Presenting the Slovenian Mountain Bike Route

Hills and mountains have in the past been predominantly visited by hikers, climbers, perhaps the odd paraglider. More recently though, the trend of bike touring has been growing in popularity and the top brass over at the Alpine Association of Slovenia came up with the idea of a bike route that stretched the length and breadth of the country.

So a couple of years ago a group of mountain biking specialists got together and they set to work on what was a massive project indeed. The aim was to lay down a bike trail that would visit pretty much every attractive cycling region in Slovenia. Just last year they succeeded and the trail was officially opened. From the hilly vineyards around Maribor the route crosses Pohorje and continues into the equally hilly region of Koroška. Then it turns down towards Ljubljana and after that  you’re in for some serious climbing in the Alps. You’ll find yourself in the beautiful scenery of the Triglav National Park, then turn towards the coast and some warmer climate. Still more vineyards (and wine cellars) await you along the way south. Catch some beautiful Adriatic sunshine, have some ice cream on the beach, then head east again along the Croatian border and into the dark forests around Kočevje. You’re well on your way here, almost but not quite home yet. Just a few hills lie on the way back to where you started out in the region of Štajerska.

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The route is natively known as Slovenska turnokolesarska pot, or STKP. Click here for an interactive map.

It reads like a nice day out, but unfortunately Slovenia isn’t as small as that. In fact the route is around 1800 kilometers long and features about 50.000 vertical meters of ascent, so you’ll have quite a bit of uphill pedalling to do. It is divided into 41 stages and is meant to be taken over a longer period of time, step by step. It was designed to incorporate local hospitality providers and other attractions, so that cyclists can get to know the area they’re in. This also provides revenue for the local communities along the way, while cyclists don’t have to worry about getting stranded with mechanical difficulties or sleep under the stars on a cold night.

Along the way you might visit the world’s oldest vine that grows in Maribor, learn about the lives of coal miners in Velenje, drink coffee on the busy squares of Ljubljana, or have a glass of Teran, red wine that is native to the karstic regions just inland from  the Adriatic coast. The trail can be taken up pretty much anywhere along the way, there is no official beginning or end. Accommodations in alpine huts, private rooms, camps and other lodgings are available throughout, so you can get a good night’s rest after a hard day of cycling. You’ll be well supplied with internet connectivity and other modern amenities as well.

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It hardly shows in the picture, but the climb towards the peak of Uršlja gora is one of the toughest bits of the route. Uršlja gora is also it’s highest point at just under 1700 meters above sea level.

They designed the route so that it runs along quiet roads, away from traffic. Mostly it sticks to unpaved roads and forest tracks, so it’s nice to have a bike that can handle a bit of rough terrain. A hybrid should be able to do the job, but a full fledged mountain bike would be ideal to handle everything along the way. You don’t need any special off road riding skills, as the route was designed with a broad audience in mind. Do keep in mind all the safety precautions before you go though – keep your bike in good working order,  choose stages according to your physical ability, wear protective equipment and care about your surroundings. Don’t litter and give way to hikers if you want to avoid nasty looks.

Follow these simple steps and your heart, and you should find a range of experiences along the way that will keep you coming back for more. You can plan your trips using the official STKP website. There you’ll find more info on different aspects of the route, as well as a list of 109 control points where you can stamp your route diary. These are usually cottages or restaurants that provide a warm welcome, a refuge from the elements and probably a cold beer as well.

A couple of snaps from the field. Credits go to PZS and Jože Rovan, president of the Slovene mountain bike touring commission.

So if you’re looking to spend this year’s summer holidays a bit differently, or perhaps a new epic project, the STKP is sure to provide a worthy challenge. Be sure to click through the provided links and enjoy your time out on the bike.

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Spring brings a new bike to the house – 2011 Felt F85

Just a few snaps today of my new acquisition – it’s not really a new bike, though looking from afar one might get the feeling that it could be. It came from a friend who bought it new a few years back, did a couple of rounds and then decided cycling wasn’t really his thing. He hung it on the wall in his garage and had it there for a few years more, then got tired of watching it every day. He came to me asking if I knew anyone who’d be interested in buying it. I said I’d think about it, then went round to his house and handed over the money.

