Posts filed under 'Slovenia'

Review of the last year

Add comment August 11th, 2014

I started writing this in Amsterdam (sweltering in mid-summer heat) and just returned from 12 days in Slovenia before heading home. Having a chance to look at my various sites fro the first time for ages I see I’ve been neglecting this blog badly – the last year has been a constant round of major changes and only work and finance/property has had a look-in. So let’s catch up.

The continued resolving of my aunt’s estate

I spoke in my last post about tying up loose ends of my auntie Jean’s house in March 2013 – that proved to be far too optimistic. Legal and estate agent matters do not resolve themselves as easily as we simple souls would like and it would be a few months more and a lot of correspondence before we got the will dealt with and the house put on the market. I should say that this was no fault of the lawyers, Cartmell and Shepherd of Carlisle, who were excellent throughout and did everything they could to help us. The various monetary legacies of the will were eventually distributed and the house became mine; it was then a case of putting it on the market, dealing with the estate agent and awaiting viewings.

Letting Dad’s house

We successfully let dad’s house in Chesser with the assistance of Help for Letting, a local agency run by Lucy Petrie who has proved true to her ethical intentions. The first tenants have been excellent and at time of writing are just about to move out to their first house of their own having seen an offer they couldn’t refuse. We wish them well – especially as they plan to get married soon.

Back to Slovenia – and with a mission!

In the meantime dad and I made plans for another trip to Slovenia in the Autumn, and this time we wanted to look at houses there – the Carlisle house would provide enough to finance a reasonable place there if we could find the right one – houses tend to take a long time to sell in Slovenia so turnover is fairly low, particularly in the recent EU economic difficulties.

I had for many months (indeed years) been poring over online estate agency listings – seeing many that were too expensive and many that looked too far gone to consider restoring. I got down to a shortlist of about 15, although one that I liked the look of sold just before we set off.

The agency we used, Think Slovenia, proved very accommodating in organising our viewings. First from the Bohinj area where we stayed the first week at the Hotel Krystal (the first time we’d stayed there and a very friendly family run hotel), and then from the Kobarid area where we as usual stayed at the excellent Hotel Hvala. I must say thank you to them again for the lovely birthday present they gave dad, who had just celebrated his 90th birthday. They gave us the new luxury suite for the same price as a normal room. This included a jacuzzi bath which dad had never experienced before and it proved to have a very beneficial effect on the shoulder he’d injured some months before as well as being very relaxing. I half expected him to have one put into his new house in Lanark!

Think Slovenia took us round all the houses by car, despite it being a couple of hours drive from Ljubljana. Some were immediately rejected when we saw how much work they would need or were not in places that made the best of the scenery. We boiled it down to three or four. One was a spacious house in a suburb area a few miles from Bled, but it was probably too big. Another was a wooden chalet-style house in a picturesque valley just north of the main motorway. It even had a sauna and was looking a good bet until we realised that there was no immediate chance of getting an internet line put in. It also appears that it is often snowed in in the winter. A third came in for serious consideration – high in the hills above Tolmin with views down to the Italian plains. But the last house was in a special place that dad and I had discovered on an earlier trip. Dreznica sits high in a valley above Kobarid and is one of the most beautiful places in the Soca area. Behind it towers Mount Krn and the bright white village church against the backdrop of the mountain makes it magnet for landscape photographers like me. The house we were to see was situated in a hamlet just beyond the main village and was a little above my intended price range, but in that glorious setting we had to see it. The view from outside the house was enough to convince us – though perhaps in retrospect we were a little over-hasty. I’ll go into that more in the next post but I think that it’s ok despite needing a lot of work.

While we were over there we heard that the payment had come through on the Carlisle house so we put in an offer and it was accepted.

Two more trips

A couple of months later in November I had to fly back over to Ljubljana for the signing of the various legal papers. The city had changed quite a bit since I was last there – more pedestrian areas in the centre and delightful to walk along by the river. Then in February this year I got the keys and the final handover – this time flying to Venice and hiring a car from there. I was surprised how mild it was and how lovely the carpets of wild crocuses were.

