A choctastic weekend!

Well, it’s been quite an eventful week all in all! After one of the longest, snowiest winters ever, this week saw temperatures up to 25 degrees and Thursday was the warmest day for over 7 months and although it’s cooled down a bit now and is raining, the fine weather looks set to return later this week. It’s so great to be able to be outdoors more and to be dressed in light clothing again, no more being buried under layers and layers of thick clothing!

I changed the tyres on my car this week, well not me obviously, but I took them to be changed – not every exciting but necessary. In this part of Slovenia, by law you have to have winter tyres between 15th November and 15th March. However, with the long winter this year most people, me included, waited longer than usual to be sure that we have really seen the end of the snow (surely we have now!) before changing to summer tyres. It can be a bit of a faff having to change the tyres twice a year, not to mention the cost, because also it means having to have 2 set of tyres and these have to be changed every 5 years, regardless of the profile or how much you drive. Even if you had your car in the garage for 5 years, you would have to buy new tyres. Still, it’s all just a part of life here!

Last week Radio Slovenia International visited Radovljica to do a live broadcast and I was interviewed. I was asked to give an insight into life here as a foreigner, what is great about Radovljica and the differences between life here and in the UK.

The long awaited and much anticipated 2nd Festival of Chocolate took place this weekend in Radovljica. It was of course my duty to attend and taste as much chocolate as possible in order to be able to blog my findings! After last year’s unexpectedly high turnout, this year the event was even bigger and better and also spanned across 2 days. It took place in Linhart Square (Linhartov trg) in the old town centre and in the Radovlijca Mansion House (graščina).

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There was every kind of chocolate product you can imagine – from the more tradition to some highly unusual and unique flavour combinations such as dried figs with basil coated in chocolate, chocolate with pumpkin seeds, chocolate with aniseed and quince chocolate cake. In order to sample the products, tasting coupons are bought, which cost 0.50 cents each then it’s a case of wandering from stall to stall deciding which of all the delicious things on offer to taste – decisions, decisions, and as you can see from the pictures below, I managed to amass quite an impressive collection!

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It would be impossible to pick a favourite, since I generally love anything and everything chocolate related, although I have to confess I’m not a fan of bitter dark chocolate, but other than that I love it all! Among my favourites was the Preseren’s Cylinder dessert, the speciality of the team at the Lambergh Chateau and Hotel in Dvorska vas. It consists of a chocolate waffle, Parisian cream, dried figs marinated in cognac and chocolate syrup. They had prepared miniature versions especially for the event but I hope to go and taste the full size version some time soon! The students from the Radovljica School of Catering and Tourism (SGTŠ Radovljica) also prepared some delicious cakes and biscuits and the chocolate cocktails from the Lake House Inn (Jezerska hiša) also went down rather well!

In addition to the stalls, there were also loads of side events taking place including cooking shows, workshops for adults and children, street performers, a chocolate themed fashion show, a cocktail mixing show and a theatre improvisation performance. After the success of this event, it’s sure to become a regular fixture on the Radovljica Event Calendar – http://www.radolca.si/en/ and I would definitely recommend a visit whether you are a chocolate lover like me, or for any chocolatiers, from both Slovenia and abroad, who wish to showcase their products to a large audience.

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The next day for the diary is the Radovljica Pottery Festival, the main events of which will be taking place on the 24th/25th May. More information can be found here http://potteryfestivalradovljica.weebly.com/

After all that indulgence, it’s time to get running/cycling/hiking again. It is now possible to get up to around the 1000 metres mark before encountering snow, although in shady areas there is still snow lower than this. However, above this the snow is still deeper than I am tall and unfortunately it still not safe to go hiking high in the mountains right now.

An illustration of this is the report I heard on the news this week about how workers are working 10 hours a day to try and clear the snow from the Vršič pass. At 1611m, Vršič is Slovenia’s highest mountain pass. It crosses the Julian Alps and is usually closed over the winter due to the snowfall and high susceptibility to avalanches. This year, with the extreme amount of snowfall, it is taking longer than usual to clear it and in some places, due to avalanches, there is up to 8 metres of snow – unbelievable but true! Although it provides a vital link between Gorenjska and the Soča Valley, the Vršič pass is in itself a tourist attraction and one about which I shall definitely be writing more in the weeks to come.

It’s spring and Radovljica is alive!

Winter seems to have finally lost its vice like grip and spring has courageously battled through and taken over – yippee! Walking around Radovljica this week has been a pleasure – seeing people sitting outside cafes for their morning coffee, children (and some adults too!) eating ice-cream, people playing various sports in the sports park and generally people emerging from the long winter spent cooped up indoors – much like bears awaking from their winter hibernation – and enjoying feeling the warmth of the sun. Never have I been so pleased to see that large, round, yellow, warming object in the sky on Tuesday – it’s got some making up to do so let’s hope it’s here to stay. I also hope it will get to work on melting some of the metres and metres of snow in the mountains so I can get up high hiking again asap.