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Now, the F series from Felt is made up of pure race bikes – light, fast, aggressive and good looking. The 2011 F85 features an aluminium frame with carbon forks and seat post, a Shimano 105 groupset and a flashy black-white-green paintjob complemented by white-topped tyres. Rims are Mavic CXP 22 and rubber comes from Vittoria. Thrown in with the deal were a pair of Shimano road cycling shoes with white matching pedals which I haven’t fitted yet, so the bike has to do with cheap plastic ones for now. They do a good job of ruining the bike’s looks, but that’s all for a reason.

The problem I have with the bike comes mainly down to me and my height, or rather the lack of it. The size of the frame is 54, whereas I would be much happier with something between 49 and 52. Couple that with a stem that’s quite long as well and you get a bike that – at least for me – is very uncomfortable to ride. The funny thing is that the friend who originally bought it isn’t much taller than me, so I can understand why he didn’t enjoy riding it. Some advice for beginning cyclist looking for their first bike; look for one that’s the right size for you. By that I don’t mean the size of the tires, it’s the frame that’s in question. Make sure you don’t feel overstretched when you reach for the handlebars and that you can reach the pedals and ground comfortably.

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Despite the size issue I did take if for a quick spin and it felt even quicker than the Specialized Diverge I normally use. Though I didn’t weigh it, I think it’s considerably lighter as well. The 23 mm wide tyres may not soak up as many bumps as the 28s on the Diverge and I wouldn’t take it onto dirt or gravel, but for flat out asphalt runs, the bike is perfect. I think I’ll sell it on sooner or later, maybe even make a bit of a profit on the deal. The main thing is that the bike is too good to be sitting in a garage and deserves someone who’ll use it on a regular basis.

Feel free to check out the gallery below for more pics and post a comment if you’d like to know more about the bike. 🙂

The rebirth of an old-time legend – the Rog Pony returns

Back in simpler times, say 30  or 40 years ago, Slovenia was a part of Yugoslavia, a country that of course leaned heavily to the East. Socialist politics didn’t think much of the western world and were of the opinion that we’d be better off on our own. Imports from the other side of the border weren’t favoured upon, so if you wanted to buy a cheap, simple and reliable bike, you turned to the Rog bicycle factory. Not only were they the largest bike producer in the country, they were just about the only one. The basic model was called the Pony and it was very simple indeed – it was intended for use around town and had a single speed transmission and no brakes in the back. Much like track bikes of today, with the major difference of looking nothing like track bikes.

PonyThe model above even featured a hinge on the downtube, which meant the bike could be folded together. I’m not sure who would ever use such a feature, but then I never lived in a small socialist flat. Ponies were much loved among cyclists, as was Rog itself. Sadly with the collapse of the former republic Rog began facing competition from imports and soon fell upon financial difficulties. It remained in business for about a decade after Slovenia declared independence and was then forced to close it’s doors. Slovenia had no big bicycle producers any more and that left a huge gap in the hearts of the domestic cycling fans.

Then for a long time all was silent. Like the company itself, most of their bikes were lost through the years, ended up at scrapheaps or left to slowly rust in some old barn or garage. Some were kept in good repair by enthusiasts and despite being at least two or three decades old, you can still buy them online for about 100€, give or take a few cents. Surviving classic Rogs have a certain cult status, a retro vibe to them that’s easy to appreciate.

On the wings of this new-age brand appreciation, a new company called Gor Bikes was created with the purpose of continuing the Rog Pony production with a modern twist to the classic design. They bought the licensing rights and a new website at www.rogbikes.com was launched, promising a revival of the old favorite.

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After much heated anticipation the reimagined Pony was revealed late last year. Public opinion was unanimously in favour of the new, modern look. Then a second later everyone saw the price and was immediately put off by it. You see, while the original was cheap and cheerful, the new bike was anything but, at least not for our standards of living.

There are two basic models to choose from, each with a few further levels of trim. The one pictured above is called the “Pony Classic” with prices starting at 329€ for a base bike with direct drive, no gears and no rear brake. There is however a Brooks Saddle as standard and an internal hub dynamo that charges both front and rear LED lights. The equipment is all Shimano and Sturmey-Archer, so quality of parts is assured by default. 100€ up from the base model is the Classic 3 with 3 internal gears, a rear brake and some premium bits. Then at the top of the Classic range is the 5, which has – you guessed it – 5 gears, even more premium bits and a couple of special colours to choose from. It costs a whopping 789€. Keep in mind that for the same money you can get an entry level Specialized Allez, which is a full fledged road bike. If you take the time

The other model in the Pony selection is called “Sport”. I’m not sure how sporty you can get on a bike like this and judging by the pictures on the website it’s merely a Classic model minus the back pannier. The specs are also a mirror copy of the Classic, only this time there is no single speed edition. Prices are also the same at 429€ for the basic Sport spec and 789€ for the Sport S, pictured below.

