Life in Slovenija/Italy

1 May, 2015
Our time in Slovenia is almost over, but there are still new cultural experiences for us to experience.
1 May is a celebration of the worker as well as a day of celebration in each village highlighted with the installation of a May Pole in the middle of the towns.

2006 May pole in Kromberk

2006 May pole in Kromberk

2006 May poles Three Kings

2006 May poles Three Kings

2006 May pole Vrtojba

2006 May pole Vrtojba

This year we were traveling from the hills at the same time as the giant pine tree pulled by draft horses on an expanded wagon followed by a cart with an accordion player and neighbors dressed in traditional costumes. [unfortunately I did not have my camera] The tree slowly wound through Solkan to Nova Gorica and stopped in front of city hall where a 7′ deep hole lined with concrete was waiting. While button box accordions played, people gathered hoping that the rain would hold off. We waited in the mist, because for years we have wondered how they got these enormous trees to stand in the middle of town. The mystery is a crane. Ahhh what a disappointment, but the men in hats and vests helped with rope and poles, so we had a hint of the process from the past.

We also went to a workers celebration in the Slovene town of Kriz in Italy. There a large tent was set up with picnic tables and a stage for the choir. Cevapcici [Bosnian skinless sausage], burek [cheese pie in phylo dough],wine and beer was served and a crowd of all generations gathered on a rainy evening to celebrate the worker. We enjoyed the energy of people of like mind, the celebration of the partisans from 70 years ago and the choir, made up of Slovenes and Italians from Trieste [Trst], singing revolutionary songs from all over the world. Bob was particularly thrilled since it reminded him of the many stories he has heard and read about the Partisan gatherings during WWII. We shared the event with friends and it was a great final event to our stay. http://youtu.be/VNHJJcES7iE

We will return again to Slovenia/Italy next year, but until then we head back to California.

20, April, 2015

One thing I can easily do, that takes very little effort while recovering, is ride along side Bob while he drives us around the countryside. We both grew up in families who went for Sunday drives and car vacations. Maybe it was a big deal to own a car in the 1950’s and be able to leisurely drive to the countryside to buy apples or to a quaint small town for ice cream or even better, to leave the noise of the city on a sunny October Sunday after church and spend all day looking at the autumn leaves. We both still just like to “go for a drive” so we headed to Idrija. Why not? We hadn’t been there yet this year.

The trip to Idrija is like all our treks around Slovenia, up hills, down into valleys, across clear streams and rivers, and through small neat picturesque villages where the older residents stare as we pass looking to see if they know us. Spring is in many stages along the way; fruit trees are in full bloom and the hillsides are dotted with white blossoms blended with the vibrant green of new growth. Our souls are open to absorbing as much beauty as our eyes can capture and we both are warmly content.

Idija 1700's

Idija 1700’s

Idija today from castle

Idija today from castle

Idrija is a town with a long documented past. Mercury [quicksilver, cinnabar] was discovered here in the late 1400’s and was continuously mined until 1986. Deep mine shafts took miners into the deep dark depths of the earth to find this mineral that is liquid at room temperature and a poisonous pollutant to humans and the environment. The town nestles in the valley of the Idica river over looked by the castle [now a museum] that rises tall above the narrow winding streets. This mine was the second largest mercury mine in the world and is now a UNESCO Heritage site [the mercury mine, New Idria in CA was named after the Slovene mine]. The mine was so prosperous for generations under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire that the town thrived culturally inspiring arts, sports, hunting, education societies yet working conditions were hazardous and living conditions were crowded and modest. The women, as a way to spend their time and make some household money, perfected a style of bobbin lace that was used for church vestments and altar cloths throughout the world. When mercury production slowed down in the mines, the women sold lace items with a modern twist, and the lace making school, started in the 1800’s, was revitalized to preserve and teach the heritage of bobbin lace. An annual lace festival brings countless visitors to this isolated valley each year.
This video tells you more.

And here you can watch someone create a lace design.
https://vimeo.com/7125470
The finely intricate patterns of the lace are like spider webs woven into twist and turns to be made into decorative attire. The delicate finely detailed lace is an odd juxtaposition to this lonely valley that was populated with dirty miners burrowing under the ground with huge noisy machines dying painful deaths of poison from the work that made it possible for their wives and daughters to spin webs of dreams.
Idrija Castle

Idrija Castle

Idrija Castle interior

Idrija Castle interior

Idriaja Castle detail

Idriaja Castle detail

Idrija Castle clock tower

Idrija Castle clock tower

18, April, 2015

The sky is the richest royal color highlighted with the warmth of golden sunlight and we are joining our friends Tanja and Gino on an excursion to Croatia for lunch along the seaside. I just can’t get used to saying that we are going to another country on the Adriatic Sea for lunch! The trip is about an hour now that the new road is complete, a gleaming modern highway with expansive bridges on stilts over the valleys and shapely tunnels in the bowels of the earth. The Slovenes are gifted at creating huge boulder walls as erosion control along the sides of the roads, so the roads are new, fast and beautiful too. Croatia is not yet in the Schnengen zone so we had to pass border control on the Croatian border and our passports were stamped leaving, and then again entering both Slovenija and Croatia [known as Hrvatska].

We stopped first in Groznjan [Italian name Grisignana]. This teeny tiny ancient city, with an enormous history, is known now for its artist shops and an annual jazz festival. It was first identified in historical records in 1102 when the land was granted to the Patriarch of Aquileia. After that it was passed to the Venetians, then back to Aquileia, then a Fruilian family [with a very German sounding name], then back to Venice. Venice held control from 1359 to 1797 and made a few improvements in walls just in case the Turks wanted to wade across the valley and climb the steep hillside to find them sitting on top of the world. In 1630 a plague made the village a ghost town so Italian families from near Gorizia were invited to settle there along with refugees of the Ottoman Empire [the Turks again]. The new residents were given free land with the directive that if they cultivated the land for 20 years, they would be free of feudal responsibilities, so the town thrived with tradesmen becoming a trade village.
After the fall of Napoleon [during his time of control many bridges were built, making little towns like this one accessible for the first time to the rest of the world] the town continued to thrive under the domination of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and in 1910 had 1,658 inhabitants. After WWI the village was again under Italian rule but the depression sent many long term residents to Trieste or far distant lands looking for work. During Mussolini’s rule this area, like so many other villages in Italy, was electrified and had water and sewer systems for the first time. After WWII the entire Istrian Peninsula was assigned to Yugoslavia, but fear of the communists and reprisals in reaction to fascist abuses inspired 2/3 of the population to immigrate to Italy.

