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Snapshot of Slovenia
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The strangely shaped whitewashed spire of Stanjel shows up from some distance as you drive from Nova Gorica to Sezana in western Slovenia, where hilltop towns a few kilometres away in Italy dot the horizon. Roundly tapering like some sort of medieval rocket nose cone over an open belfry, the steeple dominates a haphazard scramble of stone buildings that make up the town.

It's old. So old that the cobbled streets leading to it are dented by centuries of walking. Yet the clock on the church tower tells today's time with strangely arrowed-at-both-ends hands, as if to give a second opinion, and the bells ring out proudly soon after we arrive, striking noon into the consciousness of the working locals. Strangely, though, our guidebook is mute on its history.

We climb the steep grey stone steps, surprising a tabby kitten at play with its twin. They flirt with us like cats anywhere on the wall overlooking the newer town with its backdrop of forest and succession of hills to the south, greying into the overcast sky.

The church, though, is locked, as they mainly are here in Slovenia, the only movement a handbill flapping on the outside notice board. It's advertising a lecture soon by a local boy made good, Dr Somebody, who will be giving a lecture on an obscure topic.

We climb steps beyond the church, our elbows grazing doorways, mumbling 'Dobra dan' - good day in Slovenian, one of our meagre phrases - to people catching a midday break as lunchtime cooking smells swirl out into the narrow lanes.

I snap a picture of a sign, a leg of ham, high on the corner of a building. It could be anybody's house and you have to be looking to see it, yet we are in the Karst region, noted for its very fine hams, and this unnamed place must be a gostilna, a local restaurant.

It's not hard to imagine the darkly minute yet well-patronised bar inside, the smoke, the exuberant talk, the heaping platters of sausages, ham and other cured meats and roughly sliced bread, and my mouth waters.

But we keep walking, leaving the town at last, the only sound the occasional clink of cutlery from deep inside a house. As we complete the loop back to the church, nearby a man still hammers on something in his back yard, the only person in the place it seems who's working through his lunch break.

- Sally Hammond


(pic: Wikimedia Commons)

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