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.

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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Hiking and biking on Uršlja gora (1699 m)

Uršlja gora (also called Plešivec) is a peak with a hard to pronounce name that lies in the Karavanke range in northern Slovenia, close to the border with Austria. It’s just short of 1700 meters high and features a cozy cottage at the top, accompanied by the Church of St. Ursula, which happens to be the highest-lying church in Slovenia.

For a long time the peak has been popular with nature lovers who visit it either on foot or by mountain bikes. A forest road that’s closed to traffic leads all the way to the top and provides a great opportunity for a cool MTB trip. Hikers meanwhile have almost a dozen different variations of well marked footpaths, all suitable for people of basic physical ability. Depending on your starting point it should take you anywhere from an hour to about three to get up to the top, where you’ll be able to enjoy the views on the surrounding mountains, hills and valleys.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I went for a little day trip with the local hiking club and found it quite fun. You could roughly translate “Uršlja gora” into “Ursula’s mountain”, but there’s nothing really mountainous about it. Just about anyone from young kids with parents to active pensioners should be able to make the climb and enjoy the lush forests on the way. Or, if you are a mountain biker looking for a challenge why not take this one on. You’ll be biting your knees in places, but a cold beer and nice views will surely be waiting for you when you get through it.

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The outdoors season, either for hikers or bikers is now officially open and so is just about every mountain cottage and refuge all around the country. We had a pretty nice day today with a short shower just as we peaked. Still, it was nothing to it, the cottage was packed full of cheery hikers and a bit of rain ruined no one’s day. Click through the gallery for more pics of the day, including some scenic views  and bikers and hikers doing what they love to do. Keep an eye out for yours truly making an appearance. 🙂

If you find yourself in Slovenia’s mountain regions, don’t hesitate to put your hiking boots on. Or look for a bike and spin the pedals a bit. Either way, you won’t regret it.

For more info, head over to the Active Holidays section on slovenia.info, the official Slovenian travel guide.

Le Mans-style hiking & biking for a good cause

Yesterday I took two of my friends, Sanja and Damijan on a rather special outdoor event in Ruše, just outside Maribor. The local elementary school prepared a 24-hour charity hike & bike which had everyone doing round trips from the starting point to a bar some 3 kilometers up the hill. There was a control point at each end where you checked in, along with some refreshments and music – a pretty simple concept and easy to pull off just about everywhere, but it got people going in a big way.

While the hiking route ran up through forests in a number of ways, cyclists had 6 kms of paved roads to manage, with a rise of around 300 vertical meters. It might not sound a lot, but most of the participants – including us – did multiple repeats, and some went deep into double digits. In fact – in the time of writing this, they’re still at it. The official incentive was that for every lap completed, more would be donated to charity. The event started at 4 pm yesterday (friday) and would run all through the night, finishing 24 hours later. And while the charity aspect was a nice touch, I had the feeling most of the people were there in the spirit of friendly competition. Everyone had that one more notch in their minds, some cyclists even more so, it seemed.

At first we were quite concerned about the weather, which has been acting up in the last couple of days and the forecast wasn’t promising either. Luckily the heavy rain clouds dispersed just hours before the event, the sun came out and so did many of the locals. It was really nice to see such a diverse crowd – schoolkids, young families, pensioners and active runners, all were doing their share to contribute to the experience.

Our own plan was to start late in the afternoon and keep on walking well into the night. Sanja was having some problems with her stomach, but luckily she’s tough as nails and we pressed on regardless. Along the way we met the self-pronounced oldest hiker of the day, looking strong at 87. “You’ll have many hard moments in life,” he said. “But just like hiking, you have to take it one step at a time and eventually you’ll get there.” Talk about spirit.

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Looking down on Maribor

It’s amazing what an active lifestyle can do for a person. Right then I thought of my grandma, who’s been watching TV and doing crossword puzzles for the past 30 years. She’s 86 now, a year younger than the man we met. She has a very hard time managing the three steps at her house.

Pretty soon we came upon Martnica, the finishing point for the first of what would later be three repeats. The hiking route met up with the cyclists and the cafe terrace was packed. It also meant I could gaze my eyes on some rather nice road bikes. Click through the gallery if you’re interested.

 

I’d like to direct your attention to the bright blue Rog Super. In the age when high-performance carbon bikes are commonplace, these retro beauties really stand out. Even more so because Rog is a nostalgic Slovenian bike brand, now sadly a remnant of times gone by. Attempts are being made to restore the name, but I fear the products they will make (if any) won’t have much in common with the factory from decades ago.