Groznjan street

Groznjan street

View from Groznjan

View from Groznjan

Why do I tell you all this you ask? Because it highlights how very detailed and complicated the history of this area is. This minuscule village, probably a hamlet by official classification, sits on top of a hill above a dry valley with narrow streets paved in original uneven, bumpy, impossible to walk on cobble stones. No car, delivery truck, utility van would be able to drive through town, yet the people here have reinvented themselves yet again, and it has become a destination point with a few little eateries, but mostly cave like shops filled with original art and a charm that can only be found in a place hidden from modernization. But the conflicts of the past, that are evident still in prejudicial comments, are deep issues of occupation, domination, displacement, isolation, inability to support a family at home. People lived in small villages all over this area unable to communicate with a village on the other side of a river because the languages were completely different. Wars forced people to flee or suffer the atrocities of the occupiers and that caused a resentment of another culture that no American and truly comprehend. For me it is a constant challenge to try to understand this land and these people we love so much.

Coffee with Gino and Tanja

Coffee with Gino and Tanja

After cappuccino in the sunshine we headed down and around the hills to the Adriatic Sea. In Umag we wandered along the sea wall and found a restaurant where we could almost dip our toes in the water. A lunch of seafood chowder, fried calamari, mussels, and a variety of little fish with local wine and then gelato was absolute perfection.

Umag

Umag

Umag

Umag

Umag

Umag

Umag

Umag

15, April, 2015

Our friend Silvana shattered her leg while skiing. Two surgeries later she had a prescription from her doctor for a week of holistic treatments at a spa in Doljenska [another region of Slovenia]. Spas were built during the Austrian-Hungarian years in many places throughout the country where aquifers release waters rich in healing minerals. Each spa specializes in specific healing depending on the restorative qualities in the waters that bubble up from the earth. Silvana definitely felt that the physiotherapy and the treatments were encouraging her body to heal faster than just sitting around with her leg propped up and she was enjoying the rest and healthy food as well. I considered checking myself into the spa for treatments following the stroke, but without further tests that may determine where the blockage was I decided it was probably unwise. We definitely will go next year, because for less than 400E we can go for a week, with room, board and treatments included.

We decided to go to visit Silvana and make a day of discovering another part of Slovenia. We traveled back roads through hills and fields and pastures and forests, along rivers and over mountains. White blossoms of apple and wild cherry trees littered the hillsides amongst the bright glow of light green spring leaves. In the upper elevations the early snow drops and light yellow primrose were still blooming and in the open valleys tulips, daffodils and flowering trees filled the gardens. Farmers plowed their fields with deep furrows and gardeners were planting potatoes, peas and beans.

We stopped for lunch at a gostilna in Ribnica and took a walk around the castle grounds. Every village has a gostilna where coffee can be enjoyed in the morning, wine and beer later in the day and home cooked local fare for lunch and dinner. When we were traveling from Ohio to California we tried each day to find a locally managed restaurant for meals, if we were so lucky, the food was often prepackaged frozen meals which were fried or microwaved. If we were not fortunate enough to find a local diner we were forced to eat fast food or tasteless meals at places like Dennys or Perkins. Gostilnas are places to eat for locals and even in a town of 3,000 has 2 gostilnas to choose from on the main street. The comments we hear from our friends who have visited the US is that the country is amazingly beautiful, the people are kind and the food is terrible. Compared to what we find here, that is a fair assessment.

Ribnica is an ancient town that had a Roman road nearby. The missionary parish was created in 811 and the nobility was first mentioned in 1220. It was a market town with the rights to trade in livestock, linen and timber. It apparently was also famous for witch trials with the last victim burnt at the stake in 1701. The castle was badly burned in WWII, but now has a museum and peaceful courtyard surrounded by stone walls, along a clear stream where fish languish in the sunshine.

Ribnica

Ribnica

Ribnica

Ribnica

We followed the Krka river to Dvor where even before the Romans the power of the river was used for smelting and iron working. Canons used to defeat the Ottoman Turks were forged here, but all that remains now are ghostly shapes of the industry closed down in the late 1800s.

Dvor iron works and waterfalls

Dvor iron works and waterfalls

The hillsides in Doljenska slope steeply to the valleys used as agricultural land. Small weekend/summer houses have been built at precarious angles along the slopes where owners raise grapes for making homemade wine.

Doljenska weekend

Doljenska weekend

Our last stop before reaching Silvana was Soteska where the only intact remains of the Soteska castle stands in a field of narcissus. The large castle was built in the 17th century, but was burned by the Partisans in 1943 to prevent German troops from occupying it. The Devil’s Tower is all that remains within the walled garden.

Solteska castle photo 1935

Solteska castle photo 1935

Devil's Garden Tower

Devil’s Garden Tower

Narcissus

Narcissus

It was a long rewarding day of discovery, culminated by a gourmet meal of local fare shared with a loving friend. It doesn’t get better than this!

13, April, 20015

Living in Ohio, we had the Amish and the uniqueness of their culture to draw our interest. We were fascinated by their farming techniques which echoed the patterns of my Pennsylvania farm relatives of the 1800s. We were charmed by their commitment to a life style that was in such opposition to the worldliness of those they called “English”. And we enjoyed knowing them as neighbors and workers to assist us on our homestead.

