Bucket List Item #682 – visit the motherland
Novo Mesto, Slovenia
I’ve grown up hearing my father tell me that we’re Slovenian, but to be honest I’ve never known much about what it means to be Slovenian. We know my great-grandparents were born in Novo Mesto and immigrated to the United States and we have lots of documentation to prove our heritage, but that’s about it. I didn’t grow up with any Slovenian traditions like potica (a delicious pastry), Name Day or Day of the Dead. I had to teach myself those things. I was told so many times that I was Slovenian, so I wanted to not just know it, but feel it! In grade school we had a class assignment where we had to bring a food dish representing our heritage, which was the first time I made poticas. Well, my grandma found an recipe and she made them since I was, like, six. But I helped! I picked a name for myself to add to my name (I chose Marie) as I was already baptized. And Day of the Dead is new for me! When I was living in Croatia, I experienced it for the first time as I actually had a photo shoot in a cemetery that day and couldn’t understand why the place was so hopping. The model filled me in though, so all good. 😊
There are countless other little things that have helped me navigate my way through what it is to be Slovenian, but I had always wanted to actually visit the motherland. I got to choose where we went for our first wedding anniversary, and as we were living in Prague at the time, I figured what better time to finally see Slovenia! Of course, Novo Mesto was a must on the to-do list. I had to see where I came from! Coincidentally, I shot a fashion editorial while I was there and the model was from Novo Mesto. I told her how excited I was to visit and she looked at me like I was crazy. She told me not to get my hopes up.
Well, Novo Mesto is…small. Ha ha! I mean, it’s a little European city. It has the usual distinguishing features like a pretty Catholic church, charming outdoor cafes, a bridge, small castle, etc. If you’ve done some travel around Europe and have seen a small city you know what I mean. It’s very typical. But that didn’t make it any less beautiful. Plus, this is where my family came from. This is me!
I wouldn’t recommend this as an addition to your bucket list, but what I can recommend is leaving the big cities while you’re traveling! We all want to see the capitals when we visit a new country, and you absolutely should, but you get a real understanding of a country and its culture when you get out and experience a slice of life. That’s what this was for me. Novo Mesto was seeing how Croatian and Slovenian cultures influence each other (it’s close to the border), Novo Mesto was friendly encounters with locals and Novo Mesto was a window to the Lower Carniola region. What was really interesting for me actually started when I lived in Zagreb, Croatia. Dave and I were at this vintage market and there were this family with three little boys that looked just like my father and his siblings when they were little. I couldn’t take my eyes away because they looked Judish. We all have the same nose and features. I’d never seen people outside of my own family that looked so much like me! Then, in Novo Mesto, the same thing happened. I saw a little old man that looked so much like my grandpa that I had to do a double take. It had never been so clear to me in my life that I was Slovenia.
It was a day I’ll never forget, no matter how simple, and I can say I’ve gone straight to the source and had a real potica!
Side note: My last name Judish was originally spelled Judez and was changed when the family immigrated to the US. I was told multiple times by Slovenians when I spoke about my family history that my last name meant Jewish in Slovenia, which they thought was interesting because there’s not a lot of Jewish people there and even fewer were left after the holocaust. However, when I look up the last name online it’s literally how Judas is spelled in the Slovenian bible. So, old testament or new testament, which is it? Catholic or Jewish? I may never know.