I enjoy travel and have been fortunate to visit many places within the US, Europe, China, Africa, and the Caribbean. While all of my trips have been adventures on one level or another, the one that stands out as a true adventure was the trip to Slovenia. My father’s maternal grandparent, Jernej and Ana Marentic, were born in Slovenia and his mother was an active participant in a Slovenian/American women’s group in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
In September, 2014, Mike, Willow and I spent two weeks in Austria and during the second week, my father and stepmother, Harriet, joined us. They stayed a week after we left. During this second week, they planned to drive into Slovenia and see if they could find the place where my great-grandparents were born but after some discussion it was decided that I would drive them instead before I returned home.
One rainy morning, we piled into the rental car and with only a map and the name of a small town near the Croatian border we headed off to see what we could find. We stopped for lunch in the picturesque town of Lake Bled and then drove through the forbidding capital city of Ljubljana, which was built during communist rule. As we continued south, we drove through beautiful country sides filled with orchards and vineyards. We arrived in Cromelj just after 5:00 pm and the entire town was pretty much closed for the day. We had no hotel, no idea where we were going to stay, eat, or visit the next day and despite the protests of my father that we would figure things out, I drove to the police station.
Two very nice men lead us to the church, where my father would want to meet with the priest, and the city hall records department. They drove us to a hotel, and there were rooms available until the police left and then suddenly, they didn’t have any and wanted us to leave. I drove around until we found a bar with people drinking outside, the only ones we had seen. One spoke English and soon was buying us drinks, introducing us to an older gentleman, and generally being happy and friendly.
Later, the men led us to a restaurant in the middle of the countryside and so far from town we never would have found it on our own. It was part of a working farm and also a few guest rooms over the garage behind the main building. My stepmother and I had an amazing dinner while the gregarious man and his friend took my father and drove him who knows where. We weren’t sure if we’d see him again, but we had a great meal and waited up until he was eventually returned to us, happy and unharmed.
The next day, we stopped at a grocery store and I purchased some boxes of chocolates to give as gifts and we headed to the church. The priest who answered our knock was youngish and unwilling to help as my father showed him letters and photographs he had brought with him. Finally, I nudged my father and handed him a box of chocolate under the edge of the table. Dad gave the candy to the priest and suddenly the man spoke perfect English and had actually been to Michigan a few years earlier. He became helpful, funny, and engaging. We had a great talk but after we left, my dad asked how I knew to give the priest the chocolate but all I could say was that I knew it couldn’t hurt.
Our next stop was the records office where we met a helpful young woman who explained that all of the records my father needed were in fact in the capital city we had passed through on the way south. However, she gave us the email addresses of the people who could access the information my father needed. She also copied pages of the local telephone book and highlighted the names and addresses of people who were likely to be related to him, given the small size of the town and her generally knowledge of the people who live there. Before we left, we handed her a box of chocolate and she was surprised but pleased to receive it.
My father had accomplished what he had set out to do in this charming little town but we had one more stop to make. We returned to the police station to see the officers who had been so kind to us the day before. They were not in at that time but everyone in the building had already heard about us. We left them with a huge box of chocolates and a few of the officers stepped outside to wave to us as we drove away.
My father, stepmother, and I still tell the stories of the crazy man in the bar who kidnapped my dad but found us a room for the night, the uncooperative priest who was bribed with chocolate, and the police officers who gave us so much help. Sometimes the best adventures happen when all you have is a map and a general idea of where you want to get to.
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