Here we have Slovene and Italian culture; completely different languages and personalities. And we also have the remains of ancient cultures to explore. Ancient cultures that influenced and directed the paths of this land. I am deeply fascinated with how ancient cultures vine and intertwine with modern life, and modern cars speed past ruins that are over 2,000 years old on roads originally built by the Romans.

Aquileia is a perfect example of cultures blossoming and dying piled on top of each other. It was originally founded by the Romans in 181 BC as an outpost against invasion, but it became more valuable as a river port due to the large river that lead to the Adriatic Sea. The distinction as a river port is impossible to imagine now because 2,000 years later the river would be called a creek with no possibility of ships entering the city. None the less, trade routes crossed here, markets were established and the Roman population exceeded 100,000 [current population is around 3,000]. Olive oil, wine, gold from the Julian Alps, glass created by artisans, amber from the Baltic, bricks and metal works were trade items which brought merchants from afar. The Celtic sun god Belenus, Mithras and the Jewish Yahweh were all worshiped here with remarkable tolerance and Christianity was embraced once the Edict of Milan put an end to religious persecution in 313. Marcus Aurelis made Aquileia the principal fortress against the dreaded barbarians, Constantine hung out there occasionally, and they minted money for the Roman Emperor Flavius Victor. In the 4th century it was #9 on the the list of the Ten Greatest Cities of the world behind Rome #1 and Constantinople #3. But notoriety was its downfall. The Visigoths attacked in 401, and in 408 Attila and his Huns knocked the rocks out from under the foundation and laid the city bare and unrecognizable. The thousands of inhabitants hid in the marshes and lagoons and eventually started to pound pylons into swamp land to build the remarkable city of Venice. Aquileia tried a comeback, but in 568 it was once again pummeled into the ground by the Lombards. At the early centuries of Christianity the patriarch of Aquileia was established and a church was built beginning in 313AD. The church was destroyed 4 times and rebuilt using materials from the older structures and stones from Roman buildings. In the early 1900s while Aquileia was under the Hapsburg rule a mosaic floor remaining from the church built in the 4th century was by chance uncovered. Today glass panels float above the floor so visitors can walk over the biblical stories told in mosaics and we can gaze in amazement at the artistry of seventeen hundred years ago. You’ve gotta love this place!

Bascilica

Basilica

Basilica interior

Basilica interior

Isn't she beautiful?

Isn’t she beautiful?

Basilica mosaic

Basilica mosaic

Basilica freschi

Basilica freschi

11 April, 2015

So how does one heal from a stroke?
Lots of sleep.
Take the meds.
Exercise when able.
Enjoy every moment.

view from Sv. Kriz

1 April, 2015

We are taking lots of rides; out and about, but not too strenuous.
As we travel from town to town in Slovenia a church tower looms over each village. Hillside views may include a dozen villages with equally as many church steeples towering above a cluster of clay tiled roofs surrounded by grape vines and gardens.

view of Goriska Brda

Many of the houses have a similar architectural style; 2 or 3 stories, made of stone or block, balcony on the south side, some are L shaped with a front courtyard and a gate, the more modern structures have large glass windows and sliding doors within brightly painted orange, yellow or peach stucco facades. Old houses have been adapted and many still show the unfortunate styling of the 1970s when extra money was available for renovation and re-muddling traded the traditional charm of the older homes for “modern” ugly [it seems that from 1950-1980 nothing in the world was built with an eye for aesthetic and beauty].
But the churches have a charm of their own and do not mirror the houses in any way.

Podlipa church

Goce church

Sveti Kriz in Goriska Brda

Bob and I often comment that if it were not for fear of the Ottoman Turks 11th-17th centuries, where protected stunning walled cities were built on hilltops and the churches, where artisans could create, there would be little beauty in the structures of Slovenia and Italy.
In the tiny village of Vrhpolje the church community collected funds to commission mosaic murals for their church from The Centre for Study and Research “Ezio Aletti” in Rome, and AMAZING! is what I said after I got my breath back. The magnitude of the work created by this spiritual art center from teeny tiny pieces is overwhelming. The town is off the main road and tucked into the hillside. There is no indication that the plain church built in the 1800s could hold such magnificence available to behold by entering the church.

teeny tiny pieces


30, March, 2015
On Friday 20 March I woke up with numbness on my left side and my left leg would not carry me to the bathroom. Bob called our doctor friend, Breda, while I got dressed and he rushed me to the hospital in Sempeter pri Gorici. The hospital has an Emergency entrance, but no emergency staff or chairs or a wheel chair at that location for patients who try to walk in. A considerate man walking by found a wheel chair for me while Bob went searching for help. Fortunately Breda appeared as we entered the hospital and helped with check in and guidance. Unlike a US hospital, where he would be pushed out of the way, Bob had the task as wheel chair driver to chariot me from the “new” building built in the 1960s to the old building, built long long ago. The connection between these buildings is a covered out-door walk-way with a surprisingly steep grade [he got his exercise that day]. I was parked in the hallway outside the office of neurology to wait. At this point no one had taken my blood pressure, listened to my heart or asked me how I felt. I did not have to answer mundane questions about everything and sign a zillion forms, but they also did not know anything about me. Bob paced and Breda paced and I sat numb on the left side with an increasing head ache on the right. Finally when action was set in motion, vitals were taken, BP 230/130 WOW! A CT scan convinced them that there was no visible damage so I was nested in a yellow metal bed original to the 1960s room.

