Slovenian Woodenware (suha roba)

I was pleased to read this week that Adria, Slovenia’s national airline, is launching new flights from Maribor, Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city and 2nd largest airport, to Southend in the east of the UK. It’s not terribly helpful for me as my friends and family are scattered far from Southend, though, if the price is right it might be an option and hopefully for some – both in Slovenia and the UK – it will be a boon.

Southend might seem something of an odd choice – the airport is named ‘London Southend’ but a quick look at the map will reveal that it isn’t actually ‘London and isn’t actually even that close, being in the county of Essex. However, Central London can be reached in less than an hour and it will at least hopefully bring some much needed regeneration to Maribor and the Štajerska region as a whole. It also offers an alternative to the so-called ‘low cost’ airlines which, apart from the few months a year over the summer that Adria fly to Gatwick and Manchester, are currently the only choice to/from the UK. It looks the prices should be competitive too, which is even better. You can read more here (in Slovene)  -https://www.adria.si/sl/novice/2015/nova-redna-letalska-povezava-adrie-airways-iz-maribora-v-london/

On Saturday I visited the Stara Sava area of Jesenice, 20 mins by car from Radovljica or just a few stops on the train, to look around the museum area and the St. Jožef’s Fair, held annually to celebrate the municipal holiday and the patron saint. Granted, from the outside Jesenice really doesn’t appear to have much going for it, dominated as it is by the chimneys and pluming smoke from the Akroni steel factory, however, the town is surrounded by some wonderful nature and the Stara sava area in particular has been nicely restored and exhibits the technical heritage of the area. The area comprises the 16th century Ruard Manor, the 17th century Church of St. Mary’s Assumption and typical worker’s houses from the 18th century, as well as being the museum, cultural and tourist centre of the town.

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There was a small market selling a range of typical Slovene goods including ‘suha roba’, meaning ‘woodenware’, which are traditional handmade wooden products, originally made in Ribnica in the southeast of Slovenia, where the tradition dates back as far as the 14th century. These days suha roba products can be found on sale from mobile vans, stalls, and even hawkers who walk around selling the various products hanging from their every limb, at many markets and other larger events throughout the country. If you are looking for a gift to take home for friends or family, you will surely find something; kitchen implements, garden tools, toys, small items of furniture, and myriad other useful household objects.

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It’s now only 24 days until the 4th Radovljica Chocolate Festival – not that I’m counting or anything! If you share my love of all-things chocolate, take a look at this short video of last year’s event to see why its become so popular. Hope to see you there – but you’d better get there quick before I eat ALL the chocolate! – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHheIefC_-g

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Spring in Slovenia; cycling, flowers, chocolate and more!

In last week’s blog I wrote about the St. Gregory’s Day celebrations which take place annually on the eve of St. Gregory’s Day, in this case, last Wednesday 11th March, in the villages of Kropa and Kamna Gorica. I was a little disappointed that due to work commitments I was unable to go this year, however, as luck would have it one of the locals from Kamna Gorica, put together this short video so I, and now you, can have a glimpse into the custom and see the colourful creations made by local children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABGRQ79oC7k&feature=youtu.be

What struck me initially on watching it is that it was still daylight, whereas last year when I attended on the same day and date -11th March 2014 – it was already dark. This year spring seems to have come early, and with it, longer and warmer days, and the forests are now carpeted with beautiful spring flowers. Ok, I know its a bit early to be celebrating spring ‘proper’, after all it could, and probably will, still snow. However, after last year’s washout of a spring and summer, this dry, mild(ish) period is much appreciated.

