Kindness in the Karavanke

In this often turbulent world we live in, the kindness of strangers is something to be valued and cherished, as I discovered on my latest adventure in the Karavanke mountains last weekend!

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Those of you who also follow me on my Adele in Slovenia Facebook page are likely to have already read my (mild) rant last week about the queues of people and two hour wait to ascend to the top of Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav, on a busy Bank Holiday weekend in August.

I have often waxed lyrical here about the Karavanke mountains, which seem to get so overlooked by those visiting Slovenia who automatically head for the better-known Julian Alps. The Karavanke form a natural border between Slovenia and Austria so, in addition to offering myriad possibilities for day and multi-day hikes, there are the added bonuses of less crowds and far-reaching views across 2 countries.

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My home town of Radovljica is in a perfect location to base yourself to explore the Karavanke mountains, being in close proximity to Stol – the highest peak of the Karavanke, as well as Begunščica and numerous other peaks, many of which I have written about previously. Note: you can use the search facility on this blog to find previous posts by using keywords and/or visit the Tourism Radol’ca website for more information – http://www.radolca.si/en/hiking/

So, back to my latest adventure. This time I headed slightly further from home to hike in the Karavanke mountains, first to Tržić, then to the village of Dolina, near Jelendol, from where I hiked up to the ever-popular Kofce highland and mountain hut (1488m). The sky really was that perfectly blue – no photo-shopping required!

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From there I continued to the Šija highland and hut and past grazing cattle, of which there are plenty on the highlands along the length of the range.

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Next I continued along an old unmarked path to the Pungrat highland before joining the path up to Škrbina ridge (1869 m) from where there were bird’s eye views across both Slovenia and Austria.

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As much as I hate crowds (as per the Triglav rant), there was barely a soul to be found here so I was more than elated to encounter two kindly, gallant strangers who came to my rescue when I got myself into a spot of bother just beneath the peak of Kladivo (2094m). They were passing in opposing directions but didn’t hesitate to help, which served as the wonderful reminder of how such altruistic acts of simple kindness can make the world a much better place.

So, thank you once again Olga and Anže for for your help and part in a (mostly!) wonderful, and certainly unforgettable, day. As was well that ended well and new acquaintances were made to boot. So, all in all, despite my little ‘moment’, it was a(nother) great day in the Karavanke!

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© Adele in Slovenia

 

Cerkno – A Green Destination Keeping in Touch with Nature

The town of Cerkno and its surroundings offer plentiful sites of significant historic interest  and wonderful nature and is one of Slovenia’s Green Destinations.

The most visited attraction, and one of the most important and remarkable of its kind, is the Franja Partisan Hospital. I had heard and read plenty about this place, but its not until I saw it for myself that I was able to really grasp its significance, though its still difficult to imagine how patients, equipment and goods could have been transported in such difficult terrain, and nigh on impossible to comprehend what life must have been like living and working in such cramped, cold and damp conditions.

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The hospital, named after the partisan physician Franja Bojc Bidovec, was set up in the then Yugoslavia by an enterprising group of partisans in order to treat wounded fighters. For its time, and considering the hospital’s almost inaccessible location, the facilities at the hospital, though basic, were such that it was able to operate entirely self-sufficiently for the 18 months of its operation.

The hospital comprised 14 wooden units and was so well hidden, deep inside the narrow and steep Pasica gorge, near Cerkno, that it was never discovered.

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The hospital finally closed on 5th May 1945. During this time the central facility treated almost 600 patients, whilst others were treated in dislocated units. Patients hailed not only from Slovenia but also from other former Yugoslav nations, Soviet nations, Italy, Poland, France, Austria and even America.

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Having survived the war, in a cruel twist of fate in 2007 the hospital was almost entirely destroyed when a large part of Slovenia was hit by devastating floods. The hospital was fully reconstructed, though only one original building stands, and nowadays is again open to the public (daily from April – November, thereafter by prior arrangement). Today the path through the gorge is well-secured, though can be a little wet in places so sensible footwear is a must.

