Our program director, Sinisa, told us he had a “surprise” for us today. He has a good sense of humor. When we arrived at our “surprise,” we were in ITALY! Sovenia is bordered by Italy and Austria, and you could actually bicycle through all three countries in one day quite easily. Since all three are members of the European Union, you wouldn’t even need a passport.
We walked into Italy at this now-shuttered border station to take cheesy pictures at the Italia sign and have a good laugh about the additional country we were visiting.
At one time, this border separated communism from capitalism. (More on that in a future post.) Now you can go all the way to the English Channel without a border crossing slowing you down. In 2020, Croatia and Montenegro will also be members of the European Union, so there will be even less need for a passport on road trips.
Our next stop was really the unexpected surprise: Planica, Slovenia’s Olympic ski jump center and location of the most recent ski jump World Record. Set in 2015, Peter Prevc jumped a whopping 248.5 meters (about 814 feet or 271 yards)!
When we first arrived, I said to myself, “Ok, we’ll see some beautiful mountains with ski jumps and just imagine what it would be like to jump off them.” I had visited the Olympic ski jump in Oslo, and I thought that was amazing enough. I would have been happy just having an experience like that again.
Surprise! There were skiers jumping, and it was SUMMER! Little did I know that except for the main jump where the World Cup is held, the training jumps were covered in a special Astroturf that was kept wet for the skiers to train on all year long. In addition, there was an indoor cross-country ski course, where we braved the cold for a minute (in our t-shirts and shorts) to take a quick snapshot before going back outside to watch the jumpers.
After getting an overall view from the center’s balcony, we got an up-close look to watch the ski jumpers. It amazed me how YOUNG some of them were! One of the kids flying through the sky couldn’t have been more than ten years old. (I missed the shot of him.) That’s a brave kid!
In Slovenia, they start young, learning how to ski at the same time they learn how to walk. Once they are stable on their skis, the kids learn how to jump by starting on a playground slide-sized jump, and then work up from there.
We had so much fun watching (and trying to photograph) the jumpers that we could have stayed there all day.
Free time was spent nearby exploring the ski resort town of Kranjska Gora, surrounded by beautiful mountains. There was a ski lift directly behind the hotels; no driving required!
Unfortunately, those lifts didn’t get any use last year due to the lack of snow. It usually snows October to May; however, global warming has caused quite a weather change in Slovenia, including less snow and more tropical thunderstorms.
The lack of snow made for good foraging in the surrounding forests, however. Berries and mushrooms grow in abundance, and mushroom soup (which we enjoyed later on at dinner) is a mainstay of the cuisine in the region.
When we returned to Lake Bled, I had hoped to go for another swim; however, the clouds looked threatening and thunderstorms were in the forecast. Instead, we grabbed our umbrellas and set out on a 3.5 mile walk around Lake Bled, not worrying about rain, but hoping a lightning bolt wouldn’t strike our umbrellas! It turned out to be the only time rain was a nuisance on our trip besides the following day on our walking tour of Ljubjana. The walk around the lake was gorgeous, though, even in the rain! It is one of the most popular walks in all of Slovenia, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it!
For dinner, we were taken by bus to a traditional local restaurant, Gostina Lectar, in the town of Radovljica.
The restaurant has been in existence since 1822; however, the 500-year-old house has been in the Lectar family for three generations.
Before dining in a private room, we first watched a private ginger-bread-making demonstration in the charming basement bakery and gift shop. Actually, it was really honey-bread, since ginger isn’t native to the area, but honey is abundantly available.
Dinner was served by Mr. Lectar himself, and we started with his family’s locally-made wine and mushroom soup in a cute bread pot. Very clever! Platters of meat, sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut were then served (one platter per four people), and plenty remained behind as we were all quite full from the abundance of food. There was still dessert, though, and we were served apple ice cream in a carved-out apple.
The town was so picturesque, that I was glad I slipped out to take this picture before night fall.