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So, with spring in the air, my thoughts have started turning to cycling and I began dusting off my bike this weekend. After month’s of not cycling, and with a nip still in the air, the first rides of the year are always gentle ones, on flat, easy surfaces, such as from Radovljica via Lesce and Hraše to join the 12km-long Imperial Road (cesarska cesta), a gravel road that leads towards Žirovnicahttp://en.zirovnica.eu/experiences/active-breaks/cycling/family-cycling-trips/along-the-imperial-road/

Another such flat(ish) and easy(ish), as well as being particularly scenic and traffic-free, cycle path is that from Bohinjska Bistrica to Bohinj Lake then onwards towards the villages of Stara Fužina, Studor and Srednja vas. The cycle path is well-marked and the views of the Julian Alps and the surrounding villages and lake certainly take your mind off the couple of short, but very steep, inclines. This section, seen below, leads from Srednja vas towards Studor. with the imposing Baroque St. Martin’s church on a small hill directly above the village.

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It’s worth making the short detour to see the church, which contains paintings by well-known Slovene artists, and also nearby is the Ribnica waterfall and the Bohinj Cheese Dairy (Bohinjska sirarna) where one can stop off to buy locally produced cheese (open weekdays 7am – 2pm).

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Preparations are now in full flow for this year’s Radovljica Chocolate Festival. This event just keeps growing and growing in popularity, and this year it will be even bigger and better. The Festival will take place over 3 days (instead of the previous 2) from Friday 17 to Sunday 19 April and will also be extended to take place not only in the historic old town centre and the Radovljica Manor (grascina), but also in the Town Park. Read more about the Festival here – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/festival-of-chocolate/83/309/

I can’t wait!!!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Hell’s Cave

The last few days have been a perfect mixture of brilliant spring sunshine with cold, bright, crisp mornings, and warm afternoons. The week ahead looks like being more of the same. So, no complaints here – for a change!

On Saturday I went, almost literally, ‘to Hell and Back’, since I visited Hell’s Cave (Jama Pekel), near Šempeter in the Savinjska valley! Actually, I’d struggle to tell you exactly where it is since finding it was far from easy and in the end it was more by luck than judgement. The journey from home in Radovljica began relatively easily, following the motorway to Ljubljana, then onwards in the direction of Slovenia’s 2nd biggest city, Maribor, taking the exit for Šempeter. I suppose I only had myself to blame as I was armed with only a basic map but, in my defence, many of the larger tourist attractions throughout the country have familiar brown signs beside the major roads to direct visitors, this one, alas, did not and is woefully lacking in signage;  rather strange since it seems to be a relatively popular and visited one. Oh well, at least I got to see some of the hidden parts of the countryside which I wouldn’t have otherwise! If you plan a visit, as long as you turn right on leaving the motorway, you will, eventually, pick up the signs to the cave as it is only a couple of kilometres from the motorway – just don’t, whatever you do, turn left!!!

Anyway, once I arrived at the cave, all was forgotten and it was well worth the effort. When one thinks of caves in Slovenia, of course the world-famous Postojna caves and the UNESCO listed Skocjan caves are the ones that immediately spring to mind. Slovenia, though, actually has over 10,000 registered caves, and to think that those are the ones that are known about, who knows what else lurks in the mysterious underworld. Many of them are largely unexplored whilst others, those that are open to the public, are not as vast as the aforementioned ones, but nonetheless each offers an intriguing glimpse into the underground karst world. Hell’s Cave is no exception, and the highlight is most certainly the 4m waterfall which is actually inside the cave, the only of its kind in the country.

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The Ponikvica stream carved out the cave and runs through it throughout the part that is now open to the public. It is well-equipped with boardwalks, ladders, lights etc. though very narrow in places and quite a lot of ducking is required for anyone over a few feet tall (oops, metres tall – still can’t get to grips with European metric measurements!). The name of the cave originates from the rocks at the entrance to the cave which, with a bit of imagination, appear to form the shape of the devil and additionally, during the winter when the temperature inside is warmer than the outdoor temperature, it appears as if steam is coming from the cave’s entrance.