You can read a story about Rog and it’s Pony bikes in a fun post called “Only half a turn.”

After looking around and resting a bit, we turned back down and pretty soon the sun went down with us. The clouds were nowhere to be seen and above us opened a canopy of stars worthy of the greatest Hollywood romance. We were far away from the city lights, so the stars were even brighter. Such a wonderful sight, but one many people never even think about any more.  You really should take time to look up at the night sky more often. The view is quite humbling.

So we kept on walking by the light of headlamps into the early morning. The number of people thinned understandably, but there were still small groups or individuals out walking even at 1 am. Altogether we did 3 laps in about 7 hours, stopping at around 2pm. By that time some of the cyclists had done more than 10 repeats and were seriously thinking about breaking last year’s record, said to be at 32 climbs. Not bad for a day’s work. 🙂

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Spring Vintgar*

*Vintgar – gorge; a narrow cleft with steep, rocky walls, especially one through which a stream runs.

Well, time does fly quickly. It seems that not so long ago I was writing the Winter Vintgar post, which you should definitely check out. Winter has long gone and right now we’re fighting through a particularly wet stretch of spring which makes me more than a little anxious when looking out the window. Both my bikes are ready to go, as am I, but the forecast is a real downer at the moment.

But in the end, we shouldn’t let the occasional light shower and some nasty looking clouds get in the way of us having fun. I mean really, are we men or are we merely blocks of sugar, ready to melt at the slightest hint of rain.

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Of course not. So I had this idea of making four vintgar (or gorge) related posts, one for each season of the year. You can see the first one on the link above and this here is the second. As I said, the weather wasn’t perfect today, mostly overcast with some sun peeking through the clouds and rain later on. It’s been like this for a couple of days now and I was tired of sitting around the house, feeling useless. So I grabbed my camera, packed an umbrella just in case and set out.

The vintgar (or gorge) in question is about 10 minutes drive from my house, carved by the river Bistrica as it descends from the hills of Pohorje. Millenia ago Romans used the site to dig granite and other similar building materials, which were then transported around the region and used in the construction of roads, monuments, buildings and so on. Much later locals built many sawmills and used the fast current to their advantage.These days the gorge is a popular hiking trail and historic remains can still be seen all along the gorge.

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The complete gorge trail is around 3 hours one way, and then connects to other marked trails, so you can use it as a starting point for a nice full-day outing. I only did the lower part today, which is about two hours up and down. Took some photos along the way, got caught by some light rain and splashed some mud on my hiking boots.

It’s all good days though – don’t get scared by a couple of threatening clouds. Nature is beautiful in it’s own way when it’s raining. 🙂

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Have a look through the rest of the pics and other content, follow the blog for more similar posts and definitely come back some more. If you’re interested in finding out more about the area, check out the official tourist website of the Maribor-Pohorje region. What awaits is great opportunities for cycling, hiking, good food and wine and an occasional world-class sporting event.

And have a great time, of course! 🙂

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The 24th Rus Hike on Sljeme, Croatia

The local hiking club organised an outing to neighbouring Croatia today, where we attended the 24th traditional Rus Hike (originally called Rusov pohod) on a hill called Sljeme, just outside the capital city of Zagreb. I’ve written about Zagreb before and sad to say I wasn’t very impressed. The city looked bleak during my last visit which was just before Christmas, but I kept my hopes up this time. I seem to dislike big city centers, especially the ones which still have a taste of socialism on them. Green hills and spring forests are something else completely though, and spending a saturday with a bus full of jolly hikers sounds like a recipe for some good fun.

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It has to be said that our club is pretty small and to even fill up a bus is an achievement in itself. On top of that a big part of our membership consists of pensioners (as is evident from the above picture). Not the perfect demographic to hang out with, you might think, but Ah! Think again. If anyone knows how to have fun and enjoy the outdoors it’s old gray hikers who have been doing it for decades and never leave home without something to drink – and by that I don’t mean fruit juice. They’ll also never leave you in a rut, always look out for everyone else and make damn sure you’re not thirsty, hungry or generally feeling down.

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White wine, red wine, Jaegermeister, forest fruit liquor, schnapps – it’s all in those backpacks somewhere. Best of all, it’s mostly home made.

Lately I’ve been trying to bring some of my friends into the hiking game and so far I’m pleased with the results. Damjan and Sanja, friends from the fire department chose to come along and right after boarding the bus we took up seats in the back row, much like high school kids might have done.

