Mike and I have just spent the last 10 days in a National Park on the Drava River, 5 km from Slovenia’s second largest city, Maribor. We stayed in a small recreational and tourist facility called Drava Centre. It has two cafés. We had cappuccinos every morning in the café owned by the people who own the few campsites. They also have a restaurant, but it closes at 6pm or 18:00 every day which is awkward for us. We did eat lunch there one day. Mike ordered a light, traditional meal that translated into mushroom soup and lard. It came in two bowls. The first contained a lovely clear mushroom soup. The second contained a thick, spongy food that you were supposed to add to the soup. After seeing the “lard” description, I was quite put off. It turns out that this “lard” is really buckwheat, cooked and served like mashed potatoes sprinkled with bacon rinds, which you are supposed to combine with your soup. We have since seen it in a few places. Drava Centre also had picnic areas, bike trails, kayak and canoe rentals and more. There were rowing teams going by most mornings, a large family of swans living here, playgrounds for kids and a chocolate factory. All in all, it has been a lovely location. We left the RV one morning and could hear a group of children singing Happy Birthday in Slovenian. I found it interesting to completely recognize the tune and not understand a single word. Hearing the same tune all over the world shows how small and integrated the world has become.
Our plan had been to bike back and forth into Maribor. The bike trail right above our campsite was really muddy due to the rains the day we arrived. We have been taking the car instead. We did go for a nice bike ride in the opposite direction one day. The weather was great for biking. On Friday we attended a ballet for children at the National Theatre in Maribor. We got the last tickets in the back row of the balcony and it cost us 7€ or $10 each. It was an enjoyable hour and well worth it. We probably would have paid that much just to see the theatre. The Slovene National Theatre Maribor is the largest cultural institution in Slovenia. There are multiple halls that are used for drama, opera, ballet and the symphony orchestra. It opened in 1852 as the German Municipal Theatre as Maribor was a bilingual town in those days. It has obviously been very modernized and updated recently.
Wine growing is a very large business in Slovenia. While we were touring Maribor, we saw a few unique things to do with wineries. Many of the words below are borrowed from the internet.
Here is a picture of Mike in front of the Old Vine house. The Old Vine is the oldest vine recorded in the world with an age of over 400 years. It is registered in the Guinness Book of Records and it is still bearing fruit. The Old Vine was planted towards the end of the Middle Ages, when Maribor was facing Ottoman invasion. It survived the furious fights between the invaders and the defenders of the city, as the Old Vine House used to be part of the city wall. The vine was not harmed by the fires which occurred frequently nor by the vine lice that destroyed most of the other vines. Even though the bombardment of the Allied forces during World War II partly destroyed the Old Vine House, this plant survived unscathed.
We also wandered around the Vinag wine cellars, one of the largest and oldest classic wine cellars in Europe. The wine cellars lie right under the old part of the city. They are no longer used in production but the wooden barrels, concrete cisterns and more are still there in 2.5 km of long underground tunnels.
While we were in Maribor another camper had arrived at the Drava Centre. They were from France. When we got back they couldn’t say hello quick enough. I am afraid that they assumed, since our license plates said Canada, that we would speak French. We did manage to tell them how long we had been there but that was about it. They were very disappointed I think. They only stayed the one night.
I mentioned in the last article that we had visited the oldest city in Slovenia for an afternoon, Ptuj. On that trip we only toured Ptuj Castle. We went back to Ptuj this week to wander around the old town. In one square is the Orpheus Monument. It is the oldest public monument preserved in its original location in Slovenia. It was originally a grave marker, erected in the 2nd century AD. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a pillory. Criminals were tied to the iron rings attached to its lower part. You can still see the holes in the monument. Near the monument was a small sign with a QR code on it. You saw these on many buildings in Ptuj. You just aimed your camera at the QR code and it brought up a page telling you about the building or the monument that you were near. In the case of the Orpheus monument it brought up a video giving you its history. Actually, there were three QR codes on every sign depending on the language that you wanted your information in: Slovenian, German or English. Ptuj also happened to be hosting a food festival the day we were there. There were traditional foods and foods from around the world. As we were leaving we saw horse meat advertised. Although we haven’t seen it in restaurants, according to the internet it is fairly common in Slovenia. My first impression was to gasp at the thought, I don’t really understand that. Why is it OK to eat a soulful looking cow or a small duck but not a horse? If I see it again I will probably try some.
For the last two days we have had the pleasure of camping next to a family from Yorkshire, in a camper of a similar style to ours. It is an older North American camper without the slide-outs. The family consisted of Mum, Dad, 4 kids and one large dog: Rob, Tracey, Matty, Erin, Billy, Jack and Marley. The children ranged from one year old to thirteen, although all of them seemed older than their actual age. The kids were great, and we had a good time talking with the family. I am sorry that we didn’t see more of them. There really wasn’t any opportunity to sit down and talk with the parents. Just before we left we took Erin and Billy with us when we went for our morning cappuccino. They both ordered water. It took a while to find out that they had been told they weren’t to ask us for anything and they had stuck to it. There was no pretense or funny face, they just ordered water. We did manage to convince Erin that if we insisted, and she didn’t ask, she could have a drink. The family left England in March and their plan is to travel in their camper for one year. It is tight quarters, but they seem to be making it work very well. The kids all look very happy and energetic. Maybe we will meet up somewhere again.
Yesterday as we drove around the area we found ourselves at a ski resort. The cable car was running, and we took it up. The cable car rose quickly to over 1,000 m or almost 3,500 feet. The view over Maribor and the surrounding mountains was spectacular. There was a downhill mountain bike trail set up. The bikers came up with their bicycles in the cable cars and then raced down the mountain. It was fun to watch. At the bottom was a small cross-country setup for children. There was one very young boy whose bicycle didn’t even have pedals yet. He would sit on his bike and use his feet to go up the small hills and then he would put his feet in the air as he raced down. He looked way to young to be going that fast. The round-trip cable car ride to the top of the mountain and back down was only 3€. You could have bought a one-way ticket and then walked down. It reminded me of a time that Mike and I did that with friends in Banff, Alberta. My legs complained for days later. It isn’t something that we wouldn’t even consider anymore.
We did manage to take out boat out on the Drava River for one afternoon. Motors are illegal in the park where we were, but they were OK just a little way upriver, so we took a chance. We were very surprised at how little building there was near the water’s edge. No towns came down to the river where we were, very few docks and cottages or homes could be seen. It was all wild and lovely forests and hills. Mike thinks that it is possible that the river floods a lot and therefore building is restricted.
It doesn’t look like we will get into Austria this year, which I had thought we would. Mike is wondering if we should be moving a little faster. I have said that I think we should continue as we are. It feels much closer to living in these areas this way, rather than vacationing as a tourist.
I am writing this as Mike drives us to the capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana. I will get back to everyone, probably as we are leaving Ljubljana.