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ljubljana and other tongue twisters


The first thing I learn in every language is the all-important “thank you.” It makes a big difference. Even if you slaughter their language, the natives invariably appreciate the effort.

In Slovenia, the word is “Hvala” (which sounds like kvWahla, with an almost silent “kv”) It means “thank you ” in Croatian too. That and a border seem to be all the two places have in common.

Here’s another tidbit I picked up while trying to buy an ice cream cone: While Croatia and Slovenia together are smaller than California, both of them use different currency. Neither uses the Euro, mind you. I’ve crossed three borders and currencies in the past 36 hours..

My little brain short circuits when I try to translate Euros to Kunas to the Slovenian money which I can’t even remember the name of, let alone its value.. I’m sure the process takes up at least 16% of the 15% of my brain I actually use. Which means I have to make some choices. I can live with the fact that I usually wind up smiling stupidly while holding out a handful of money to a hopefully kind cashier who picks the correct amount from the pile in my hand.

The point is, Hvala is a tough word and I’m still having problems because the H sounds like a K which is silent. So I vary it, trying to hit on the right one by trial and error. Kuala, Voila, ala, aloha, huvula, hvwa-lah. No matter how I say it, It usually elicits a smile, if not outright laughter.

But on the way to Ljubljana, I resolve to do better. I’m going to learn a new Slovenian word.

Today’s word: Ljubljana. The capital of Slovenia. Population 1,970,570 people. Its symbol is the dragon, for the four fabulous green bronze dragon statues guarding the gates.

We’re staying in the Grand Union Hotel, which sounds like a US supermarket chain. It has a little more charm than the grocery chain and it’s the nicest, best located hotel in town. But it ain’t what you’d call a boutique hotel. I don’t think they’ve discovered them in Slovenia yet. But maybe it doesn’t matter because Slovenia is kind of a boutique country.

Ljubljana has everything a popular European city needs (except boutique hotels). There are tree lined canals. Quaint Medieval buildings. A big old ornate church in the town center. Little footbridges. Overflowing window boxes. The obligatory castle on the hill, but in Ljubljana, the hill is more like a cliff and particularly dramatic looking. There’s an outdoor market and fashionable little shops, always a winning combination. It’s not unbearably crowded. But it has a good, young energy in a Prague 20 years ago kind of way. It’s also got a mountain range in view and is only a 45 minute drive to the Adriatic coast, Italy, Croatia, Hungary or Austria. The environs are a spectacular combination of the Alps and Mediterranean shore, green, clean and temperate. It’s got cloudlike mounds of multi-colored ice cream for 200 of whatever the local currency is a cone…which is really only 50 cents. Why don’t I live here?

I’ve been pronouncing it “Lubjana,” But when I think about it, my pronounciation doesn’t make sense. why would one “J” be silent and not the other?. My dad has been pronouncing it “Loobiana” and my mom and niece have been avoiding the word completely replacing it with “the next place” or “the city” and “where we are now.”

The correct pronounciation is Looblanah.

Okay, now that I’ve got that word down, I’m going to try something more difficult. Like “Hello.” spelled “Pozdraveljena.”

I practice with the waiter. Postravlajenna. He smiles, but I know I don’t have it.

I practice with the ice cream vendor. Postrivlijina. He looks bemused.

I practice in my sleep. Posterdravlasange…postradravalinia…portolavenya….

I practice with the parking valet. Postravahlenah (I think I’m getting closer)

I practice with the toll collector. Postrahdravlenah.

He gives me a “by jove, I think she’s got it” grin and Postrahdravlenah’s me back and says “Hvala” as he takes the toll. I say “hvala” back. My first full Slovenian conversation! It’s a small step, but I’m thrilled. I’m hesitant to say goodbye to my new best friend.

But I must. The Adriatic awaits. I step on the accelerator and we cross the border back into Croatia.

2 Responses

  1. gotta love currency changes. when i got to egypt, even at the AIRPORT MONEY EXCHANGE desk they tried to give me wrong change hoping i wouldn’t notice – assuming i was a dumb tourist that would just stare fascinatingly at the pyramids and sphinxes and arabic on the bills.

    • Currency exchange probably a great racket. You’re usually in a hurry, you’re jet lagged, disoriented, math is hard, converting is harder and converting in a foreign language…lordy, I’m opening up a currency exchange booth immediately!!!!!!

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