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First deliveries are scheduled for March this year and presumably they deliver to whomever wants to order one. The first series is limited to 500 bikes and you get a shiny plaque with the serial number, a bit like a Lamborghini. No worries it’s going to run out any time soon – the website shows the number of bikes sold in the series, so you can track the sales numbers if you wish to. It’s been a while since the unveiling and due to the popularity of the original, you’d expect these Ponies to sell like hot buns. Well, not exactly. Not even close. In about 2 months they’ve sold 115 bicycles, which is a lot less than I expected, no doubt due to the relatively high price. Even I’d gladly order one if it was a bit more reasonable. Plus you get a rather splendid looking Rog Gangsta hat with your order, so you can cruise with yo’ Pony like a playa down the streetz of Ljubljana

Overall it looks like a very nice product and I have no doubt it will meet buyers’ expectations. It’s a nice attempt at reviving a cult classic and I’d really like it to succeed. It’s just a shame though that it’s gotten off to a shaky start.

For more on the new Pony head on over to their official website at www.rogbikes.com.

*Images are not mine this time, I’ve shamelessly borrowed them from the official website. The cover image is from someone called Hedonist on his own site here.

Hiking and culinary delights around the Nanos area

Such is often the case when going hiking with a bigger group of like-minded hikers. I’ve said before that these people know how to have a good time and a wealth of experience in doing so. As an unwritten rule, a group hike should be organised so that it ends in a nice, cozy unwind at a local café, mountain hut or wine cellar. It is part of a long-time tradition, almost a social obligation. To simply return to the car, pack your bags and leave for home would be somehow rude to your fellow hikers. Surely you must be tired, in need of a refreshing rest – come, let’s have a drink or two. It’s hard to say no.

The story today takes us back to last October, when I went hiking with my local club, as I sometimes do. Great people all around, even though they’re usually quite older than me. It seems the younger generation aren’t as keen on organised group hiking as the older folks are. They don’t know what they’re missing is what I say. Anyway, our destination was a hill called Nanos, a windswept karstic range about halfway between our capital Ljubljana and the port city of Koper. It’s quite iconic for being a prominent feature along the coastal highway and it’s striking outline is well known throughout Slovenia. The top sits at 1240m above sea level and can be reached by just about anyone who’s reasonably fit – it’s not technically challenging and the routes are well marked and maintained. You can find more info about it on SloTrips.si, though the content is in Slovenian.

The morning was quite foggy and cold, so everybody was keen to get warmed up and climb higher, towards the warming rays of the sun. The terrain provided no real challenges, as the route planners apparently decided on taking the easier route towards the top. It was easy going, great for switching your mind off and just taking in the sights. The coastal hillside is quite barren, with low-lying bushes and grass – the winds can get quite high here in some parts of the year – over 150 kph is relatively common when the winter winds blow.

We made good time and swiftly reached the top which features a nice alpine hut, pictured above, and a large telecoms tower that’s used to send TV and radio signals far and wide. The tower also features a related exhibition where one can learn about the history of the telecommunications trade in Slovenia.We had a guide show us around, but I didn’t really pick up much. Too much tech talk and a room full of large 1960s cabinets filled with relays and switches that failed to tell much of a story. I guess my tech imagination wasn’t up to it.img_6434We left the exhibit behind and pressed on westward along the ridge. The sun was properly shining now, it turned out to be one of the last warm days of the year. Again nothing hard to deal with, pure joy and relaxation in a truly remarkable environment. Then someone ordered a stop, we put our backpacks down and out came bottles filled with all kinds of liquor – home distilled blueberries, a Johnnie Walker, even some rum. I’m not encouraging anyone to go hiking and get wasted doing it, in fact it’s highly irresponsible behaviour. But we all know where the boundaries lie, and taking a sip is more down to the occasion than anything else. You offer what you brought with you to everyone else and in turn you’re offered what everyone else has with them.