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More information here – http://www.muzej-idrija-cerkno.si/index.php/en/locationsexhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/franja-partisan-hospital.html

The Divje babe archaeological site is a Karst cave located in the steep rocky slopes above the Idrijca Valley. Several remains of cave bear have been discovered in the cave – by far the most significant and most spectacular find is a bone flute made of the bone of a cave bear, which dates back 55,000 years and is the oldest known musical instrument in the world. Guided tours of the Divje babe site are available upon prior arrangement. More information here – http://www.divje-babe.si/en/

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The town of Cerkno itself is synonymous with the Cerkno laufarija – the traditional carnival characters who, during the winter ‘pust‘ carnival, drive away winter by performing a ritual wearing costumes made of natural materials and masks carved from linden wood. The Cerkno museum hosts a permanent exhibition entitled ‘Pust is to blame – a story about the Cerkno Laufarija’.

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The Ski and Mountain Cerkno resort is a year-round destination for outdoor pursuits. During winter the resort, at an altitude of 1291m, offers well-groomed ski pistes, cross-country skiing, and other snow-based activities, and is considered one of Slovenia’s best ski resorts in terms of facilities and user-friendliness.

In summer you can go hiking, enjoy the views, or try out some of the activities at the Cerkno Bike and Fun Park, such as stand-up paddling on the lakearchery, or downhill biking. There is also a playground and trampolines for children – so something for all the family.

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The chairlifts operate at weekends during summer – great views guaranteed!

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More information here – http://www.ski-cerkno.com/en/index.html

The latest addition to the resort is its range of Forest Selfness programmes, which range from 2 – 6 hours and include culinary delights, relaxation under the treetops, reflexology and barefoot walking, forest relaxation, meditation and energy exercises. More information here – http://www.gozdni-selfness.si/eng/

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Whilst exploring the Cerkno area, I stayed at the Gostilna Gačnk guest house, which offers excellent traditional Slovene hospitality and cuisine, as well as basic, though comfortable, rooms, and is located just minutes from the Franja Partisan Hospital. Read plenty more about my stay at Gačnk here – http://wp.me/p3005k-1HE

©  Adele in Slovenia

A Taste Radol’ca Family Surprise!

Months of planning and more than a few sleepless nights finally came to fruition last week when I managed to pull off the desired surprise for my father’s 70th birthday.

Despite factors conspiring against me, i.e. a 5 hour delay thanks to an emergency chute being “accidentally deployed” on the Adria flight from Gatwick prior to take-off, and downpours so torrential that even Noah would likely have thrown in the towel, I managed to pull off the not-insignificant feat of surprising my father and getting all my immediate family together in one place for the first time in almost 5 years.

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I therefore have a few people to thank for helping me to make it happen, not least the teams at 2 of the Taste Radol’ca restaurants.

The first ‘thanks’ goes to Graeme from Four Seasons Travel, who played his part in getting my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew to the right place at the right time. Once they had been ‘deposited’ into the wine cellar at Grajska Gostilnica, and I received the ‘mission complete’ message, we (my parents and I) headed there to the ‘opening of the wine cellar’, or at least that is what dad believed. Until… SURPRISE! And a big sigh of relief from me that we had all managed to be in the right place at the right time. We soon indulged in our first family dinner together for many years!

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I’ve eaten at Grajska Gostilnica on numerous occasions, however, I had never before been into the wine cellar. Wow, its huge, and a fantastic space. It’s such a shame to see such a vast and special space so underutilised so I now have my thinking cap on as to how to right this. In the meantime, if you are planning any special events, I can highly recommend it as a venue. Thanks to owner Borut and the team for helping with this part of the plan!

Day 2 began with an early start and a full day out (for them, not me!) visiting Postojna Caves, Predjama Castle and the Lipica Stud Farm. I, meanwhile, was hard at work, both working and also preparing for the next part of the surprise –  putting up decorations, rushing back and forth to the shops getting cakes, wine etc. and meeting the caterers booked for the birthday dinner.

Mišo from Joštov Hram in Podnart, another of the Taste Radol’ca restaurants, prepared a wonderful barbecue with enough delicious food to feed half the town (which I was delighted about, since I just love having leftovers for the next day – saves having to cook!). Having someone come to you to cook can’t be beaten for a relaxed family get-together.

