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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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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The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge stops in Maribor; gallery inside

If you are at least a bit into cars and road racing, you must have at some point seen pre-war, black & white films of loud, monstrous machines at places like Le Mans or the Mille Miglia in Italy. Ever since the creation of the automobile, road racers have done their best to push their cars and themselves to the absolute limit and history is full of such legendary sporting events. And while here in Slovenia, we might not have a deep automotive history behind us, a part of it came knocking on my doorstep this afternoon.

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An absolutely gorgeous Bentley Sport Special from 1936

Meet the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge – a continent-crossing endurance rally for vintage cars that takes participants from – you guessed it – Beijing in China to the french capital of Paris. The oldest cars in the race are just about turning 100 years old and they have been doing 500 kilometers per day for the last month across rural China, Mongolia, Russia and the like.

Forget air-conditioned garages and exquisite showrooms, these gems have faced endless dirt roads, snowstorms, scorching heat and more than a handful of technical difficulties. 107 driver-navigator crews have set out a month ago and up to now only 6 have had to drop out. Along the way they are being helped by a total of 10 mechanics in 5 support vehicles, plus other organising staff and members of the national automobile clubs.

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Car #21 is a 1933 Rolls Royce Phantom II by Malaysia’s Hok Kiang Sia & Eric Kuang Rong Sia.

Although speed is important, crews must battle much more than the clock before they reach Paris. Getting these machines to the overnight stay is a big mechanical and navigational challenge and of course the sleeping accommodations aren’t always top-notch either. After 10 hours of battling the steering wheel and the elements, a warm bed is something every participant would eagerly desire. But sometimes, a sleeping bag and tent in the middle of the desert is all they could get.

Like the cars themselves, the event has it’s own unique reputation and history. When the first iteration occurred some of the oldest cars here were considered the best that money could buy at the time. Who knows what stories they might tell if they could speak, but only a lot of love and care of their owners brought them to Maribor today.

Mind you, racing in an event such as this does not come cheap. The cars alone must cost a hefty sum to maintain, and then there is the entry fee. Around 38.000 pounds will get you in, if you have a car that fits the wishes of the organizers. You will be provided a lot of support throughout the race, but it is up to you keep the car running and get to the finish line in Paris.

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You won’t find air conditioning here. Nor will there be power steering or air bags. You’ll be lucky to have a roof.

It is safe to say that I will most likely not see such a collection of magnificent automobilia ever again in my life. Apart from the general amazement of the gathering, several things stood out for me.

Firstly, that you would even take a 70 or 80 year-old car on such a trip and that it would make it when some of the modern cars would surely struggle a lot more. They are of course specially modified, prepared and maintained on a daily basis, but you would sooner expect them on a pedestal in some museum that out in the dirt of the Slovenian hillsides. I loved seeing them in action, some banged and bruised a big, but roaring noisily none the less.

Then, seeing that a lot of the crews were family based. By the names on the doors you could see the husband-wife connection, or even some father-son pairs as well. Doubtless every duo had to share a special kind of bond towards each other and toward the car as well, to even consider signing up for such a race.

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Bentley Boys

Sometimes I wish we had a car culture that would be similar in spirit to those of other countries like Germany, USA or the United Kingdom. I love stories of cars that have been in the family for decades. In doing so they become part of that family, a prized possession and a way of life. For different reasons I have never seriously considered owning an older, iconic car instead of my current mk 4 Golf, though the wish was in my mind. Either it was for lack of money, space or mechanical skill or something else, I always chose the sensible option.

But now after this event I got to thinking about that classic Mini I always thought was so much fun. Perhaps some day one of them might end up under my roof yet.

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You are of course invited to look through the rest of the pics from today’s event down below. If you’d like to learn more about the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, I suggest you head over to their official website. Watch out for the superbly stocked gallery as well.

The local classic car club brought some of their gems:

And then there were the participants themselves; you can check the vehicle details and track the race crews on the website.

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Tarragona Trip article in Hostelling International Web Magazine

After coming back from Tarragona, Spain and writing a blog post about it, I went on and did an article for Globetrotter, an online travel magazine under the Slovenian branch of Hostelling International.

Although similar in length and equipped with pretty much the same pictures, it is not a copy/paste job – while I mostly convey my personal experiences and thoughts here on the blog, the magazine article is oriented more towards giving a general presentation of the city and it’s attractions. To put it short – it’s a lot more like your average travel article.

