in Slovenia. Slovenian voters have rejected legislation giving same-sex couples the right to marry several times in the country’s short history. Most recently in 2015. A civil partnership rights referendum gives same-sex Slovenian couples expanded rights. They enjoy many of the same rights heterosexual married couples do, except for the right to adopt children and access invitro fertilization.
10. Dress warm: Slovenian winters can be brisk, -2°C / 29°F in January. Be sure to bring enough warm clothes with you, especially if you plan on enjoying the many winter sports and activities available to travelers. Adversely, summer months are warm and sunny 26°C / 78°F.
When in Slovenia…
While English and English-speakers are bountiful in Slovenia, you’d be remiss not to learn at least a little of the language before you venture out. Going to another country is always an opportunity to make new friends and try new things, including new words. Here are a few key phrases to get you started:
- Hello: Zdravo (zz-DRAH-voh)
- My name is: Ime mi je (ih-MEE mee yeh)
- I am from: Sem iz (sum eez)
- Goodbye: Adijo (ah-DEE-yoh)
- Thank you: Hvala (hfa-la)
- Call the police: Poklici policijo (poh-KLEE-chee poh-LEET-zee-oh)
- Help: Na pomoc (na poh-MOACH)
- Fire: Gori (gohr-REE)
Travel Insurance is not optional. Wherever you travel in the world, it can cost a small house to medivac you home if you are hurt or ill, even if you are in a country where healthcare is a public service. Your travel insurance provider should equip you with a 24 X 7 hour hotline, with concierge service to assist if you need help. Routine vaccinations, Hepatitis A & B, and rabies shots are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Register your trip: Make it a habit to register your trip at travel.state.gov. The U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert, The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly during the holiday season. U.S. citizens should exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets. This Travel Alert expires on February 20, 2017.” Your consulate cannot forewarn or assist you if they do not know where you are or how to reach you. It’s smart to register your trip.
Download the free travel safety checklist at DepartSmart.org to help make sure the only surprises on your trip are good ones. Safe journey!