Expats in Slovenia: Ian Middleton

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Ian Middleton is an electronics engineer, teacher, writer and a passionate photographer who moved to Slovenia from England with his wife, whom he met in Spain.

COULD YOU TELL US WHERE YOU ARE ORIGINALLY FROM? WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO SLOVENIA?

I am from a town called Andover in southern England. Like many I was brought here by love. I met my wife in a little town in southern Spain called Cabo de Gata. You could say destiny ensured I was ready for this because I fully admit that beforehand I was as ignorant as most about Slovenia. I was living in Ireland at the time, working at a backpacker hostel, when I got chatting to two new arrivals. The ensuing conversation soon came to our respective home countries. When the two girls told me they were from Slovenia, my ignorance was clearly evident. “Do you know where Slovenia is?” they asked in unison. “Err, isn’t it that country next to the Czech Republic?” came my stereotypical response. I got dragged by the ear to a nearby map and shown how Slovenia was next to Italy, Austria and Croatia. “oh!”

A few months later in Spain when a lovely girl asked me the same question, “Do you know where Slovenia is?” I confidently replied:
“Of course, it’s next to Italy, Austria and Croatia!”
“Oh, you know it!”
“Yes, I hear it’s very nice.”

8 years later we were married.

COULD YOU TELL OUR READERS WHAT IS IT THAT YOU DO? WHAT IS YOUR CAREER BACKGROUND?

My background is in electronics. I have worked mostly in consumer and medical electronics. However in 1996 I quit my full time job to go travelling around the world. In the years that followed I worked as a contractor between travels. After a four-month trip around Mexico I began to write about my adventures. I also decided to learn a bit more about photography in order to document my travels better. It soon became apparent that I enjoyed this and the writing turned into several books and articles which I illustrated with my own photography. Travelling the world was also the best learning curve for my photography. For years I was mostly doing travel photography and selling as stock photos for editorial. However, after seeing Slovenia I was inspired by the landscape and began to focus my efforts more on landscape photography. At the time I was working as a service engineer, travelling around the UK and visiting Slovenia in-between jobs. In this time I developed the more artistic side of my photography, shooting mountains and lakes in Slovenia and coastal landscapes in the UK.

AS A PHOTOGRAPHER AND WRITER DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW PROJECTS COMING UP?

I don’t have anything specific in the pipeline at the moment. I recently completed and published my first photography book, A Practical Guide to Photography, which actually contains lots of photos from Slovenia. I originally started the book as a handout to give students on my photography workshops, but over the years I developed it into a complete beginners guide to learning photography. I’ve had the notion of making a book on Slovenia for a long time, but want to find something different from all the others out there: maybe a book illustrating the beautiful lakes and mountains of Slovenia, versus the beautiful coastline of the UK? I have one other idea on the shelf too, but need time and money to realise it. Right now I have neither!

I’m mostly writing articles for photography magazines these days, along with articles on my photography and travel blogs and SEO articles for websites.

My current project is actually a website. I am working with a friend in Ireland and together we have created a website called Slovenia Adventures. Slovenianadventures.com is a tourism directory where businesses or individuals can list their tourism products and services for free. Visitors can search the directory using keywords, location or browse the map to find tours, activities, accommodation or anything else. This was done during the coronavirus lockdown and we decided to offer all listings for free initially to try and boost the tourism industry and help struggling businesses get back on their feet. There will always be a free listing option, but once the site grows we’ll likely offer premium listings with featured placements and the option to sponsor pages and articles on the blog.

IN TERMS OF WORKING AND LIVING IN SLOVENIA. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE FROM YOUR HOME COUNTRY AND SLOVENIA?

I think working in Slovenia is not much different from the UK. Work is work, wherever you are. But being self-employed is far easier in the UK in the sense that you don’t need to pay such a high fixed amount of social contributions. In the UK we pay around £12 per month fixed, and then 9% on our profits above £9000 per year. I know that in Slovenia you get a lot of benefits for these contributions, but it makes it very difficult for people to startup. It also makes it impossible for someone to have a little part-time business unless you already have a full time job. Here someone who earns 500 per month pays the same as someone who earns 2000. Under the UK system you pay according to how much you earn and for someone in the early years this can make a huge difference.

As for living, people often ask me which is better and the truth is that each country has its own appeal. Slovenia has stunning landscape and its compact size makes it so easy to get to these places. The alpine mountains and lakes in the north are something I could never see in the UK. And the fact that I can drive to some of the most amazing locations and photograph stunning scenes in just 30 minutes is a huge plus. But while Slovenia has a wonderful coastline which is stunning in its own way, for me it doesn’t compare to the British coast. I miss the ruggedness, the myriad of colours, the cliffs, and coves. In the UK there is also a big difference between high and low tide. Low tide can reveal a whole different world and sections of the coast look totally different. When the tide is out you can walk for miles.

