Vipava Valley: Balm for the Homesick Soul

There are places on Earth that just feel right. For me, that was the Bay Area in California. It’s where I found my home. It’s where I found my community. It’s what I miss each and every day when I wake up and as I go to sleep. Nothing will ever be able to replace it—but maybe there’s a place that’s just the right band-aid for the California-shaped and sized wound. And maybe Vipava Valley is that place.

“Oh, you’ve been here before,” said the girl who was checking me in to the camp.
”Yes, two times already. I really like it here.”
”We love to hear that, welcome back!”
I didn’t tell her it was my third time in Ajdovščina in less than a year. I didn’t tell her that the Vipava Valley had some kind of a magical pull on me. I didn’t tell her that after I thought it would be no longer possible, I felt something closely resembling happiness the two times I’d been there before. It would be too hard to put into words anyway.

A day later, I was cursing myself out as I climbed a trail leading up the steep walls that guarded the valley in the north. Honestly, the existence of the trail shouldn’t even be possible. So steeply rises the massif above Ajdovščina. It’s there nonetheless.

“Mother Mountain” from halfway up the climb

“Why can’t I be like normal people and go to the sea, lay on a beach, and have a relaxing vacation?” I asked out loud. “Why do I have to do this to myself instead?“

I got my answer from a viewpoint a few miles later. The whole valley spread half a mile below me. It felt as if I could just grasp it in the palm of my hand. To the west, two paragliders criss-crossed the sky. The peaks of the ridge rose in a haze, bigger and more majestic than they looked from the bottom of the valley. The sun warmed my skin when the wind took a break. The air smelled sweet with the promise of spring, of new life.

The two paragliders eventually caught up to me, sweeping right above my head and circling me twice before they disappeared behind the few trees that grew on the ridge. Even though I’ve never met them and never will, there was a sense of connection in their joyous whoops of encouragement I barely understood. It’s been a long time since I felt such a strong sense of freedom like I did right then and there.

A paraglider flies on the edge of the drop to the valley

That night, as I lay in my tent feeling every single muscle fiber in my legs, it hit me: I’ve lived away from real hills for way too long. The knolls people call hills where I live in the Czech Republic are no hills at all. The climb I conquered that day, now that was a hill—a hill like those I was used to in California. It was Mt Tamalpais’ Temelpa Trail. It was Mt Diablo’s When Hell Freezes Over half route. It was the closest thing to home I’ve experienced in a long while.

The next day, I was running again. I stuck to the bottom of the valley, visiting the towns that dotted the land. Each of them had its own small church and stunning architecture. My legs, tired as they were from the absolutely brutal climbs and descents of the previous day, carried me like they hadn’t in a long time; with an excitement about what might be just around the next corner. Weaving among vineyards, and running along rivers, I suddenly realized why it might be that I like coming back to the valley.

In so many ways, it reminds me of home.

A church and vineyard in Ustje

There are steep climbs with views for days. Two hours by car, there are mountains that get snow a third of the year. Three hours away, a national park with peaks painted white for half a year. In an hour and a half, you can drive to the sea. There are vineyards and sun that granted me sunburn on the first day I ran there. There are palm trees and lemon trees right next to fragrant pines. And, for heaven’s sake, there are people who run, too, who waved back when I waved at them, and who greeted me with a smile on their face and tried to talk with me (in English once they realized my Slovene was extremely weak) even when they were two generations older.

At home, I also had the ocean an hour’s drive away. Yosemite National Park was three to four hours away, depending on how much I looked forward to being there. There were Mount Tam and Mount Diablo with steep, technical, challenging climbs. There were also easy, semi-flat trails. A little bit to the north, vineyards decorated the lands around Napa. Lemon, orange, avocado, and palm trees all grew right next to pines and bay oak. It was so similar. Maybe too similar.

An idea took root in my mind. Maybe buying a flat in Czechia just wasn’t going to cut it. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to move again. And maybe the place I should try moving to was right there in Vipava Valley.

Who knows where the future will take me? I said yes to another year of teaching at the elementary and middle school where I currently work. I don’t have any plans for my life as of now; the person who denied my request for a new visa single-handedly destroyed every single one of my plans and dreams and I haven’t managed to make new ones yet. Maybe letting the strong bora winds that tend to blow in the Vipava Valley carry me wherever they want might be a good idea for now.

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