Slovenia

 

September 12, 2012 

 

If it could go wrong it did.  To start the plane was about an hour late arriving from Frankfurt.  No big deal.  But then, after boarding we were advised of a leak of hydraulic fluid - not a good thing.  While the outcome could have been worse the mechanics fixed the problem and we were off after another hour and a half delay.  The consequence was that we missed our connection to Zagreb.  Then after boarding the next flight we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes as a storm passed through.  And finally after arriving in Zagreb and making our way to the car rental agency there was a sign that they were delivering a vehicle - yet another 20 minute wait.  Lots of delays but we made it.

 

We had booked a B&B 5 minutes from the airport for the night when we return but hadn't received confirmation so decided to stop in.  The owner mumbled something about his internet provider, said all was good and then invited us for a drink "on the house".  How can one turn down hospitality like that?  So after a Croatian beer (for me) and a nice glass of wine (for Gayle) and yet a further delay we were finally on the road. 

 

Now without sounding full of myself I take pride in my navigational skills, my instinct as to where I am and where I'm going.  Until today.  Road signage around Zagreb was virtually non-existent and somehow we missed the direct route we planned to take to Slovenia, where we were staying the first night.  We ended up on a country road seeing parts of inland Croatia sough of Zagreb I doubt a Canadian tourist has passed through a over a decade.  Rather than the 70 km drive I expected we drove 170 km to our tourist farm!  But that's what travelling is all about.  Getting lost now and then.  How else would we know rural Croatia appears to be void of all tourist infrastructure - no hotels, no B&Bs, no restuarants, no gas stations (not that we needed one), and no road signs (which would have been very helpful).  In retrospect we probably had to go into Zagreb to get out the other side but rather went south, then west, and finally north to get into Slovenia.

 

For those of you who rent a car when travelling I have always purchased and taked an International Drivers Permit (IDP) with me when I travel but had never ever used it, until today.  When crossing from Croatia in to Slovenia (yes there is a border patrol here) I was asked for my IDP - just shows you you never know.

 

However the drive was enjoyable.  This part of Croatia was very rural, with lots of wooden barns and homes - generally nice rolling country.  However, as I said not much else.  But everything changes when you cross into Slovenia.  There are supermarkets, large modern gas stops, parks, industry and then oustide of the towns beautiful countryside reminiscent of Austria and Italy.  Although we rushed through as it was getting late it was very picturesque.

 

Due to the delays and the roundabout route we took we didn't arrive at Seruga Tourist Farm (www.seruga.si) until after dark.  Fortunately we had arranged for dinner at the farm.  We were immediately greeted with a full farm meal, very good and very filling.  After dinner we were shown to our beautiful room - very large, with a wood floor and ceiling and a nice balcony overlooking the farm.  I can't speak for Gayle but I think it took me 6 seconds to fall asleep.

 

September 13, 2012

Rain!  Gayle tells me there was a spectacular thunder and lightning storm last night - I guess I slept through it.  But it has been raining all morning and t looks like it is going to be raining for some time.  At least it gives us reason to just relax (and for me the opporutinity to see if I can get this travel blog going).

 

Although everyone else had eaten by the time we wandered down at 9:40 am we enjoyed our first Slovenian breakfast - juice, eggs, cheese, cold meats, yoghurt, pastries and wonderful bread.  Here Gayle enjoys her breakfast. 

 

 

Seruga Tourist Farm - about half way between Zagreb and Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia) ... as the crow flies :-) ... has about a dozen rooms.  Here's the view of the main house from our veranda.

 

Seruga Tourist Farm

September 13 - continued 

 

It continued to rain for most of the afternoon.  We went for a short drive to nearby Nova Mesto - nothing exciting.  We did buy a half bottle of what turned out to be a nice Slovenian wine for 2,52 euros (approx. $3.40) that we enjoyed before dinner.

 

Dinner was again very good.  The four courses started with a courgette (zucchini) soup - which I actually very much enjoyed, not being a huge fan of zucchini.  A small salad and then the plate!  For me a huge pork chop, for Gayle a hunk of melted cheese, a swiss chard quiche like thing, breaded zucchini, potatoes and peas, followed by a fruit roll for dessert.  Not five star French cooking but rather a basic farm meal, where all the ingredients - the vegetables, the meat, the fruit, the cheese were raised or made on the farm. 

