Slovenia May Be Small But Oh My

On a map Slovenia looks small, positioned as it is, below Austria to the north, Croatia to the southeast, and Italy to the west. At a glance, it might be a landlocked country, but looking closer, it has a tiny coastline and the port city of Koper on the Adriatic.

Kay and I had briefly visited this Balkan country at least once before but had only seen its capital of Ljubljana. This time would be different. This past July, we spent a full two weeks attending our annual literature conference in the rural southeastern part of the country known as Šmarješke Toplice that is known for its spa.

That spa, Terme Krka, where we ate, drank, slept and

Kay delivering her paper on Richard Powers’ The Overstory: A Novel

gathered for papers, poetry readings, videos, workshops, and

Eric and Michael reading Party by Tom Basden

play readings is a resort with a history and a difference. Its thermal water must have been known and enjoyed long before there was anyone to write about it. The Romans had a settlement there, but until the 18th century it was known only to the locals. “Farmers, inhabitants of the town of Novo Mesto and people from the castles of the Dolenjska region used to gather by the little lake created by the thermal water springs.” Franc Anton Breckerfeld (1740-1806) wrote about the spa saying, “It thins and stimulates blood circulation, strengthens the nerves, and helps with paralyses, swelling, joint pain and scurvy.”

The difference between it and other spas we have known is a specialized medical facility located within its hotel complex. The disabled come or are sent there, and we could see them any time of the day making their way across the large lobby on crutches. It is government disability funding that allows Terme Krka to exist and function as well as it does.

For our conference, it was a great venue with large sleeping rooms designed for long stays that had plenty of room to unpack and store our things. Everything functioned well and properly. Housekeeping made up our room early in the day. Our key cards always worked. Elevators arrived promptly.

Conference Room

And in the conference room, where we were the sole occupants, the microphone, sound, and projection systems worked well and were problem free.

In the dining room, we had a section reserved for our members. Meals were provided three times a day by combining buffet selections with table service. Each mid-day and evening, changing menus offered three choices of main dishes, one of which was always vegetarian. The dessert buffet held changing creations, but our favorite, the delicious ice cream, never varied. I couldn’t pass it up, and eating ice cream twice a day for two weeks tightened my waistline. Tap water was always on the table, and we ordered wine and beer from the server who took our main-dish orders.

The spa is beautifully sited, being surrounded on three sides by dense woodlands containing walking paths to outlying thermal pools.

By design, ISCLT conferences don’t provide a great deal of unscheduled time, especially if we elect to attend workshops and rehearse plays in the afternoons after a morning of papers.

At Terme Krka I did manage to get into a large, round open-air pool a couple of times. Unlike any swimming pool I had ever been in, this one has sections along the walls that massaged my back with powerful water jets as I leaned against them.

Otočec Castle

Traditionally, each week of an ISCLT conference contains both a half-day and a full-day excursion. This year, these took us by bus through rolling landscapes and along rivers where we stopped to visit castles dating from the Middle Ages.

Besides the natural beauty of the Slovenian landscape we were struck by how cleanly and carefully it is cultivated. We saw no roadside dumps and not a trace of graffiti. We concluded that Slovenia, with a population of only two million, is not a poor country. Everything we saw and experienced during our two weeks bespoke money.

The members of the International Society of Contemporary Literature and Theatre (ISCLT) are not a young group. In the eleven years of our membership, several have passed and the rest of us have aged considerably. This can make the excursions a challenge for some, especially when sites like castles are reached by steep uphill walkways. More and more, Kay choses to stay behind in the bus or in a cafe and accompanies our neighbor Belma, one of the original founders, who is in her 90s.

Novo Mesto

This year’s highlights included the city of Novo Mesto on a bend of the Krka River where our group divided. Kay went with others to a gallery/museum and to her delight discovered the work of Božidar Jakac, a Slovene Expressionist, Realist, and Symbolist painter who lived from 1899 to 1989.

Galerija Božidar Jakac Kostanjevica

On a later excursion we viewed more of his work in the Božidar Jakac Gallery of a large art museum located in a former abbey that had been mostly destroyed during the Second World War by Slovene partisans who feared the invading Nazis would make it a headquarters. In the post-war decades, the abbey buildings were authentically reconstructed and dedicated to exhibiting the work of Slovene artists and others.


The apse of the Gothic abbey church, bare of ornament except for an altar formed by a large stone, was hung with wall clocks of various sizes.

Dark Times

Each clock face was disguised by a black disk. The ensemble, named Dark Times, is the work of an artist named Vladim Fiškin.

Other than the castles, art museums, and abbeys, we sampled local wine at different stops during the excursions. At one vineyard, the wine was kept cool below ground in what had once begun as a store room for turnips. There, in an enlarged space hollowed out from very hard compressed sand dating from the epoch when the area had been covered by a shallow ancient lake known as the Pannonion Sea, we were invited to taste five different varieties by an expressive woman named Allioshka who described the wines, saying how they should be drunk and to compliment what kinds of meals. Of course, some of our group chose the opportunity to buy many bottles of these products.

At the close of our two weeks in Slovenia, Kay and I chose to spend an additional four days in the nearby south Austrian city of Villach, and that’s an adventure to be told at another time.

Note: A few days after leaving the country it was deluged with water to an unprecedented degree. Rivers overflowed their banks, villages flooded, and buildings collapsed.