PART EIGHT: SLOVENIA VISIT ENDS
JANUARY 17, 2003 MORIBOR TO LJUTOMER
Fortunately I did not have an early morning engagement so I took the opportunity to brew some decaffeinated coffee and check my email at the terminal provided right outside my room in the faculty guest quarters. I was anxious to check for news of my father, who has been ill recently, and while I was not able to look at all my email I was able to scan it and check for phone messages from my office at home. Thankfully there were no bad messages about this or other issues, so I was able to move on to the next portion of my schedule.
I packed up my things and then Bojana and I bid a fond farewell to these quarters as we proceed across town to the faculty of law for a workshop with debaters from the University of Maribor. We took a taxi and were soon there.
The facilities were handsome and there were signs indicating where to go for the meeting. There was a solid group of debaters waiting there for us. I began working with them, and took this opportunity to be a bit more blunt and forward with them since they were not high school students and could take it. I also knew that they had high expectations for themselves, so I felt good being playful but direct in my approach. I challenged them at one point to come up with ten reasons why something was not true, and they ran out of ideas after coming up with four. I then added three more and, as the rest of our discussion continued, I would later come up with more just to show them that it could be done and that they need to push themselves harder to invent arguments.
<== Law faculty in Maribor
<== Law faculty in Maribor
During this time Bojana was on the phone with Lufthansa trying to rearrange my flight. I had a flight from Belgrade to Munich before I flew from Munich to New York, and Bojana thought it would be easier for me to take the train to Munich and then fly direct from there. In this age of heightened security airlines hate to allow you to join your trip in route, so it needed some negotiation. She apparently succeeded. Noel had suggested that I just show up at the Munich airport and play dumb, but that seemed a little risky to me, and I could take the train back to Belgrade if necessary. Bojana's negotiations were a success, so I would be able to go from Ljubljana directly to Munich to catch my flight. She said it took about 40 minutes to accomplish.
| Maribor debaters at seminar | They waited until my taxi arrived before leaving |
I finished my work with these students and urged them to consider coming to the WDI international session this next summer, and many of them seemed very interested. I also spoke with some of them about the possibility of graduate study in the USA.
Anja, who always seems to be taking care of others, produced some pastries and I had one, a delicious chocolate croissant, and we wrapped up the session. We called a taxi and waited out front. The students were worried about me and would not leave until the taxi had arrived, so we carried on our conversations in front of the faculty of law. The taxi did arrive after a wait, and a very tiny taxi it was, but Bojana and I could fit into it. I bade them goodbye with some sadness. We got back to the guest faculty quarters and fired up her car for the drive to our next stop.
We were bound for a small town called Ljutomer, in the wine-growing region. Actually, a lot of Slovenia is a wine-growing region. The drive was lovely, through small towns and villages, well cared for and extremely quaint. Even the power transformers have been disguised as small towers. As well, we saw so many churches. I was told that because of a decision many centuries ago it was thought that no part of Slovenia should be more than one hours walk from a church, so they liberally dot the landscape, often sitting on hilltops so they can be seen from some distance. In this part of Slovenia there were also many mini-churches that might hold no more than three or four people and an altar. They seemed to be near the roads, and their variety and loveliness impressed me.
We talked about the differences between Slovenia and America. Bojana had been to the USA for a world schools championship some years before, and she talked about her reaction to New York City, that it had been so dirty and unkempt, as well as the obvious size and height of the city. As well she was concerned by the domination of plastic fast food restaurants and other template structures that dominate the other parts of America she saw. It certainly was a valid point of comparison. Slovenia was spotless and seems to have resisted such plastic and neon garishness, even though there were American fast food outlets present.
Very quickly we arrived in Ljutomer and checked in to a lovely hotel in the town center called Hotel Jeruzalem. That seemed to be a name I saw on several signs as we approached, and I asked about it. I was told that centuries ago when crusaders were on their way to the holy land to fight they had stopped to camp here and had thought that it was so beautiful it might as well be the holy land, so they decided to stay and settle there. I can certainly understand that decision.