It was about an hours drive to Zagreb with a mandatory break mid-way for an early breakfast and already there were cakes and cookies going around, along with coffee and small bottles of questionable contents. After a short drive through downtown Zagreb we eventually made it to the start point at the lower tourist information office. There we were handed small booklets containing a map and a control paper which you’d stamp at checkpoints along the way, to prove you’ve done the whole trail. At the finish point you’d then be given the final seal of approval and if this was your 3rd, 5th, 7th or 10th time completing the Rus Hike, you’d even recieve a badge or a plaque. Fancy!

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It was my first time though and I was just trying to take in the sights. As you can see, the official name of the organising club is PD Ericsson – Nikola Tesla Zagreb, but the name of the hike comes from it’s founder, Antun Željko Matišin- Rus. The first time this hike was organised was in 1993.

By now it’s become quite a big deal with attendance from Croatia and many surrounding countries, including Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia and so on. Heading up, we got mixed up in another large group of hikers and walked in a tight bunch for a while. As this is technically not a hard or steep trail, there were people of all kinds here – from locals looking for a workout to older ladies walking their dogs. There was even a small group of high school girls with last night’s makeup and fake leather handbags instead of proper backpacks.

Tired of rubbing shoulders on a narrow trail we soon decided it was time for a new break, some more pastries, perhaps a sandwich and most definitely a passaround of chosen liquors.

By now you can probably see what it all looked like. A lot of sitting and standing around, drinking booze and having fun before moving on to some other place to sit and drink. Well, you wouldn’t be far wrong by thinking that. In such events walking pace is kept low to accomodate everyone and the only thing you have to do is to forget the outside world and enjoy the company and beautiful scenery around you.

But just to assure you it wasn’t all just reckless consumption, here’s a picture to prove it.

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The “stop&go” tempo resumed all throughout the day. Here’s the big difference between hiking alone and being a part of such a big group. When going alone, or with a friend, girlfriend, wife etc., you basically just take things you’re going to need yourself. And I think this is even more true for younger people. Here though – at least in Slovenia – everyone brings stuff to share with everyone else and no one plans on taking anything back home. It makes for constant social interaction and makes one feel truly a part of something bigger, even though everyone else is 30 years their senior.

And so the pace continued throughout the day and our group went on gently climbing and descending along the green hillsides. Ultimately the route brought us to the top Sljeme, which is just over 1000 meters high. As befits a city such as Zagreb, the hill is a popular recreation point for it’s inhabitants and it boasts appropriate infrastructure. It’s easily reachable by car (or even bicycle) and has hotels, cafe bars and even a ski slope awaiting your pleasure. The views were equally as pleasing and a group photo was in order.

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We were very near to the end of our hike, but the day wasn’t done yet – not as long as our backpacks still had something in them. Our bus was waiting not far below the top, so we went to cash in our control tickets and the proceeded with the festivities. It turned out there was enough food still on the bus to host a small wedding and it just wouldn’t do to bring any of it home. When that was mostly done, it was off to the nearest cafe for some lounging in the warm spring sun. My eyes grew heavy then and all I could think was taking a nap somewhere comfy. Here’s me on the left, with Damjan holding onto his beer.IMG_8993Beer done, it was time to really start back. You’d think by that time our supplies would be dwindling, but… There were hidden caches still to be used up. People walked up and down the bus offering whatever they had left – more wine, spirits and even some pretzels this time. We even stopped one more time on the one-hour long journey. It was like nobody really wanted to go home.

Please don’t get me wrong – under no circumstances am I trying to endorse drinking or encourage anyone to drink while hiking. Serious injuries can and doubtless have occured before, not to mention simply acting like an annoying idiot while under the influence. We all go on group hikes to enjoy each other’s company and spend time outdoors. You don’t need alco to have fun, but if you do decide to bring some with you, take care to use it sparingly.

On with the hiking boots again

Well, it seems the hiking season is just about getting into full swing in these parts. Today was the fourth time this year I’ve participated in an organised group hike – you can read about the first one on New Year’s day here.

As I live just under the Pohorje hill range, naturally there are a number of hiking clubs in the area and all of them organise at least one group hike on their “home ground”. A course is usually set from the center of their home town along their trails up to a certain finishing spot with checkpoints offering home made food, drinks and music along the way. There is usually no starting fee, the pace is gentle and easy-going and attendance can be anywhere from a couple dozen to hundreds of people, depending on a number of factors. You’ll see anyone from families with small children to active pensioners eagerly going at it.