Second room before the 4th bed was added

The 1st room was suitable for 2, but with 3 beds, one patient had been a guest of the hospital for 4 months after open heart surgery and the other I think was dealing with severe response to issues of diabetes and was delirious. I was given blood pressure pills and left alone.
Once the nurses realized that moja slovenscina je slaba [my Slovene is bad] many avoided me like I had the 12th century plague, others timidly used their high school English and a surprising number remembered either Bob or me from their English classes. There were no TVs blaring [thank the Slovene saints], no 24 hr monitoring of my blood pressure, no privacy screens, I was not awakened in the middle of the night for BP or temperature taking, no beds screeching each time someone got out of bed, no meal choices. Mostly I was left alone to rest and heal. Fortunately the docs were more comfortable with English [many of their medical books are written in English] and the neurologist who treated me was wonderfully fluent and could easily explain everything. Breda was an especially enormous help by checking in with the docs and helping me understand.
I have always had “dizzy when I stand up low blood pressure” and have not paid too much attention to my numbers. Since I am a vegetarian, do not smoke or drink [heavily], I am not too obese and I get lots of exercise the docs think that due to the stress of caring for my mother, selling our house and moving to CA my BP probably slowly climbed and I was oblivious despite the history of hypertension in my father’s family and my age.
So stupidity won out on this one! But this was a serious warning. Fortunately I will regain all function of my left side, my speaking was not affected, but my singing voice no longer has the control I am accustomed to. Typing this blog with both hands is an act of great concentration and eating European style with fork in my left hand sends food flying. I am walking but even that takes a lot of focus and at the moment it tires me out. We will be returning to CA on 5 May as planned so I have time to get stronger before traveling.
I believe all bumps in the road are placed there to teach much needed lessons. I’m certain there are many more lessons to be learned from this, but the greatest I can see now is to add myself to the top of the list of those I take care of.

Sunset view from room through sun screen


29, March, 20015
One Happy Man!!

14, March, 2015
We’ve been so busy, and we have not had internet at the apartment for almost a month, that writing has been a little less than ideal, but that does not mean that we are not having a fabulous time. Since the weather has been sunny and warm we have started hiking and riding bikes more. Slovenia is a county of hikers. The hike that brings out the biggest smile is the hike to Triglav [pronounced treeglau]. It is said, “You are not a true Slovene until you have climbed Triglav.” Well we are not true Slovenes…yet. Triglav is the highest mountain in Slovenia and the highest in the Julian Alps at 9,396 ft. We did hike towards Triglav on our 42nd wedding anniversary and it looks beautiful from a distance.

Path towards Triglav

Maybe, maybe, maybe someday we will be able to claim to be true Slovenes.
People hike in Slovenia the way Americans watch television, so paths are well marked, well maintained and even cross private property. There are no signs telling you not to trespass or “Stay Out!” only signs pointing the way, giving distances of the hike, interesting information often in Slovene, Italian and English and signs telling you to beware of animals.

Danger Bees

Watch out for cows?

We left spring in Primorska to spend 3 days visiting the mountains in Gorenjska. Our friends Justi and Roy have a lovely B&B in Mojstrana [www.rivercottageslovenia.com] and from there we were able to hike as well as spend time with our friendly Brits. The drive to Mojstrana was lovely because we were driving through the mountains, but also because the wild flowers were glorious.

Carpet of Helebore or Christmas Rose

Never have I seen meadows and forests blanketed with color; beauty that made me cry.The journey took twice as long as normal because I was required by my artistic temperament to capture every bit of beauty possible. I didn’t want to miss a single flower which may have been the most beautiful picture of the millions of flower pictures I have taken. It really is an obnoxious obsession.

Path of crocus

Our anniversary hike was 3 hours of walking in the sunshine surrounded by snow. The paths were a bit icy in places, but most of the time we hiked easily along rushing mountain streams.

Bistrica river

The snow pack was not as deep as normal this year which made it possible to hike to Slap Pericnik [slap=waterfall].

Slap Pericnik

We both felt invigorated by the hike, the air was cool, the sun was hot and the black birds serenaded us the entire way.

We drove another route home beginning with a wandering road in Triglav National Park. Our first stop to stare open mouthed at the beauty was the Krma Valley.

Krma Valley

The valley is a glacial valley completely surrounded by mountains. A small cluster of homes, a gostilna [restaurant and guest house] and the machines for the logging industry are the only signs that anyone lives there. Apparently there is a family that can trace their ancestors 400 years in this isolated location. A bee hive buzzing to life in the sunshine caught my attention because it still uses the traditional decorative bee panels to attract the bees and tell stories in pictures.

Bee hive

Bee hive detail

An old restored saw and grain mill tells of rye, oats, barley and buckwheat grown in the valley and ground when the snows melted and there was enough water to turn the “black stone”.

Psnak family saw and grain mill

Further down the gravel road is the burned out remainsof a home with a monument erected next to it.

Ravdona

In this isolated “you can’t get here from anywhere” place the inhabitants were actively involved in the partisan fight against Nazi oppressors. The valley was an isolated place for the partisans to meet and gather supplies to be delivered to other partisan outposts. On 11 September, 1944 the Germans came to the valley for firewood and were ambushed by partisans who shot 2 horses and took two German soldiers prisoner. The next day the Germans retaliated by burning down the village of 12 houses with 24 people burning to death, the youngest 7 months and the oldest 81 years old. The monument lists the names and dates of each person who gave their life to fight fascism.
The beauty takes my breath away, but also the horrors the people have suffered during both world wars and between. The atrocities are too great to wrap my brain around. How is it possible that one human being can treat another without the hint of humanity. When I read the news I wonder why our world has not learned the lessons taught by both world wars. What will it take for human beings to act with tolerance, kindness, care and love to all without consideration of the color of skin, gender, sexual orientation, language or means of worship?

26, Februry, 2015
One of the lovely advantages of living on the border of 2 countries, close to the mountains and even closer to the Adriatic Sea, is that over our daily morning cappuccino we decide what where to have our next adventure. Today we chose to discover a new place in Slovenia. Our friends are always surprised by how many places we have investigated, and often say, “You have seen more of Slovenija than we have.” I doubt that is true, but we have always liked to wander the back roads where we lived, and here some of the back roads were built by the Roman Empire so it is just that much more exciting. The Slovene guide book says that Socerb “offers an exceptional view across the nearby Gulf of Trieste.” We have never known the guide book to understate the majesty of a location, but those words do not do justice to the sight from the cliff. The Adriatic Sea fans across the horizon and within view is the spreading city of Trieste [Trst] in Italy, but also the coast line of Slovenia, the mountains in Croatia, the coast line of Italy and in the far distance the Julian Alps in Austria.
This cliff was a fortified stronghold from as far back as the Illyrian times [predates Classical Greeks]. In the middle ages a castle was precariously built to cling to the cliff and the information states that from here, on top of the world, they controlled trade that traveled from the mountains to the sea. The Venetians, the Hapsburgs and lords of Trieste actually fought over this desolate place, but it was flipped many times over the years; owned by the Venetians in the 13th century, and the Austrians in the 16th century and was a defense against marauding Turks and the Uskoks [Bob’s pirate ancestors] in the 17th century.