Break over, and we had only a short way left to the next lodge where lunch was planned. Looking back, this really wasn’t the day for extreme physical workouts. We’d been walking quite leisurely for maybe 3 hours all together, during which we’ve had a number of breaks and soon lunch was now upon us. The waiter was already waiting for us and prepared a common table on the grassy terrace outside the hut. The luncheon was simple, as they usually are up in the hills, but what joy! It really doesn’t get much better than great nature, great company and some warm sunshine to make your day.

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Funny enough, that wasn’t it for the day either. It was back to the bus after lunch and back down to ground level where we had one final appointment, this time at a wine cellar called Vidus in the nearby village of Podnanos. Janko Trošt is the man of the house here and he runs a very neat operation, producing a range of local wines and offering them in a magnificent cellar that looks properly ancestral, but was in fact built in 2012. He also has a uniquely attractive personality that’s perfect for hosting wine presentations. Open and inviting, but also very professional – he takes his wines very personally and is able to put across the labour required in producing such wonderful wines as his.

If you happen to find yourself in the area give Vidus a visit, I’m sure you’ll find it worth your time. I’m sadly not too keen on wines, but sometimes the stories and characters of people behind them are equally as remarkable as their taste.

For us Vidus was the last step on our semi-culinary hike around the Nanos area. Should you get the chance to do a similar trip, don’t pass it by. You can easily combine half a day of hiking with some local culinary delights, be it at a simple hillside hut, a local wine producer or a recommended restaurant. Pick a nice, sunny day and some good company and I promise you won’t regret it.

The apparent lack of writing content is very real

I’ve come to realise that winter isn’t the best of times for me. Especially not this winter.

It’s always a special moment when you look out the window and see snow falling for the first time of the year. The ground is getting all white, there’s a certain sense of calm all around and even the air itself has a freshnes to it. There might be a Christmas song playing on the radio, or it’s just your imagination. You feel like a little kid, ready to jump outside and make snow angels in the back yard.

The feeling lasts for a couple of days and all is well. You don’t mind the extra hassle of driving like your grandma on your way to work. The radio’s constantly reminding everyone – as if they don’t know – that it’s finally started snowing and how wonderful everything is. It’s the main topic of nonsensical small talk around the office. But then it all quickly becomes very old and you start wishing that summer vacation was just around the corner. Of course it isn’t and you’re stuck in a brown-gray world full of ice and slush that makes you feel like you’ve woken up on a smoggy Beijing morning. Plus it’s cold like hell.

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The woods might provide a nice, albeit chilly retreat.

So that’s what we’ve been having for the last couple of weeks. Morning temperatures in double negatives, a job that I can’t even ride my bike to and the consecutive lack of time outside all contribute to a general sense of uselessness. I usually don’t mind a spot of bad weather, but this time it’s stretching it real thin.

The coldest winter in the last 30 years, they’re calling it. Just when I thought global warming was about to flush us all away into the burning pits of hell. At least it would be warmer there and I could maybe ride my bike a bit.

Hence the lack of any new content on the blog these past weeks, even months. I really haven’t done much that I could write about. Really hope it changes soon so I can start spinning the pedals again, or give my hiking boots something to do. Till then, I guess the only thing to do is listen to a hot summer song and wait for the winter blues to pass by…

This one reminds me of a night last year in Tarragona. The friends I was with knew a couple of girls from France and we ended up dancing to this beat  in some crazy Catalan wine cellar nightclub. I think it was called La Cova. Really great energy and fantastic people all around, a true highlight of the year. Sadly I never saw  or heard from the French pair after that night…

What if every day was a beer festival

Ah yes, one of those days again. I’ve written about last year’s beer festival in Maribor in one of my first posts. Now we’re all a year older and I won’t lie to you, I still like a good glass of beer. Problem is, good beer doesn’t come round that easy in our parts. You might think it’s good, but then you haven’t been to a good beer festival. It wasn’t that long ago that you could only get cheap big-brewery pilsners around here, the two big brands being Laško and Union. They’re not much different from every other Becks, Heineken or all those international Pisswassers. They’re good if you don’t have anything else at hand, but otherwise unimpressive.

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Union would be the muck in the red cans. Despite having dozens of craft beers on offer, some people decided to go the usual supermarket route.