Marked above is the route we had planned for today, starting in a small town of Oplotnica and finishing about 800 vertical meters higher at a place called Črno jezero or “Black lake”. The way there and back was to take about 6 to 7 hours of walking, something anyone of reasonable fitness should be able to do witout much trouble. I invited a number of friends and family members to come with me, but getting anyone to actually go was expectedly difficult. I’ve grown accustomed to people having other things to do right when I’d like them to go with me.

In the end only Sanja, a friend from the fire depaprtment was up for it and I was relieved I didn’t have to go alone. So we drove over to the starting point, parked up and joined the crowd of people already on their way. It was apparent the local hiking club takes much care looking after their trails – the way was clear and well marked with frequent refreshment stations for those who needed a bit of a boost.

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Just above the town of Oplotnica – the lands look a bit like Switzerland, only shabbier 🙂

The day was typical early spring – cold winds and some sun peeking through the clouds, threatening with rain. Unfortunately I left my camera at home, as I tend to pack light on such trips. This left me only my phone to take pictures with and I wasn’t really pleased with how they looked. It also made me think about investing in a small pocket camera, as my Canon DSLR is somewhat heavy and difficult to lug around.

We made good time on the way up and I was pleased that Sanja was keeping up with me. It’s not that I keep a fast pace, just that usually there’s someone in my group who keeps slowing us down, which can be a nuisance. Then at about 1000 meters high we came up to the snow line – I wasn’t really expecting much snow, but you could sink to your knees in it in some places. Luckily the people before us cleared a narrow path which was a real treat  to walk on.

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Snow meant we were getting close to our finishing point. The top of Pohorje is quite flat with ski resorts, churches, lakes and lonely farmsteads all over the place. It makes for a perfect summer getaway as forests provide shelter from the heat. Right now though, snow was still clinging to the ground, defying the oncoming spring.

A couple of minutes walk ahead we’d come to the before mentioned Black lake. Whe water in it is actually crystal clear, but the bottom is full of mud and it serves to darken it’s outlook and lend it it’s name. A layer of ice and snow was still covering it and a joke started spreading around that the black lake was actually white.

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A number of hikers continued their way to a nearby ski center where there was to be more entertainment and undoubtedly drinks of the fun kind. Transport back down was surely organised as well, as some of the people were having too much fun with those drinks already. We turned back down and went by some of those who were still on their way up. The line of march was stretched way back and we chatted to people as we passed. One was asking if we saw a World War II batallion somewhere, as they’ve apparently invited him to a picnic. We said that they were probably down by the lake and he grumbled that he still had half a bottle of liquor with him. I wonder where the other half went…

Then we came upon a merry group of middle aged hikers who were wrestling each other to the ground in the snow. A curious sight, but not one to be taken lightly, as they merrily started hounding us as well. Too much alcohol and good company really does turn people into thoughtless wrecks sometimes. A woman jumped at me, probably thinking I’d like into their game, but I managed to wriggle free and step aside a bit. Sanja wasn’t that lucky and got sadly dumped in the snow. Then they all rushed to brush the snow off her and apologize for their shannanigans, but that’s really no way to act in any state. After some more hounding and a plea not to take everything too seriously we were finally free to go on as they continued stumbling in the other direction.

That was the last of the funny bunch. The rest of the way down was comparably peaceful, even though the weather was turning sour. Luckily we reached the car dry and in good spirits, even though our feet felt a bit heavy after 7 good hours of walking.

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So that was my Easter monday. If you’d like to read some more of my hiking stories, why not read about Winter Vintgar or the time we went topping Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia.

Throwback: topping Triglav

I was just looking through my hard drive for nothing in particular when I came across a folder containing some pictures from our trip to the summit of Triglav, Slovenia’s tallest mountain at 2864 meters high and a proud national symbol.

It was quite some time ago, in late summer of 2013. At the time there was a call going around our local volunteer fire department to organize a group trip, as is often the custom in these parts, and not surprisingly many people were interested. It’s a thing of pride to be able to say you’ve been to the top of Triglav – a saying goes that you only become a true Slovenian after doing that and if you’re any kind of hiker at all, it is  certainly on your to do list. Beliefs and sayings aside, it’s still a formidable challenge and not one to be taken lightly. I was surprised to see that many of the people who signed up for the trip had no previous hiking experience or indeed the fitness to accomplish it.

In the end there were about 18 of us – friends, colleagues, unknown people others invited. One of them, a burly bloke named Rene, who was determined to make the 2-day hike in high spirits and an old fireman helm, all 160 kilos of him and his backpack. Others were similarly ill-suited. Some, including Rene, only got their hiking boots a few days ago and have never even seen mountains from up close. It seems they were there only to prove the others they could do it. It made for a rowdy bunch and pretty soon they started talking of who would turn back first.