Socerb Castle

So I know I am a country girl from flat land Ohio, but how did that all work? Yes you can see the entire known world from here, but if they saw saber swinging Turks on horse back did they run down the hill and ask them to go home or fight to the death? Did all roads lead to this precipice so everyone who wandered by had to stop for tea and pay a fine for walking in the woods? It is a kind of insanity that I simply can not imagine, that one person claims land for as far as he can see as HIS possession and then battles anyone who may want to usurp him. Could he have chosen a more out of the way place? Didn’t he have anything better to do?

A ragged castle building remains on the hillside, rebuilt in 1923/24 after it burned in a lightening fire in 1780. Wait!!! 150 years after this stone building caught on fire someone rebuilt it??? How Did they get materials up here since the only access was by way of an artificial tunnel carved into the rock and by two draw bridges. Maybe the status of owning a castle is worth the effort to create or recreate it.

View to Trieste

During WWII the Partisans used this as a lookout point and for a people’s court and the Germans occupied it in 1944. The Holy Cave [Sveta Jama] is just a short walk from the castle and despite the name has the feel of pain and darkness. The isolation of the location makes me frightened to think of the horrors that were experienced here during this hateful time of war.

Sveta Jama entrance

Sveta Jama interior

There is a restaurant currently in the castle and since it was lunch time we decided to be good tourists and spend our money locally. There were no other patrons and we thought for certain we could get at least a nice bowl of home made soup. WELL WERE WE SURPISED!!! This isolated, out of the way, “you can’t get there from here” castle is a gourmet restaurant! We had the most amazing [and most expensive] lunch we’ve ever eaten!!! Every bite was luscious with blended flavors that would have never occurred to me.
I never take pictures of food, but this was the second of 4 courses, I had 4 kinds of fish and Bob had prosciutto along with homemade venison and wild boar salami.

Lusciously yummy!!!!

It is a trill to discover places hidden from modern commercial logic in a world that thrives on fast busy speed. Our day was rich with new images, information, flavors and the feeling of being totally at one with the moment.

29, March, 2015
Last week I spoke to my 92 year old aunt, snow bound in Pennsylvania with many good books to read, on Skype. What a wonderful gift of the 21st century to be able to hear her voice across the ocean, over the mountains and through the snow. She asked me what we were going to be doing with our time. Now a bit of context…. She is 92 but still serves on the board of the local hospital, gets together with retired nurses for lunch, teaches Sunday school, volunteers at the church, has the family over for sandwiches after church on Sunday and tries to get out of the house to do something, even in the snow and cold, every day. I think to her, retirement means more time to be involved in a wide range of opportunities.
So what are we going to do with our time she asks.
Well each morning we go to the neighborhood cafe around the corner for cappuccino.

Cafe around the corner

Cute cafe interior

Then we walk or ride our bikes around our neighborhood trying to observe all the details that surround us.

Across the street

Up the street

Hotel Grande Entourage across the street

Then we decide what to do based on weather or requests from friends.
Today we rode our bikes through the tunnel under the castle and on the bike path to Slovenia where we walked up the hill to Kostanjevica and took in the sights.

Kostanjevica from the path


The church was originally a Carmelite convent in 1650 and then in 1811, thanks to Napoleon, the Franciscan friars were forced to leave the monastery started in Gorizia by St. Francis of Assisi and moved into the convent which had been closed for 30 years. A hundred years later, during WWI, the Slovene Franciscans had to move again when the church was bad damaged by shelling. Between the wars the monastery was claimed by Italian friars and restored, but when Nova Gorica became a part of Yugoslavia the Slovene friars reclaimed the hill top and it became the church home for the new city. Now it is a church, museum, concert hall and a rehabilitation center for young men who struggle with drug addiction. The last French King, Charles X (1757-1863) is buried in the crypt after escaping the French Revolution only to die of cholera 17 days after arriving at the castle of his friend Count Coronini. [We imagine that the count was relieved that his friend did not demand hospitality for long. Can you imagine the time and cost and head ache to prepare your household to protect an entitled autocratic French king decorated in gold so that he could continue to live in the style of which he was accustomed?]

We like this spot because from here you can see our world.
Italy to the west

Italy

Nova Gorica to the north

Nova Gorica

and the border that runs at the foot of the hill.

Border is bike path

This took all morning and we got lots of exercise, studied some history, reclaimed our bearings and basked in the sunshine.

18, February, 2015
Our friend Silvana broke her leg skiing. She has pins, plates and crutches and is receiving visitors in her colorful apartment filled with sunshine, music and beautifully positive energy. She told us about a new village created by Italian architect Marcello Papa and we decided to check it out. It’s not too often that can we investigate a town that is brand new, created from the interior of a quarry and within 20 minutes of our apartment. We planned first to walk the path along the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Trieste [Trst], but the wind [burja] was so strong and cold that it was impossible to walk upright.

Bay of Trieste

So we went searching. And to our amazement we found the village of Portopiccolo which was created to have the feel of a Croatian coastal fishing village or a modern Cinque Terre.