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Best taken with friends 🙂

I won’t go over what or why you should go to Tarragona, I’ll just say that you definitely should. And before you do, there’s the article in question waiting for you by clicking on one of the links below. Both English and Slovenian language versions are available and again, not direct translations. Why not read both of them if you have the chance. 🙂

Tarragona trip article @ Globetrotter Web Magazine – English version

Utrinki s potovanja v Tarragono – v slovenščini.

As always, enjoy it 😉

 

 

Ride report: AJM Team Time Ride 2016

I’m just back from a great day of cycling at an event called AJM Team Time Ride, a rather splendid, easy-going ride around the vineyard hills just outside the center of Maribor.

As you might have read in one of my previous posts, it’s a “race” where teams of 2-4 people compete in getting as close as possible to the average time of all teams. Sounds a bit complicated, right? Here’s how it works: Each team rides around the course together and their time is recorded at the end. When all teams finish an average time is calculated and the team that finishes with a time as close as possible to it is crowned the winner. Of course you never know what the actual average time is going to be, so it’s pure guesswork how fast or slow you should be going, or indeed how many Spritzer* stops you should make.

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More than 220 team set out on a route that started in the village of Kamnica and went into the surrounding hills, which are a pallet of forests, meadows and vineyards. This meant a constant up-and-down mix of tarmac and dirt roads and even though the course was only about 25 kilometers long, it still took some time to complete. Mainly it was because of the hundreds of cyclist sharing the roads with you, but people also paused a lot at the many wine producers opening their doors to the masses cycling by.

The “most average team wins” concept kept pace low as well. Riders had plenty of time to make the hilly round trip, so no one was in a hurry to get back. I took my friends Nejc and Gregor with me and we entered as Prazni Krigli, or “The Empty Tankard Team”. We each strapped a beer tankard to our backpack and set off. Right around the first couple of corners came the biggest climb of the course which could seriously ruin your (otherwise quite perfect) day, if you weren’t prepared mentally or physically. Some were already stepping off and pushing their bikes through the forest, cursing their teammates for talking them into ever doing the ride.

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Because of the local geography, the route was quite tricky and unpredictable.There was very little flat terrain. Short, steep hills prevented you from seeing very far ahead and there wasn’t a definite last climb where you could give it your all. You couldn’t really tell how much you still had to go. Even if you thought you were safe for a while, the road picked up sharply just around the corner.

Not that there was any need to go fast. We made good time, avoided most of the wine cellars and even though we helped one lady with a puncture and had lunch before going back to finish the clock, we were still 10 minutes faster than average. Prizes were given out to the winners (2 secs from average) and runners-up (4 secs from average), as well as a host of other achievements. Sadly our team failed to grab any of the prizes – holiday packages in Malta, Greece and Turkey, Scott mountain bikes and Briko cycling gear all escaped our grasp.

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Someone once told Nejc (left) that he looked like Antonio Banderas. Now he won’t stop talking about it.

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While we sadly didn’t get anything at the giveaway, nature more than made up for it and rewarded us with great views and lovely weather.In the end we had a great time and were quite proud of ourselves for having completed the course. As the leader of our team I was most pleased that both Nejc and Gregor, who are not that into cycling as I am, came with me, pushed through the hard bits and enjoyed a wonderful day. To me, that’s a lot more important than winning any prize or title. I hope they’ll come with me again when the time comes to spin the pedals some more.

The AJM Team Time Ride has now been going on for around 7 years, and I believe it’ll be here for at least that many more. With quality sponsors, a large turnout from all over the country and great organisational support, the event has nowhere to go but up. I believe we’ll be there to see how it goes next year, hopefully with some international teams as well.

Some more pictures for you down below, and click here if you want to go to the AJM TTR home page for more info.

For more on cycling in Maribor and the surrounding area, visit the official tourist info site.

*Just to let you know if you don’t already. A spritzer (or špricer, as we call it) is a glass of wine mixed with sparkling water. Served cold and very refreshing. 🙂

The Tarragona Trip Report

I’ve just come back from a rather splendid trip to Catalunya, where I spent a few days in the port city of Tarragona. My friends Gregor and Maja have been living there for the last 2 months by way of the Erasmus student exchange and have kindly invited me and another friend called Blaž to come over. They rented a snug apartment just outside the city overlooking the beach and as this also meant free accommodation, we just couldn’t refuse the invite.

Having someone who’s done the trip there definitely helped planning. After looking for the best flight option we booked a return flight from Treviso (IT) to Barcelona, but that still meant getting to the airport and from Barcelona to Tarragona itself, which is about 100 km down the Catalan coast.