Dad continues in good form approaching 91

Dad has had a second cataract operation and can now see clearly with both eyes, which means he can drive again. He was over at Normandy again for the D-Day celebrations in June. This was the 70th and final official gathering – the Normandy Veterans Association is being wound up this year while there are still a few veterans left. But maybe, if he’s still fit enough, he might still make a private visit next year. Although most of the French Resistance members who used to welcome him are now gone he still gets a warm welcome from their families and indeed all the local people. It’s gratifying to see that their children are all taught about the sacrifices made to ensure they would be able to grow up free from tyranny, and that they are genuinely interested in the remaining veterans when they visit.

He’ll be 91 in August, and the last few years have been very precious. Let’s hope for a few more yet!

The further delights of Slovenia

Add comment July 14th, 2008

I’m writing this on the last day of yet another fabulous holiday in Slovenia. Dad and I reprised our visit of last year, returning to Bohinj and Kobarid. The weather was very much in our favour as we learned that the previous week had seen constant rain and the secret waterfall above Lake Bohinj, which only appears when an underground lake is sufficiently full to overflow, had appeared for only the third time this year. We however arrived to a heatwave which was to continue the whole fortnight, with only the final two days seeing a couple of brief thunderstorms.

My admiration for this country continues to grow, and I seriously wonder if I could move here. Populated by an industrious and charming people, they also seem to have the right idea of pace of life and what is really important. And two of the most important subjects are food and drink, both of which they excel at. Indeed the only fault I can find overall is that they seem to have little concept of a light lunch! It is easy to eat so much that dinner becomes unnecessary, and that would be a crime.

Slovenian food and drink

Their ingredients are sublime: beef and venison that seems to require the lightest of cooking but exudes flavour and succulence, fish that melts on the tongue, mushrooms that can only have been created by forest elves, and soft fruits and berries that explode on the tongue with juices of scarcely describable taste. Parents, if British children won’t eat fruit and veg (and I have to raise my hand as a long time carnivore) then they aren’t being pernickety, they are merely showing good taste – the fruit you get in the UK, often imported out of season from forced cloches in Spain and similar countries, is tasteless and tough compared to the fresh, vibrant selection available in Slovenia. I have never much liked cherries – they are hard poor things in Scotland, here I have them for breakfast and then go out to a fruit stall for more. Sensational is an inadequate word. I seldom liked strawberries which often display a rough texture except in the very best time of year for native Scottish ones; here they melt in the mouth and leave juice stains in the dish.

All this of course still requires a good chef and a good waiter to interpret his creations and blend suggestions of wine and courses. Many Slovene restaurants adept at this, even the smallest simplest establishments produce excellent food, but I feel confident in saying I have been lucky enough to find the best in the Topli Val restaurant in the Hvala Hotel in Kobarid. It has won a number of awards and in my opinion if anywhere ever deserved a Michelin Star then this is it. I can only assume they haven’t visited it. In the space of two weeks – one last year and one this – I have learned more about the blending of tastes, both courses and wines and different ingredients and their effects on each other, than in a lifetime of visiting other restaurants, many of them which I thought very good. All the staff in the hotel are as friendly and attentive as could be wished for with a real personal touch that makes you feel at home; we were remembered despite it being only our second visit and greeted as old friends, but I simply cannot rate the chef and head waiter highly enough – they have delighted and educated us in equal measure. To give only one example for now, Scotland produces excellent scallops and I’ve tasted quite a few fine instances; the scallops I had here were in a different class, cooked in highest quality olive oil and presented with baby tomatoes and black olives in a delicate combination that even included the (usually purely decorative) sprig of rosemary which absorbed just enough heat to exude a perfectly combined additional scent. Heavenly.

Slovenian Wine and Beer

Slovene beer is second only to Czech in my opinion, clear and clean tasting and wonderfully refreshing on a hot day. However it is Slovenian wine which is the real secret and one which I cannot understand is not more widely known and appreciated. Having this year visited one of the best wine growing regions it is easy to see they have ideal conditions, and they certainly make the best of them. Forget the cheap Laski Reisling which was the only one ever really exported in any quantity to the UK; whether the grape is Chardonnay, Pinot, Sauvignon or one of their local varieties, Slovenian wines display a depth of character and smooth variety of flavours that had us both purring in satisfaction. Their cheaper wines are very good, their select wines are simply outstanding. Sadly the only way to get them in Britain was to import them directly, with the consequent postage costs; however there are moves afoot to establish a distributor and if this occurs then perhaps they might at last achieve the recognition they deserve. Either way I’ll be drinking them whenever I have the chance.