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Guided tours of the cave are available daily on the hour, from 10am-5pm from 1st April – 30th September; in March and October it is only open at weekends with the last tour at 4pm. During our group’s tour, we witnessed a pair of sleeping bats, yet to wake up from their winter hibernations, as well as a crab-like creature which is at home in the stream within the cave. Following the tour I took a walk on the forest nature trail which begins at the entrance to the cave and is easy to follow; just follow the green owls! The 2km circular trail takes less than 30 minutes and is nice way to begin, or end, a visit to the cave.

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Nearby is a Roman Necropolis which I had also planned to visit but on this occasion was unable to since the monuments are still covered up for the winter period. About 2000 years ago a Roman road ran through the area around Šempeter and the necropolis, discovered quite by chance in 1952, is considered the most important of the remains from the Roman era, not just in Slovenia, but in Central Europe. So, it will, for the time being, remain on my lists of ‘places to go’ and about which I hope to write about some time soon – I’ll go equipped with a map next time though!

You can read more about the cave, the necropolis, and the other attractions in the area on the Šempeter Tourist Association website here – http://www.td-sempeter.si/en/

The tradition of making and floating models vessels, made by local children and illuminated by candles, in the streams in the villages of Kropa and Kamna Gorica will take place this week. This age-old iron-forging custom takes place annually on the eve of St. Gregory’s Day. The models, which are a mixture of unique art creations made from paper, cardboard and wood with candles affixed either on the exterior or interior, create a colourful effect against the dusk setting. This custom dates back to the era of manual iron forging, before the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when the name day of St. Gregory was considered the first day of spring. With the weather we’ve been having in the past few days, this year it holds true. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I likely won’t be able to attend this year, which is a shame as it is a spectacle worth seeing, so here are a couple of photos from last year.

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© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Slovenia’s Smaller Lakes

The British media have done some of my work for me this week thanks to the 2 glowing articles about Slovenia published in the press last week. I was delighted to see that Radovljica also made it into the list of places to see, as well as the usual and much written about destinations such as LjubljanaPostojna caves and Bled - so, for a change, its not just me extolling the virtues of Radovljica! You can read both the articles using the links below:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destination/slovenia/152352/Slovenia-attractions.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2965536/From-magical-caves-charming-capital-centuries-old-castles-comfort-cuisine-Slovenia-Europe-s-hidden-gem.html

I must admit to having slightly mixed feelings about such media coverage. It’s great for Slovenia’s tourist industry and, one hopes, for the economy – which is in dire need of a boost. However, part of me also hopes that the country won’t become too popular and too over-run with tourists so it can remain as beautiful and pristine as it is. It is, of course, inevitable that visitor numbers are growing, and will continue to grow. Lucky then that I know of SO many more places worth visiting too, those hidden corners, away from the tourist hotspots, which part of me wants to keep secret but every so often I’m willing to share!!!

This weeks ‘sharing’ is about 2 of Slovenia’s lesser-known lakes that I visited last weekend. Offically the country has 321 bodies of water, though this includes some ‘lakes’ that are intermittent and some of them are barely more than large puddles. One of these, are least at first sight, is the karst Podpeč Lake (Podpeško jezero) which lies on the outskirts of Ljubljana, in the area of the Ljubljana marshes (Ljubljansko barje) in the village of Jezero near Podpeč - hence the name. Despite its modest size, it is actually classified among the deepest ‘lakes’ in Slovenia due to an underground outflow which leads to a funnel which has, thus far, been explored to a depth of 51 metres. It takes all of 5 minutes to see the lake, though one can take a walk on the road which leads around it, and there are also numerous paths which lead up through the forest including the one I took up to St. Ana’s Church (Sv. Ana) which stands on top of a hill at 484m. A church was originally erected here sometime in the 11th or 12th centuries, however, the church in its current form dates from 1883 when it was renovated in the Baroque style. It only takes around 30 mins to reach the church from the lake and it is well worth the effort for the panoramic views in all directions. The lake is also one of the start points for the longer hike up to Krim (1107m) which is the highest point in the Ljubljana basin and is easily recognisable due to the attenae which stand atop it and is a popular hiking destination for those living in, and near, Ljubljana. When I visited it was a spring-like day and it was wonderful to see snowdrops coming into bloom as where I live they have yet to creep out of their winter slumber. Unfortunately, it was also very hazy and my amateur photos really didn’t capture any of the views so I’ll jsut post these 2 as a taster!

