Travellers and tourists

Ljubljana as seen by Rolade

I’m writing this while on holiday in Greece; however, it’s not about it but on Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia.

I know little about eastern and central European countries and their people, so I’ve made it my priority to visit at least one of these places every summer. My last month’s holiday in Ljubljana was relaxing and eye-opening in many ways. Slovenes are friendly and accommodating. The hotel where we stayed didn’t only allow us to use their locker for our bags after we had checked out but offered us unlimited tea. These were the exact words of its male receptionist “You’re still our guests and feel free to use our facilities till you depart from our city”.

I took every opportunity to mingle with the locals and be a traveller rather than as a tourist. The more I learnt about them, the more I became interested in their history and culture and able to empathise with them.

It’s fine to talk about the advantages of international travelling when you have the means to do so; however, for many families this occasion remains a dream. Where’s Ljubljana? Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia in central Europe and has borders with Italy, Hungary, Austria and Croatia. The Roman Empire controlled Slovenia for nearly 1,000 years; most of it was under the Habsburg rule (Austria) in the mid-14th century and 1918. The state of Slovenia was formed in 1945 as part of Yugoslavia; gained its independence in June 1991; and today, it is a member of the European Union and NATO.

The Slovenian independence war in 1991 lasted 10 days, which was the fifth short war in the world’s history. [The shortest was the Anglo-Zanzibar War in 1896 when the British Royal Navy defeated the Sultan of Zanzibar in East Africa that lasted in 38 minutes. (cf ''The Top Ten Shortest Wars'', The Independent, seen on 04/08/19). With a population of just over 2 two million, Slovenia is the most industrialised and westernised among other less developed parts of former Yugoslavia.

I wanted to be a traveller while in Ljubljana, but I was really more of a tourist than the former. I carried a camera and map at all times (By choice, my mobile has never have Internet connection), and sometimes asked for information from shop attendants and hotel staff in English instead of trying to learn phrases in Slovene. Except for a long walk at the scenic and green Lake Bled, I only ventured in the city and landmarks.

I would have loved to explore the less-visited areas and interact more with locals (i.e. being a traveller) but managed only to have a chat with a fellow restaurant patron, who happened to be the brother of the restaurateur. Though our conversation was limited to food and tourism because of my zero-knowledge of Slovene and his basic English, I found it informative. According to him, the majority of Ljubljana’s residents are tourists and temporary inhabitants, which is an economic necessity and fun for him and his family as they’re able to practise their English and meet people from many parts of the world.

I took buses and trams to move around but also went on guided tours for convenience. So, I suppose I was a tourist; but, I would like to think that I was a traveller. I knew how I could have been a traveller. However, I wasn’t in the mood to go to places where locals hang around after work and when it’s dark. I could have had more conversations with Slovene people of all ages about their culture and country yet I did not because of lack of time squeezing in everything in four days before heading home. Most workers, like me, just need a vacation or a relaxing trip to wind down or recharge before starting the year.

Were you a tourist or traveller last summer? How can we be more respectful and acculturated tourists (i.e. travellers)?

(This article also appears in my website Rolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com)

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