MOVING TO SLOVENIA: Natasha Starovoytova from Russia who is captivated by Slovenian healthy and active lifestyle
It was a real twist of fate for Natasha Starovoytova that she ended up in Slovenia, as her initial plan was to move to Slovakia …
Interview by Let’s go Slovenia travel blog (July, 2021)
Where do you come from, when and why did you move to Slovenia?
I moved to Slovenia two years ago. Before moving here, I spent the longest period of my life living in a small Russian military town with around one million inhabitants, which for Russian standards can be called small. After that I lived in Moscow for seven years. There I started to study English language. For the first time in my life I was meeting and communicating with the people from abroad, and it felt like exploring a new world.
I started to think more and more about travelling and possibly even moving to another country. My first choices were Italy, Spain and Slovakia. However, while looking at the map and observing Slovakia closer, I noticed another country with a similar name very close to it.
Not knowing much about Slovenia at the time, I started to research it a bit. I was very impressed with what I was seeing and after visiting Ljubljana I was even more impressed. I loved the city and all the green nature around it. I fell in love with Slovenia and all the other countries just stopped to exist for me.
Where in Slovenia do you live, how do you find it living there and what do you currently do?
After deciding to move to Slovenia, I had Ljubljana or the Slovenian coast in mind. But as mentioned earlier, coming here from Moscow living in another capital city seemed a better idea.
In Ljubljana I am currently studying to become a real estate lawyer. I am also working for the real estate company here, helping foreign clients to find suitable real estate in Slovenia, as well as assisting them with all the legal procedures when purchasing.
Back home I was running a travel agency, therefore I also started with organizing tours around Slovenia, including sailing boat tours. Photography being one of my hobbies, I am also organizing photoshoots on different locations around Slovenia. That’s my real passion.
How did you find a place to live? How easy or hard was to start a life here?
As a Slavic country, Slovenia is in many ways similar to my country, especially the language and the traditions. Still, the beginning wasn’t easy.
Before coming here, I watched many online videos made by Russians, who talked about living in Slovenia. Finding a place to live was said to be one of the hardest things, because Slovenian people were said not to be very open about renting to foreigners. But in my case that turned out not to be true. I found an apartment in two weeks.
Second thing mentioned in the videos as a drawback was that Slovenian people were “closed”, meaning it’s not easy to get to know them or make friends with them. Again, I established contacts here very quickly. There are many Facebook groups where you can get in touch with the people with same interests like travelling and hiking, there is also an expat group and travel forums. So, for me this wasn’t an issue at all.
I have two children; my daughter is 8 and my son is 16. When we moved here my daughter just started going to school and in a few months, she was already speaking Slovenian. Now she already has many friends and she really likes it here.
For my teenager son it was more difficult, of course speaking English wasn’t enough to fully integrate. But the school organized some extra Slovene language lessons and gradually he was able to be more involved and to start making more friends.
So far, what do you like the most about your life here ?
Every time my friends ask me about Slovenia, I say it’s a fairy-tale country. Its intense green colour is what I noticed the first time I visited and it’s what I I still love the most about Slovenia. But with incredibly beautiful nature come incredibly high property prices.
I tell to my friends that Slovenia is an ideal country for a calm, balanced and happy life. But if you are full of ambitions and desires to build a business or a career, then you better choose some other country.
I like how everything is very near here. In Ljubljana you don’t even need a car, you can just use a bicycle or walk. This is such a big plus, especially after living in Moscow where it can take hours and hours to get across the city.
Influences from many different countries can be found here, yet it’s quite unique how Slovenes are still keeping their culture, traditions and language. For example, I was very surprised when I was at the birthday party and young people were playing and dancing to the traditional Slovenian (polka) music.
There are many different dialects spoken throughout the country, and many different architectural styles can be seen when travelling around.
The attitude of the Slovenes towards the children is also something I admire. School teachers are very engaged in helping the kids to adapt, like it was in our case. Other parents and children were very helpful, too. People here are generally very kind and polite. There is a very good level of education for kids. I also like that education system which is oriented towards the psychological comfort of the child at school. And another big plus is the amount of the sports activities at schools like hiking, camping, even kayaking and rock climbing.