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We started with 2 original-flavoured ‘pogaca‘, a special round-shaped bread, here topped with cheese and poppy seeds, the other with onion and pancetta.

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Next came an excellent risotto, by which time we were almost full to bursting but still had the main course to come! Main course consisted of an excellent selection of grilled meats and fish, salads and typical accompaniments.

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Somehow we even found room to indulge in traditional homemade walnut potica – thanks Anja!

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Mišo took care of everything, bringing all the equipment, crockery, cutlery etc., leaving us free to talk, eat, and play. So, all in all we had a blast and here’s Dad trying out a hoverboard on his 70th birthday proving that age need not be a barrier!

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Whilst here the family also, amongst other outings, visited Ljubljana, took a ride on the Radol’ca Hop-On Hop-Off tourist bus (Tuesdays and Thursdays until the end of August – http://www.radolca.si/en/hop-on-hop-off-radolca/, visited the Medieval Market in Radovljica, and, for the icing on the cake as a special treat for his birthday, I bought my parents a stay at Chateau Lambergh in Dvorska Vas for the final 2 nights of their stay.

Photo: Primoz Černe

You can see a whole gallery of photos of the Medieval Day, courtesy of Primož Černe, here – https://goo.gl/photos/xq4vCFgVeP4vQbmy7

Now life returns to ‘normal’ and, as ever, it was sad to see them go, but here’s hoping it won’t take 5 years for us all to be together again in the same place. Come back soon! xxx

© Adele in Slovenia

 

 

 

 

 

Rogla: Year-round Recreation and Fun for All!

If you love the great outdoors, spending your free time being active, and breathing in fresh mountain air, then you will love Rogla! Located in the northeast of Slovenia on the Zreče side of the Pohorje massif at an altitude of 1517m, Rogla is a ski resort and year-round recreation destination.

Visit for a day, stay for a few days, or even longer, there’s no shortage of things to see and do! There is a choice of accommodation on Rogla – hotels, bungalows, apartments – but for the most modern and luxurious among them I’d certainly recommend the latest addition, the new Hotel Natura, which is really something a bit special!

I went to check it out during a recent visit to the Zreče thermal spa, read more here – http://wp.me/p7jQx9-7O and, well, me being me, decided to cycle up to Rogla! On reaching the hotel, after a 2 hour+ uphill ride (Zreče 360m – Rogla 1,517m) the giant wooden recliners on the hotel’s terrace were beckoning and thereafter it was hard to tear myself away!

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If you’re a keen cyclist then, although long, the road to Rogla is good and it makes a great day out. You can choose to either go on the main road, or, as I did, ride up at first on minor roads – which I’d recommend for great views and less traffic – before joining the main road, or for those with mountain bikes you can take one of the forest roads. There are also numerous other marked cycle routes on the plateau itself.

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Hotel Natura is the first hotel reached when arriving on Rogla and an excellent place to stay to explore the area, or just call in for a delicious meal made using local Pohorje ingredients as part of ‘Taste Rogla’. I headed straight for a glass of refreshing homemade iced herbal tea and elderflower cordial served in the hotel’s very welcoming and comfortable lounge area.

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Next came a well-earned meal in Restaurant Brusnica which was beautifully and imaginatively presented as well as being scrumptious!

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Hotel Natura offers excellent wellness facilities, massages, baths, and a sauna with a panoramic view – in winter overlooking a cross-country skiing poligon. I can image that the wellness facilities must particularly come into their own during winter after a long day’s skiing.

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Of course, if you stay at Rogla itself then you don’t have to cycle all the way up there and can instead spend more time exploring the area – note to self, do that next time! If you prefer exploring on foot, then Rogla is great for leisurely strolls or longer hikes. Pick up a map of the Rogla hiking trails and you can choose from 9 marked trails, varying in length from 2.3km to 25.9km.

One of the most scenic is the path to the Lovrenc lakes, which is made up of 20 small lakes that formed during the Ice Age. The lakes, which do not have a surface water inflow and are supplied only by rainwater, are surrounded by dwarf pine and in places are bursting with water lilies.  To get a better impression of the size and scope of the lakes, head for the best vantage point – the lake tower.

