Wednesday, August 22, 2012

anniversary day!

"twenty years ago today, sergeant pepper told the band to play..." - the beatles

on a hill somewhere in slovenia. 

twenty years ago today michelle and i moved in together.

20 years! the mind reels. it feels like 20 minutes. michelle was starting law school (the next day!) and i was, well, probably hiking in the hills avoiding responsibility. in those days, we could barely afford to go car camping for the weekend.

today, however, after 30 countries and countless miles together, we're sitting on top of a hill in slovenia looking out over rolling green countryside and loving the fact that we had no idea this would ever happen.

we could reach for the weak "relationships are like travel" metaphors, but we won't. we'll save you the sappy thoughts and cut to the chase.

to all of our family and friends, old and new, thank you. thank you for making our relationship stronger through your love, friendship and humor. especially the humor. and when we told you "we're quitting our jobs to travel around the world for a while," thank you for not laughing in our face. thank you for saying, "yes! go for it." for the record, it was great advice...

it's been an excellent ride so far! we'll report back in another twenty years. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

slovenia: beer and god

saint ignatius church, built in 1759, rdeci breg, sovenia.
most of our sunday mornings are spent reading and drinking coffee, but... when we're in rural slovenia and we're hanging out at a pub at the bottom of our mountain and someone's just bought us a round and the pub owner says in broken english, "you should come to church tomorrow," we go. but we weren't ready for the next sentence, "yeah, i'll be pouring beer."

in this particular case, the church is a 250 year old chapel on the top of "our" mountain with one of the most wonderful views around. we'd hiked to it on several days and lamented each time that it was locked. turns out, it's dedicated to saint ignatius, a bit of a tough dude, and this sunday was "saint ignatius day." it also turns out that this is the only church in slovenia dedicated to st. iggy. that's quite a feat, too, since if you knew just HOW MANY churches there are in this country you'd think they would run out of saints pretty quick and start doubling up. it's a miracle.

god's country. our walk to church one time in slovenia.
the next morning we were a little nervous as we got dressed for church. after being on the road for more than a year our wardrobe is a tad limited and we didn't want to offend. we had no idea what folks in the hills of northern slovenia would wear to church. on top of which it was already baking hot at 10am and we were pretty sure st. iggy wouldn't have a.c. (note to self: jeans and sundress seem to be fine.)

we made our way to the top of the mountain, parked the car about a mile down the last bit of road and walked the rest of the way surrounded by green. lots of locals do the same, so we had plenty of company. as we broke through the pine trees and into the clearing where the old church sits, we came face to face with a crowd of people, half of them with pints of beer in their hands and it was only 11am! hallelujah, indeed!

this area is a pretty popular place for weekend hikers and clearly a lot of them were on the mountain this morning and, just as clearly, a lot of them had no intention of going to church. we said hi to zvanko and janja, owners of said pub who invited us, and made our way into the church. sadly, past the beer booth but, oh yes, we'd be back.

a stolen moment through the scaffolding during service. inside saint ignatius church, rdeci breg, slovenia.
they're slowly restoring the inside of this church so most of the pews have been removed and the crowd was spilling out the front. we really wanted to get inside this historic place and see a slovenian church service. so we wandered around the side, found another door, slid in behind the priest and took a seat on the children's bench. they eyed us curiously. and there we sat, listening to an old dude in white robes muttering on in sloevenian and it was perfectly wonderful. sunlight was pouring through the old windows, choir was singing, congregation was chanting, we were standing up and sitting down, watching everyone else's movements so we'd know what to do.

after the service we hung around as most people emptied out, this would be our only opportunity to look around in here. i knew our ticket was to ask a question of one of the college-aged girls sitting across from  us since most young people here speak english, and get the low down on today's service, the beer tent outside, the beautiful countryside and, well, just get to know the "neighbors" a bit. well, one thing led to another and next thing we know we're being introduced to friends, family, comrades, the priest... seemingly the whole town.

later, when i explained that in the u.s. a bar or liquor store can't be within a certain distance of a church, they were dumbfounded. they all just shook their heads, even the guy studying to be a priest. monks and monasteries have been brewing beer across europe for centuries. see here, for instance.

memorial to partisans: in memory of those fighting here on march 4, 1945
who gave their lives...

after meeting mom and dad, our new friends invited us to the hunting lodge up the road that was serving goulash and sausage. this, too, is quite special as it's a members-only lodge (hunters around here are held in the highest regard) and only open to the public once or twice a year. this was one of those times. with promises of "we'll see you there," we left them behind and walked up to lovska koča klančnik (the hunting lodge), another hike destination of ours and the site where in 1945, near the end of world war II, nazis shot seven slovenian partisans.

our new friends from ribnica and lovrenc, slovenia.

oompah music hit us as we arrived and there were tables hewn from the local pine trees across the lawn filled with people in the sunshine who clearly had been here a while already. i can't remember how we did it but we succeeded in ordering, and actually receiving, goulash and sausage and beer and wine, half in slovenian and half in english. with lots of body language and smiles thrown in.

we found our friends and sat around talking for the rest of the afternoon. they live on a farm opposite us in the next "obcina," or county. they also informed us that lovrenc (pronounced: low-rents), the village, was beginning a three week festival with a church service and feast the next sunday, music on saturday nights (that's where we'll be) and, get this, a new fire truck for the town! apparently, that's a huge deal as there's going to be a big party for that. charm factor: 10. by the end of the afternoon, the mother of the family was inviting us to their farm for dinner and a lesson in how to pick wild mushrooms of which, she assured us, our farm had many. we'll report back.


later that day... out the back door. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

always share your strudel!

last summer while on a train from austria to slovenia we made a new friend, an american who, with his wife, bought some land and an old farmhouse in the rolling hills of northern slovenia just across the austrian border. well, we had some strudel and some other viennese foodstuffs in our bag so we passed them around and got to talking. although we were headed to slovenia, our compartment-mates convinced us that we must see graz, austria along the way. so we grabbed our bags, hastily exchanged contact information and jumped off the train for a night in the lovely little city of graz. a couple of days later, while we were staying on pahorje mountain overlooking maribor, we received an invitation from mike (guy from train) and paula (wife of guy from train) to spend some time out at their farm.

catholicism: prettying up the the countryside for hundreds of years.
muta, slovenia, founded in the 14th century.
it's embarrassing to admit now that our first thought was, "what if they're ax murderers with a lot of time on their hands at their very remote farm?" it's true, we did. we were new to our travels and this was our first encounter with the incredible, spontaneous generosity of total strangers that we would often experience on this trip. but our second thought was, "why would we embark on travel if not to meet new people?" regardless of whether they're ax murderers or not. no offense to ax murderers.

long story short, we spent a day and a night out on the farm hiking, talking, eating and enjoying mike and paula's company immensely. we also fell in love with the countryside, and i mean fell hard. it's stunning. the drava river valley, west of maribor, is one of the most beautifully serene stretches of landscape we have ever seen. when we left, we jokingly said, "if you ever need someone to farm-sit, let us know." maybe not so jokingly, as we really meant it, but we never thought it would actually happen. i mean, we were on our way around the world in the opposite direction.