Sunday, November 30, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Motovun, Croatia

When I first read that our tour would include a 2-night stay in a castle, I was excited, but a bit apprehensive.  Never in a castle before; the vision was cold and drafty for sleeping.  Fascinating to view.  Uncomfortable to stay.

motovunhotelmotovunrooftopImagine my surprise when I realize this small hill-top castle (every town on a hill for defensive purposes) in the little place called Motovun included inviting warm rooms with very comfortable beds each with a full en-suite bath (with marble no less).  Our shuttered windows opened outwards (so Romeo and Juliet) to a large courtyard filled with trees and a small restaurant.  Surrounded by the low fortress wall allowing overlooking the valleys and other distant villages balanced on top of the surrounding hills.  In the morning, a thick mist would hang in the valleys making the villages float above the clouds.

motovunowlAll Quiet.  Except a strange “cawk” sounding owl at night and a nearby rooster making sure we did not oversleep in the morning.

motovunstoreOne extremely steep, narrow road leads to our hotel (one road for the whole village, actually!) and the way is lined with little homes and small stores containing truffles, Adriatic Sea salt, and local hand crafts.  All tidy, but with the inevitable eroding of the stone fronts and cobblestone over so much time.  Our bus can only make it part way; so we puff, puff hiking up to our destination.

Note:  Photos courtesy of my new-found tour buddy, Adria Hirsh.  We focused on the same photo opportunities, but she has a better eye and a better camera!  Thank you, Adria!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Lisjak Winery

P1000997P1000991Good people.  Good wine.  Good food.  Set in the wonderful Karst region in Slovenia (you know with all the charming hilltop towns on the Italian border) is the Lisjak Winery owned by Boris Lisjak and his family (photo to the left is Boris and his grandson).  The whole family is involved right down to the grandkids.  And when it is time to harvest the grapes the whole village rallies to pick.  The cabernet sauvignon was so fine I lugged a bottle back home.

IMG_0243P1000988Our tour group stopped at Boris’ winery and vineyards for his excellent wine and home cooked dinner.  Shared in his lovely family home and wine cellars.  By now our tour group members are becoming close friends and we are having a great time especially with a few glasses of vino.  White wine.  Wred Wine (after a few the extra “w” just happens).  Now, every good story has a special recipe and here is the Cabbage Soup we loved with dinner:


Lisjak Cabbage Soup

500 grams of sour cabbage (also known as sauerkraut)

200 grams of potatoes

300 grams of beans

1 onion

1 teaspoon of sweet pepper powder

bay leaf, salt, pepper

In the first pan you should cook sour cabbage, second pan should have salty water and sliced potatoes in it and the third pan beans with bay leaf. Afterwards sautee chopped onions and sweet pepper, add sour cabbage with water in which it was cooked, add cooked and mashed potatoes and brown beans. At the end add the water from the beans to get a thick stew, add salt and pepper. For better taste you can also add a sausage (that you have previously cooked in a separate pan) and then add it after it is cooked for about 5 minutes.

Bon appetite!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Adriatic Tour–The Karst Region

As we leave the Soca River Valley and up over a ridge, we drive into some of the best wine-making area of Slovenia.  The Karst Region.  You can easily see Italy in the distance.  Hilly country-side with a dry Mediterranean climate needed for growing great grapes.  We stopped at one of the hill-top villages named Smartno.  A favorite day trip for our guide, Tina, and her husband on one of their rare days off work and spent together (they are both guides for Rick Steves Tours).  Pictures will do a better job describing this charming place with cute boutique shops.  And no, I am not waiting for an opportune time to take pictures without tourists.  They simply are not there.  Another plus of this particular tour.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Soca/Italian Front and World War I

Tumbling down the slopes of the Julian Alps, the Soca River is milky green-blue color, fast-moving down the mountain and cuts a mean slot canyon through the rock.  Our road follows along the river and passes through small villages.  The active wear company, North Face, filmed on location here.  The ad on Vimeo is worth watching to really get an idea of the spectacular beauty of the area.  This beautiful, gentle valley was the location of some of the worst fighting and conditions during World War I.

WWICemetaryIt is only fitting so near to Veteran’s Day that this blog post describes our visit to the Soca River Valley also known as the Italian Front (part of the Eastern Front) during World War I.  The Julian Alps and the valley have reminders of the war especially the many cemeteries—nicknamed the “Valley of Cemeteries”—thousands of graves dot the hillsides.  One devastating war after another, you would think the human race would remember and learn from our mistakes. 

Ernest Hemingway’s novel, A Farewell To Arms, was set here and tells a story of his time spent as an ambulance driver during World War I.  I had good intentions of reading the book before the trip; but frankly I struggled to get through The Old Man and The Sea, as required reading in school.  Since I have visited, maybe I will give it another go.  The area likes to link to Papa Hemingway, especially the village where we spent the night, Kobarid.  (The village is known by its Italian name, Caporetto, in the novel.)

Kobarid MuseumIn Kobarid we visited the small, but very well-done museum of the Soca Front and World War I.  Pictures of the common people (locals, soldiers, nurses) from all sides of the war.  Their daily lives, the war strategies/weapons, and the casualties and results of the fighting—over one million died.  The museum docent asked that we not take photos of the displays, especially the ones containing pictures of the people.

  Had to stop short of completing the museum tour; just too overwhelmingly horrible.  Medical attention during the war was minimal and the medical advancements we have today for our soldiers were non-existent in the early 1900s.  Those who survived were severely disfigured or suffered internally from chemicals.  Photos showing the injuries were displayed and I can understand why we were asked to refrain from taking pictures.

A learning experience, but a tough pill to swallow.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Julian Alps

IMG_3094IMG_3083Up and over the Alps—the Julian Alps—via the Vrsic Pass and the Soca River Valley.  I have been over my share of mountain passes, but never one with 50 hairpin turns (24 up, then 26 down).  Each one is marked; so there is no denying the count of 50.  And never in a large tour bus.  The bus would turn ever so, s-l-o-w-l-y, around each.

IMG_3074Our first stop at turn #8, included a quick hike up to a little Russian chapel.  A memorial to 10,000 Russian POWs who died building this mountain pass during World War I.  Not killed by gunfire, but rather the elements (cold and avalanche) and illness.  The chapel was built where the final casualty was found.  The wood of the chapel looks like copper.  It had that glow in the lowlight of the forest.  I had to touch it to be sure it was wood.  Beautiful and lovingly maintained.

IMG_3077Next stop at a mountain-top restaurant for some hot chocolate.  Had to chuckle at the sign.  Bikers Welcome.  In the States, a Bikers Welcome sign would indicate a stop for the local Harley motorcycle club.  Here, well you can see for yourself in the photo to the left.  A group of French adventurers!  Only know a bit of French, but a shout out of “Comment Ca Va?! (how’s it going?) to the group brought out the smiles and waving back with the comeback of, “Bien, Merci!” (good, thank-you!)  We saw them buzzing past as we headed down the mountain still waving a happy good-bye.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Ski Jump

SKI JUMPskijumperNever saw a ski jump before this trip.  And I did not expect to see anyone jumping in September (no snow).  Before our tour headed up and over the Julian Alps, we made a quick stop at Planica and watched Olympic hopefuls fly off one of several ski jumps and land gracefully on…..looked like some sort of green PLASTIC!  I held my breath when they ejected from the end of the jump, hanging in the air for the longest time and finally I exhaled when they safely came back to earth.

This is the largest ski jump in the world.  The location is within Slovenia borders but a short walking distance to Italy and Austria.  Another wow.  (Photos courtesy of Russ Ruda.  One of many great guys on our tour.)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Adriatic Tour–Slovenian Quality of Life

There are several more stops made in Slovenia, but before I describe them I would like to remark on the impressive Slovenian lifestyle.  This does not include having a lot of material things, a huge home or having a high income with a lavish lifestyle.  In fact the average income is very low (some of us may consider it poverty level).  But the majority of Slovenes have pretty much the same income—there is not a big disparity between rich and poor.  Their need for a lot of materialistic things does not exist.  There are very few billboards or marketing of any sort.  In fact, I did not see one and we criss-crossed many of the highways and back roads of this tiny country.  (This lack of billboard “junk” on the countryside was so pleasant—the only signage you see is street signs and the name of the village, town or city.  They seem to be standardized throughout the country and have a low-profile appearance.)

IMG_3070The family is the center of their life.  A sense of home and land is very strong.  Homes and land are passed from one generation to the next (all made of stone—lasting hundreds of years).  Most often you will find generations living in one home with each floor dedicated to a young family, another to grandma/grandpa each with separate entries (like a condominium).  Not one home was unkempt.  You will not find rusting vehicles/machinery or trash piles like you so often do in the States.  Almost every yard contains a small garden and window boxes hang on the homes stuffed with flowers.  The Slovenes see the home and surroundings (yes, even common spaces like parks) as an extension of themselves.  And they are spotless.

Relationships with family and friends are tended just as carefully as their environment.  It is common to see the caf├ęs filled with locals of all ages catching up with gossip over a cup of coffee (kava).  On any day of the week.  No one is absorbed watching their smart phone; the focus is on the present company.

I am certainly not an authority on the causes of crime, but in my opinion, this overall sense of belonging, community and pride must contribute to the extremely low crime and non-existent drug use in their country.  The Slovenes are struggling economically, but they seem happy.  They are happy. 

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