The Most Unusual Souvenir I Snapped Up In Slovenia
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Do you love souvenir shopping on your trips too? There’s something special about collecting treasures from our travels which keep the memory of the place we visited alive long after we return home.
Going to an unusual locale invariably means extra items come home with me – typically I’ll go for something I can wear and something I can eat – so I’ve brought everything from a handbags to hams and t-shirts to tea bags back in my suitcase.
But on my recent trip to Ljubljana I stumbled on possibly the most wonderful souvenir I’ve ever snapped up, with a story to match…
One of the most surprising things I discovered about Ljubljana is what an exceptional and unexpected culinary hub it is, but taking an evening cookery class while I was in the Slovenian capital led me to one of the best souvenir stories I’ve ever encountered.
On my first full night in Ljubljana I spend the evening learning to cook traditional Slovenian food at an amazing culinary workshop. During the class I notice my teacher using the most beautiful knife and I can’t help but comment that I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
And as things have a way of doing when you travel, this leads to an unexpected and exciting turn of events; it happens that the hand-crafted knife is, like the food it’s being used to make that evening, a historic Slovenian art form. And Spela, my cooking teacher, happens to know the blacksmith who produces the knives from a workshop just outside the city limits, and will be delighted to introduce us.
The first thing people always say about places they visited and loved is how friendly the people are. The second is often how good the food is. In Slovenia these two components merged perfectly, and then created a springboard for me to meet someone who is practicing an art form going back centuries, and bring one of his creations home as the perfect gift.
Knowing I am only in the city for a short time and will be at the open air Taste Ljubljana food festival which is showcasing local dishes in the town square the next evening, Spela smilingly turns up to meet me there with her friend Jože Krmelj in tow, so he can tell me all about the method he uses to make these unique knives and I can choose one for my own kitchen.
Communicating in a mix of German (very broken on my part), translations from Spela and the international language of buying each other beer, all to the soundtrack of a live brass band as part of the celebrations, I gather that Jože is the fifth generation of his family to carry on the tradition of making these tools, using a 1000 year-old technique.
The stunning pattern in the steel comes from the molten metal being hand-folded around 330 times, and the knife handles and casings are whittled from local wood (trimmed with cow horn) – Jože explains that he uses the roots from nearby trees as this is where you find the best and strongest wood.
I’m keen to take a picture of myself with the man who makes these unique knives with such care and attention to detail; Jože may be shy about it but he does know a small amount of English and points to the injuries on his face, clearly from hot metal hitting his skin, and simply says ‘blacksmith’.
I can see that the work he does is not for the feint-hearted, but I’m certainly glad he does it, and I just hope my chef boyfriend, whose birthday present this is destined to be, enjoys using this souvenir as I much as I enjoyed buying it.
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