A lesson learned in the worst supermarket on Earth.

A friend did me a favor the other day. He asked my opinion.

Everyone loves to feel like an expert, and travelers may be the worst of all, but I am leery of trying that role, sufficiently aware of how much I don’t know. Besides, it’s easy to sound like a pretentious jackass while they expound on one’s expertise. (“I had a two hour layover in Dubai three years ago…let me tell you what the Middle East is like. They like everything to be nice and orderly, A1, A2, A3, that sort of thing…”)

But I was surrounded by friends, and tales were flowing like the hard alcohol none of us drink anymore, so I indulged.

LjubljanaThey were asking about Europe, 27 of whose countries I’ve visited (29 if you count Vatican City and Monaco) and I found myself recommending, as my secret #1 pick: Slovenia.

The capital, Ljubljana, is a friendly place of details, history, and local character which I would describe as “quaint” if I didn’t hate that word so much. Plus have you ever found a city name more fun to say? I’ll wait while you practice a few more times. Make sure to really get that “lyuh” sound. Lyooblyaana.

It’s not as expensive as its western and northern neighbors, Italy and Austria respectively, but is more comfortable and luxurious than much of Eastern Europe. There are trees, caves, and the coast is absolutely gorgeous.

Coastal city of Piran, after a truly epic storm

Coastal city of Piran, after a truly epic storm

I expounded on the joys of Slovenia with a clear conscious, but just now I was putting away laundry and noticed the glass tea-light candle holder I bought in Ljubljana and never gave away. And I remembered…

I was fucking miserable in Ljubljana.

My time in Ljooobljaaana (calm down) stands out as one of the two lowest points of that first long solo trip, which are probably my worst moments on the road to date. (Knock on wood.)

It was cold, I didn’t have the proper gear, and I’d spent two days trying to win over a Czech cutie who turned out to be hung up on some dude in Prague who she admitted was a total jerk. Those three things were fairly par for the course, but what really made me miserable was the timing.

I was standing in the deli section of a basement supermarket, deciding whether to have spaghetti again or splurge on some runny goulash, when it hit me.

It was Thanksgiving.

LjubljanaSomehow the fact of being there, surrounded by people who had no idea it was my favorite holiday, so far from family, and deciding what to eat on another lonely night in a grungy hostel…

Have you ever cried in the supermarket? In a foreign country? I hid in the pasta section while I tried to stop. It took awhile. Packs of dried linguine blurring in front of my leaking eyes.

But there I was last weekend, recommending Slovenia and its capital as among my very favorite places, not even remembering that damn supermarket. Because sadness passes. Because we remember both happy and sad things, but can choose to spend more energy on the former.

And because I just spent Christmas with my family.

K was not there, and nor was her family, who I feel are part of my own, but I can see the sadness of that, accept it, feel it, and then focus on the happiness of seeing all my siblings gathered in one place for the first time in five years. Watching my parents hand out presents, and all of us immediately knowing they’re socks, while the beagles snored in their beds.

So yes, Ljubljana is one of my favorite places. So is Monterey, California. So is Antwerp Province, Belgium. There’s happiness in all of them. I can focus on that.