Exploring somewhere on vacation can often seem like a chore, as you move down a checklist of must-see sights and must-do activities, without really engaging with the streets and the public, lived environment. This is a particular shame in Slovenia, where the pleasures of its small towns and cities are perhaps best enjoyed by allowing yourself to get lost and wander as you move between the prescribed points of interest, safe in the knowledge that you’re never far from the centre. But how to structure such trips to allow for serendipity, discovery and success in terms of a new place known well? How to plan to be surprised without ruining the surprise?
One way is to let someone else take control of the situation, and a novel approach to this can be found in a new venture by three women working out of Murska Sobota, under the name Stride & Seek. We’ll get to the details later on, but for now just know that we were intrigued by the project and sent Hayley Handford-Brown, one of the founders, a few questions about her life and work in Slovenia that she kindly answered.
Where you before moving to Slovenia, and what brought you here?
I lived in Lincolnshire, which is fairly rural but quite flat, before coming to Slovenia. So, one of the things that really attracted us to Slovenia was the countryside, and the feeling of getting away from it all that we have here, whilst still having all the amenities you need on your doorstep. I love how safe I feel here and how friendly and neighbourly people are.
What were some of the challenges you faced on moving here, and how did you deal with them?
We actually bought our house here 10 years before we relocated so were well acquainted with the area. Also, in that time, my parents bought a house and retired here six years before we made the big leap. I suppose we had the luxury of time to become aware of any challenges that we may face and made plans for them.
The biggest challenge that we didn’t anticipate was how hard the language would be to grasp. During those 10 years, we visited twice a year, every year but during this period we were renovating either our property or my parents, so didn’t get out and about much and had the mentality that once we lived here, we would learn the language, be so immersed in it that it would come to us. Even though I’ve had lessons and learnt languages before (in fact, I quite like learning languages – it’s something I did at university!) it’s just such a difficult language. And what with one thing and another, haven’t been able to devote as much time as I would have liked to learn it. Oh, and sometimes when you do get the confidence to try and speak it, it’s all wrong and you’re not understood which can be very disheartening!
What were you doing here before Stride & Seek?
Stride & Seek Mini Adventures came about after a discussion I had about the concept with an expat business woman, I was picking her brain about something and she just enquired about our future plans. If she hadn’t had asked that question at that point then Mini Adventures wouldn’t be what it is now.
In the UK, we had been franchisees for the leading treasure hunt company, and having been in Slovenia for a while at that time knew that it would be a good concept here, but it wasn’t something I could do on my own – I really wanted Slovene business partners. So, she actually set me up with a Slovene lady she knew that would be perfectly suited, a bit like a blind date for a business partner, and it worked! Katja (the blind date) had a colleague who she brought on board so Tamara joined us and one became three.
The product we offer is pretty different to what I was doing in the UK, which has been great as we have really been able to be creative and imaginative with our Mini Adventures. And we all have different areas of expertise. Katja is responsible for marketing and sales, Tamara writes and translates the Mini Adventures, I write and do the operational side of things, as well as developing any new concepts. We are only at the start of our journey and have lots of exciting things in the pipeline.
The team at Stride & Seek
For people who haven’t visited your website yet (in English and Slovene), can you talk me through the experience of doing a Mini Adventure?
A Mini Adventure features a hand drawn map of your chosen city or town leading you on a self-guided tour by visiting the markers on the map where a clue has to be found and solved. Discovering the place in a different and unique way. A story accompanies the adventure, usually loosely based on a legend or myth of that location which sets up the mission ahead.
It’s great fun for all ages. Kids love running around looking for the clues and adults get to exercise their brains as some of the clues are more challenging. And it’s good old-fashioned fun. We love the fact that our product brings people together, making memories and getting them away from screens and devices. It’s perfect if you have friends visiting and you want to show them the area or if you just want a day out getting reacquainted with a place.
It’s educational too as well as healthy (don’t let the kids know, though!) as we feature information about the landmarks our “Seekers” are seeing on their adventure. Our Mini Adventures thus make people more aware of what’s around them whilst exploring rather than just wandering around aimlessly on their own.
Some of the finer details of buildings, statues and monuments are often overlooked. One of our reviewers said of the Ljubljana Mini Adventure he did that although he grew up in Ljubljana, he discovered landmarks he’d never seen before. We include more than just the more popular sights, we love the unusual!
What are some things you’ve learned making these adventures?
I’ve learnt so much more about Slovenia from producing these Mini Adventures, not just from a tourist prospective either, because they are for locals and tourists alike. I have particularly enjoyed learning about the history and legends of our locations and get a real buzz out of writing the story that accompany the adventure. And we have quite a few locations already, even though we are just starting out. We currently offer Celje, Lake Bled, Ljubljana, Maribor, Murska Sobota, Ptuj, Piran and Bad Radkersburg. We have Škofja Loka, Graz, Budapest and Bratislava coming very soon. And in the next three months – Kranj, Velenje, Zagreb and Varaždin will be added to the catalogue. So, we are keeping very busy but we still have time for a chat if you see us out about, looking intently at statues with a notebook and camera in hand, be sure to say hello!