Another great benefit of living in Slovenia is the low crime rate. It’s a safe place to raise your children. My only concern is that spending too much time here is making me a bit too complacent about crime.

DO YOU FEEL EXPATS IN SLOVENIA ARE TREATED DIFFERENTLY? HOW ACCEPTING ARE SLOVENIANS OF EXPATS LIVING IN SLOVENIA?

I think Slovenes are very accepting of expats. Everyone I meet is fascinated that I am English and bend over backwards to help. When I am speaking to my kids, I hear parents telling their confused children that I am speaking English and they encourage them to practice their English with me. Adults also want to speak English and often apologize for not speaking it well. I still find this unbelievable as I am in their country and should be speaking their language not the other way round.

WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING IN SLOVENIA? IS IT THE FOOD, PEOPLE OR SOMETHING ELSE?

As I said before, the coast. I miss the food, although the wonderful Slovene food more than compensates for it. The first time I came here and tasted your pizzas, I was hooked!

WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE SLOVENIA?

Beautiful, diverse, friendly, safe and pizza

WHAT ARE YOUR MUST-VISIT DESTINATIONS IN SLOVENIA?

As a photographer I never get tired of photographing this country, and perhaps see it from a different perspective. Lake Bled is of course a must-see. I know many consider it touristy, but on the scale of worldwide tourism it is quite low key really. All that aside though, it truly is a magical place, especially at sunrise from Ojstrica or Mala Osojnica

Lake Bohinj has always been my favourite place. It was the first place I ever visited, and it was in winter. It’s a magical place with many moods.

Sveta Ana hilltop view on the Ljubljana Marshes is also a must-see, and one many foreign visitors don’t know about. I love it there, as you can get the most amazing panoramic view of Ljubljana, the Kamnik Alps, Julian Alps and Polhov Gradec range.

For photography, the Saint Thomas Church Viewpoint near Skofja Loka and Jamnik Church near Kropa.

IF A VISITOR ONLY HAD ONE MEAL ON THEIR TRIP TO SLOVENIA, WHAT AND WHERE SHOULD IT BE?

Pizza at any place that makes it in the wood-fired oven. The best places though are Kaval in Ljubljana, Hotel Center in Bohinj and Pizzeria Gallus in Bled.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SLOVENIAN SOUVENIRS TO GIVE AS GIFTS?

 If I take gifts back it’s usually some Teran or Refosk wine, or honey brandy.

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO SPEAK SLOVENIAN? IF SO, WHICH WORD THAT YOU LEARNED SOUNDED THE WEIRDEST OR SILLIEST TO YOU? WAS IT PERHAPS A CURSE WORD LIKE THE “THREE HUNDRED HAIRY BEARS”?

I speak some and understand a bit more. I suppose my favourite word is “bog” because where I come from bog is slang for toilet!

WHAT‘S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LIFE HAS TAUGHT YOU?

To be flexible, adaptable, always be prepared to learn new skills and do different things. If possible, have more than one source of income. When the lockdown came I lost all my English teaching and photography workshops in one go. But rather than sit around moping, I turned to my other sources of income.

I used the time to learn some new skills, such as digital marketing. During the lockdown I offered people a 50% discount on prints of my photos from my online shop, and worked on better landing pages to advertise this on my website. As people were at home looking at bare walls, they had more time to look for these things so my sales went up. I also had more time to write, so was able to pitch and sell a number of articles to photography magazines and websites.

During this time I also worked with a friend in Ireland to build some websites, one of which was the Slovenian Adventures website. I also created a similar one for photography workshops around the world called photographyworkshopsabroad.com.

WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MOTTO OR PHILOSOPHY ON LIFE?

Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.

If my only job was teaching English in Slovenia then we would have been destitute during this lockdown. Although my income was considerably lower, I was able to turn to my website design skills and pick up some work from my friend in Ireland. I was also able to sell articles to magazines in the UK, and sell wall art prints of my photos around the world.

Put money away for a rainy day.

When work is good and the money comes in, I always keep plenty of it saved because you never know when your work will hit a dry spell. Well, this was the driest spell ever, so it was a good thing I had kept some of that income saved.

Don’t be idle.

It’s easy to sit around when you don’t have any paying work. But I use this time to work on ideas and things that will ultimately bring in money later, either through paid work or passive income.