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The other lake I visited this weekend is somewhat larger and closer to home, the Black Lakerno jezero) in Preddvor, in an idyllic setting at the foot of the Storžič and Zaplata mountains. The lake is a popular destination for a short stroll as well as being the starting point for many hikes in the surrounding hills and mountains. Next to the lake is the Bor Hotel and the 16th century Hill Castle (Grad Hrib); I also particularly like the tree-lined Castle Avenue (grajski drevored), as seen below, and can imagine many a romantic wedding photo being taken here. On the path in the woods just beyond the lake, there were hundreds of beautiful crocuses which are really a sight for sore eyes after months of seeing just snow and ice.

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It may look, from the photos above, as if there is very little snow remaining, however, these mountains are south facing and up to around the 1000m level, much of the snow has melted. However, in shaded and north facing areas, there is still snow at around the 700m level so caution, and a small pair of crampons, should definitely be in your rucksacks at this time of year when hiking. Nevertheless, meteorological spring has officially sprung and, despite this week colder temperatures and possible snow to ground level being forecast, spring is definitely on it’s way – hooray!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

The wonders of Slovenščina – The Slovene Language!

Why does it so often seem to happen that the weather is beautiful all week whilst we are all hard at work then, come the weekend, its all change? This is exactly what happened this past weekend when after a week of sunshine and unseasonably mild temperatures I had a head full of ideas about where I was going to go hiking at the weekend. Alas, it was a cold, wet weekend spent largely indoors working, so I’m afraid I have no snowy hikes to report this week. All rather frustrating since my shoulder is now ok(ish) and I’m raring to go! Still, there will be plenty more opportunities, as I don’t plan on being anywhere other than here in Radovljica, in Slovenia – my home!

There’s still plenty of snow around, and more due this week, for lovers of the white stuff and winter sports, and Slovenia’s winter sports stars are, again, making the country proud; in particular the ski-jumper, Peter Prevc, as seen below, who set a new world record last week of 250metres in Vikersund, Norway. He also uses skis made right here in Radol’ca, specifically at ELAN, and hails from Kranj, so the nation, unsurprisingly, is immensely proud of him. ELAN skis are based in Begunje na Gorenjskem, where they have been manufacturing skis, as well as snowboards and marine vessels, since 1944. There is also a shop open to the public. You can read more about ELAN here – http://www.radolca.si/en/elan/

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When I decided to move to Slovenia, I already knew a little about the complexities of Slovenščina – the Slovene language, however, it wasn’t until I started learning it that I realised just how complicated it is; the more I learnt, the more complicated it became. When I say ‘learn’ what I actually did, or rather ‘do’, is to just speak it, read it, and attempt to write it (that for me is the hardest part). I haven’t attended courses other than briefly in the early days after my move here. I am, however, constantly complemented on my Slovene, which I know is far from perfect but is ‘good enough’ – at least for now – as it is widely acknowledged as being an incredibly difficult language to learn due to, among other things, its use of the dual form (only one other European language uses this), 6 cases meaning a myriad of possible variations of each word, and over 50 dialects for a population of just 2 million people who, in some areas, don’t even understand each other!

It’s not simply enough to know a word, you have to know how to use it, and recognise it, in all its different forms. For example, the word ‘pes’ means ‘dog’, and if you look in a Slovene/English dictionary, this is what you will find. However, the word ‘psom’ also means ‘dog, as does ‘psu’, as well as a number of other variations – none of which are found in a dictionary – so one can be left clueless as to what this mystery word is!