We had a career army man by the name of Frankie to guide us. He’s a family friend and I’ve gone hiking with him before, so I knew we were in good hands as far as navigation was concerned. He knew the trails around Triglav National Park like the back of his hand and could help out with tips and pointers for getting the less fortunate across the tricky sections.

The shortest way to the summit is marked at about 5 hours walk and it was this one we originally planned to take. Some people go for one-day round trips, but we had 2 days planned for the endeavour, with an overnight stop at Kredarica (2515 m), the highest lying alpine cottage in the country just below the summit of Triglav.

It turned out that Frankie the hard-faced army man had decided on a slightly different route, one that would take us about twice as long to complete. Luckily we weren’t in a rush. We left our cars and vans just after daybreak and set off. We had been hoping for sun, but the day was foggy and chilly. The dirt road we took was level at first, going through a grassy valley past lonely stables and cottages, but it soon turned into the woods and started to climb. The path there was littered with limestone chunks which made walking even more difficult and my 12 kg of backpack didn’t help my cause.

The line of march was beginning to stretch now. We received word from the back that Rene was struggling with the weight of his body and backpack. One of the girls had trouble with her newly bought shoes, the sole of which was starting to come off. A small group of them was falling behind as they tried mending the shoes and waited for Rene to catch up.

In the meanwhile we moved on, higher and higher through the mist. After about 4 or 5 hours we came to the Vodnikova koča cottage. Though often very basic, these cottages are a real treat for weary hikers and provide some much needed rest and warmth after a long hike.

There are dozens of places like this scattered through the Slovenian mountains. They provide simple meals, drinks and a bed to sleep in if the night catches you. As they are far away from towns or even roads, a caretaker or a small group of people will most likely live there for months on end, working tirelessly to provide services for the passing hikers. For the right kind of person a life in the mountains, away from the roar of modernity is like a piece of heaven on Earth.

After a regroup and a short refreshment it was time to move on. By that time Rene and his group were far behind and we had suspected they meant to spend the night here. It was the sensible thing to do, as they had no chance of reaching Kredarica by nightfall. We still had some way to go though. The trees along the trail were spread thinner now and soon gave way to bushes, then lonely patches of grass and finally even that was scarce. Still the mist clung all around us, even thicker than before.

Red metal signs stand at certain points along the way, telling you how far you still have to go. Just as we passed the one hour mark, we got out of the mist and a beautiful cloudless sky appeared around us.

The last hour seemed to go on forever. We could see the crest of the ridge where Kredarica stood, but the way zigged and zagged up the steep mountain slope. By that time we were walking for almost 11 hours and our bodies were done. Our morale was all but done as well and all we could see was the great cottage, standing proud in the shining sun. Sure enough, a few steps later, there it was.

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Kreh-dahr-itza. Kredarica 🙂

More like a hotel, really. At 2515 meters above sea level, this 300-bed cottage comes complete with a helicopter landing deck, a nearby chapel and also serves as a weather station. During winter, snow falls so high it covers the ground floors and completely changes the surrounding area. During summer this is one of the most popular destinations for hikers and despite the 300-bed capacity, you’d be sleeping on the bench of the common area if you came in without a reservation.

The summit of Triglav can be seen over the roof of the building on the picture. The trail runs right along the ridge and you can watch the hikers climbing the wall or walking along even after nightfall, their headlamps lighting the way up and down the mountain.

That is, if you can turn your eyes away from the view.

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The culprit for the fog we’ve been having all day

The common area was lively and getting livelier as hikers kept coming either up or down the mountain. Our group was slowly forming back together after getting separated out on the trail again. As we’ve thought, the challenge proved too much for Rene and his group who decided to stay in the lower cottage and start back down after a good night’s sleep.

We ordered some warm stew to fill our bellies and after a while someone produced an accordion and started playing. Suddenly the whole place turned into a party. You’ll often see people carrying all manner of crazy things into the mountains. Guitars, accordions and other instruments often find their way up there. But there are some even more wonderful and amazing stories to be told – such as a group of people carrying their disabled friend up to the summit, or even a small steel tower. More on that later.

As darkness fell we began to feel the effects of the day behind us. People were slowly going off to their well deserved beds. I remember sleep taking me the moment I closed my eyes. Large rooms can get quite noisy sometimes, but that night I heard nothing. Sleeping that night felt better than ever.


That’s it for day 1. Don’t forget to follow my blog and come back for day 2, where we finally reach the top and look into some of the other stories surrounding it.

Cheers!