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The other part of Blaž’s family decided to spend a few days in Rome and they luckily dropped us off along the way, which spared us a lot of bother just getting to Treviso, which is about 330 km away. Tagged TSF, the airport is a small affair mostly used for low-cost airlines such as Ryanair Besides their regular and quite affordable connection with Barcelona, they do a lot of internal flights in Italy, while others may take you to places like London Stanstead and East Midlands as well.

Unsurprisingly, as this was the beginning of the 1st of May holiday weekend, the flight was packed. I booked my seat 2 months ago and just managed to snatch the last spot. I’ve only flown twice before, a round trip from Vienna to – you guessed it – Barcelona and was excited to relive the sensation of takeoff and flying. It was much as I remembered it. Seats only slightly more comfortable than your local bus, young couples and the

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ir kids, taking pictures and acting wildly excited, safety instructions reminding you of the worst and prettily made up cabin crew smiling the biggest smile while trying to sell you overpriced snacks and local guides over the intercom. I still can’t comprehend how humanity has been able to walk on the moon, but failed to produce stewardesses who one might understand during their safety-dance demonstration.

Comparatively, BCN is an airport worthy of it’s name. Ryanair and other budget carriers land at Terminal 2, from where you have a direct train line to Sants, the main railway station in Barcelona and the trip costs about 4€. Everything is well marked and people mostly speak English well, which can’t be said for most Catalunians. From what I’ve experienced, public transport is reliable, well organised and indeed much used both in Barcelona and Tarragona.

Now, you’d think travel these days is quick, but it still took us almost 15 hours of switching between cars, planes, trains and busses to reach our friends Gregor and Maja. Luckily it all went smooth and without complications. A welcoming party with a lot of vodka was in order which lasted well into the morning and left Gregor a bit worse off the next morning. Alcohol is surprisingly cheap in Catalunya.

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Me and Blaž on the left with Maja and Gregor on the right. Big breakfast soon set things on the right track.

But most people don’t have friends in Tarragona, so why would you ever want to go there? I’ll let you glance through the gallery below, and it should be easily evident.

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Colorful, lively city streets? Check.
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Enjoying the warm climate on a quiet square? Check.
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Busy promenade and human pyramids? Check. The pyramids are a local tradition Tarragona’s famous for. I believe the records is 10 stories high, and there’s always a 5-year old child on top.
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Taking a walk with friends down sandy beaches? Check.
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Double check for golden beaches straight outta paradise.
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Castillo Tamarit overlooks still more beautiful sandy beaches and is a great setting for weddings and other celebrations.
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Cold beer on a warm day? What could be better.
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Placa De La Font fills up after darkfall with people taking drinks and ordering Tapas.
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History buffs will feel right at home, as Tarragona (then Tarraco) was an important Roman town – the Amphitheatre is an Unesco Heritage Site. Now it seems everything is called “Tarraco”, from the main square down to taxi companies and kebab stands

Plenty of reasons to consider Tarragona for your next destination then, or at least a short stop if you’re in the vicinity. The city is also popular with exchange students from all over Europe. Gregor and Maja have made some acquaintances during their stay, and we had the chance to meet two French girls, Lou and Sarah and went out for a couple of drinks at Placa de la Font. They easily broke the stereotype that people from France don’t speak English and it turned into an absolutely amazing evening. Tarragona lights up after dark and people take to the old squares in search of drinks and maybe seeing FC Barcelona play. We sat down at the Barata Bar and had a few beers, then hit a couple of clubs and danced until 3 am.

Then you realize perhaps the biggest irony of travel – you meet great people and share stories from around the world, and it seems like you’re living a dream. Then the evening ends, you say goodbye and chances are, you’re never going to see them again. For me, a sudden feeling of melancholy sets in then, even though I might be dancing at a great club and having the time of my life. It’s like life itself comes round and reminds you that you can’t dream forever. Sooner or later we all have to wake up.

