More sporting success

The problem with starting to write a blog during the winter, especially this long harsh winter, and especially a blog aimed at extolling some of the beauties of this region of Slovenia, is that frustration is now beginning to set in. I’m yearning to be able to write and post photos about all the beautiful places I’ve been walking, cycling and visiting. There are so many places I can’t wait to revisit once the snow, ice and winter conditions have subsided. For a few days this week it felt like spring had sprung but it soon sprung off elsewhere again and, at the moment, winter seems somewhat reluctant to bid farewell. Therefore I, and you (and in that sense I mean any readers out there!) will have to be content with just local walks and information though I endeavour to continue reporting about happenings around Slovenia, even if I don’t actually get there myself and promise, as soon as the weather improves, to be posting plenty of ideas for trips, walks etc. and photos too!

I did manage to walk to Talež twice this week (see blog – Sporting Slovenia, February 2013) though Tuesday’s walk was I think the hardest one of the whole winter yet as the snowfall on Monday brought very heavy, wet snow which made for a really arduous trudge. As I write it’s snowing once again…………

It was another big sporting weekend in Slovenia with the finals of the Planica World Cup Ski Jumping Finals in Rateče, near Kranjska Gora. This is one of the biggest annual sporting events in Slovenia and attracts around 20,000 visitors from all over the country, together with thousands more from neighbouring countries and from further afield. In 2012, over 55,000 visitors attended over the 3 day event. There’s always a huge party atmosphere, but even more so now as expectations were high – the Slovene men’s ski jumpers, both individually and as a team – have been achieving record results this year. The Planica event, which has been running since 1934, attracts the cream of the world’s ski jumpers who come to try and secure victory and break the world record. To date over 60 world records have been set at Planica.

On Saturday, the team event, the Slovene team certainly didn’t disappoint the rapturous home fans by taking victory ahead of Norway and Austria. The icing on the cake came in Sunday’s event, when once again the Slovene men did their nation proud with Jurij Tepeš winning the individual event and Peter Prevc taking third place.

In addition to the competition, there’s always plenty going on in and around Planica during the weekend, especially the Open Air Planica party in the ski resort of Kranjska Gora, which is a mix of live music, dancing and generally lots of merriment.

Slovenia entered another new era this week when it got a new coalition government with the first ever female PM in the history of the country. She’s promising great things (don’t they all?), so everyone will be waiting with baited breath to see if this new government can deliver and lift the Slovene economy which, as with so many other EU countries, has been and continues to be in the doldrums. One area however which is riding the recession is the tourism industry, as more and more people discover this small but diverse and inviting country. I hope, by writing this blog, to play my part, albeit small, in continuing this upwards trend by providing ideas and inspiration about what to do, where to go etc.

In homage to the weekend’s sporting achievements, here I am, admittedly the photo is a few years old, at the ski jumping centre in Žirovnica, near Radovljica where I was a spectator at the mountain bike race, which takes place annually in May – as you can see, it’s a pretty steep course!

MTB& JUMP 2008 010      MTB& JUMP 2008 009

A rude awakening!

I couldn’t believe my eyes this morning when I woke up and looked out the window to see a thick blanket of fresh snow, which is still falling heavily now as I write. It seems even the forecasters hadn’t seen it coming as rain was forecast rather than snow. Those that know me well, and any regular readers, will know that I am not a big fan of the white stuff and especially now when there has already been so much of it this winter. It’s a particular shame as Saturday was a beautiful sunny day and I was revelling in seeing the many spring flowers which had been rapidly appearing from the undergrowth during the past week – what a welcome sight- but now once again buried under heavy snow. I for one hope the rain will appear soon to wash it all away so spring can really get on with springing! For the skiers out there though, its going to be a very long ski season so they are certainly happy.

Despite the less than favourable weather, there has been quite a lot happening in the Radovljica area this past week. On Monday at dusk, the tradition of floating handmade models, made by local children and illuminated by candles, in the streams in the villages of Kropa and Kamna Gorica took place. 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. What a shame that once again this year the spring gods didn’t appear to be listening or taking any notice but it is nonetheless a magical scene to watch the faces of the children as their colourful creations float off along the stream.

