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Maria & Brett's HUGE Trip 06-07-08-09-? ok, so the Socceroos lost in 'that' penalty against Italy; Adriatic summers aren't long enough (bliss!); and we found that you should never use the term "Eastern Bloc" when talking to a Czech (Central Europe, please).

In search of a white Xmas - Pt II

SLOVENIA | Thursday, 28 December 2006 | Views [1246] | Comments [2]

Welcome to Slovenia!

Welcome to Slovenia!

Slovenia welcomed us back for the second time with open arms. Or rather, Maria’s cousin Gregor and his girlfriend Anja did this on behalf of the city when we arrived in Ljubljana. The town mayor was probably called away unexpectedly to attend to some urgent matter or something…

We stopped by this gorgeous land of a mere 2 million in August on our way from Croatia to Italy on the premise that we should visit Maria’s relatives there. Having had the time of our lives then, due to both the warmth of the family and the breathtaking scenery, it was a no-issue decision to return again to spend Christmas there.

Armed with a bottle of Czech Becherovka – a liquor that has been brewed from various spices for over 200 years and is in fact more an export of national Czech identity than economic commodity – and a couple of gifts from the land of Oz, we headed to Gregor’s home town in Vipava, a small village nestled deep in the chasm formed by the Vipava Valley which runs from the heights of the Slovenian alps towards the warm currents of the 14km-long Slovenian coast about 40km away. It is this unique geography and the fact that a fast-flowing freshwater spring surfaces from the mountains directly in the middle of the village that gives the place a head start in the production of fine wine.

Oh, and the fact that warm air rising from the sea meets chilly air from the alps directly at this location means that wind speeds can reach 180km an hour, causing all residents to strategically place large stones all over their roof tiles to prevent them from being ripped off.

So here we were, a couple of Aussies arriving in Slovenia laden with gifts ready to celebrate Christmas as we knew it. Reaching Vipava just in time for Christmas Eve celebrations we quickly found out that all the Christmas gift-giving had already taken place back on 6 December, St Nicholas’ Day, which was also celebrated in the Czech Republic. What we experienced instead was a wonderful time where immediate family gathered at the family home on Christmas Eve to decorate the Christmas tree and dine together on traditional foods and the company of each other.

What would a Christmas in Slovenia be without the ‘jaslice’ (yarz-lit-se)? You’ve probably heard of or seen a nativity scene before – plastic animals and figures of baby Jesus and Joseph and Mary, all caught in frozen action under a shelter or barn made of Paddle Pop sticks or twigs from the garden. The jaslice is this and so much more. Without notice a team of gents were dispatched into the wintry night to gather baskets full of large rocks and live moss to then build a scaled countryside setting that would nearly fill the size of a kitchen table – no kidding! This countryside would later see flocks of sheep, shepherds, farm boys and rivers and bridges all existing in harmony, leading to the central theme that is the traditional nativity.

But in so many jaslices the nativity was relegated to a minor detail. At a neighbour’s house we were invited to his back porch only to find it completely taken over by a 20th century nativity scene: the sacred scene of the nativity was hidden somewhere inside a replica of a modern hotel beside a modern 4-lane roadbridge, over which cars and trucks were obviously heading somewhere in peak hour, unaware of the baby Jesus in room 404, and not a single pot plant on the porch was left virgin by a flock of sheep or a gathering of shepherds…

It didn’t stop there. The next day we headed to one of Slovenia’s premier tourist attractions: Postojnska Jama (caves), one of the most impressive naturally occurring phenomena we’d ever seen. If you’ve been to Jenolan Caves you’d know the difference between stalagmites and stalactites (hint: the ones that hang down from the roof of the cave rhyme with “tights”). At the entrance we jumped on a cute little train that would meander deep into the caves. However only seconds after putting bum to wooden seat the train lurched into action Indiana Jones style (think Temple of Doom and you’re almost there) and plunged deep into darkness, around bends, through tunnels centimetres above our unprotected heads and through cavities that could best be described as ballrooms in parts (one was so huge and grand that it was actually lit by chandeliers) and Satan’s waiting room in others – with grotesquely beautiful ‘mite and ‘tite formations beyond description and depths so deep that they ended only in eery darkness.

And the jaslice? Yep, it was here too, more than 2km deep into the Earth’s crust. Only it was real live people, not plastic cereal-box figurines that made up the scene. After alighting from the Train of Death we would walk from cavern to cavern and be jolted to life with blaring music timed to the equally blaring of bright lights that would focus on a clutch of characters perched up high on some ledge, acting out a scene from the nativity. This would go on for a couple of ks, and if it weren’t for the comically overzealous snapping of cameras and gossiping of the Italian tour group that had synchronised their steps to ours, we would’ve certainly been completely taken by the sanctity of the message and be swept away to the heights of the ‘tites, or drawn down to the depths of the ‘mites – depending on whether we’d been good or bad of course!

After being jaslice’d out we relished in the opportunity to climb the mountain, in a heated car of course, to the top of the Vipava Valley to see villages locked in an alpine time of yesteryear. Here we climbed down into an ice cave – a natural cave from which large ice blocks had been carved out all year round in times before refrigeration – and visited Anja’s relatives who sat in their living room surrounded by possibly 100s of stuffed animals and reindeer antlers as if it’s the done thing all round the world, and watched as Anja’s aunt ladled milk fresh from the morning’s milking of their cow into our equally fresh coffees, before demonstrating the traditional art of patterned lace making which surprisingly is not fading away with the older generations but making a comeback with the young as they pride themselves on carrying on Slovene traditions.

After driving through wind gales, snow and icy roads to buy goats cheese from a man deep in the alpine mountains we headed home to more family gatherings and lots of stories of this land that, through all time, has managed to keep its Slovenian language, customs, culture and food and wine in tact in spite of occupation or influence by its Austrian, Hungarian, Italian and Croatian (and formerly Yugoslavian) neighbours. It gave us faith that globalisation wouldn’t homogenise the world but perhaps serve as a catalyst to proudly keep customary practices going – from generation to generation.

Hearing Maria’s 3 year old niece speak fluent Slovenian was testament to our wonder that, after so many cultural battles, Slovenia lives on in its young.

Tags: Snow

Comments

1

i've been in lake bled and ljubljana last year. lake bled is fantastic! the island the castle... it's the perfect place to take great photos! i can't wait to go there when it snows!

  Nuno May 31, 2007 12:21 AM

2

Being a Scott who travelled as a student for a couple of years in W.A. I was delighted that
An Aussie should write about Slovenia and particular Vipava
We went Skiing in Slovenia by accident Feb 2006 as our Glasgow Bulgaria flight was cancelled
Not knowing much about the country

Cut a long story short we bought a holiday home in Vipava Aug 2006

And never looked back – Just prepping go there 2nd week in Feb for a week`s skiing and return with some student friends who work in the Café to work in Edinburgh for 8 weeks to up there English before next term

Good on ya mate

JR

  james ritchie Jan 16, 2008 9:50 PM

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