Anyway, far be it from my to try and explain it, for a brief introduction to the language and its uniqueness, this is a fascinating read – http://lingvo.info/en/lingvopedia/Slovene

Since I am nothing if not determined, I didn’t let the difficulty of Slovene deter me. I know other expats who have either tried and been defeated by it or, worse still, not even tried since one can easily, in the main, get by using just English. However, I had a strong desire to integrate into society here and speaking the language was/is, for me, a crucial part of it. It has often been challenging, especially in the early days when my Slovene wasn’t great and people tended to speak English with me and, in many cases Slovenes, who by the way largely speak outstandingly good English (better than some of the English, believe me!) want to speak English with me, whereas I want to speak Slovene with them! Nowadays, I only speak Slovene in meetings, correspondence, social gatherings etc. and all my hard work and dedication has paid off since I’m now able to make, or at least supplement, my living from translating. Learning and perfecting the language is, however, most definitely an ongoing process!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

 

Celebrating Carnival Time – Avsenik Style!

This year, Carnival Saturday (Pustna sobota) also happened to fall on Valentine’s Day and Radovljica’s Carnival Dance (Pustni ples) took place at the Krek Hotel and Restaurant in Lesce. It is traditional to dress up in masks and costumes for pust, and the theme of this year’s dance was the music of the famous Avsenik Ensemble, from the nearby village of Begunje na Gorenjskem, since this year marks the 60th year since the issue of the hugely popular track ‘Na Golici’, which is also one of the most widely played. Since Avsenik have produced more than 1000 songs, attendees had a wide range of songs and lyrics to allow them to get creative with their costumes. Perhaps some of the best known songs, in this area at least, are ‘Na Robleku’ and ‘Na Golici‘ – named after two peaks in the Karavanke mountains which are popular destinations with hikers.

Here you can listen to the original version – http://youtu.be/r7gFNaGYEs8

And here you can listen to, and watch, a recent modern interpretation of ‘Na Golici’ – Riverdance style! – http://youtu.be/VUVN3mGiL9c

The music of the Avsenik Brothers is actually a world-wide phenomenon; it is particularly popular in Slovenia and neighbouring European countries, but is also known in the USA and even further afield, and their music has won countless awards. The home of Slovene popular folk music is at the birthplace of its founders, Slavko and Vilko Avsenik, at Pr’Jožovcu in Begunje. It is regularly visited by coach loads of fans of their music and the restaurant hosts regular music performances by the Avsenik House Ensemble, as well as workshops, festivals, competitions and other events. There is also a gallery and museum, music school, and guest accommodation. If you are visiting the Radol’ca area, then a visit isn’t complete without popping in to see, listen to, or even dance to, a bit of Avsenik!

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The main day of pust is pustni torek (Shrove Tuesday) when, wherever you are in Slovenia you could be forgiven for thinking it is Halloween as children go to school dressed up as all kinds of ghosts and gouls, and some can be seen going from door-to-door trick-or-treating. However, there is actually a point to pust; to help drive winter away by scaring it with various costumes and masks. So, despite not being one inclined to fancy dress, masks etc., I am more than happy to join in and help drive winter away!

All the different regions of Slovenia have their own pust traditions, customs and characters. Among the most known are the ‘kurenti‘ from Ptuj (seen below left), where the country’s largest carnival takes place, with celebrations lasting a whole 2 weeks, and also the ‘laufarije‘ from Cerklje (below right). I think they look frightening enough to shoo-off winter!

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After 4 long weeks, and following an x-ray last Tuesday I was finally free of my immobilising shoulder immobilser last week and what a relief it was. To be able to quickly and easily get dressed and have a shower, do up my shoelaces etc. I, of course, wasted no time on my mission to regain my fitness and on Wednesday morning I was already up and out at 7am and at the mountain hut Roblekov dom in record time! Well, you didn’t expect any less did you?!

Oh and I should just add, here in Slovenia we eat doughnuts for Shrove Tuesday, instead of pancakes. I will, of course, oblige!

