"I'm normal", replied our driver when we asked him how he was on that warm afternoon in Slovenia back in May. Not your usual response, I thought, but it fits Slovenia right to a T. "I'm normal" is a perfectly normal way to feel there.
I'll tell you what's not normal, though: Slovenia as a place. Not in a bad way. In fact, quite the opposite. It's not normal in the sense that it is amazing, and I'm assuming here that you don't see amazing every day.
Imagine a fairytale land where it wouldn't be out of place to see elves running through thick forests, or unicorns, even, sweeping through sparkling, green fields. This image would not be an abnormal image to have of Slovenia.
You see, it's come out of nowhere, has Slovenia. It's raced past the likes of Croatia and Montenegro and only narrowly missed out to Greece on Lonely Planet's top European Destinations of 2014. It missed the middle stages, you know, where people start throwing around the term 'up and coming', and it's gunned straight for the top. It's now, quite possibly, the place to go.
I'm a little hesitant to sing Slovenia's praises too loudly, though, because one of the things I enjoyed most about it was its stillness and serenity - something that will potentially be thrown out of the window when, inevitably, hordes of tourists flock to its rolling green hills and sleepy mountain towns.
So, I'm not going to shout about Slovenia. More of a whisper, I guess. The best piece of advice I can give you is to go and see it for yourself.
Think I'm being overdramatic? Come and tell me that when you've walked the streets of Piran, or come face to face with the castle in a cave. There's a special magic imbued in the air, from the capital, Ljubljana, to the Karst Mountains and the short coastline. "Magic, you say? Where can I find this magic?"
I'm pretty sure the people of Slovenia have been sent from some heavenly planet far away because, quite honestly, they are the friendliest people I have met on my travels so far. I didn't meet one single frowning face, and everyone was willing to chat or lend a helping hand.
My favourites? The lady who invited us into her home for food and drink when we were completely and utterly lost, the complete stranger who offered to pay for our entire meal one lunchtime, and the aforementioned driver who, despite being "normal", offered to drive us around for the day at no extra cost.
Slovenia is a beautiful painting of karst landscapes, rolling mountains, and small, quirky towns. There's such a diverse mix of scenes squeezed into one tiny country but they somehow all seem to carry that 'wow' factor, you know, where you actually, physically gasp in awe when you see them.
You've all seen pictures of Lake Bled, right? Looks just like it's stepped out of a medieval storybook, right? Well, there's a lot more where that came from. Lakes dot the northeastern part of the country, whilst the south is home to rugged mountainscapes and a tiny, 47km long coastline.
The General Atmosphere
There are only 2 million people that live in Slovenia so, as you can imagine, it's quiet and has an air of peacefulness about it that only a place with so little inhabitants can have.
Plus, with there being so few people, the crime rate is exceptionally low. Basically none at all, actually. Safety is not an issue anywhere - from the bar where I was laughed at because I asked "where is safe to put my bag?" to the unlit, unpaved track that I walked up each night to get to my accommodation.
It's safe (excuse the pun) to say Slovenia has a lot of magical qualities about it. Magical qualities that I hope will weather this storming popularity that it's reveling in at the moment. I hope it stays peaceful, quiet, safe, and friendly, regardless of how many tourists flock there to experience it for themselves.
Slovenia - don't be normal, okay?