Voyages round my Father

Add comment July 12th, 2007

I recently did something that I should have done years ago – went on holiday with my dad. Circumstances have been against us of course – my work (and at one point the lack of it) and his full-time caring for mum who had a severe stroke seven years ago. But thank heavens we managed it before old age (he’s 83) got in the way.

On the rare occasions that he gets respite care he usually goes to Normandy with some veteran friends but it’s not really a holiday due to the various obligations to visit people from the French Resistance and attend commemorative ceremonies. However despite this he insisted that we went somewhere that I wanted to go rather than anywhere he could think of. We went to my beloved Slovenia, and it was also much too long since I’d been there.

I was rather afraid that it might have changed, gone too commercial, or become over developed since they joined the EU and recently adopted the Euro, and I really wanted dad to see the country as I knew it and enjoy the sights so familiar to me because I knew that, being so much alike in many ways, he would love them as much as I do. I needn’t have worried; though their economy is forging ahead the Slovenes are mostly very aware of the value of their wild country areas and the peace and serenity they provide. Only in the international skiing centre of Kranjska Gora did there appear to be some regrettable developments of hotels being turned into casinos. In my favourite area of Lake Bohinj everything was much the same as my last visit 8 years ago.

St Janus church and the bridge at Lake BohinjHaving arrived late at night after a tiring journey it was with delight and relief that I took dad down to the bridge on the lake just 2 minutes walk from the hotel and watched him take in the surrounding mountains, the marvellous colours, and most of all the deep sense of peace and harmony that the area enshrines. A man who is not given to superlatives, he was enthusing about the place for the rest of the week and I was wishing we had booked in there for the whole fortnight. Although the weather could have been kinder, the changing appearance of the crystal clear lake as the mists rose and fell, the colours varying from pale pastel, to deep blues and greens gave hints of how wonderful a place it can be throughout the year.

Despite his advanced years he coped with everything I suggested in walking to the many waterfalls and gorges that provide such a varied set of attractions. The wild flowers were at their peak of profusion and we revelled in the colours and scents that washed over our senses. In the evenings we indulged our other sense of taste with the superb foods and wines that I remembered so well. And as we relaxed we talked in a way that we had never had a chance to do at home – of past generations of family members and their stories, and of wartime exploits which had been kept secret in the way that old soldiers often need to do to avoid burdening their loved ones.

We were both sad to leave Bohinj as we got the car-train through the tunnel that cuts out a long trip over the mountains and connects the Bohinjska valley to the roads towards the west. We were heading down to Kobarid in the Socha valley near to the Italian border. I was unsure of what lay in store for us as I had travelled through but not stayed in the area, but we had been promised that our hotel had one of the best restaurants in Slovenia and we weren’t disappointed. Wonderfully fresh produce superbly combined and cooked and matched with marvellous wines had us both purring with appreciation every night. Rich soups of wild mushrooms or the finest tomatoes with local herbs. Melt-in-the-mouth Sea Bass. Steaks which simply parted for the knife and oozed flavour, and soft fruits that exploded in the mouth with luscious tastes.

During the days we explored the area. Kobarid is a small town but has perhaps the finest war museum in the world, commemorating the alpine battle between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians during World War I. The carnage of this episode was appalling and must have devastated this peaceful agricultural area. There is a massive memorial to the soldiers on a hill overlooking the town and the river with a view right down the the valley. The area is rich in Roman remains with a fort on top of a nearby hill and terraces visible on the road up to the memorial.
However the really impressive trip is to drive up towards the narrow Trenta valley which leads to the Vrsic Pass. Surrounded by mountains which become ever more vertical and with the bright blue-white river ever present at your side you climb at first steadily and then dramatically until you find yourself in an alpine world of breathtaking beauty and inspiring views. Dad called it invigorating and told me he never imagined he would be walking in such mountains at 83.

It was a trip we both badly needed but more importantly it was one that brought us together in a way that exceeded all my hopes. I dearly hope we can do it again while his health remains good enough.