© AdeleinSlovenia 2015

Celebrating 25 Years of Lectar Inn, Radovljica

On Wednesday last week I was invited to a special lunch at Lectar Inn in Radovljica’s old town centre to mark the occasion of the 25th anniversary of its ownership in the hands of Jože and Lili.

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Theirs is a real rags-to-riches story. The couple told us a few stories about the past, including how when they first arrived in Radovljica to take over running Lectar Inn they initially had a lease to rent the restaurant for a 10-year period, however, it soon became apparent that it was to become their life’s work and that 10 years would be nowhere near enough so they enquired about the possibility of buying the property. At that time, they certainly didn’t have the financial means to do so as they additionally had to put a lot of money, time and effort into renovating the 500-year old house and also had 2 young children (which later became 4 children – including one set of twins). Lili recalled the day when 2 of the children came home from school in tears because they were the only ones amongst their classmates who didn’t have school slippers – they couldn’t afford them. Over time, all their hard graft began to pay off and nowadays, in addition to the family, they employ 17 staff across the restaurant, Lectar live gingerbread workshop and guest rooms.

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It is plain to see, that despite all the hard work they revel in what they do and have remained as hardworking and humble as ever, and more than deserve every accolade they have received. I must admit to having felt a lump in my throat listening to their stories of hardship and dedication to the business, the family, and each other. It also made me feel proud to be part of such and occasion and to live somewhere where such tradition is valued. Jože even went on to invite us all to the next big Lectar celebration – in 2022 – to mark 200 years of operation of the restaurant! The gingerbread museum has, however, been in operation even longer, since 1766.

Unfortunately, I was unable to stay and enjoy the specially prepared lunch, though I did get a chance to sample some of the goodies on offer from some of the other Taste Radol’ce restaurants, among them the ever-delicious cake pops from Gostilna Kunstelj, sausages with tepka pears and chocolate-covered tepka pears from Vila Podvin, and the house dessert ‘Prešeren’s Cylinder’ from Chateau Lambergh. Although the main focus of Taste Radol’ca takes place annually during the month of November, all the participating restaurants also have Taste Radol’ca dishes as a permanent feature on their menus, denoted by little bee symbols, and made exclusively using local ingredients. There’s plenty more about this in the Taste Radol’ca section of this blog.

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This Sunday was a cultural public holiday in Slovenia, Prešeren’s Day, to mark the date of the death, in 1849, of Slovenia’s great poet, France Prešeren.  Unfortunately, as with last year, this year once again 8th of February fell on a weekend, meaning it was pretty much an ordinary day for most and the nation missed out on having a day off. I always find this a bit unfair as, unlike in the UK, if a holiday falls on a weekend here, as quite a few of them do in 2015, it’s just tough luck, and the following day in not given as a holiday in lieu.

I always like to visit the Prešeren Fair (Prešernov smenj) in Kranj which is a celebration of all things ‘Prešeren. This year I had been looking forward to it even more as I’ve not been outside of Radovljica for some weeks now due to not being able to drive because of my broken shoulder (it’s been 4 weeks now since my fall and I’m going for an x-ray on Tuesday and really hoping for some good news – wish me luck!). The fair includes music provided by organ-grinders, locals parading and dancing in traditional clothing, a market selling all manner of traditional, and some less traditional goods; homeware, clothing, etc. and plenty selling delicious cakes, biscuits, cheese, honey, dried meats etc. There are also demonstrations of traditional crafts, guided tours, exhibitions, workshops and more. Despite it being held in February, when it is often bitterly cold – as it was on Sunday – the day always draws a huge crowd and its nice to see the old town centre come to life and looking how it would have done in the early-19th century.

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This week I’ll be having a little celebration of my own as Wednesday marks my 8-year anniversary of moving to Slovenia! Gosh, where have those years gone! That’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life, and its here where I intend to remain.