Before checking in we had lunch. Our meal had been ordered by Liana Miholic, the coach (along with Martina Domajnko, so that I could sample some of the true cuisine of that region. It was an interesting cutlet stuffed with vegetables, ham, and cheese. We also had a dish called zganci, made from buckwheat that was very traditional in this region. It was fantastic, and my apologies to Melissa Wade for not taking photos, but I was hungry when it came and just dived in. After the meal we checked in, and I found myself in a tiny but modern and clean single where I stashed my bags.
| Head Master, Liana, author, Martina | teachers at the debate across the curriculum seminar |
We then drove to the school where my afternoon session would be. We would be going to Liana and MartinaÕs school, Ljutomer Gymnazija Franca Mikalosica. We arrived and were greeted by Liana and Martina and I thanked them for the wonderful lunch they had ordered. We met with the head master of the school, a strong debate supporter who greeted me warmly. They showed me to a very fine classroom and there I saw some 25 or more teachers from all over the region who had gathered to hear me talk about debate across the curriculum, the idea of using debate as a teaching method in a wide variety of subject areas. Maxwell Schnurer and I had written a book about this published in 2002 and it was a favorite topic of mine to discuss with teachers.
This is a firmly scripted presentation, for me, but is nevertheless flexible and welcoming to their input and questions. They were an impressive group, obviously very interested. They had come there to meet with me after their full day of work, and I greatly appreciated that. We went for a little over an hour and then we took a break for coffee, cookies, and a smoke for those who needed it. I got feedback from Bojana that it was going well and that the teachers had given her very positive feedback. I especially enjoyed my brief conversation with the coach from Lendava, Renata Biro, who had read and greatly enjoyed my journal from my trip to Chile.
After the break I surged on through the rest of the material, easily done with such an attentive and inquisitive audience. After I was finished they had some other interesting questions and then they filed out. I, however, had more to do before finishing my day.
The national television network had asked to interview me and a video crew arrived at the school for that purpose. They set up in an art classroom (excellent visual backdrop) and we got down to business. The questions were about both debate and, of course, American policy towards Iraq. My energy level was still high after such a good meeting with teachers, so I was on point, direct, and full of, well, rhetoric. But then, I usually am.
<== National television interview
<== National television interview
After the interview we went back to the hotel to freshen up before we went to the evening's festivities. Bojana had told me weeks ago how I would enjoy that evening, and I certainly did. Liana and Martina were to take us to a wine cellar up in the hills called Vine Cellar Jeruzalem, for a real country meal and a wine tasting.
Liana picked us up and on our drive there, up steep hills and over scenic ridges, I wished that I could visit in a warmer time so I could stroll the lovely fields and vineyards. I was told that in some spots you could see both Hungary and Austria from the ridges.
We arrived at the lovely country home and when we entered we found a first roaring in a lovely ceramic and stone fireplace. A lovely table had been set for us and our hosts welcomed us. They had worked long and hard on this vineyard, and were determined to grow grapes and produce wines in the traditional fashion. As we were greeted with some very tasty sour cherry schnapps, I knew this would be a wonderful evening.
| Our table at the Jeruzalem Vineyards |
The food was all natural and all organic, and has all been produced by them on their own land. The care in its production and preparation was obvious. This conversation was lively and colorful, and I really enjoyed the three charming and powerful women of Slovenia debate I had the pleasure of dining with.
| Our hosts, author, Bojana | Three Slovenia debate women of power - Martina, Liana, Bojana |
After we ate and stayed warm by the fire, it was time to go down into the underground wine cellar for some tasting. We went down the brick steps into the modest cellar and saw a number of large wooden barrels each with a different name on it. It was explained to us how the wine is harvested and produced, the way it is named after those involved in it, the nature of the barrels, the quality of the land and thee climate, as well as some wine lore, some of which seemed slightly patriarchal, but Bojana acted to deal with that immediately in a direct but friendly fashion. I enjoyed hearing the stories from a man who actually did all of the things he was speaking about. The tasting was interesting, and we all picked our favorite wine for a final glass. It was a real tasting, not a guzzling exercise in consumption, but one of discerning, understanding, and choosing. It was cold in the wine cellar but the talk, the company, and the wine kept us warm. Finally, we emerged back into the toasty warm cottage. We took some photos and signed the guest book. I said that I really wanted to return in October when the grapes were harvested, and I was told that I was very welcome. I asked for another sip of that delightful sour cherry schnapps before we went, and was honored to receive it.
