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Slovenia's capital

Slovenia is like the lucky solution to a brain teaser where the goal was to pack as much history and geography as possible into a relatively small space. The country is beautiful beyond belief : rolling hills stretch eastward into flatlands, and northwest to majestic Alpine scenery. Throw in an Adriatic coastline and the unique Karst landscape, and you have much of Europe in a thimble. Over the centuries, the area has belonged to numerous kingdoms and regimes. Until Slovenians gained independence in 1991, they had sat back and saw the mighty rise and fall. Unlike other nations in the region, they never had a glorious modern kingdom encompassing all Slovenians.

What is today the Republic of Slovenia includes territory divided at various times among the Habsburgs, the Venetian Republic, Hungary, and others. This is one cause Slovenians look to their language, rather than a real or imagined historical golden age, as the reference point of national identity. As far as nationhood goes, their golden age is now, in a new state in which the language of the people is. Finally, also the language of government. For centuries, Slovenians were looked down upon as Slavic underlings. Then, in ex-Yugoslavia, they were regarded by their Balkan neighbors as being eerily Austriana cold, reserved Alpine people with an addiction to work, and perhaps a mild aversion to fun. Though this opinion was not held without a humor and even a certain amount of respect, the stereotypes are hard to shake and many Slovenians label themselves as melancholic, morose, or introverted.

For lack of a better term, this is the lesser, public Slovenia, where there is no rush to greet you, where bureaucrats are stony faced, and where people knock into you on Wall Street without apology. What some see as coldness, even a dash of rudeness, is often part of a pragmatic and sincere reserve : there is no need to flash fake smiles just because you have some minor paperwork to take care of, or pretend remorse if the bump was accidental and minor. The private Slovenia, the world of family, friends, and close acquaintances, is a different place altogether, and if the above stereotypes were overstated for the public Slovenia, they are entirely absent from the private one. This other Slovenia, peopled naturally by the same individuals, is a realm of amazing unselfishness, intimacy, and honesty.

Given the elegance of the natural surroundings, the countrys resilience through the centuries, and its successes since 1991, the Slovenians modesty is noteworthy. Even more remarkable in light of their history of being ruled by others is their habit of treating their Western visitors much more warmly and kindly than they treat their own countrymen and women.

Slovenia 's natural beauty is staggering, and it would be more precise to speak of the countrys natural beauties. A Slovenian legend has it that when God was allotting nature 's bounty, he initially forgot this country. His last minute solution was to take bits of the best from other places : gorgeous Alpine ranges, the less craggy Pohorje Mountains, the Pannonian plain stretching toward Hungary, hill after hill rolling southward into the horizon, the unique Karst landscape, rivers aplenty, and a few miles of Adriatic coastline. There 's even a vanishing body of water here for much of the year Lake Cerknica is dry but, come the spring rains, the basin fills to become a massive, shallow lake. The fourth-smallest of the 20 seven European Union states, Slovenia is half the size of Swiss Confederation and almost exactly the size of Massachusetts or Wales. Driving from any border to any other border of Slovenia takes about three hours.

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