As a student I see there are many student support programs available: student restaurant food tickets, discounts for travel and sports, Student Service which helps students get a job etc.
How would you compare life in Slovenia to life back home?
Generally speaking, I would say that the quality of life here is higher than back home. People on minimum wages in Russia which is somewhere between 200 – 300 euros are hardly surviving. In Slovenia people on minimum salary can still rent a flat and buy food. Though I have to say it’s really hard to find a job here. But once you find it, your life is solved.
I’m also noticing that visiting the art exhibitions and going to the theatre and cinema is not as common as it is in Moscow. But soon after we moved the pandemic started, so my observation might not be completely accurate. People of Moscow are particularly known for visiting all sorts of art shows and the theatre performances.
Another thing I’m noticing is that comparing to Russians Slovenes are more tolerant towards sexual minorities and other races. They are also more family orientated than the Russians are. For example, in Russia we start a family in our early or mid-twenties without thinking too much about it. But the percentage of divorces is very big. People here start a family when they are already adult enough and when they have a career.
One of the big differences is also father’s attitude towards children. In Russia it’s almost impossible to see fathers playing with their children on the playground or taking them somewhere. This is mostly considered “mama job”. In Slovenia I see that fathers and mothers have equal responsibilities towards their children.
I really love the way Slovene people take care about their health and how much they are into sports and hiking. You can see someone of 90 years of age still going for a hike in the nature. In Russia when you are above 50, you don’t do anything. You mostly just complain about your health.
But in Russia it’s more common to solve administrative matters online. There are many web portals which connect us with the government and the administrative offices, which enables citizens to do much of the administration via internet. Slovenes are more used to call, send e-mails or are required to make a personal visit to the officials. Sometimes it takes months before things get resolved or to move forward.
Any favourite places or things to do?
I travel quite a lot around Slovenia, mostly by car, I also get around by bicycle, with a canoe, I also stand up paddle (SUP) … To my guests in Ljubljana I always show (that’s where I also do the photoshoots) the Ljubljana Castle and Židovska and Križevniška streets. Ključavničarska street with bronze faces by the Slovene sculptor Jakov Brdar is my favourite!
In Ljubljana very nice photos can be taken at the Metelkova City art place and at the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship (Pot spominov in tovarištva – PST).
I love restaurants with very beautiful views such as Gostilnica Orle just outside Ljubljana. The restaurant on the top floor of the Skyscraper – Nebotičnik in the centre of Ljubljana is also where I love going. Another place is Čolnarna Trboje near Kranj (20-minute drive from Ljubljana) where you can have a delicious strawberry dessert with a magnificent view of the Lake Trboje.
Meanwhile, SUP-ing or canoeing on Kolpa river or Lake Bohinj are among my favourite activities outside Ljubljana. Also, a boat trip around the Slovenian coast and observing the beauties of the medieval towns like Piran and Izola from the water is at the top of my list. Talking about the Slovenian coast, my favourite restaurant there is Santa Lucia. It’s not fancy, but the food there is amazing! “Mešano meso” (mixed meats) and au gratin strawberries will make you come back to this place again and again!
Visiting the “Slovenian Tuscany” – the Brda region of Slovenia is also something I love doing, as well as enjoying the incredible views from the outlook tower Gonjače. Walking the narrow streets of Šmartno is a must do, too.
A hike up to Mt. Stol (2236 m) to enjoy the views over Lake Bled and a sleep over in the hut on the top is yet another first class experience in Slovenia.
For people with kids I would suggest an easy 30 min trip into the Martuljek forest (Gozd Martuljek) and building a stone pyramid together. Make a wish and enjoy the beautiful Soča River and the waterfalls. Watch the sunset with stunning views of Lake Bohinj from Vodnikov Lookout Point in Koprivnik in Bohinj. Visit Kranjska Gora area and see the Peričnik waterfall (you’ll be amazed by the walk behind the strong water stream). Take a not so difficult hike up to Kriška gora and get on a giant swing …
Last but not least – you can fly over the whole of Slovenia, it’s an amazing experience!