Liana drove us back to the Hotel Jeruzalem and we were in a jolly mood. She talked about our plans for a morning radio interview and then a workshop with her students. We were dropped off at the hotel after the doors were locked, but an attendant let us in and we went to our rooms. It was quite late and I was ready for bed. My nose was still dripping a bit and my strength had been drawn down by the activities of the day, but I felt very good.
I really like Ljutomer.
JANUARY 18, 2003 LJUTOMER TO PRIMORSKA
I actually got to sleep in for a while this day, since my first engagement was not until 9:30 AM. I went downstairs at the Hotel Jeruzalem and had a standard central European breakfast (boiled egg, bread, some cheese, and a sausage or so). Liana Miholic of the school met me and she prepared me for the radio interview we were to do. She wanted to ask me questions about my impressions of SloveniaÕs debate progress and my experience with students and teachers, and it seemed like it would be easy. She would ask the questions in Slovenia, and since she had supplied me with a list of the questions in English I could just go ahead and answer them in English, which she would then translate into Slovenian.
<== View from my window at Hotel Jeruzalem
<== View from my window at Hotel Jeruzalem
We walked through the center of the small town and made our way to the studios of Radio Maxi, where the interview would be. We were welcomed and talked with the morning hostess and the technician. Liana wanted to ask me a question about my interest in reggae music, and I said that would be great. The technician found a reggae song and prepared to play it during the break in our questioning.
The questioning went well and Liana did an excellent job. I finally got to talk about debate as my sole subject in a media interview. I mentioned how impressed I was that her head master had mentioned his interest in creating a debate course at the school, and I also got to speak about the excellent job ZiP was doing and what they needed to do even more.
The time flew by and after a reggae filled break the last few questions ended the 30-minute interview. We went to her car and drove to the school.
<== Interview at Radio Maxi
<== Interview at Radio Maxi
This day was an open door day, where parents, the community, and students who would be entering the school in the next academic year were all invited to visit and experience it for themselves. There had been both Slovenian language and English language debates already that morning, starting at 8 AM. When we arrived the school was alive with visitors and students. I made my way to the same classroom I had used the day before and I met with about 30 English language debaters from that school as well as from a few other schools.
The session went well and lasted two hours. Once again, they were excited about the use of the plan in debates and showed it. They were a bit reluctant to ask questions at the end, but some of the bold students showed the way and it ended up as a very productive session.
| Posing with some debaters in Ljutomer | In the debate classroom with Liana and students |
As I left I signed the school guest book and said a few words to the head master. Liana and Martina seemed very happy, and I had been very impressed by these two most excellent debate teachers. Liana had been to world schools international tournaments and was a real debate veteran.
We adjourned a few blocks away to a small pub for a celebratory drink. The instructional part of my trip was now over. I toasted to that.
One of my favorite people in Slovenia had been Anja Serc. She had experiences some Vermont style coaching previously when she had worked with Jethro Hayman, a Vermont debate graduate and now head coach at Cornell University, and she and I had positive vibes from the beginning. She was a graduate of this school in Ljutomer and had just returned from the world universities championship in South Africa where she had performed with distinction. As we talked in the pub she shared some of her South African experiences with us, and I had seen her picture album previously when we were in Maribor. Liana and Martina were there along with one of the local debaters who had been picked for the world schools team Slovenia would be sending to Peru, a most impressive young woman.
But, time was running on, and Bojana and I needed to head off to our next destination. So, we took our leave and drove back to the hotel. We had another delicious lunch there, and I made sure to try the pumpkin oil (bujno olje) on my salad as Liana had suggested, and it was really quite tasty and very distinctive. We grabbed our bags and stashed them in Bojana's car and we drove off into the lovely countryside.
The seashore was our destination, the 50 kilometers or so of coastline that Slovenia has, a region called Primorska, which is where Bojana had been born and raised. As we drove down the major highway we began to descend from the highlands and the snow began to vanish as the temperature rose. We were bound for a town called Piran, a very old town located on a beautiful peninsula that juts out into the Adriatic Sea. The signs became bilingual, as Italian is also an official language of this part of Slovenia.
