Home?

The places that influenced me the most: Koper, Ljubljana, London, Valencia

I’ve been thinking about this scary thing called future quite a lot lately. I know why that is. It’s because I’m finally finishing my studies. This is my last year as I’ve got four subjects and the thesis left. Once that’ll be done, I’ll have to put my life together, as they say. The location is just one of the things that come with adulting, but it’s the one I want to focus on today. So, here are some thoughts about the four cities/towns that influenced me the most.

Koper, my home

Before I went on exchange, home was a simple and clear notion for me. It was the small coastal town I was born in, Koper. It lies on the coast of Slovenia, near the border with Italy, as well as the one with Croatia. I spent the first nineteen years of my life living here. It’s where I went to primary school, to high school, where I made friends, where I had my first kiss and my first party. I’ve always loved it: the weather that is better than anywhere else in the country, the proximity of the sea, its smallness and simplicity. Most of all, I probably loved the fact that basically anyone I had ever cared for lived here.

Koper is very small and there isn’t much going on, especially during the winter. A consequence of its size is also the amount and diversity of options when it comes to studies and work. I wonder how I’d feel about it had I stayed here to study, without trying to live on my own and without experiencing a city with an actual student life. Would I have been bored? Probably.

A typical evening in Koper.

Ljubljana, my second home

When I had to go to university, there wasn’t much choice in my small town. So, I went to the capital, like almost everyone did. I have friends who come from the same town as me, and who grew to love Ljubljana, who will probably move there permanently at some point. Personally, I never liked it there. I think the old centre is very pretty, and it’s a fact that there’s much more going on in the capital than in Koper. But that’s just not enough for me. I hate the weather, which is colder and rainier than in my hometown, even though they are only 100 kilometres apart. Waking up to the fog isn’t out of the ordinary either. You often don’t know what the weather’s really like until midday.

I could go on with listing the things that made me a Ljubljana-hater: the accent of its residents, how everyone’s rushing all the time, the public transport that never works like it should, the traffic jams. But I also have to acknowledge the fact that I’m stressed whenever I’m there, as it’s always all about uni and uni-related work. It’s not like I’m suffering, though. I’m not. I have many friends there, and especially during bachelor’s we used to go out often. The various events made my student years interesting, which they probably wouldn’t have been had I stayed in Koper. They just weren’t enough to make me want to live there.

Ljubljana’s Congress Square and castle.

London, my Erasmus home

Perhaps I’ll sound like a paradox now. I, on the contrary, absolutely loved living in a city that is also famous for rushing, traffic jams, rain, cold and fog. But it’s London; its level of coolness makes up for all of that, including the fact that it’s not a coastal city. London’s night life, the number of concerts, festivals, various other events, restaurants, bars and shops can’t compete with anything you can get in Slovenia. We’re just too small. I love its internationality, its architecture, the fact that it’s a city that never sleeps, the New York of Europe. I’ll stop here because I’ve expressed my love for this city enough in the previous posts.

The coolness of London also has its negatives sides, though. Its size makes it hard to meet anyone. As good as the transport system is, going somewhere can take ages. Then there are the crazy prices of accommodation, transport and everything in general, and the lack of any real nature. Luckily, London’s parks are amazing, and they make for a great escape. They’re huge, and you can really pretend that you’re not in a city anymore. When I lived there, I felt great whenever we took a trip, though. When we went to Dover, and I saw the sea after months, I felt relief, somehow.

The walk from Camden to Regent’s Park.

Valencia

Just when I was enjoying my life in London to the point of becoming confused about where I’d like to live, the only thing that could have made me more of a mess happened: I fell in love with a Spanish guy. And that’s how Valencia came into my life. I’ve travelled there many times and spent last summer working and living there. Valencia has its disadvantages, of course. It’s too hot in the summer months, huge cockroaches taking walks on its streets (or in your kitchen) is a regular thing, and life’s a bit slower than in most of Europe, probably. The jobs situation isn’t ideal either.