View of Portopiccolo from beach wall

The design is ancient in aesthetic, but modern in services. All parking is underground, modern telecommunication runs underground throughout the complex, restaurants, shops, spa, beach and marina are accessible to visitors at the hotel, summer renters or apartment owners. Each apartment has a view of the bay of Trieste and the Portopiccolo harbor that was closed during construction but blasted open with choreography of lights, music and rushing sea water in April 2014. We were most impressed with the quality of construction; real stone was used in building facades and streets, copper gutters collect water, shutters are solid enameled wood and gates and fences are iron.

Copper gutters

The village was built over the past few years in an abandoned quarry, within a blemish on the land, to the highest ecological environmental standards and with a traditional beauty which blends into the stone walls of the quarry. Unfortunately we felt as if we were walking the streets of a ghost town, rather than something new and vibrant.

Shop street

It is February and too cold to lounge next to the infinity pool, but there were no people around. We saw men in hard hats working to complete the spa and a few other gawkers, but it did not look as if anyone actually lived here. There were lots of signs stating that shops were “coming soon” [why is it in English???], but the cafe had no patrons and the bartender by the infinity pool was kept busy looking around to see if any customers had come into his space.

Infinity pool near beach and bar

This is the time to make a movie here about the life styles of the rich and famous until the real rich and famous see what a charming place this would be to hang out for the summer.

German boat

Not in our budget, I am certain, but we could afford to wander on a sunny day.

Portopiccolo Harbor


16, February, 2015
WASHING ADVENTURE
Soooooo we have a sunny warm day, we’ve been here a week and it is time to leap into domestic quicksand and wash clothes.
In our last apartment in Slovenia the washing machine was old and took 2 hours to wash the clothes. Clothes were loaded from the front so once you got started you were committed for the entire morning because the door would not open until all the procedures were complete and, unique to that machine, the drain hose had to hang in the toilet with a basket on the toilet seat lid so the hose didn’t pop out and spray water all over the bathroom.
Were our clothes really cleaner after 2 hours than the 15 minute washing cycle at home?
So not knowing what to expect I allowed the entire morning for watching the washing machine.
This is what confronted me.


So with dictionary in hand I discerned that #1,2,3 have prewash, #4,6,8 have nothing but temperature choices, #5&7 are a short cycle, but what is the difference between them? #9 is wool, #10 is silk.
Good! A is rinse and spin, B is spin [does that mean the soap does not get rinsed out?], C is a short spin, D is exhaust water [is it tired by now or do I use that to drain the water from the machine?]
Good! All this makes sense until I get to the dial. I can make a temperature choice, OK and choose A-D, OK but the machine decides 1-9 for me. What if I want a short, hot, wool cycle? Is that even possible?
So I went to the Oracle at Youtube for guidance and this solved all my problems.

Choosing A and 60degrees the machine only took 20 minutes and now are waving in the breeze, by the window, in the bedroom, near the sun.

15, February, 2015
INTERNET ADVENTURE
Our lovely beautifully pregnant landlady said, just as she was leaving for Switzerland.
“The lady upstairs would like to get internet soon that could also be for this apartment.” [yes her English is really that good]
Maybe…….
Sorry, I am an impatient American far from home and I want internet yesterday.
Easy. We hopped in our sporty rental car, weaved onto the new highway and headed back to the Il Centro Commerciale Tiare Shopping which also houses IKEA. There we found a very red Vodafone store with a salesman who spoke brilliant English. [That is sadly hard to find in Italy, unless they are Slovene. More common is, “Woulda youa leekea boxa?” and it takes me a moment to realize that is English]
This man, comfortable with English dressed in red, said, “But of course you can have internet” and proceeded to make my day.
Easy. Pay $100euro and get a cute little white modem that will magically send internet to my computer. YEAH!!!! “But it will take a few hours he said.” OK, we had more IKEA shopping to do, no problem.
Once back to the apartment in a building, that may have been built in the 1500s and rebuilt after WWI, I unpack my shiny new technology toys and I am ready to surf the world.
But it does not work.
I followed all of his detailed instructions written on a yellow post-it note.
I browsed the booklet in the box, but non capisco Italiano.
I pushed buttons, I cursed in 3 languages, I scratched my head and laughed at Bob’s description of me as the family IT specialist.
The next day, back on the highway to the Vodafone store that looked even more red the second time. Fortunately the same salesman was in the store and with a controlled look of disgust at these white haired old farts he instructed me to open up my computer and try to connect.
Magic!! It worked!!!!
Now my face was the same color as the walls in the store.
With a little more disgust he said, “It takes 24 hours to hook up the internet.”
“But you said a few hours,”I said. He shrugged his Italian shoulders to his ears and grinned.
So back to Stara Goriza [Old Gorizia] little red, green blue lights blinked on the modem, technology was smiling at me and POOF! the internet appeared. Then disappeared. Then appeared again. Then disappeared again and again.
It had been 24 hours. I had followed all his instructions. I followed all the prompts. And I AM the family technological wizard.
It was time to call Tadej, the son of our friends Breda and Rajko, who is young and very savvy with computers.
Tadej was working but I have Bob, my 1960s tech guy. He said, “Maybe the wavy rays that make the internet work can’t get through the thick stone walls.”
Now that’s silly!!!!
But he was right!! We hung the modem in front of the window and now we have consistent fast internet whenever we want to reach out and touch someone.

I will be able to live without many of the appliances we think of as necessities when we move off the grid in California and now to the ancient part of Gorizia, but internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity!
The miracle of living in this time is that we can adapt an ancient building to a modern apartment with electricity, running water, hot water, sewage and internet. When this building was built or rebuilt everything had to be hauled from somewhere, up the narrow winding stairs. The animals or the shop was probably on the ground floor, the kitchen on the 1st floor and our apartment would have probably been a common bedroom and correspondence would have been hand written letters delivered by cart and carriage and steam ship.
Such miracles we find in the 21st century!!!
My friend Linda, who has served as my IT goddess, has dragged me kicking, clawing, and screeching into computer/internet/email/blog usage [thanks sweetie] but I still draw the line at Facebook.