We passed by the port city of Koper and the traditional seaside town of Izola, where Bojana had grown up. To get to Piran we had to drive through the vibrant European tourist town of Podorosz, full of hotels and stores, but that was not our destination. It was the ancient town of Piran that drew us in. There is just one road leading into Piran, and usually cars are nit allowed in without special permits, but Bojana talked us through because were we staying at the Hotel Piran. Or so we thought.
The Hotel Piran was closed for another week or so because this part of January is not the touristy season. We tried to stay at the Hotel Tartini (named after a famous violinist) but it was also closed. So, we decided to have dinner at a seaside restaurant and it was quite excellent, with as real Italian flair. All of these towns had been part of the Venetian League for many centuries, and had changed hands numerous times since the league collapsed with the rise of the nation states of Italy and Austro-Hungary. We lingered at dinner and I engaged in another comparison between the two competing beers, Lashko and Union. I like them both.
We left Piran with the thought of returning the next day and went to Izola, where Bojana knew of a place we could stay. And what a place it was! It was he Hotel Belvedere and it sits atop a ridge overlooking the ocean. They claimed to have no rooms but obviously they did, at least when Bojana was done with them. My road manager was, once again, up to the task! We checked into our rooms and I was stunned by the view from the balcony in my room. I was most excited by the prospect of snapping a photo the next day. I have made a travel journal tradition of taking photos from my hotel room windows, and this seemed like it would be the best ever.
There seemed to be a large and jolly gathering in the restaurant/club at the hotel, so we decided to join in. We took the last available table. Bojana ordered me some schnapps made from a local herb called ruta, and it was one of the most unique things I have ever tasted. It was warming and I was glad to be celebrating the successful end to my speaking engagements.
There was a long table next to us that contained a very large group of Slovenians. They were having a wonderful time, but they also had a secret. They were a group of friends who would gather, eat and drink, and then sing traditional folk songs in four part harmonies. They began to sing without any introduction and I absolutely loved it. My favorite song was one that Bojana told me was about frogs, and while beautiful it had elements of frog singing in it. We stayed and listened to them for quite a while.
However, the events of the day caught up with me and I was ready for rest. I adjourned to my room and took in a view of the ocean from my window before dropping off to sleep. It was wonderful to be somewhere so much warmer after so long in cold places like Vermont, Missouri, and inland Slovenia.
JANUARY 19, 2003 ADRIATIC, ITALY, TRAIN
There was nothing scheduled this morning. Imagine that. When I awakened I went out to my balcony to catch the view, and it was fantastic. I got my camera and realized that it would take several shots to get it all in because the arc of the view is huge. Off to the left is the coast of Slovenia as it runs right up to the coast of Croatia just beyond the point, and then a little to the right is the lovely blue of the Adriatic, with the shores of Italy on the other side (and the white cliffs where Duino is), below us the beautiful town of Izola, and then off to the right the coast of Slovenia leading on up to Koper and then Trieste. It was, clearly, one of the more spectacular views I have ever had from any place where I spent the night.
| The ultimate hotel room view - Hotel Belvedere in Izola - Adriatic Sea all over and Izola on the right |
After quite a long while relaxing and enjoying the view, I met with Bojana and we went back to the restaurant where we were the night before and had some simple breakfast. BojanaÕs plan for the day was to go on down to Izola and walk around soaking up the sunshine and the seaside. Then, drive around and see some vineyards and the salt marshes, then go back to Piran and have a long lunch while sightseeing, followed by a drive up to Trieste so I could say I visited Italy on the trip (perhaps some coffee there), and then drive back to Ljubljana, have a late dinner there near the train station, and catch the night train to Munich at 11:30 PM. Lots of fun, but still a busy day, but at least busy with fun.
We walked down into Izola and I found it to be extremely charming. Izola is not as pretentious as Piran, but every bit as beautiful. Lots of people were out walking with their children by the harbor full of small boats. Since this is where Bojana grew up she also had lots of stories about what used to happen in that building and which parts if town meant what to whom. This made it a marvelously person tour of a lovely small town. I especially liked the handicap access swimming facility and a specific beautiful old house right near the water. There were also several small boats I admired, mostly for their beautiful woodwork.