St Gregorys

 

 

St Gregorys 2

On Wednesday the new bookshop in Radovljica played host to the great Slovenian alpinist, author and expedition leader, Viki Grošelj, who came to give a short talk (and of course book promotion) and I was lucky enough to be able to go along and listen to him recounting some of his experiences and recalling anecdotes. Viki is one of the few alpinists in the world who has climbed the ten summits of over 8,000 metres in the Himalayas, including Everest and K2, and has written numerous books about his experiences. We in the audience only got to hear a fraction of his tales but undoubtedly he must have a lifetime of stories to tell, of jubilant triumphs, extreme conditions, harrowing successful and less successful expeditions – some of them tinged with sadness – as inevitably friends and colleagues have fallen victim to the might of the mountains and the elements along the way.

On Saturday, it was a crisp but beautifully sunny day and I decided to take a little trip out to the town of Škofja Loka. Škofja Loka boasts one of the three best preserved medieval town centres in Slovenia, the other two being Radovljica, where I live, and Ptuj, where I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t been, though it’s definitely firmly on the list of places to go! Škofja Loka was actually among one of the places I considered living when I moved to Slovenia. Like Radovljica, it has a lot of history and many places, buildings and natural features of note, is surrounded by pristine nature, offers a mulititude of walking and cycling paths and is also convenient for getting to Ljubljana. However, in the end I plumped for Radovljica, a decision I don’t regret.

Škofja Loka has several castles, two of which I visited. The newer of the two, the impressive and imposing Loka Castle (Loški grad), was originally built in the 13th century but was completely renovated following an earthquake in 1511. The castle stands on a small hill just above the town centre and also houses the Loka Museum. The remains of the Old Castle (Stari grad), shown in the picture below, stand a little further and higher away and can be reached on foot, approximately 30 minutes walk away from Loka Castle, by following the signs for the Loška Nature Trail.

Stari grad 16 marec  2013 003

Incidentally, Radovljica also briefly got its own castle this winter, albeit a snow castle!

Snezni grad

The faintest hint of spring

It’s been a bit of a soggy week as the snow has begun to give way to the rain as the air temperature gradually warms up. I hope it’s a first sign of spring though I very much doubt that we’ve seen the end of the snow completely. Fortunately last weekend was sunny, or at least up above 1500 metres it was anyway. Having heard on the weather forecast that this was going to be the case, it was time to head for higher ground in search of the sun and once again I was rewarded for the effort. I was beginning to doubt it, leaving Radovljica and making the journey through Bled up to the Pokljuka plateau, it was damp and cloudy the whole way up. Even when parking the car and starting to walk higher it was still cloudy but then, as if in a wonderland, the sun appeared way up above the clouds – what a magical feeling.

Pokljuka is the largest forest plateau in the Julian Alps and spans almost 20km both in length and width. Being such a large area, its borders fall within the municipalities of both Bled and Bohinj whilst parts of it lie within Triglav National Park. Its height varies from 1000 – 1400ms in the flat plateau areas and with the surrounding mountains to over 2000ms. The highest point is the peak of Debela Peč.

There’s always something going on on Pokljuka, whether summer or winter, it’s a haven for outdoor lovers and fortunately for me, it’s easily accessible from Radovljica. Reaching Pokljuka by public transport is somewhat more difficult as buses do not run there during the winter months but during the summer there are buses from Bled.

In addition to skiing, downhill and cross-country, there are numerous walking routes of varying lengths and difficulties. As you can see from this photo, taken at Planina Lipanca, there is a very wide choice of directions to walk – and this is just one of the options, there are many, many more.

Mrezce 2 marec  2013 007

In a previous blog (A mixed bag – December 2012), I wrote about how I always have 2 pairs of crampons with me when walking in the winter, just in case one pair should break. How fortunate then that I was prepared when this happened last week. Here you see me preparing to take a seat in the snow to put them on ready to make my descent. They come in so useful not only when it’s icy but also in the morning, if the temperatures have been very low overnight, the snow can become very hard and slippery in places, especially where others have walked, and wearing these can facilitate the descent although they aren’t meant for serious alpinism. I mention this because I was pleasantly surprised by the customer service received when visiting the Veriga Factory in Lesce, near Radovljica, where they make these crampons as well as snow chains for cars. In addition to purchasing a new pair of crampons, to make up for the breakage, I was given me some spare links and replacement rubber, in order to be able to repair the broken pair, a snazzy bag to keep them in and even a hat too – not to be sniffed at! So should you find yourself walking in Slovenia in the winter, my advice would be to have a pair of these with you, just in case, they are light and easy to carry and you just never know when they might come in handy – http://en.veriga-lesce.si/crampons-for-shoes/

