Friday, May 30, 2014

From Ljubljana to Vhrnika

May 28th - While biking in cities can be rather scary, the Cycling Slovenia folks have put together good routes that take advantage of quieter roads when possible, or with cycling lanes along the busier roads. Ljubljana, the capitol and largest city with approximately 280,000 people, is compact enough we could traverse it fairly easily, and we were soon in farmland.

Just southwest of Ljubljana is a 163 sq. km. Barje (marsh). This extensive marsh has high bird and plant biodiversity. We were able to walk our bikes to a bird blind, but didn’t see many birds. Traveling light means we only took one pair of small binoculars and no bird guide. We couldn’t find an app for Eastern European birds and apps are definitely the lightest weight resources!

Nice bird blind to get us out of the rain
The marsh was flooded during the Ice Age and was covered by a lake at the end of the Stone Age/beginning of the Bronze Age. Archeologists have found evidence for people living in pile houses (on stilts) and they also found the oldest wheel with an axle near here. The wheel and axle remnants are in the National Museum in Ljubljana and are dated at 5,200 years old!

We biked along the base of a mountain front with fields to our right, going through occasional villages. At the head of the Borovniščica Valley was a 569 m long and 48 m high viaduct that had been built in 1857 to carry two tracks of the railway. The viaduct was bombed 22 times during WWII and finally destroyed in 1944.

A little farther along we came to the Technical Museum of Slovenia in the town of Bistra. The entire castle by the Bistra Springs has been turned into a showcase collection of human industry. There are sections devoted to cars, from the Model T to a modern bus, with a lot of interesting cars in between. There is another part with bicycles of every kind, and a series of brake styles you can test. Check out the front wheel of the bike below. Those springs must have been the first suspension system!

Early suspension system on a bike
There is a large section on forestry and all the ingenious devices for cutting, hauling, and then milling the wood, and fine woodworking. One area has a giant blacksmith forge and the myriad tools that blacksmiths use. There is an entire section on printing, including many devices for early print-making. The first book in Slovenia was printed in 1550! There is also a large section on natural history, with stuffed ibex and all. And an area devoted to textiles from early spinning and weaving, to manmade fabrics. It was a huge and fascinating museum in the beautiful setting of an old castle!

Carpentry tools
This chair reminded me of the Carol Burnett Show, when Lily Tomlin did the little girl skit and swung her feet. I had to try it!

For those two people that requested a photo of me!
 Soon after Bistra, we entered Vhrnika, the town where we stayed. Vrhnika is the birthplace of Ivan Cankar (1876-1918), a Slovene writer, playwright, essayist, poet and political activist. He is regarded as the greatest writer in the Slovene language, with some comparisons to Franz Kafka and James Joyce. I took a picture of the hosue where he was born, but he moved around Vhrnika a lot and there is an entire tour you can take of all the places he lived.

Birth home of Ivan Cankar
I walked about 20 minutes south of town to Močilnik spring. This spring is interesting because it just looks like a very still, almost stagnant pool, and then it begins flowing vigorously and becomes a clear creek.

Greek myth: The Goddess Athena instructs the shipbuilder Argus to build a ship and name it Argo. The ship carries Jason and his Argonauts on their quest to find the Golden Fleece. King Aeëtus tries to stop Jason, but his daughter Medea falls in love with him. She gives him a magic potion, causing the dragon guarding the fleece to sleep. With the Golden Fleece in tow, the Argonauts start heading home, but end up traveling upriver to Močilnik where the river ends. Jason is so mad he beats his fist against the cliff face and makes a hole with his fist. The symbol for the town of Vhrnika is the ship Argo, and they celebrate Argonaut Days in mid-June each year.

Where Jason's hand hit the wall!
After seeing the quiet spring, this writing from Ivan Cankar makes more sense:

“Wrapped in cold darkness Močilnik has kept his ancient secrets on the bottom of his deepest depths; no one has ever asked him for them and he has never offered them to anyone. From under the huge grey rocks and their dark silence the pale green waters of Močilnik wrest themselves free to halt and spread in the hollow, to recover from their long journey through underground realms, full of wonders, in the shadow of the willows. Its tranquil surface looks like a wide open eye, not awake yet, but staring out of the red sunset of dreams barely eloped. Only when they are fully recovered and finish dreaming, the waters of Močilnik enter the narrow river bed and slowly set out toward the flat field and bright sun.”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

From Škofja Loka to Ljubljana

May 27th - We biked from Škofja Loka to Ljubljana, arriving a bit before noon. We wanted a lot of time in this capitol city of 280,000 and all we had was one afternoon and evening. If you plan a bike trip through Slovenia, leave an extra day for this beautiful city!