Otherwise, Valencia is pretty much perfect. It’s next to the sea, but it’s a proper city with many interesting things going on. It’s still small enough to be manageable, and you don’t have to waste your life in a metro or in a bus. The weather’s perfect if you can handle the heath in the summer and the absence of snow in the winter. Spanish people are lovely: open, friendly, direct and funny.

Playa de la Malvarrosa, my happy place.

And now what?

I’ve always been into travelling, but London was the first city that made me think that I’d perhaps like to live somewhere else than in my hometown. That it’s possible to have different homes in one life. Valencia did just the same.

I guess the normal thing for a person like me, who’s from a coastal town and dislikes the capital, would be to try to find work in the hometown first. And if that didn’t work, to suck it up, move to the capital and find work there. To continue the student life and come home every weekend. Or perhaps drive there and back every day and be tired all the time. It would make sense because it would allow me to spend more time with my family and friends.

But as much as I love them, I wouldn’t stay, at least not right now. Koper’s too small, I’ve explained Ljubljana, and I’d never consider living anywhere else in Slovenia. Of course, a big reason is the boyfriend abroad, and the fact that long distance relationships aren’t meant to be long distance forever. But it’s also the fact that there’s too much left to see and experience out there, and not just by travelling. I want to spend a couple of months living in Italy, some time in Russia, and a part of me wants to return to London, or at least to somewhere in England. And then there’s Valencia where I definitely want to return.

Worries

If living abroad has taught me anything, it taught me that it’s possible to find home somewhere else. That I enjoy it, that it’s possible to make friends anywhere, as it is to survive without being physically close to my loved ones. As long as there’s Wi-Fi at least. The very real possibility of moving away makes me feel guilty and worried whenever I think about it. How do I leave everything behind, even when I know I want to go? I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t go that far, that Europe is small, that nowadays it’s easy to stay in touch and to visit. That they’ll survive without me being there all the time and I’ll survive without them. That I’ll do my best to come back often and that Koper will always be my home.

Writing this didn’t make me figure out where I want to spend my life, or what the “right” decision would be. I still don’t know which city I’ll call home in the future. It did help me understand that it doesn’t matter, though, that I don’t need to have that figured out just yet. As for you, if you actually managed to get through this post which probably turned into a rather confused diary entry at some point, I hope it was somehow useful to you. 😊

My Vegan Story

I’ve wanted to write a post called “My Vegan Story” for quite some time now. I’ve been putting it off because it’s not that easy to write. There’s too much to say for one post, plus I know lots of people hate the topic. Please, don’t understand this as me telling you to go vegan because I’m not (despite of the picture). I’m just trying to be informative here, hoping that stories like this could be an interesting read, and could open your eyes to things you’ve never thought of before.

Somewhere in Valencia, September 2018

My reasons

There are more reasons for me going vegan, but the first and the most powerful one was my love for animals – all animals. I’ve seen videos of the conditions in factory farms years ago, but I refused to think about it, despite of how much they got to me. I’ve always had reasons not to go vegan: it’s not healthy, vegans are annoying, Greek yogurt is life. The truth is that a vegan diet can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how much of what you put in your body. Vegans can, of course, be annoying, especially if they try to force their beliefs on people in a violent way. And Greek yogurt … is probably still delicious. But I don’t miss it anymore, and I’m sure there’s a vegan alternative somewhere out there.

The second reason is the environment. If you haven’t heard, eating less meat benefits the environment. By not consuming animal products, you cut your greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water and preserve species and their habitats. I’m not going to link studies here because I intend to do another post with actual data, but feel free to google it – there’s a lot of info out there.

The third reason is health. I’m obviously not a nutritionist, but I know I feel better eating plant-based. I feel lighter after meals and good in general.  I’ve always liked fruit and vegetables, but going vegan made me start consuming even more of them, discover new pulses and grains, and learn how to cook diverse and simple meals.