14, February, 2015
It has been a rapid fire week getting settled. We stayed with our friends Tanja and Miloš the first few days. Tanja received the call that her beloved aunt, Darinka, passed on just as she was welcoming us to their home. The timing seemed strained, they needed time to grieve, they were involved with the preparations and their energies were directed to caring for funeral arrangements. As always, they were most gracious and encouraged us to stay as long as we needed with them and assured us that we were a welcome distraction.
An apartment was found for us in the old part of Gorizia, Italy in our favorite neighborhood and we moved in just a few days after arriving. The first year we lived here, we often rode our bikes to this area below the castle and dreamed of living among the ancient buildings, walking through arches which hold the buildings high and joining centuries of residents who climbed the steps to gaze over the city. Now we have the unique experience of wandering every day among buildings which have protected residents since the 11th century.
So typical of European consciousness, the exterior is ancient but well preserved and the interior is more modern than can be imagined.

3rd floor apartment


view through window

view from window


living room/kitchen


bedroom


The apartment is 2 rooms and full bath. It is fully furnished including linens, towels and a few kitchen supplies. We made a couple trips to IKEA to purchase some missing items that will make our space feel like a home for us.[IKEA needs a blog post all of its own!!!!] We are only here for 3 months, but it is crucial to me that each day when we walk in the door it feels comfortable and a shelter from the confusion of two cultures and two languages. Fortunately the furnishings are modern but warm in color. With a few personal touches and needed kitchen items the smells from the kitchen will be yummy and we can relax, enjoy and entertain.
The charm of the neighborhood is wonderfully photogenic.

Gorizia Castle


Castle church


Castle street


View to Slovenia from castle wall

6, February, 2015
We are on our way to Slovenia!!!
Our travel was from Arcata/Eureka, CA to San Francisco to Zurich to Ljubljana.
We had an amazingly small window of clear weather at both ends. The rains started in Petrolia as we were leaving and accumulated 12″ in 2 days. If we had delayed a day, the road from Aaron’s house was washed away and we would not have been able to travel to the airport. And in Ljubljana they had their first major snow fall of over 3 feet with massive winds [burja] the day before we arrived. The highway had just opened 2 hours before we passed by in our rental car. Perfect timing and one of the most comfortable flights we have ever had on Swiss Air.
November, 2014
Slovenia is once again a destination place!!!!
We plan to be there January, February and March.
So more stories of our experiences to come.

February, 2012
Now that Bob is a Slovene citizen I wanted him to visit his “new” country. We saved credit card points for a free flight and he spent the entire month of February visiting the homeland of his ancestors, that he can now claim as his own.
His visit overflowed with luscious meals, sweet coffee chats, glasses and glasses of homemade wine, hikes to breathtaking views of the mountains, train trips, singing with the choir, teaching classes at Gimnazia Nova Gorica, visits to beautiful places and many many evenings of laughter. He visited all our dear friends and family and basked in their love. Here are some of his photos.

The new look of our village Šempeter

Lovro - son of Barbara and Matej (we were witnesses at their wedding)

New Eda Center in Nova Gorica

Hiking with Tanja and Miloš Nemec

Pust celebration in Šempeter (carnival)

Singing with cousin Maruša and Janez

Snow fall in Mojstrana

A stay with friends Justi and Roy at http://www.rivercottageslovenia.com

Singing with the choir

Seeing Venice from a new vantage point

December 2011
Bob has become a Slovene citizen!!!!

Consulate General of Slovenija Jur?ek Žmauc with Bob

Because of the heritage of his maternal grandparents Bob qualified to become a Slovenian citizen while maintaining his U.S. citizenship. At an intimate ceremony in the office of the Slovenian Consulate General, Bob shared how this act was a gift returned to his grandfather and great-grandparents who left their home, their culture and their contact with family to provide a better life for themselves and the future of their families. He feels as if it is a full circle, returning to them, that which they sacrificed for him. We provided potica and Slovenian wine to celebrate along with accordion music and a sing-a-long.

Bob playing his harmonika

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We are no longer living in Slovenija, but we hope to visit often.

MARCH 2010

We have greatly enjoyed the company of students in Slovenija. Many students are very enthusiastic about using the language that they study for 9 years in school and are excited about speaking with us, helping us and even teaching us. We had a lovely tour of Kanal provided by students of Barbara Kragelj from the Primary School.

Bob and Adrijana, Polona, Eva and Vanesa

Kanal ob So?i is a village that straddles the So?a River. This village of about 1,500 tells a lengthy and complicated history. The area was settled in prehistoric times and the Romans built the first bridge across the river. The history of this walled city covers generations of Slovenes who were attacked by the Turks, devastated during border wars between Venice and Austria between 1615 and 1617, and they were in the middle of the Tolmin Peasants’ Revolt of 1713. They lived under occupation of the Austrians, Napoleon, Austrians again and suffered great destruction during WWI. The bridge that joins both sides of town was destroyed in WWI and rebuilt while under the occupation of the Italians. Now there is great pride in the history, events that celebrate the uniqueness of the village, high diving contests off the bridge into the river, concerts in the courtyard of the old walls and a celebrated international competition men’s volley ball team.

Bridge over the So?a River - the moon whole was under water during the most recent flood

The oldest house in Kanal

Church and old walls

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The village of Kred

FEBRUARY/MARCH 2010

A vacation at my own home, in Slovenija with my husband and my friends is the most glorious type of holiday. Our friends have wined and dined me as the prodigal companion returned from the other side of the world and I feel much loved and appreciated. It has been really nice!

Cividale

Except for a visit to Ohio at Christmas Bob has been here since September teaching at his school [the gimnazia] and at my school [the technical center] and maintaining our Slovene life. He has had standing Wednesday, Friday and Sunday invitations for dinner with care packages sent home with him; he has not suffered at all when it comes to food. Our friends really don’t believe that even when I am here he does most of the cooking and he is very capable of cooking for himself, but he has been so thankful for the regular companionship and the delicious variety of culinary treats that not a single complaint passes his lips. He has also been invited a lot for coffee, walks, to share special celebrations and share in the daily life of our community. The Slovenes have really shown the beauty of their hospitality. Now that Bob and I are together for a month the kindness and commitment to our friendship continues to overwhelm us. We are truly blessed.