We walked to the old part of the city and found ourselves surrounded by shoe stores. Darrell has been annoyed with the flip-flop sound of my flip-flops, and wore me down enough that I bought a pair of black sandals that don’t make noise when I walk! I guess all the old shoes ended up here!

Old shoes and an umbrella by the shoe stores
We walked to the top of the hill where the castle (of course) looked over the town. I needed to start with a macchiato before tackling the museum and climbing all the stairs to the tower. I’m going to have to find a personal barista to make me specialty coffees when I get home…

Republic Square and its associated park are on the right
This view shows Republic Square where Slovenians joined together for independence, which they gained from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The main architectural styles are Venetian Secessionist and Baroque, and the overall effect when you add in the river, the bridges, and all the street side cafés, is absolutely lovely.

Such a beautiful city!
The Ljubljana dragon is part of the city’s coat of arms. It symbolises strength, courage and might. While some people go with the ol’ St. George killing the dragon story, the more local story has to do with Jason and the Argonauts. The story actually begins in the next post – but picks up here after the Argonauts get stuck at the source of the Ljubljanica River at Močilnik Spring and overwinter there. They then took apart their ship (the Argo) and carried it to the Adriatic, where they set sail for home. According to the legend, as they passed between what is now Vrhnika (next post) and Ljubljana, the Argonauts came across a large marsh where a terrible dragon lived. Jason killed the dragon after a heroic struggle, and the dragon is now a symbol of the city.

This is an artistic dragon. There is a more realistic one on the Dragon Bridge.
The myth can probably be found in the University Library that was designed by the architect Jože Plečnik. This building, completed in 1941, is one of his masterpieces. You enter through large doors with horse head doorknobs and you are entombed in dark marble. As you slowly ascend the stairs, light from windows above begins to illuminate the space. Lighter colored marble replaces the black, and you arrive at the top where huge columns seem to lift the ceiling and tall windows suffuse the area with light. With knowledge comes enlightenment.

Enter here for the light of knowledge
We really enjoyed this beautiful city. And there is so much more we didn’t see. We missed the National Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and other smaller museums and galleries. We mostly looked at Ljubljana from the outside – but that was a pretty sweet beginning!

Darrell's arty window photo

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lake Bohinj to Skofja Loka

May 26th - We woke up to a gorgeous day that quickly turned to mist, then soft rain, then rolling thunder and steady rain – all as we climbed up the challenging hill to Bohinj Pass – 850 m up in 10 km distance, roughly half a mile uphill in 6 miles distance.

We reached the 1,311 meter pass with only a few rests and a little walking. And the mist lifted so we got a little view. Then it was a lovely but chilly downhill ride. One of the villages we passed through was the home of the impressionist painter Ivan Grohar (1867-1911). We stopped at his statue and took a picture of the very scenic town, Spodnja Sorica, with wildflowers in front.

Spodna Sorica

Though the rain stopped, we were definitely cold and wet and looking for a restaurant for a hot bowl of soup, but it was Monday and most restaurants were closed. We did find a courtyard with a medieval blast furnace for smelting iron, but it wasn’t blasting anymore.
Medieval blast furnace for smelting iron
A little further down the valley, we finally found an Art Café open and had the best cappuccino’s ever for only 1 euro each! After eating some bread, cheese and apple, we continued our downstream journey, and saw a hay rack with hay on it.

Hay rack with hay!
After 6 hours, we had managed 58 km (36 miles) and entered the town of Skofja Loka, where we would spend the night.

Skofja Loka (SL from now on) is the best-preserved medieval village in Slovenia. The town was established more than 1,000 years ago, and archeological finds show settlements from at least 22,000 years ago. SL is at the confluence of 2 rivers – the Poljane and the Selca – and a natural terrace above the confluence supports a large castle. A defensive wall, from 1318, with five town gates was built for protection.

Stone Bridge - over 600 years old
We toured the old town with the beautifully painted buildings, requisite fountain and statues. We are continuously impressed with the longevity of the buildings and the care that goes into maintaining them. They are even reconstructing the cobblestone streets and walkways that had been paved over with asphalt.

We had dinner in the old granary – which was rebuilt in 1513 after an earthquake damaged the original in 1511. My dinner, pictured below, is a local pasta dish stuffed with potatoes and then covered in  mushroom sauce. I had bread with it as well, so I triple carbo-loaded!

Slovenian pasta stuffed with potatoes
We wandered home, satiated after a great day of biking, sightseeing, and eating. Thank goodness many Slovenes are excellent at speaking English (and often German, Italian, etc.), or this is what we would be trying to decipher!

The brilliant Slovenes read and speak this beautiful language!