Mrezce 2 marec  2013 003

After the disappointment of not being able to go away with my parents during the school winter holidays – the snow hampered my travel plans – I managed to squeeze in a (very) flying visit back to the UK. I met up with my parents and a couple of friends and just about had time to fill up my suitcase with lots of shopping too! The support my parents have given me since my move here has been phenomenal and therefore the little time we get to spend together these days is precious – Happy Mother’s Day Mum!

I’ll be making my once a month visit to Ljubljana next week – I work there once a month – and I’ll be going with a renewed perspective having come across this new video. So for anyone else who might be thinking about visiting Slovenia – this might help to convince you – http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=SBV3UJuJKao

An icy dip

Brrr… it makes me shiver just thinking and writing about it but some hardy folk braved the ice cold waters of Lake Bled last week for the Bled Winter Swimming Cup 2013, which since starting in 2010, has now become an annual event – ice permitting.

The water temperature on the day of the swim was a balmy 3 degrees and the air temperature 0 degrees. The event attracted 67 competitors from far and wide: Australia, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Portugal, Russia, UK, USA and of course Slovenia.

All the men’s events were won by Slovenes whilst the women’s events were won by a Slovene, a Germany and an Australian. The shortest event was 25 metres and the longest 50 metres. However, one brave chap, from England no less, where we’re not exactly famed for our tolerance to the extreme cold, then went on to swim the ice mile in 37.23 minutes, hats off all round to him I say!

This year, although there have been record levels of snowfall, the air temperature hasn’t actually been as low as last year and therefore, fortunately for the competitors, the lake hasn’t frozen over. This time last year it was completely frozen over with a very thick layer of ice and for the first time since moving here I was able to walk across the ice to the island and the church in the middle of the lake. What a strange and slightly unsettling experience (as you might gather from my facial expression in the photo below – that and the fact it was freeeeezing!). However, I certainly wasn’t alone, there were plenty of others walking and skating on the ice too so I decided to put my apprehensions aside and join them. And it was worth it for my first chance to reach and explore the tiny island and so I can finally say I’ve been there.

Blejsko jezero Januar 2012 002

Fortunately, living in Radovljica, which is just 7km from Bled, I am able to walk and run frequently around Lake Bled – I couldn’t possibly count how many times I’ve done so in the past 6 years and it still hasn’t lost its appeal. Bled has been a popular tourist destination since the 19th century and is probably most known for its island in the middle of the lake, home to the Church of St. Mary which was originally built in the 8th century and renovated in the 15th and 18th centuries. The stairway which leads from the lake up to the island has 99 steps and dates from 1655. The island can only be reached by boat and visitors can either rent a boat and row themselves or use one of the traditional Bled ‘pletna’ boats whose oarsmen will do the hard work for you.

Alternatively, a walk, or even a run, around the lake as I do is a very popular activity year-round. It’s approximately 6km around but the time passes easily whilst admiring the beauty of the island, Bled Castle and the backdrop of the mountains of the Karavanke Alps.

Since I love being up in the mountains rather than just looking at them, and since Friday brought some much needed and long awaited warm sunshine, I went for a walk with a friend to the Roblek mountain hut (Roblekov dom) which at 1657m is the highest of the huts on Begunjščica, a part of the Karavanke Alps. It was so sunny and warm up there, we could have stayed all day, alas we had to get back so we’d didn’t have much time to linger but just long enough to feel some of the sun’s rays and take a few photos.

Roblek 1 marec  2013 002

Roblekov dom is named after Hugon Roblek, who was born in Radovljica. He was a successful pharmacist and one of the fighters who defended the northern border in the Austrian Koroška region. In 1920, whilst staying in the National Home in Trieste, Italian fascists set fire to the home and Roblek fell to a sad death when trying to jump out of a window to save his life. In his will, Roblek left all his assets to the Radovljica branch of the Slovene Mountain Association who built Roblekov dom using his legacy.

Roblek 1 marec  2013 005