I was surprised how easily I slipped right back into our lives here. The apartment feels comfortable, I know my way around, the activities feel normal and I am delighted that I feel so cozy. I think I need to start using the phrases “at home in Slovenia” and “at home in Ohio” because that is indeed how I feel about this split life. Both places are happy homes.

Milking sheds in the pasture at the base of Krn

When I return to Ohio I do see life through different eyes. The farm living and being surrounded by the natural energy of the deer, birds, woods, fields, gardens and streams is more precious than I ever noticed before. Our garden paradise is a place where I can intimately feel at one with the forces of creation on a daily basis. Even all the snow brought me joy. When we live in Slovenija we are surrounded with another culture and all my senses tell me that I am a stranger here, but a welcome friend. The differences in the culture are beginning to feel normal and even the confusion of language doesn’t worry me any more. The natural wonders are so extremely different than Ohio that each time I feel the snow capped mountains, the shimmering turquoise So?a river, the hill top hiking paths, the carpet of wild flowers in the forest and the slice of the burja wind I am thrilled by the uniqueness of the discovery. How can it get any better than this?

Ave Maria on the path to Opatija Selo on the Kras

Opatija, Croatia

Bob surprised me with a holiday vacation in Opatija, Croatia. This coastal city has been a favorite for centuries as the Austrians sought warmer and sunnier escapes from the cold snowy dampness of Vienna. Even Emperor Franz Joseph built a villa at this seaside village and with his blessing the aristocracy competed for the most elaborate retreats. Now there is a seaside walk 12 km long named after the Emperor who hid from the winter at the sea.

Opatija harbor view

Sadly we only had one day of sun and 2 days of pouring down rain. At times the sky blended with the Adriatic Sea and the view from our hotel window was a creative blend of gray. Except for some walking under umbrellas we spent much of our time snuggled in front of the Olympics. Euro-sport showed continuous live broadcasts so we saw sports that American audiences often miss; curling, biathlon, and hockey games played by countries other than the US. The best was watching skating with NO COMMENTARIES so that we could really hear the music and just watch the athletic artistry.

Dodging rainy days we have hiked in Slovenija and Italy amongst the emerging wild flowers. Unfortunately the weather was not the warm spring I was hoping for, but we bundled up and took to the hills any way. We found a great hike from Opatija Selo [not the same Opatija as in Croatia – in Slovene the stress is on the 1st a – in Croatian the stress is on the i ] across the border to Italy and back along the Kras. The path is another WWI road and all along we saw trenches that had been dug into the lime stone or built from limestone rocks. Now bushes and trees trip you as you try to investigate, but on both sides of the path the trenches and the horrible existence of the men who built and lived there haunt the trail. My most common phrase while we are walking in these treacherous hilly areas is “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?” How could fighting in this bumpy, rocky, steep terrain for 5 years through the worst winters recorded in Europe be a good idea? How did the army communicate when young men from all over the Austrian-Hungarian Empire were conscripted into the army? [languages spoken in the empire were; Bosnian, German, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Croatian, Slovak, Serbian, Slovene, Russian, Italian] How did women and children survive once the men were dragged from home to fight and how did they manage when every tree was cut down and the military machine was crushing everything in their path? Painful energy remains in these hills and people are still finding harmless remains left behind from the WWI soldiers [photo of a hob nail that attached itself to Bob’s shoe] and sadly when foundations are dug unexploded shells from both wars are still found and sometime to a tragic end.
http://www.urszr.si/eng/page.php?src=pr15.htm

Hob nail

WWI trench

Fortunately I find wonderfully positive energy in this place that overpowers the energy of hate and violence of war. This is a land where people have lived, laughed and loved for thousands of years and the Spiritual forces vibrate strongly. At the times when I feel the most connected to the Spirit of the Earth and all who dwell within, I am reminded to trust by the blue heron who crosses my path. On 7 March over 50 birds waited for me in a field and then gave me a show of circular flight.

Herons flying near Kobarid

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SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009

It was with great excitement and deep sadness that I left Ohio in September. There has been so much to do since the death of my father in May and still so much to do to help my mother in her first year of living alone. But I had a return ticket with Bob so I took a much needed vacation in Slovenija for 7 weeks.

Since our time together was short we consciously spent lots of time overflowing our days with new moments of wonder and revisiting places of great delight. It is amazing how quickly we filled the 7 weeks with adventure and were still able to sleep in our own bed.

Hiking on Nanos above the Vipava Valley

The highlight of our time together was hiking in the mountains.

Beautiful weather, good friends, wandering the paths, following Roman roads, long distance vistas made every hiking moment another blink in time to be cherished.

Vipava Valley

There were lots of festivals with local food, music, costumes crowds of people speaking a huge variety of languages and beauty beyond description.

Gorizia, Italy international food festival

Corn festival in Vitolje

Barcolana rigotta in the Bay of Trieste

The most fascinating day trip was visiting two Italian villages that had been destroyed during the 1976 earthquake. Both cities nestle at the base of the mountains and were in the center of destruction from the first quake and then the aftershock. The villages have been meticulously restored to the original medieval style using as many original materials as possible, but freschi were lost and some buildings were left in crumbles as a memorial to the disaster that killed many and left everyone homeless and living in tents for years.

Photo of Gemona before and after the earthquake

Same image 2009

restored Gemona street looking to duomo

Gemona mountain and duomo

Now that I am in Ohio and Bob is in Slovenija the memory that paints the biggest smile is Bob playing Uncle Rich’s accordion while our Slovene friends sing along.

Bob playing Slovene songs in the wine cellar

For additional entries please visit www.kaysuzanraplenovich.blogspot.com

Kay May 1st 2015 01:22 am No Comments yet Trackback URI Comments RSS

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