Before

I’ve never been a meat person; I’ve always been known as the one who complicates when it comes to food (I still have the reputation). But I ate meat, or at least fish, most of my life. There were periods when I ate more of it, and periods when I ate less. At times I liked certain types of meat and at times I didn’t. I even had a »pescatarian« period at some point. I developed a taste for eggs in the year before turning vegan (I was living in London and my flatmates ate a lot of eggs, so I followed suit). I’ve always liked dairy too; I wasn’t as crazy about cheese as some people are (hi), but I loved Greek yogurt and all kinds of sweet treats that contained milk.

I had been thinking about veganism on and off for years, but I always dismissed the thought because of the reasons I mentioned above. Then I tried it once in London for about three days, but I felt hungry constantly, and was craving tuna, cheese and Greek yogurt, so I gave in. Little did I know that I simply wasn’t eating enough.

The transition

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but last year in the first week of October, just when uni started, I decided to give it a go again. I said: one week. And this time it was successful: I didn’t feel hungry and I didn’t miss non-vegan food because I read a lot about veganism before, during and after that week. I knew that I had to eat more because plant-based food is generally lower in calories, and I had the necessary motivation because I read about all the benefits.

The week passed, and I kept going, but it wasn’t perfect, and I have no intention of lying about that. I can proudly say that I haven’t eaten fish or meat in more than a year, but I can’t say the same for eggs and dairy. There were occasions when I had something vegetarian in the following months. The reasons were different: not wanting to complicate in a restaurant, eating at my boyfriend’s parents’ house and wanting to be polite, travelling and not finding anything suitable or wanting to try local food, or just giving in to something my mum bought or made, or to something someone else was having.

I feel like I’ve thoroughly made the transition only a couple of months ago, even though I’ve been eating almost completely plant-based for the past year. Not long ago I decided that it was easier for me to stand behind this way of life if I’m 100% in it.

The reactions

They were different and everything from typical, surprisingly nice and very stupid. Some people feel somewhat offended when someone’s vegan, as if it were criticism pointed directly at them. I’ve never told anyone to go vegan, and I have no intention to.

I’ve had all the possible reactions from my friends, family and complete strangers. People asked me where would all the cows go and where would we plant all the salad if the world went vegan. Some were worried about my protein intake, some wondered whether I could eat beans. But then some also cooked a completely vegan dinner just because of me, or baked something vegan because I was coming. And then I also heard (and am still hearing) all the possible jokes, which isn’t that bad. I like to laugh, even if it’s about me.

Living among non-vegans

I, sadly, don’t have any vegan friends, and have met few vegan people in my life. Everyone I love, care for and spend time with is omnivore, and that doesn’t make me love them any less. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like it if they ate less animal products. Of course I would. But I’m not forcing them; I just explain things when they ask me, I cook and bring vegan food, and I post things. I’m sharing my belief and my interests, as other people share their own.

I think it’s important to understand that eating fewer animal products DOES have an impact. A positive one: on animals’ lives, the environment and quite possibly also on your health. It’s crucial to realize that every individual has an impact every day, with every little thing we choose to eat, and consequently buy. All of this is sending a message to the market.

So…

I’ll stop now because this is beginning to sound like vegan propaganda, and I promised not to do that. Let me just say this one last thing: vegans (or at least vegans with a mentality similar to mine) aren’t trying to make anyone go vegan because they think they are superior as people and everyone should be like them. All we have in mind is that more people eating less meat equals less animals suffering and less harm to the environment. Our goal is to stop pain and death, and we know we can’t do it alone. Consequently, some plant-based people might get aggressive, mean or plain rude. I hope I’m never like that, my goal certainly isn’t to be. I don’t think it brings any good to anyone.

It’s important that people realise we’re not criticising them – how could we? Most of us used to think and act just like you, at least I know I did. All that mattered was the taste, the price and the convenience. I ate animal products, I thought vegans were rude hippies, and I laughed at jokes about them. I still do, to be fair. Overcoming that and understanding that I, as an individual, influence the way things are, taught me to look at food differently. I’d never go back; going vegan was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In case you’re interested in vegan recipes, I have some here.