Although I’m not entirely adverse to winter walking in the fresh snow during the winter ‘proper’, by this time of year the novelty of walking in the snow has long since worn off am I’m longing to be able to start walking to some of the higher lying areas. However, in the meantime, its time to get resourceful and find places to walk which are a little lower and south facing, where the snow has already begun to melt. I co-wrote a guidebook about Slovenia some time back and from the time when I was researching it and gathering information, I have a folder full of brochures and leaflets which, at times like these come in very handy. So a rummage through the folder led me to deciding on walking the Ostroverhar Trail on Saturday, and a good choice it was too!

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The circular trail starts in the village of Podgrad, near Ljubljana and leads over Kašelj hill (Kašeljski hrib) and past the remains of two medieval castles, both of which were a part of the Osterberg property, home of the Ostrovrhar knights. The Old Castle (Stari grad) is thought to date back to 1256 and first belonged to the Spanheim family. Over the years it has had numerous owners but since 1930, it has been the property of the Kansky family, manufacturers from Podgrad. Another interesting feature of the path is the millstone quarry beneath the castle. Here, since the Middle Ages until production ceased, millstones were cut (like the one I’m sitting on below), with a diameter of about one metres and a thickness of 20 centimetres, and you actually still see where they were cut from the rock. The path is well-marked and it took about 2.5 hours to walk the entire trail.

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Sunday was a beautiful, warm, spring day so it was time to dust off my bike and get the cogs turning once again. I haven’t cycled properly since October so it was a tentative start but as they say, you never forget how to ride a bike, and once I got going it felt great. I cycled to the Završnica valley where, at the start of the valley, there is a small reservoir. This is also the start point for many hikes in the surrounding Karavanke Alps – more about which I will be writing as soon as the snow has melted!

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Preparations are in full swing for next weekend’s Festival of Chocolate in Radovljica – if you are anywhere near the area, don’t miss it, it’s sure to be a delicious weekend! Last year’s event was so popular that this year it has been extended to two days. This year, there will be a new system in place whereby coupons can be purchased which can then be exchanged for tastings of the chocolate goodies on offer at all the stalls. More information about the festival can be found here – http://www.festival-cokolade.si/  As probably the world’s biggest chocoholic, I will definitely be paying a visit!

A change of scenery

I love nothing more than discovering somewhere new to walk and force of circumstances i.e. the ongoing bad weather, meant I did just that on Saturday. Radovljica offers endless possibilities for outdoor activities when the weather is good, hence why I like living here. However, with the current conditions i.e. still over 3 metres of snow in the mountains and a week of non-stop rain making the ground that isn’t snow covered completely sodden, by Saturday this week I was feeling pretty desperate to get away for a change of scenery and walk somewhere ‘normal’.

Since the completion of the motorway, it now takes only around 40 minutes to drive from Radovljica to Ljubljana, or around an hour by train. Once a month when I work in Ljubljana I often go for a stroll in Tivoli Park. I usually park in the same place and walk the same way in and out of town as although its far from a big city, I find the layout of Ljubljana somewhat confusing and seem unable to mentally link together the different areas, despite others saying Ljubljana is really more like just a big village. Whenever I walk around Tivoli, I have often wondered where the many paths, which branch off every which way, lead to – but haven’t ever, until now, taken the time to go and explore them. Now I have, it feels like I’ve unearthed a whole new side of Ljubljana which I previously wasn’t aware of and I certainly didn’t know there was a skiing jumping centre in the middle of the woodland slap bang in the centre of the city – a revelation indeed!

The regional park, which comprises the areas of Tivoli and the Rožnik and Šišenski hills, extends over an area of 5km² and is a favourite place among locals for all kinds of recreation; walking, running, cycling and even ski jumping! The ski jumping centre is part of the Mostec Recreation Centre, a great place for a picnic and there’s a fitness trail which involves lots of torturous looking jumps, lifts etc. and looks pretty hardcore, not the usual run of the mill poor attempts I’ve seen elsewhere! Rožnik hill is the highest part of the park and from the top, where there’s a café and a church, there are great views across the city. Ljubljana Zoo is also within the boundaries of the regional park on the southwest side of the Rožnik hill. I didn’t actually go into the zoo on this occasion but there’s more information about it here  http://www.zoo-ljubljana.si/index.php?id=1&L=2 and here is a photo of the bronze statue of the bull, which stands at the zoo entrance, by the renowned Slovene sculptor and painter Janez Boljka.

