THE Henley civic delegation returned from their trip to Bled determined that their new-found town-twinning relationship would prosper on several levels.
Led by Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, the 12-strong party included civic representatives as well as leaders from the business and sports community.
After a weekend packed with visits to schools, hospitals, colleges, churches and sports clubs, as well as hotels and restaurants, the opportunities for synergy between the two communities became ever more apparent.
“The highlight for me has been the opportunity to get young people from Henley to compete at the Slovenian national championships and to do so amazingly well,” said Councillor Gawrysiak.
“We’ve made wonderful friends here in Bled, with the town council and the local residents, and we just look forward to the future and hope that this relationship will just continue after such a promising start.”
After their arrival last weekend the party was given a whistle-stop tour of the town before the formal signing of the twinning documents in the historic setting of the 1,000-year-old Bled Castle.
With the British ambassador to Slovenia, Mr Andrew Page in attendance, the Mayor of Bled, Janez Fajfar, welcomed his visitors before his Henley counterpart responded in the local language.
Saturday’s highlight was the successful participation by local athletes at the Slovenian national rowing championships on the historic Lake Bled, four times the venue for the world rowing championships, the most recent in 2011.
Slovenia, bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, is one of the smallest and least-populated countries in Europe and ceded from the former Yugoslavia in 1990.
Bled, with a population of just 8,000, is smaller than Henley but its picturesque lakeside setting, sporting history, annual music and arts festival, and its well-regarded management college are just some of the reasons why a group of Henley residents spotted the opportunity for twinning four years ago.
“Everyone has been so friendly, warm and welcoming. They are totally geared up to welcoming visitors, and perhaps we have a lesson to learn from that because we have a good package to sell, just as they do,” said former Henley Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin.
“I think there are so many ideas that happen in Bled that could happen in Henley, things that we could do better, like keeping our streets cleaner — there’s a wonderful feeling of freshness here in Bled.”
She added: “They complain about their traffic, as we do, but I don’t think they’ve got it quite as bad!”
Another former mayor had a different reason to remember her visit, which gave her the chance to rekindle a friendship forged almost 60 years ago in her native Cardiff.
Councillor Pam Phillips said: “A lady came and stayed at my home in 1954 from what was then Communist Yugoslavia. She was a trainee architect who came to improve her English, and she stayed with us for three or four weeks, and I knew her as ‘Doody’.
“When I first hosted the delegation from Bled I mentioned that Doody was the only person I knew from that area and the Mayor said ‘I think I know her’ so to meet her again this weekend was a very memorable moment.”