We drove up into the foothills and followed some really charming small roads that brought us to small villages. The vineyards often stretched along the landscape as well as a huge number of garden spots obviously more lush in the spring and summer. Bojana told me that the goal of very Slovenian is to have a nice large house with a big space for a garden, and there certainly where many of those here. I got as good look at the salt marshes; although I am not sure I got a good picture. It is a flat plain where stone walls have been built so that when gates are opened salt-water streams in, then the gates are closed and after the water evaporates they harvest the salt. The walls are linked in a spidery network spreading out from unique stone buildings at the points where the walls intersect.
| Incredible beauty in the small town of Izola |
We went back to Piran. This time we had to park outside of town and walk in, but it was beautiful and much better than driving. Again, there were lots of people from many different backgrounds strolling around with us. The sounds of Slovenian, Italian, German, English, and perhaps other languages bounced around us. We stopped at a lovely seaside cafˇ for lunch and found a table in the sun. I had some seafood and some truffles while trying liquor called grappa, probably home made our back out of grapes. I liked it. We tried to drag the meal out for quite a long time so that we could be there when the sun went down, and I got a good picture of the sun sinking into the Adriatic from Piran.
| The beautiful city of Piran, and sunset on the Adriatic |
Bojana piloted the car into Italy. As soon as we crossed into Italy things became noticeably darker and dirtier. I imagine this can be because Trieste is an industrial town, but there was quite a contrast with Slovenia. In Trieste center, however, we found a lovely square with marble monuments and lovely architecture. We stopped there in the square at a very ritzy cafˇ and had a couple of very expensive cups of coffee, but the little biscuits that came with the coffee were fantastic.
It is easy to get from Trieste back to Slovenia because
only one road leads along the coast to Italy, so Bojana struck off across
country until we reached the Slovenian border, and then we got to the superhighway
and made our way back up the hills, away from the warm seaside, into the snow
and back to Ljubljana.
It is easy to get from Trieste back to Slovenia because only one road leads along the coast to Italy, so Bojana struck off across country until we reached the Slovenian border, and then we got to the superhighway and made our way back up the hills, away from the warm seaside, into the snow and back to Ljubljana.
<== In Trieste (Trst as the Slovenians say)
<== In Trieste (Trst as the Slovenians say)
We arrived in Ljubljana in plenty of time to catch our train, and so we went to a small restaurant near the train station for a farewell drink and a snack. I ordered something off the menu I had never had before that seemed uniquely Slovenian (they love fried cheese, it seems) and sampled some local schnapps for the last time in a while. We went over the trip step by step and Bojana wrote down names of persons and places so that I would (hopefully) spell them correctly even if I do not have all of the special characters. At least I tried.
We went to the train station to catch the night train to Munich. I did not have a sleeper reserved but they were available and I would just buy one upon boarding. I was tired, not being used to a full day of tourism without debate to recharge me (I am smirking as I write this). It was cold so we waited in a very smoky pub in the station instead of freezing on the platform. I had a farewell drink because my plan was to fall asleep on the train as soon as possible.
It was time to board the train so we went to the platform. Within three minutes of our arriving the signal came that the train was approaching. It stopped and a conductor jumped off. Bojana had a brief conversation with him and she indicated I should take up residence in compartment five and the conductor dragged my bag up into the train. I wished Bojana good-bye and was up into the train. I went down and locked at my sleeper compartment to make sure that my bag was there, and then went back to the front of the car to wave good-bye to Bojana.
I have traveled far and wide for the cause of debate, but I cannot say that I have ever had a better host and guide than Bojana. Part of it is that she and her Slovenian partners have the debate networks there very organized and healthy so that they could involve me in so many different events. The other part was the great warmth with which they treated me and tolerated me. I view Bojana as one of the great global leaders in the debate cause, but that is also because she has done so well at the grassroots, in small villages and towns all across her country. Her model would be a good one to emulate. I am sure that our paths will cross again. If you were looking for a skilled road manager, she would be excellent.
I settled down in my sleeper compartment. It was very nice, with natural wood interior, with two roomy beds, a small table, and, very importantly, electrical outlets. Soon my music was blaring, my light show was pumping out of my iBook, and I was stretched out on the bed watching the countryside go by in the moonlit night.
As the astronomical motion of the planet spun me into a new day I fell into a relaxing sleep, rocked gently by the swaying of the fast moving train.