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Some other local customs I found worth sharing;

  • bars mostly close at or around midnight. Only clubs remain open then, and come in an interesting variety of settings – from an Irish-themed one such as Highland (we got kicked out of that one because the waitress apparently didn’t understand Gregor’s order) to a big wine cellar called La Cova. A lot of the music is local, a nice break from the international club scene.
  • you’ll have a hard time finding something to eat in the early hours of the morning. I don’t know why, but no one sells any kind of snacks, pizzas or kebabs during the night. We heard of an old man selling such things illegally out of his apartment – the crowd of people waiting at his front door, then going up in pairs to get food looked quite silly and amusing.
  • city busses cost 1.5€ per ticket, no matter if you’re riding the whole line or just down to the next station. Useful for foreigners, as drivers generally don’t understand much outside of Spanish and Catalan.
  • If not traveling in full summer, be sure to pack a sweater and jacket. Days are generally warm, but evenings can quickly turn cold and there are strong winds usually blowing from the sea, making life tough for the hot-blooded. We found poor Lou wearing a skirt and flip-flops and it was clear she wasn’t enjoying it too much as we sat on the Placa drinking beers.
  • The custom of siesta is still respected here and the general tempo of life isn’t very fast. You’ll often see shops closed even during the day and especially on Sundays and holidays.

Why not have a go then? My time in Catalunya was amazing, and there’s still so much to see. I merely passed by Barcelona, which will require a visit all of it’s own. Fingers crossed I get a chance to return soon.

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The world is out there and it’s waiting for you to explore it. So make the most of it – meet new friends, see new places, have a beer on that golden stretch of sand. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

For more info on Tarragona, visit the official tourist website and follow my blog for similar posts to come.

And thanks for stopping by! 🙂

 

 

Memories from Rovinj, Croatia

Springtime means we’re all busy making plans for the summer, and if you’re still undecided as to where to go, why not spare a thought for the mediterranean jewel that is Rovinj.

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Photo from http://www.skyscrapercity.com

Rovinj is the second biggest city in Istria with about 14.000 inhabitants. It’s a typical Istrian port town, characterised by colorful square buildings huddled up tight on a small stony peninsula which used to be an island up to the 18th century. The lack of building space meant houses needed to be built close together, which resulted in a maze of narrow cobbled streets and passages barely wide enough for three people to walk abreast. You’ll find no cars here – people that lived during the construction of the city had no notion of four-wheeled transport of course. You’ll have to leave your gas guzzler parked outside and explore the city on foot.

As seen on the picture above, the town sits on a small hill and if you wander the twisty streets long enough, you’ll eventually find your way to the top. There you’ll find the church of St. Euphemia, a building of Venetian-inspired design, built in the second half of the 17th century. It features a tall bell tower which you can climb and enjoy the views of the surrounding area – against payment of a few kunas, of course (you’ll get about 7 kunas for 1 euro).

Once back on solid ground you can once again lose yourself in the jumble of narrow streets which become especially crowded and alive in the high season. Due to it’s unique setting, Rovinj is a powerful magnet for tourists from all over the world and their deep pockets attract a palette of cafe and restaurant owners, street performers, sellers, painters and other artists looking for their place under the Istrian sun.

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It seems like every local becomes a first grade artist over the summer. Galleries and small shops pop up everywhere.

I visited Rovinj in the summer of 2014  while working at the Kempinski Adriatic, which is  about an hour up the coast. I was joined by two workmates, Przemyslaw Obrebski from Poland, who spoke Croatian almost as good as the locals and Croatia’s own Valentina Simčić. We only spent an afternoon there, taking a quick stroll and a bite to eat at one of the many seaside restaurants – time enough to get a general idea, but just enough as well to leave me wanting more. Plus I only had a Nikon 1 S1 back then, and limited knowledge of photography, so the photos left in my archive admittedly aren’t the best.

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Plenty of reasons to plan a trip to Rovinj then. A great photo location and very hot on the tourist wish list this year, from what I’ve heard. With security concerns driving destinations like Egypt and Turkey away this year, demand for Istria is highest it’s been in years. Expect high room prices and little or no vacancies in the busiest weeks, so reserve quick, while there’s still some time.

There are a lot of things to do outside just exploring the twisty, narrow streets. You’ve got the usual bike trails set up, alongside boat trips, sailing, scuba diving etc. Make sure not to miss the Lim Canal, an Istrian version of a proper Norwegian fjord. It’s about 20 minutes away from Rovinj and ship excursions are available several times a day.

Accommodation options are the usual mix of hotels, campsites and private offerings. As befits such a popular destination, there is something for everyone, though I would recommend taking a room at one of the old houses in the center of town, just to get the proper feel of the place. Hotels are all well and good, but they also do a nice job of removing you from the core experience.

Have a look through some of my other photos in the gallery below and check out the Rovinj Tourist Information site if I left you hungry for more. 🙂

Cover photo from www.trazimsmjestaj.com.