It’s been like that for decades, and nobody really minded much. Then, a few years ago, some people obviously got tired of drinking bad beer and independent small-time craft breweries started popping up all over the place and they made some wacky stuff. Perhaps the most internationally acclaimed establishment in the field would be Bevog, which actually operates just across the border in Austria. Still, they’re run by a Slovenian outfit and their know-how has produced some rather splendid brews. Right around that time things started growing and we got a number of craft breweries to choose from – Human Fish, Pelicon and Tektonik, to name a few.

Beer lovers rejoiced as they finally had something of quality to drink and it was soon realised that a good beer festival would go a long way. Sure enough it did, and similar events can now be enjoyed in many cities across the country.

The Makro Beer Fest was the latest such event, hosted at Maribor’s Main Square, just outside the townhouse. Sad to say Maribor has seen better days in years gone by, so events like these are not only good for beer lovers, but for locals in general. It reminds them that the city has a lot to offer and that it’s streets can still be a good place to enjoy a friday evening.

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As well as Slovenian breweries, there were a few from Croatia and Serbia present as well. Above: Kabinet Brewery (SRB)

The event was largely organised by Andej Krštinc, the owner of a nearby speciality beer shop called Pivarna. I really enjoy these old town style small shops and the people who run them. They provide a very emotional alternative to big retail chains and it’s a shame that huge malls and supermarket chains have largely displaced these places that were once full of character.

A call went out asking for volunteers to help setting up the last odds and ends on the morning before the event, and as I had nothing else to do, I decided to bike my way over and lend a hand. A couple of busy hours later we had the stalls and tables set, the brewers had all arrived and it was time to start pouring. I scored a few tasty beers along the way, then got paid in still more beer tokens. It  turned out it was just enough to last me throughout the evening tasting rounds that were to follow.

As darkness fell upon Maribor, crowds came out to enjoy the early autumn night. The weather was perfect for the time of year and the square was bustling with activity.It was a real joy to see people experiencing beer in a completely new way – most were probably used to drinking it from a tankard or straight out of the bottle, and definitely not from what was essentially a wine glass. Still, the nature of craft beer is such that it’s best enjoyed slowly, sip by sip, taking in the smells, colours and tastes of the brew – much like good wine.

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There were more than a dozen different breweries offering 3 or even more beers on tap, so you really couldn’t go through them all. Including offerings from local young guns Lobik, Zmajska pivovara from Zagreb, the well-established Tektonik, and some other chance picks. Drinking mostly big-brewery lagers, you soon forget how much can be got from combining water, yeast, hops and barley. There is endless variety and even within one style of beer the differences in character are incredible.

What is incredible is also the culture behind the craft brewing scene. You meet all sorts of interesting characters at such events. For the most part, people who appreciate this kind of beer are also slightly unique and free-thinking. They really care about their product because it’s a labour of love and hard work. On top of that it’s a huge financial undertaking to start a brewery and keep it running. That glass of beer is not only a good tasting drink, but also a story of dedication, commitment and personal pride. When drinking such brews, one can not look past the people who make it happen and it’s precisely this that adds the experience even more value.

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The face of a man with not a care in the world. Prvo viško pivo from the island of Vis, Croatia

I’m really glad to see craft beers making their way into the mainstream. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s out in force and showing no signs of stopping just yet. If there were only 2 or 3 different beers available a decade ago, we now have shops which provide a selection of products from around the world. There’s still some effort in procuring these brews, specially if you live outside bigger cities, but there is little that can stop a man in search of good beer. It surely looks like the demand is there, and we can hope the supply keeps up with the trend.

Have a look through the rest of the gallery and don’t forget to leave your own thoughts and impressions down below.

Exploring Slovenia’s mountain region – Gorenjska

I must apologize – It’s been a while since I last wrote anything here, over a month in fact. I just couldn’t get myself to post anything of half-decent “quality”, so I let it be for a while.

Now I’m happy to report that I was on a yet another cycling-unrelated trip yesterday and while I really hoped to squeeze more bike-related stuff in here, it just wasn’t meant to be, at least not this time. However, Gorenjska, Slovenia’s mountain region is great for bicycle exploration and there are a lot of bike paths, trails and spots to enjoy. I guess I really should bring a bike the next time I go.

