Manja’s parents Meta and Branko graciously invited us to stay with them for two nights. This allowed us an entire day to explore their home town of Piran, Slovenia. Manja has featured this town often enough in her blog that I had already fallen in love with the city. The only place in Slovenia that I really, really wanted to see was Piran. And here I was. I made a dream come true.
In the morning we were given a tour of Meta and Branko’s splendid garden. We saw the eggplant, the tomatoes, the peppers and herbs. We were shown the palm tree that was a gift when the old one had to be removed. We ate figs from the tree and grapes from the vine. Meta happily said that this is the house they would live in for the rest of their lives.
When drawing its borders, Italy grabbed several extra kilometers, but Croatia was outright greedy and grabbed up an indecent amount of coastline around the Adriatic. When they weren’t paying attention, Slovenia put down stakes and claimed its own section and got away with it. Though you may be surprised to hear it, Slovenia has 29 miles (47 km) of stunning Mediterranean coastline.
One of Meta’s joys is to swim. The warm sea is so close she simply walks out her front door carrying a towel, and in minutes can step into the sea. She easily talked us into going for a swim. We all grabbed towels and followed her down to Piran’s waterfront, past the marina and the city’s central square. Then we continued toward the peninsula, which was filled with vacationers basking in the sun or already in the water before we were.
Huge pirate flags were on display and Meta explained that the day was meant to be the ceremony called Neptune’s Baptism. Pedro and I were stumped at first. I seemed like since Neptune is a god, he wouldn’t need to be baptized. But it turns out it’s the graduation ceremony for sailors at the local Naval Academy, and it’s THEIR baptism. Due to the pandemic, the ceremony was canceled. Sailors love tradition and ceremony so much, I was sad to hear that a whole graduating class would never get to tell the tale of the day they had their traditional baptism ceremony. I saw a photo of it, and it looks like all the graduates sit in the street and get doused with water. It’s not a religious baptism.
Piran occupies a sharp peninsula that juts into the sea and is reinforced with huge stones all around. But every so often, between the stones, we found steps leading down to the sea. We chose a set of steps, kicked off our shoes, and stepped into the water. To Pedro and I, it seemed cold at first, but soon we were accustomed to it and we swam well out from shore. I went farther than the rest, and noticed a school of fish swimming around my feet. It was pretty cool and I wished for goggles to be able to see them better.
After swimming, we continued to walk along the peninsula. When we came to the lighthouse at the very end, we decided to climb it. For a small fee we were able to enter and climb to one part, which was hosting an art show. Outside the walls of the art show, I found the lighthouse lights. Adjacent to the rooms with art was the bell tower where we climbed spiral stairs, and then a ladder, up through a trap door into the small platform. It offered incredible views of the stunningly beautiful city, made even more magical under sunny blue skies.
We took our time and looked into churches and museums. There was a major exhibit of Slovenia artist Safet Zec underway, and in most churches, enormous canvases of his emotional artwork was displayed. Zec’s aim is to reveal the deepest of human tragedies, and through his skill he succeeds admirably. The problem for me is that I was on vacation, and I chose to avoid engaging with the artwork that I knew would be painful. Unfortunately, the huge canvases took center stage in multiple churches and were not meant to be avoided.
We stopped next for refreshment at one of the many outdoor bars catering to tourists. Meta went home and told Marco how to find us. We ate gelato until Marco joined us for a grapefruit beer. I had heard of the drink aperol spritz, and to prepare for having one eventually, I ordered a shot of aperol neat. The waiter was somewhat astonished that it was indeed my order, and checked back several times to make sure it was ok with me. It is a flavorful hard liquor with a bitterness that nicely counters the sweetness.
Refreshed, we all climbed the hill to the eye-catching church that can be seen – especially its lovely bell tower – in nearly every city shot of Piran. It is the St. George Parish Church (yes, the same George that slayed the dragon). Built originally in the 12th century, then rebuilt in the 14th century, the current footprint is from the 17th century. The walk up was interesting and at the top we were treated to coastal views of Trieste, Italy, to the north.
Now it was time to eat again. We three went home to change out of our swimsuits and Marco went on ahead to order food. Our lunch was at a Bosnian restaurant where we ate delicious sausages and bread. It turns out the big beer rivalry in Slovenia is Lasko (goat) v. Union (dragon). We found it amusing how often one or the other was served in glasses with the logo of the other. Manja’s uncle worked his entire career at a Union brewery, and so we all pledged our loyalty to the dragon.
Manja and Marco were interested in seeing a Ferrari show that was due in town that day. The elite sports cars were travelling, and would stop in Piran for only three hours. We managed to talk them into climbing the hill one more time, in hopes that we could explore the medieval wall first, and still have time for Ferraris. Manja had not climbed the ancient protective walls, but she had found on a previous visit, the quickest way to get there. It was the most deliciously narrow journey we had yet undertaken.
Soon we were on the walls above the city and had the best views yet. Piran was never so picturesque.
We had not yet heard the roar of Ferarris, but we made our way back down the hill just in case. Meta met us in the square while Branko stayed home to prepare dinner. We found a cafe near the town square, and got coffee while we waited. I became curious about a young woman carrying a flag that said “Tour Bride,” and wearing a silly bride costume, flanked by other young women, who was talking to people at other tables. I watched her until she noticed me and came directly over and gave her story. She’s a tour guide, she’s getting married, she wants everyone to share in her joy, blah blah. Her attendant gave me a gift of some quail eggs and a small piece of streudel. Aw how nice, I said. And then she said the inevitable to anyone but me: “But I need money for my wedding.” Damn. I had been hooked like a fish. I laughed and gave her money and felt embarrassed. It was the first and only scam of the whole trip, so no harm done. Usually my luck is worse when I travel, so I didn’t mind getting caught once.
A hubbub began and we knew the Ferraris had arrived! We walked over to the marina again and viewed them. The crowd was dense and I couldn’t get a good view. I asked Pedro to help me climb onto a concrete post, and from there I got better photos of the cars.
Marco and Meta left, and Manja took us to see a museum of Piran. There we learned about the history of the town as a salt exporter, and how other towns burned nearby salt works in other towns, to maintain their trade monopoly with Piran’s salt. The museum sits atop underground storage caverns. We were able to walk into part of them, and part of them we could view through a glass floor. We also learned how the protective walls around the city grew multiple times as the city grew. The wall we had visited earlier was the newest of the iterations. Much of the earlier walls are gone, but there are still some prominent gates. I was pleased to recognize one of those very gates as we walked through it on the way home. We quickly viewed a monastery near the museum before they closed the doors for the night.
When we arrived home the bestia was there waiting for his chance to ignore Manja. She said hello, and he turned away from her. Yes, we had left him home with his grandparents all day, and he wanted to make her pay.
Branko is indeed the skilled cook we had heard rumors of. He treated us to multiple courses, beginning with one of my favourite treats: stuffed mushrooms. During the main course I heaped potatoes onto my plate, explaining that as an Idaho girl, it was in my nature. We all had a laugh about the way Marco wanted to pronounce my home state as “Eedao” with two syllables, as an Italian would say it. We ate our second delicious fig dessert, a type of custard. The first was a fig pie, that we had eaten at breakfast. After dinner we got out some maps and discussed our big day in the Alps coming up. Branko has a lifetime of hiking experience and had been imagining the best routes with the most bang for the buck for newcomers in the Julian Alps. We discussed landmarks, safety precautions, suggestions on where to eat, beginning and ending points until we had covered it all and it was time for bed.