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The Rogla Bike Park has 6 trails ranging in length and difficulty, including a beginners polygon and obstacle trails. Mountain bikes can be rented and instructors are also available. More information here – http://bit.ly/29IhQSh

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Working began on building the rather unusual looking Church of Jesus Christ on Rogla in 2006 and it was blessed in 2010. The church has three bells, an impressive altar and notable church organ.

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Before starting the long (though very quick!) descent back to Zreče, there was time to enjoy a bit more adrenalin with a 1,360 metre descent on the Zlodejevo toboggan run. The return is by drag lift I hasten to add!

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Other outdoor facilities include a funpark, tennis courts. football field and running tracks. The Rogla Sports Centre is particularly popular with athletes seeking altitude training. There is a high altitude training room equipped with a multitude of fitness equipment where conditions up to 7,000 metres above sea-level can be simulated.

With an average of 100 days of snow cover per year, Rogla really is a year-round destination. In winter it offers downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, winter hikes and other fun snow-based activities.

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This is but a snapshot of all there is to see and do on Rogla! Find out plenty more here – http://www.rogla.eu/en/

© Adele in Slovenia

 

To Jamnik and Beyond!

As you might have noticed, there are many hilltop churches in Slovenia. When visiting the Gorenjska region in the northwest of Slovenia one of the most prominent is the Church of St. Primus and Felician, which stands proudly atop a hill, beneath the slopes of the Jelovica plateau, and can be seen from far and wide.

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The church is located in Jamnik, a small settlement above the traditional iron-forging village of Kropa. It’s a great place to go for stunning panoramics views; the wide Radovljica plains and the Karavanke mountains to the north and the Škofja Loka hills and beyond to the south.

You can reach Jamnik by several means. My favourite, in the summer at least, and as I did this Sunday, is to go by bike. The effort put in on the 5km windy road leading up from Kropa is more than rewarded by the views. Jamnik and Kropa can be destinations in themselves, or you can continue onwards and visit other areas and sights of interest including Dražgose, Škofja Loka and Železniki.

You can also reach Jamnik on foot through the forest from Kropa (cca 1 hour), or by car. To reach the church take the path from the layby at Jamnik and just follow your nose – you can’t miss it!

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The small settlement of Jamnik is nestled snuggly into the slopes beneath the Jelovica plateau.

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Whilst there take some time to look around the quaint iron-forging village of Kropa where, amongst other things, you can wander around the village and see the impressive iron work that adorns many of the village houses, visit the Museum of Iron Forging, and enjoy a meal at the Pr’Kovaču restaurant.

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However you choose to go, Kropa and Jamnik should be on your list of places to visit when in the Radol’ca area.

This Sunday, 31st July, its the annual Medieval Day in Linhart Square in Radovljica. There’s a medieval market, music, dance and other performances, archery, and more. Find out more here – http://www.radolca.si/en/what-to-do/events-1/medieval-day-in-linhart-square/83/310/

© Adele in Slovenia

Gostilna Gačnk – Slovene Food and Hospitality at its Best!

Gostilna Gačnk, in the settlement of Log near Cerkno, is a family-fun traditional Slovenian guest house and restaurant with a more than 100-year tradition. I stayed there last weekend whilst exploring Cerkno and the surrounding areas for a future blog post and had originally intended to just mention where I’d stayed, however, I soon found out that to do so would be an injustice, since this place deserves a blog all of its own, so, here it is!

Despite being mid-summer, on the day of my arrival it was unseasonably chilly thanks to a brief cold front that had spread across the country the day before. So, I took a seat next to the wood burner, had a cup of tea (as we English do!), and enjoyed a lovely natter with the very affable owner, Matjaž.

After discussing what to see and do during my weekend visit, and following a short walk, I was offered a glass of homemade schnapps made from ‘palaj‘ (Latin: Micromerio thymifolio), which grows exclusively in the area around Novaki, specifically on and between the peaks of Kopa and Porezen, and, as such, is a real speciality and rarity.