What follows is just a couple of spots I went to see yesterday. I had the help of Amela B., a friend of mine who is also a local of the region and knows where to go to get the most out of your day. A bit like having your own personal guide, quite fancy. I picked her up in Ljubljana in the morning and the original plan was to visit the Triglav lakes, but that would require a full day of hiking, and we sort of drifted in other directions.

#1 – Lake Bled

If you’re a tourist planning to visit Slovenia, this is probably one of the spots you hear the most about. Lake Bled, the castle on the cliff, the church on the island in the middle, the Bled cake –  these are some of the most known tourist attractions in the country. When I was last here a month ago, in the peak of the tourist season, it was absolutely packed with people from around the world.

We took a walk around the place, found that it was not so packed any more and headed on. You’ll find much better pictures online, there are probably 5 photographers for each 100 meters of shoreline here.

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#2 – the Peričnik Waterfall

Here’s a sweet spot. If you head into the Vrata valley, you’ll soon pass the Slovenian Alpine Museum, a gem in itself. A bit further on, just a short hop from the road is the Peričnik Waterfall. There are actually two of them, with the higher being 52 meters tall. The ledge it falls over is overhanging, so you can even walk behind the curtain of water. Another fun fact; it freezes over in winter, so the whole rock face gets covered in ice, creating a fairytale view.

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Observe the family on the ledge behind for scale. The ledge can easily be used to walk behind the curtain of the waterfall.

#3 and #4 – Planica nordic center and the Tamar valley

Turning into another glacial valley nestled between high mountain peaks we find the famous ski-jumping center of Planica. If you happen to follow the sport you’ll know that this is the venue of the last leg in the season and tens of thousands of people gather here every year to watch people jump upwards of 220 meters on skis. If you’ve never seen ski jumping before, this is what it looks like:

A nordic center has recently been constructed, allowing for full-time training on several different hill sizes, and there are ski-running and biathlon courses here as well.

Red Bull is hosting a 400-meter sprint competition up the biggest hill. It’s called simply the Red Bull 400, it’s much harder than it looks and it’s happening next weekend.

Further down the road from Planica is the Tamar valley. Like many alpine valleys, it’s enclosed on three sides by high mountains and provides a peaceful retreat from the everyday bustle. A dirt road takes you to a hut at the end of the valley, which is also a starting point for a number of climbing ascents.

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#5 – Lake Jasna

Just before we left we decided to stop at yet another alpine lake just outside Kranjska gora, the best known resort town in the area. It seems that you’re never far from a stream or a small lake here, and they all paint these beautiful images with mountaintops in the background.

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Gorenjska is deservedly the best looking part of Slovenia, and it provides nature lovers with plenty of things to see and do. Leave a comment below if you’ve been here before, I’d like to hear about the time you’ve had.

For more info, head on to the official page of the Triglav National Park.

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Conquering Triglav, Slovenia’s highest mountain (again) – photo & video gallery included

Another hiking post! And this one even includes some climbing to top it off.

I’ve written about the hiking culture here in Slovenia and my first go at climbing our highest mountain in posts here and here. Long story short, hiking is a bit of a national pastime around here and the saying goes that you’re not a real Slovenian if you haven’t stood atop the 2864 meter high Triglav at least once.

Luckily I have, so the pressure was off when we decided to have a go this past weekend. By pure mountaineering standards, Triglav with it’s measly height of under 3000 meters of course isn’t anything special. But it is a national symbol and to reach the top for the first time is a thing of personal pride. Experienced climbers and hikers will look elsewhere for new challenges, but to average office workers looking for bragging rights, topping the mountain might not seem so easy.

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All in all, Triglav is Slovenia’s most visited mountain and trails that lead to the top are well marked and maintained. Where there’s climbing to be done, they are well protected with steel ropes and grips. Most people choose to make it a two day trip with an overnight stay at one of the lodges that surround the top. Faster hikers will make the ascent in 4 or 5 hours, so a one day round trip is also possible, but sleeping in a high altitude cottage brings it’s own charms. While these cottages offer basic sleeping and eating amenities, they are a place of complete joy and warm spirit.

Never ever have I met a hiker with a bad heart – I guess bad people just don’t do these kinds of things. Especially not at these altitudes. And when you walk into a warm room after an 8-hour uphill struggle, a warm meal and some tea is the only thing on your mind. After that, somebody is sure to produce a guitar or an accordion, then dancing will ensue and heated exchanges of all kinds of stories. Soon after the sun sets behind the mountains, everyone takes to their beds and silence takes over until the early hours of the morning.