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It struck me this morning what an awful job it must be being a weather forecaster at the moment. They must get accosted every time they walk out the door by people asking “What on earth is going on?” The strange phenomenon that is this year’s weather in Europe has meant that so far this year there has only been the equivalent of 6 days of sun here and whereas last year’s temperatures at this time of year were above average, this year they are well below. Winter is still stubbornly refusing to bid farewell yet Iceland seems to be getting all the sun as I read they have had far more than usual! It’s all quite bizarre and can it can only be hoped that it is just a one-off occurrence.

I’m constantly amazed by the number of people from all over the world, who have found and read my blog. It’s fascinating to see where in the world people are reading about little old me and my life here and hopefully gaining more recognition for Radovljica too. I’ve received compliments from far flung places as well as from several locals too. Last week I was even interviewed for the local paper – due out next month!

Fresh beginnings and long forgotten discoveries

And it’s still snowing! Need I even write that anymore? Just take it as a given unless I write to the contrary! Last Monday, 25th March, was the coldest, windiest, snowiest late March day in Slovenia in over 50 years with burja winds in the Primorksa region exceeding 140kph. In some areas of the country over 5 metres of snow have fallen this winter. However, its of little comfort to know that its not just Slovenia, many countries in Europe seems to be suffering the same fate. Suffice to say that unfortunately once again I have no exciting trips to report but do bear with me, I promise as soon as it’s possible, I’ll be out there roving and reporting!

The one place I’ve been walking to, since it can easily be reached on foot from Radovljica regardless of the weather, is the village of Mošnje. In the dry months the walk to Mošnje from Radovljica via the Forest Nature Trail (Gozdna učna pot) is particularly pleasant though with the current conditions I have been going by road via the villages of Vrbnje and Gorica. The small village of Mošnje was, until 2006, a fairly unremarkable traditional farming village. However, an important archeological find was made, the remains of Villa Rustica, a Roman country dwelling dating from the 1st-4th centuries which had been until 2006, hidden deep underneath layers of earth. Since then, the local tourist organisation have created the Mošnje Archeological Path, a 1km path starting at the Cultural Centre, which leads visitors through the important sites of interest in the village to the site of Villa Rustica.

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Last week I was invited to the re-opening of the Lambergh Chateau and Hotel in the village of Dvorska vas, near Begunje. The hotel, which is now under new ownership and management, comprises a modern new 4 star boutique hotel with the 11th century renovated Renaissance chateau. The new management have grand plans for the hotel and are keen to stress their intentions to be “in it for the long term.” They put on an impressive spread and invited members of the local community, who they are keen to emphasise, are very much a part of their future plans which include arranging events such as culinary evenings, wine tastings, picnics in the park etc. I met with the Marketing Manager, Helena, and we exchanged some other ideas too – an English Book Club, theme nights etc. so I’ll keep you posted on news about these, or if you’re interested in having a nose just pop in for a drink and taste their new cakes (yum!) or you can also keep an eye on their website – http://www.hotel-lambergh.com

Lambergh 1    Lambergh 2

The hotel also features a wellness area with a pool, saunas and fitness, all of which can also be used on a day basis by visitors and meeting/conference rooms which are available for hire. The hotel has beautiful grounds, including the Castle Park, and it is no surprise that they already have several weddings booked for the coming months – the wedding photos, with the Alps in the background, will no doubt be stunning. The village of Dvorska vas is just a short drive from Radovljica and Bled and the surrounding areas are ideal for all kinds of activities such as cycling, hiking, panoramic flights at the nearby airport, or just relaxing breaks.

Elsewhere in Slovenia, politicians are once again making the headlines for the wrong reasons. In what surely must be a historical first, a minister in the new coalition government, which was formed on Wednesday last week and began work on Thursday, had to resign after just 2 working days due to a scandal over an (alleged) illegal building issue (this is an issue which seems to frequently rear its ugly head here). Does anyone else have any stories to beat that one – I’d be interested to hear them?!

I spent the Easter weekend in Vienna with a friend who had flown over from the UK. As I’ve previously mentioned, that’s one of the definite advantages of living in a country that is bordered by other countries, and Vienna can be reached either by car (approximately 4 hours), by train (5-6 hours) or by plane (50 minutes) – I plumped for the latter! It was a very easy, smooth journey and with the modern fast CAT trains from the airport to the centre, you can reach the city centre within 15 minutes of leaving the airport, meaning that it’s perfectly feasible to go from Slovenia just for a day or two. There’s a lot to see and do in Vienna however the unseasonably cold weather did somewhat hamper our plans though not dampen our spirits and we nonetheless managed to see all the main sights and it was lovely to spend some time with my good friend Helen.