 

Afterwards we chatted with Lili, the owner, for over a half an hour, learning about the history of the house and farm, and how self sufficeint they are.  The farm was originally a mill providing bread to the local area.  Lili then told us about the Germans burning the entire farm near the end of WW II.  Even worse when the two brothers (Lili's husband's grandmother's brothers) heard about the fire they returned from the fields where they had been working.  Sadly they were both shot to death when they returned.  

September 14 

 

After another enjoyable breakfast and a final walk around the attractive well-kept farm we left Seruga.  While driving through nearby Otocec we stopped to visit the castle (which is now a high-end hotel).  Otocec castle is the only castle in Slovenia to be located on an island in a river.  Visually very impressive. 

 

We then drove to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia where we are staying a couple of nights.  A bit of a challenge to find our hotel - the centre of European cities can be tricky with one way streets, dead ends and virtually no parking.  But we eventually found our way.  The centre of Ljubljana is essentially restricted to traffic, making it very pedestrian friendly.  There is a river, the Ljubljanica, that flows through the centre of the city, being the focus of most activity.  On one bank there is a significant hill on top of which is the castle - on the agenda to see tomorrow.  We arrived early afternoon and simply enjoyed walking through the streets of the town.

 

Unfortunately we made a poor choice for dinner - it happens, but have reserved what appears to be a much nice place tomorrow night.

September 15, 2012

 

We enjoyed a great day today.  It started with a wonderful breakfast - fresh squeezed orange juice - we know as we saw it being squeezed - salmon, ham, probably five types of cheese, fruit, pastries, excellent coffee/cappuchino, croissants etc. 

 

The weather was much improved over the rain of two days ago and yesterday's cold temperatures.  Sunny skies and warm temperatures makes any day so much better.

 

After breakfast we took the Ljubljana 'free' tour (tips expected of course).  The tour lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours, providing interesting insights into Ljubljana and some of its important buildings, the cathedral, the market, the bridges etc. and the history of Slovenia.  Very informative and enlightening.  Eva, native to Ljubljana was an excellent guide.

 

We then visited the castle, perched on a hill overlooking the city.  The picture below is of the old (medieval) part of Ljubljana as seen from the castle.  Included was an informative presentation on the history of Slovenia including its separation from Yugoslavia (June 1991), the 10 day war that followed and ultimately the country's acceptance into the European Union (2004).

 

We returned from the castle along the riverside where we stopped at one of the numerous restaurants and bars along the river for a drink - this is the most pedestrian friendly city we've ever visited.  We were told on the tour it was only five years ago the mayor made a very large section of the centre of Ljubljana a pedestrian only zone.   The residents apparently love it as do we as tourists.  We then enjoyed an absolutely wonderful dinner - Gayle especially enjoying her polenta with smoked chees and then gnocchi with cep mushrooms an truffles, accompanied by some very nice Slovenian wine.  My mushroom soup was excellent with the only mild disappointment being the traditional Slovenian rumpsteak with fresh golden chanterels and cheese dumplings - just a bit bland.  All in all an excellent dinner in an excellent restaurant, particularly gratifying after our poor choice last night.

 

Finally tomorrow is the day.  It's the Cow's Ball - I'm so looking forward to it.  Gayle I'm not so sure.  This is the annual celebration of the return of the cow's from the high pasture - singing, dancing, sporting activities, eating, more singing and I'm guessing a little drinking - it is supposed to have it all.  Check out this short video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-PU-wiV9dI).  The weather is forecast to be perfect so we need to be up early to drive the hour or so north through Bled to Bohinj to get our front row seats :-).

 

 

September 16, 2012 - The 56th Kravji Bal (Cow's Ball), Bohinj 

 

Finally the day arrived - the annual Cow's Ball, when the cows are paraded down from the pasture, to be judged for the prestigous 'cow of the year' honour.  It took us nearly two hours to get from Ljubljana to Bohinj (with a short stop in Bled and another to check in to our hotel), arriving around 12:30 pm.  As you will see if you view the videos the crowds were crazy large.  We read 5,000 attend this event, and would think there were at least that many.  The weather was decent - generally sunny although clouding over in the afternoon and reasonably warm.  We missed the parade from the pastures but had front row viewing for the parade and crowning of the champions - at least I think the recognized the champion with a shiny new cow bell as I made no sense of the Slovenian announcer.