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Even though we were blessed with great weather throughout the weekend, mountaintops in the area were covered with clouds and winds were blowing hard enough to lay you flat on your back. We planned to reach the summit early on the second day, but turned back due to low visibility and heavy winds. In my mind it was a good call, as going on would bring added risk and no real joy. Safety comes first and the mountain won’t go anywhere any time soon. One more reason to try again next year.

I carried a GoPro on my helmet all through the trip and made a video of it. It should serve you well to get a proper feeling of the place. Feel free to watch it down below.

And if by now you’re still reading, why not stay a while longer and look through the gallery of scenic panoramas and highland vistas. If you haven’t been in the mountains yet, now is the perfect time to start! 🙂

For more info visit the official site of the Triglav National Park.

 

 

The Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Ask a hiker why he or she spends countless hours or even days walking up a steep hill when it would be much easier to just watch TV and you will probably get the answer that it’s nice, refreshing, good for your body and so on. Indeed these things are all true and while many people know the benefits of a good hike, others give not a damn about all those rocks and trees. Mountains are dangerous, you could get lost or caught by the rain. Those fancy panoramic pictures look nice on Facebook, but walking up steep inclines just to take a selfie is out of the option for some people.

Luckily for all those naysayers there is an easier way. You see, back in the 1930s some Austrians had a nasty problem. Being from a mountainous country, they always had to climb everywhere if they wanted to visit their neighbours or, say, pop to the shops. It was especially difficult for those living under the Grossglockner – the highest pointy bit in the country at nearly 4.000 meters above sea level. Cars were the new fashion and they were tired of walking anyway, so they decided to build a road that would take them across the surrounding highlands, connecting the regions of Salzburg and Carinthia.

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But building such a high alpine road was no mean feat. More than 4000 workers had to work in harsh conditions for over 5 years, but eventually they got it done and in early August 1935 the Grossglockner alpine road was open for business. It was 48 kilometers long, featured 36 bends and took it’s users over 2500 meters above sea level. Trade was quickened significantly as traveller no longer had to look for high mountain passes on foot and to celebrate the occasion, there was an automobile race the day after the opening.

As cars became commonplace the road’s popularity quickly began to spread and people were eager to experience the thrill of driving up into the mountains. The economic potential of this was soon realized and a number of tourist accommodations, cafes and museums were added to make the destination even more appealing. Soon the road itself had to be widened as traffic grew. Today this is one of the top 3 tourist spots in Austria with almost a million visitors coming here every year.

The curse of mass tourism

Come here on a sunny summer weekend and you will see long lines of cars and motorbikes at the entry toll station. Daily car admissions go for 35€ a piece and will grant you free access to most of the museums relating to the history of the road and life in the area. Further up the hill dense traffic and bursting parking lots; space is limited on the mountain, but it seems admissions are not.Of course weather plays and important role here; winter snows stick around well into spring time and the workers only clear it away around late April. The road itself is open for visitors from early May until late autumn.

When it is open, it’s marketed as a thrill ride for keen drivers and bikers, and it would be if one had enough space to safely open up the throttle. In reality you will mostly be part of a slow-moving convoy of cars, busses, caravans and cyclists climbing ever higher in search of stunning views of the surrounding mountainsides.

The stampede culminates on the Edelweissspitze, the highest point of the road at  over 2.500 meters up. A steep and narrow cobbled road leads up from the last big parking lot and ends at a smaller summit area, but you can still take your car there. This is the most gridlocked section of all, as everyone tries to squeeze their machines into what little space there is.

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Upon successful summitting and parking everyone flocks to the panoramic terraces and pulls out his phone, camera and selfie stick and fires away. The views really are stunning and the pictures I’m providing here do nature no justice. I tried my best to avoid getting the crowds of people into my frame, but you have to take the good with the bad when visiting such a popular destination.

The true heroes of the climb

Alongside all the motorists you will see surprisingly many cyclists pushing their pedals tirelessly up the steep inclines. They are the real heroes of the day and hopefully an inspiration to many people speeding by in their air conditioned vehicles. As a cyclist myself I tip my hat to everyone who has managed to climb up the road on any kind of bike. It is a real challenge in the best of conditions, but top that with summer heat and busy traffic, and you have the makings for a climb that is not for the faint-hearted.