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This was just a prelude to the excellent hospitality and meals I was to enjoy over the weekend. For a change I had some company for dinner, when a fellow blogger, who lives in Cerkno, joined me and was to prove great company as we shared tales of blogging. We left it to the team in the kitchen to surprise us with some local delights (other than instructions from me for ‘no fish!’). I particularly enjoyed the starter as it was something I’ve never tried before – ‘smukavc‘ – a thick soup made from cabbage and served in a pastry ‘bowl, with home-produced sausage.

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Gačnk specialises in dishes cooked outside over an open fire and other traditional Slovenian dishes such as žlikrofi and štrukjli.

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As I was planning a full day of exploring the next day, I arranged for a ‘packed breakfast’ which was excellent and included bread freshly baked in the clay oven, which is a weekend speciality at the gostilna.

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Gostilna Gačnk is ideally situated for visiting the Franja Partisan Hospital, the entrance to which is only 10 minutes away on foot. The gostilna’s main dining area is dedicated to the physician Franja Bojc Bidovec, after whom the hospital was named.

After a full day out exploring, I returned starving and eagerly awaiting dinner. There was also a wedding taking place, one of many that are held regularly at weekends here, so I was able to look on and enjoy watching others enjoying their celebration whilst savouring a beautifully presented, and equally delicious, dinner.

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Though it could be considered a little out of the way for some, Gostilna Gačnk is actually excellently located for exploring the Cerkno area, and even further afield, particularly if you like hiking, skiing, cycling, or other outdoors activities and are seeking peace and quiet. I will be writing plenty more about what to see and do in the area in a future blog coming soon, so stay tuned!

You can find more information here – http://www.cerkno.com/

© Adele in Slovenia

Spend a Night with a Knight at Opulent Otočec Castle!

You are never too far away from a castle in Slovenia since there are around 500 of them. One of the most famous is Bled Castle, perched on a cliff above picturesque Lake Bled – an iconic image which is undoubtedly one of, if not the, symbol of Slovenian tourism.

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Another is the mighty Predjama Castle, which is built into the mouth of a cave and is entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest cave castle in the world.

Photo: Nea Culpa

A good majority, though not all, of Slovenia’s castles are open to the public and are well-maintained. There are a few that have seen better days, but somehow even the ruins of once mighty castles seem impressive, such as this one, Kamen Castle in Begunje na Gorenjskem. The castle stands at the entrance to the Draga Valley, a popular start point for hikes in the Karavanke mountains.

Photo: Miran Kambič

At quite a number of castles you can get married or hold various types of functions and gatherings. This one, for example, Sevnica Castle, features an impressive wine vault.

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I can attest that the wine pairs perfectly with salami from Grajske mesnine butchers. You can read plenty more about the castle, my experience of the Sevnica Mountain Marathon, and what else to see and do in Sevnica, in this previous blog post – https://adeleinslovenia.com/2015/09/10/sevnica-so-much-to-see-and-do/

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Surprisingly, however, there are only a handful of castles in Slovenia where you can actually stay and live it up like a King or Queen! Among them my favourite would have to be Otočec Castle. Both the castle itself and the stunning setting, on an islet in the middle of the Krka River, make it quite unique.

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Nowadays the castle operates entirely as a luxury five-star hotel, the Relais & Chateaux Otečec Castle Hotel. The hotel seamlessly blends the castle’s history with modern luxurious furnishings, superior rooms and suites, and gourmet dining. More information here – http://www.grad-otocec.com/en/us/home/

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As with all good castles, there is a knight in shining armour! This one stands guards over the hotel reception – perhaps to weed out any unsavoury looking guests!

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The setting is about as idyllic as it gets!

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For lover’s of the great outdoors, Hotel Sport, within walking distance and owned by the same company, offers a wide range of sports activities available for guests staying at the Otočec Castle Hotel, including an indoor pool filled with thermal water, Turkish and Finnish saunas, covered tennis courts, and the Otočec Adventure Park offers fun for all the family.

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Golf Grad Otečec is just a stone’s throw away from the Otočec Castle Hotel and is one of Slovenia’s longest and most attractive golf courses.    http://www.golf-otocec.si/en

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To whet your appetite further, you can watch this short video and, if you have the chance, do go and experience Otočec for yourself!

© Adele in Slovenia