 

As with most any festival there was food and beer to buy, along with cheese and pastries.  There were crafts - not much really - and other goods for sale - socks, sweaters etc.  There was music all afternoon, along with dancing of all ages, from the very young to a group of, well I'll call them Slovenian grandmothers doing Spanish flamenco, and then the Charlston - you really had to be here to see it  :-).

 

A few shots of the winning cows along with me enjoying some of the regional food - sausage, sauerkraut and potatoes.  As well I tried to add a link to a short video after the last photo.  Not sure whether the file will open or not but I'm not yet registered with Youtube so this is the best I can do at the moment.  

 

What an experience !!! .... although you might not get quite the same level of excitement from Gayle  :-)

 

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September 17, 2012 - Bohinj to Cerkno 

 

I knew it was going to be near impossible to top the excitement of yesterday's Cow's Ball but life must go on, I had to face a day.  It got off to a bad start when Gayle had the nerve to say the Ball was "much ado about nothing" .  Fortunately there were 5,000 + who had a true appreciation of what it means to honour the cows with this community event. 

 

The weather today was wonderful with not a cloud in the sky, reaching a high of 23 celsius. 

 

We left Bohinj for a picturesque drive through the valleys of the Julien Alps.  Below is some of the pretty countryside, framed by the mountains in this area.  After some souvenir hunting in Bohinj Bisticka (where we bought a nice Slovenian made candelstick) we then drove over a ridge of mountains and then descended through the valleys of the otherside, eventually reaching the farmhouse where we will stay the night.  After arriving early afternoon we decided to go to a highly recommended site, the Franja Partisan Hospital ... and very glad we did.  About 15 km away, one needs to walk approx. 1/2 km up a winding gorge to reach the recreation of the hospital - the original, along with virtually all of the historicical artifacts were destroyed in a massive flood in September 2007, actually five years ago tomorrow.  The site has been re-built, with excellent information providing the history of the hospital and info on each of the buildings.  It was very interesting and educational.  Following is some information about the hospital.

 

Franja Partisan Hospital

The Second World War was one of the most difficult trials for mankind. Like other freedom-loving nations, the Slovenes organised themselves to struggle against fascism and nazism. Clandestine hospitals were a particularity of the Slovenian resistance movement. They were built in barely accessible forests, deep gorges and underground caves. They saved lives in circumstances that are hardly imaginable today.

After the capitulation of Italy in the fall of 1943, Dr. Viktor Volčjak and a group of combatants began to build a new hospital in the barely accessible Pasice gorge in Dolenji Novaki in the Cerkno region on the advice of a local inhabitant, Janez Peternelj. With the devoted assistance of the locals, the hospital was constructed gradually until the end of the war, when 14 wooden cabins and several auxiliary facilities were squeezed into the bottom of the hollow alongside the Čerinščica stream. Already during the war, the hospital was named after Franja Bojc Bidovec, a partisan physician who administered the hospital for the longest period of time. 578 severely wounded persons were treated in the central facility, today known as the Franja Partisan Hospital, and about 300 wounded persons were treated in other dislocated units. Among the wounded were, besides Slovenes, also members of former Yugoslav nations and the nations of the Soviet Union, Italians, Poles, Frenchmen, two Austrians, and two Americans.


After the war, the Franja Partisan Hospital became a symbol of the partisan movement and its extensive and extremely well-organised medical activities.
Following the disastrous flood that destroyed the hospital in September 2007, the monument has been reconstructed almost in its entirety. Based on previously prepared drawings and documents, the cabins and auxiliary facilities were reconstructed, copies of objects were made, and substitute objects were acquired. In restoring the facility we were guided by the desire to preserve, to the fullest extent possible, the message conveyed by the monument and its symbolic value.

  

September 18, 2012 - Cerkno to Croatia 

 

Our longest driving day - 243 km - the drive was very scenic throughout the day.  We drove south from Cerkno through some beautiful Julien Alp valleys and then over mountain passes.  Eventually we reached the south-east of Slovenia, and as we approached the coast the landscape and agriculture turned very Mediterannean, with vineyards, olive groves and cyprus trees.  Just before we crossed over to Croatia we stopped for a quick lunch at a small roadside Gastlina where we enjoyed a small but nice lunch. 

Below are the vines and grapes hanging over the outdoor eating area at the Gastlina Norma, where se stopped for lunch.  Gayle had a nice salad while I a snitzel, then with an apple strudel for dessert.  A very nice lunch in a very pleasant setting.