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Once you do manage the climb though, you are richly rewarded with some of the best views you will ever see. Several 3.000 meter peaks open up in front of you, and clouds roll lazily around them. The highest of them is of course the mountain that lent the road it’s name, and it is truly a sight to remember.

Whether you are a nature lover, a passionate cyclist, a motorbiking fan or just looking for your next trip, the Grossglockner alpine road is an experience that leaves a long lasting memory. If you can, visit it away from the main tourist season when it’s not so crowded and enjoy the stunning vistas it has to offer.

Head on over to their official website for more info.

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The beauty of looking at pictures the old way

The local fire department in which I am a member recently celebrated it’s 90 years of existence.  Now, a 90th anniversary is no small thing, and we celebrated accordingly. There was a big garden party held for the general public, as well as a parade of classic firetrucks and a formal gathering of invited dignitaries the evening before.

Over the recent years I’ve become the go-to photographer in the department – a job that I take great joy in. Of course I am there to do other things beside simply taking pictures, but whenever they need to cover an important event, I’m usually the one to do it. Situations can range from emergency calls to different social gatherings and celebrations, like the one we just had. It’s all on a voluntary basis and no one gets paid to do any of it, which is part of the fun, I think.

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A topic like that deserves a dedicated post though, for I had something else in mind today.

One of the guests at the birthday party was Mr. Albreht, a long-time secretary for the fire department. He is seen in the cover picture sitting in the middle. Though he passed on his duties to the younger generation and mainly enjoys the quiet of his home, he still attends most of the bigger gatherings from time to time. He is also quite an outspoken guy and has asked me on occasion to have a couple of photos developed, so he’d have a memory of the event. Of course I’m happy to oblige – he’s never been pushy about it, always insisted on paying the expenses and is genuinely happy when I bring him the photos.

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It is even more of a satisfaction for me, for several reasons. Firstly, no one ever asks for physical copies any more. I usually just pick out the good pics and post them on Facebook, then tag everyone and wait for the likes to start dropping. Admit it, it’s what we all do. Of course it feels good to see that red notification marker, but there’s no real emotion in it. It can’t compare to actually handing someone the pictures and seeing their reaction for the first time. And we generally don’t even look at pictures on the screen, we just quickly glance over them.

Then there’s the trip to the photo studio. This might be a nuisance in many ways, especially if I had to do it often. As it stands now, on only go there every once in a while, either for Mr. Albreht or the local hiking club, where I’m also a member. The pictures are usually printed in about 30 minutes, just long enough to have any ice cream at the guy across the street. I remember having to wait for days when my dad took his film to be developed when I was a kid. It helps a lot that there’s usually an attractive girl who works there as well. Makes my day easily, a unique selling proposition. I wonder if I’d even be going there if it was an old fat bloke instead of her…

Lastly, there’s the joy of having the actual photos in your hand and delivering them over. It’s a different feeling than simply doing it because someone’s going to pay you. I could have said “yeah ok” when Mr. Albreht asked me for those photos. Then I’d pretend I’d forgotten, who knows when I would see him next and by that time it would have slipped my mind and his completely. The photos would be left in some file on my computer, forgotten like most of the others.

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It took me no time at all to get them. While for some they might be just slips of paper, I’d like to think he’ll look kindly on them. It was funny, he was very upbeat about his funeral plans when we talked. Like he had the whole thing planned out already; who to invite and who not to, what it’s going to look like and so on. He didn’t look terminally ill or anything, but I guess you start thinking about these things when you reach old age.

Or course I wish him luck and good health for however long he wishes to stay with us. But I’m sure those photos I brought him will endure somewhere and mean something to someone. Maybe in a decade or two his grandson will find them in an old album and wonder at the life he lived.

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So many things are digital these days. From pictures to pastimes and friendships, it all seems rushed and artificial at times. Instead of a smile and a thank you we crave for likes and comment replies, and the talk is often about cats or how some guy fell down the stairs. The story expires as soon as you scroll down to the next irrelevant bit.

If by now you’re still reading, I suggest you stop and look for that dusty box of photos. Bring your granddad along if you still have the chance and listen to his stories. And if you have a hard drive full of pictures, pick out the best ones and invest 20 bucks for a nice album and have them developed. In the end, it’s about you, your past and your memories.

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