“Sorry. Do you speak English?” This comes from one of three grungy and slightly odiferous young men sitting on a bench overlooking the Aegean Sea. “Do you like Rock music? We are a rock band from Estonia.” We play rock and roll, blues guitar, Jimi Hendrix … He hands me a CD with eighteen songs, one named “A Stairway to NO Heaven”. “We wrote the songs ourselves.”
They are dividing their time trying to sell their CD’s to everyone who walks by and watching the naked young woman swim in the clear waters of the sea below. The young woman is proving an effective distraction from commerce. They say they are selling these CD’s to support their music tour around Europe, which will ultimately end in a show in Bulgaria.
They are surprisingly persuasive, and I see people holding their CDs as they walk up and down the promenade of the ancient seaport town of Piran, Slovenia. They assure me that I can buy the CD for good karma, if not for the music.
I have to admire their tenacity. But hauling everything on a bicycle has a way of making saying No easier … Even to charming young rocker wanna-bes who assure me they will make it big and come to the States one day. Plus, sadly experience has taught me to be wary of charming people speaking perfect English with a grand tale to tell and a request for money … Especially in a place that attracts tourists. There is no telling what’s on that CD.
I’m in Piran, Slovenia, a former walled city on the very tip of Slovenia on the Aegean Sea. The City was part of the Venetian sea empire for five hundred years, and the walls and cramped old city with winding streets and Venetian styled windows and homes still capture the heritage that of a working port town that saw hard times afterwards. Back in the middle ages as a port city it had three harbors: one safely inside the walls where only local boats were allowed to dock. One outside the walls but near the inner harbor where known ships were allowed to dock. And one way out on the corner outside of the walls with the only entrance to the city being a small gate through the winding narrow streets of the old city to protect from invaders.
The inner port became so filthy that when the Hapsburg Empire controlled this part of the world, they tore down all the inner city walls and filled in the harbor with the rubble, creating a large plaza in the center of town.
For hundreds of years, Piran was known as a tolerant city – open to many religions and nationalities who passed through the gates without judgement. But in the last century, the city has endured a similar fate as Goritzia and Trieste just to the North. It was contested in World War One and changed hands to Italy, then after WWII eventually Piran was awarded to Slovenia. Forced evacuations and hostile evictions of residents as the city was handed over from one country to another left hard feelings destroyed any continuity of generations of families who can call Piran home.
After the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, many refugees from other states of the former Yugoslavia took refuge here as the wars and genocide raged in Croatia, Bosnia and other Baltic countries. Slovenia remained relatively unscathed from the break up of Yugoslavia after an 11 day war, and took in many who were not so lucky.
Today, Piran is a bustling summer tourist town. Yet despite the tourists, it still manages to feel warm and welcoming. It’s still a fishing port, and the nets that are set every evening become the next day’s delicious lunch and dinner. It’s been a beautiful place to rest and relax – wander the narrow streets and perch on a bench overlooking the clear blue Aegean sea.
Here are some photos from beautiful Piran: