Sunday, November 4, 2007

These Boots Were Made For Sweden Pt II the Explanation

The last couple days in Ljubljana were quite hectic wrapping up work and saying goodbye to new friends, and it was with a certain amount of sadness that I left Slovenia on Thursday. It took a whole day to travel 2000km, most of that time being spent sitting in airports. When the plane finally entered Swedish airspace I looked down to see what looked like nothing but trees and more trees and water, and very few houses. Hmmm I thought, now this feels a bit more like home! I have come to visit friends Katerina and Jachym who live in Vedjeon, which is quite far north (coordinates:64 deg N, 15 deg E) and 6900 km from Maple Ridge BC and at the beginning of November it is dawn at 7 am and dark at 4:30. Jachym tells me that by the time December comes they will have muted daylight for only 4 hours. Curently the temperatures hover around –2 C in the daytime, which feel a little chilly to me after being in warmer Ljubljana for 2 months. But my boots, gloves and wool sox arrived safely a month ago (see blog –entry dated Aug 4th),, and yes, it took 2 months for them to come from Canada!! Falling into bed after midnight I was instantly asleep, and slept soundly in this peaceful place, something I have not done much of in the last couple of months. I'm here to run dogs and to have a good look at the Siberian Huskies here in Scandenavia, with the possibility of importing to Canada at a later date.

Friday dawned late, cold and crisp, and as we stepped outside to meet the dogs and to do morning dog chores I was sure I could smell snow in the air. There are 34 Siberian Huskies and 1 Alaskan Malamute, 2 cats and 1 bunny that live here, and I am in heaven!
On Friday we took the main string out, as Kat is training hard as this year she plans to run the Polardistanse 400 (km), which is the biggest long distance event for registered polar breeds here in Scandenavia.

Jachym also intended to take out the yearlings but we had an equipment failure, so they had an extra long break. Kat has 3 dogs in her kennel imported from North Wapiti kennels in Perryvale Alberta. Some of you will recognize the name, as North Wapiti dogs make up over half of the dogs in my yard. It was nice to see the two NW girls Magpie and Tazlina running strongly in lead.
A side note, a huge congratulations to Karen Ramstead and North Wapiti’s Crunchie. (brother to my KitKat) who this weekend won the open class and the sled dog classes at the Siberian Husky Club of America’s National Specialty in California.
Overnight the weather cooperated and Saturday morning I woke to 10 cm of fresh white stuff on the ground. WOO HOO! Winter has arrived!

Saturday we took out both the mainstring and the yearling teams, and I was able to help talk Katerina through some little issues she has been having.
Jachym's unique approach to hooking up!!
Along the way we saw fresh bear tracks! Canuck (my Ellie’s brother) runs on the yearling team and watching him was like being transported 6900 km and watching Ellie! A solid day of training with two great runs, and much talking dogs I was quite ready for bed by the end of the day!
Successfully putting young Music in lead for the first time, beside solid dependable North Wapiti's Magpie.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Footsteps in Triglav....

Triglav National Park (in Slovenian: Triglavski Narodni Park) is situated in the most northwestern part of Slovenia and covers Slovenia's part of the Julian Alps. The Park is named after Slovenia's highest mountain: the Triglav (2864 m), which means the Threehead. The park is a bit of paradise, characterised by beautiful mountain valleys, high mountain peaks, mountain lakes and rivers, and thundering waterfalls. On Saturday my friend Tanja and I spent the day traveling through and hiking in various areas of the park, starting with the Vreta Valley, and finishing up along the Soca River in the Karst region of Slovenia.
I'll invite you now to join us.... and together we will explore the Vrata Valley (translation Door Valley), stand in awe gazing at the face of Triglav, get our feet wet crossing the icy waters of Triglavska Bistrica (Triglav River), and from there we will climb alongside Slap Pericnik, (Pericnik Waterfall). There are actually two waterfalls, the upper waterfall with the height of 16 m (53 feet) and the lower waterfall with the height 52 m (171 feet), and both waterfalls are like two guardians of the Vrata valley. At one point we will have a very cold shower as we clamber behind the lower falls and then feel dizzy as we tiptoe to the edge of the embankment to gaze way down to the valley below.
Heading north by car thru Kranjska Gora we will travel the road built by 10,000 Russian POWs during WW1, as this area was an important crossroads of military passages. We will stop the the Russian Chapel that was built to honor the prisoners who lost their lives in this endeavor.
Approximately halfway thru the 50 hairpin turns of the Vrsic Pass we can stop at the snow line, you can even throw a few snowballs..... Descending the Trenta Valley we will detour to the Koca pri Izvirnu Soca (the source of the Soca River) where we will clamber along the rock face, each toe hold meant for legs much longer than mine, (be very grateful for the cable handrails to hang onto), to the deep green pool that marks the start of the river.
From here we will visit the sleepy village below, and then finally make our way through the Soca Valley and take a short walk along the milky green Soca, one of Europe's most dramatic alpine rivers. Look up at the hillside, at the firey colors of autumn in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.
Enough talking now..... come.... join us.....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hidden and Isolated

Tucked away deep in the isolation of the Valley of St John is the ruins of Carthusian Monastery of Zice, founded around 1160 by Otakar III. It was the first of four Carthusian monasteries to be built in the area that is now Slovenia. Two kilometers away from the ruins is the town of Spitalic, which was the site of the lower monastery, where the lay brothers lived and worked. All of the monastery outbuildings, including glass and brick works as well as the hospital were here. Here we found St Mary's church, in great preparation for the upcoming National holiday here to remember the departed. The rich architecture of the church is reflected in it's magnificent main portal.

Heading west to the upper Monastery, and standing at the entrance to the monastery is the Gostisce Gastuz, dating from 1467,
and reputed to be one of the oldest guesthouses in Central Europe. Although it was too early for a pint, we did stop for a good cup of coffee, where I marvelled at the small doorways and thick walls.

The upper Monastery was not built at the same time. The ruins of St John's church was built in the 12th century, first in Romanesque, and then in Gothic style.

Zice was an important medical center for both locals and travellers until the monastery's dissolution in the late 1700s, and there is now a reconstructed apothecary on the site of the old one.

The powerful herbs are grown right on the property.
Certainly one of my favorite ruins to date, they were to me a heady concoction of extraordinary ancient beauty, strange energy and peace.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hockey Talk

HDD Olimpija Ljubljana vs. EC Red Bull Salzburg: Final score 2-3

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of some real Canadian style entertainment as one of the students here kindly arranged for some hockey tickets for me! And it would seem Canada's national sport is alive and screaming in Slovenia as well! I'm a little hoarse now from doing my own screaming, and although my fellow fans were all Slovene, we shared a common language of cheering for the home team and yelling at the Ref, and booing the competition! "SHOOT THE PUCK" is obvious in any language!
Couple of first for me....
1.It was the first time I have ever been frisked going into a sporting event. Every single person that entered the gates had to submit to a thorough patting down before they were even allowed to present their tickets!
2. The hockey games here have home team cheerleaders that dance in the stands at every break!
3. No drink or food allowed in the stands. I had to inhale a 0.5 liter of water, or throw it away, as I was not allowed to bring into the stands with me, even though I purchased it from the concession stand.

Games are a standard 60 min, with 3 20 min periods and 2-15 min breaks. One Ref and 2 linesmen monitored this game, and I have to say that the refereeing was very biased on the side of the opponents. After making some inquiries it turns out they were also Austrian.
I think the rules are basically the same as NHL, but the play seemed gentler and more polite. Many times I saw players deliberately avoid on ice collisions, or boarding, when in an NHL game it seems like anything goes.
However, fans are the same where ever you go, and to see the home team come back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period to score 2 goals within 2.5 minutes had most of us on our feet for the last 5 minutes of the game. Sadly Olimpija Ljubljana couldn't score the tying goal, but it was very exciting none the less. And very good to hear the crack of the puck on a stick, the swish of skates, and the smack of the puck against the goalie pads once again!

Imagine Inheriting a Castle...

Try to imagine what it would be like to get a official phone call or letter stating that a castle that had been in your family 60+ years ago was now your responsibility! This is what has happened in Slovenia. In the mid 1940s, after the WWII, Slovenia was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During this period private property was nationalized, and castles, among other things belonged to the state, to the people, instead of to individuals or individual families. The Federation began to fracture in the late 1980s and Slovenia became an independent country in 1991. One of the results of this is that some property has been returned to the original owners, or their successors.

We saw evidence of this with a visit to Krumperk, which now has a chain strung across the entrance to the grounds with a “private” sign on it.

With crumbling stone walls and peeling plaster, I think there is a lot of work ahead, and it will be interesting to see what happens to this place as time progresses.
Some castles like Mali Grad (Little Castle) in Kamnik have portions restored.

At the summit, on the eastern side of the ruins is a Romanesque chapel and crypt, parts of which date back to the 11th century.
This is one of the country’s oldest surviving ecclesiastical monuments. From the balcony are fabulous views of the alps.

The Jablje Castle stands above the source of a stream at the edge of a rocky slope. It is believed to have been erected in 1530, although the first written references to it date back to 1268. It features a Middle Age design. After the occupants moved out in 1997, reconstructionin 1999, the an ordinance was passed that made the castle a national cultural monument.

The fourth castle of my weekend involved a trip to eastern Slovenia to Ptuj. Ptuj is the oldest continuously settled area in Slovenia. Artifacts establish the area as far back as the Stone Age. Ptuj’s important geographical location saw the area involved several times in historical events of European importance. In the late Iron Age the area was settled by the Celts, and by beginning of the last century BC, the area began to fall under roman economic and political influences. Occupied successively by the Avars, Magyars and the Slavs Ptuj received town righte in 977 AD, at which point it passed into the hands of the Slazburg archdiocese. Ptuj survived incursions by the Turks, and wars with the Hungarians to be the small provincial town it is today. The Ptuj Castle began life around 69 AD.
We accessed it via the narrow street Grajska Ulica, and entered the lower courtyard, where there is a one armed sculpture of St Florian dousing a fire.

From here one can view the city below, and the Drava River and Plain. Walking thru the Peruzzi portal we stepped into a beautifully maintained inner courtyard enclosed by a horseshoe shaped, three storied residential palace.

This houses the Regional Museum Ptuj which boasts an incredible collection of archaeology, history, cultural history and ethnology. Before entering the museum I stopped to admire the red Salzburg marble tombstone of Fredrick IX, the last lord of Ptuj. Also of interest was the grape vine growning outside, which is a graft of the oldest grape variety in the world, from Maribor, (26km from Ptuj)

Dating from the 17th century the art of Cipka Lace in Slovenia is in the use of a special lace-making technique and, most of all, in its original patterns. These have been given domestic names and are clearly distinguishable from other famous European styles.