I have my Slovenian ID! I also applied for a Slovenian driving license because my old British one is made of paper and it went through a washing machine in France, so it looks like, well, a piece of paper that went through a washing machine. I thought a plastic one would be more robust.
I also took a trip to Ljubljana on the bus and took Tyson on a train! So many things to report and so little time to report it. Basically, Ljubljana is beautiful and Tyson has now been on every form of transport except a motorbike. He's such a cosmopolitan dog.
But this post is about something far greater than capital cities or even the breadth of Tyson's horizons. This post is all about the important part of living in a new place -- doing stuff that visitors don't get to do. I was invited to attend a part of local life, and that beats capital cities no matter how beautiful they are. I was invited, and that's a big word in a new life.
Sabina and Igor in the farm next to my apartment have cows. Numerous cows. Now that winter has left, the cows walk every day to fields outside of town and every evening they walk back, strolling through the streets on their way to the milking shed. They plod slowly home while their guardians ride bikes or walk beside them with sticks, urging them on. It's a time for chatting, for holding up traffic, for baffling tourists. With the church bells ringing and the birds singing, watching the cows come home is like a page from my childhood, albeit one that I drew myself, because there were no cows or ringing bells when I was young. But still, life in Bohinjska Bistrica is a childhood rewritten.
Some cows get a bigger prize than a walk in the town. The younger ones (the ones who haven't had calves yet?) go to a kind of bovine summer camp. A fifteen minute drive down the road there's a lake (Lake Bohinj) and it sits at the head of the valley. On one side of the valley is a mountain called Vogel which boasts a beautiful ski resort on top. I went there in the winter to learn how to ski. You get to it from the lake by cable car.
Unless you are accompanied by cows. Then you walk up.
And so, on Saturday morning at 7am, we set off by road to the bottom of the cable car at Vogel. With cows in tow we changed to a more rugged vehicle and drove them as far as the road would allow on the lower slopes of Vogel. It was chilly and the clouds hadn't yet been burned off by the sun, so the walk began with moderate temperatures and, in my case, naive enthusiasm. An hour into the trip and I was close to death.
I was a little embarrassed by the fact that clouds of steam were rising from the cows, and also from the sole English person. Everyone else was dry, cool, hardly out of breath. I looked like an unfit sponge. Igor wondered if I was going to be ok with the rest of the trip and I had to say yes. I was representing my country, and our football team had already lost every game in the World Cup so it was a matter of pride. After a drink and a sandwich we set off once more, the Slovenians moving smoothly, the cows plodding stoically, the Englishman staggering haphazardly beneath his own personal cumulus cloud of steam.
The road itself is a ski piste in the winter, a 5km run from the top to the lake at the bottom. It's seriously steep going up and I bet it's even steeper sliding down. Meanwhile, with no snow and more cows than I ever expected to climb a mountain with, after two and half hours we got to the ski resort. Waiting for us was goulash and schnapps, beer and biscuits.
The chair lifts run for hikers in the summer and as I sat, soggy but happy with my food and friends, I looked out on the tourists who were hiking cowless on the mountain. None of them were as privileged as I. The conversation around me was incomprehensible, but I was part of this group and I was given goulash and those two things transcend language.
With a change of shirt, I packed my euphoria into a my rucksack and we went to the cable car for the ride back down. The farmers are a community, and full of community goulash I was treated to a community free trip on the gondola. While those less fortunate stood with their tickets at the turnstiles, I went through the super secret "you've got cows" gate, bypassing the tourists who, I'm sure, are still envious of my connections.
Frank and Sally kindly looked after Tyson and I went to collect him, for there was a barbecue afoot. Like parents celebrating the kids going off to camp, this was a moment to break bread and mark another annual event. There's also a cow ball in the autumn, apparently. A dance to celebrate their safe return and to celebrate another moment in the rural calendar. As I didn't die on the trip, Igor said I can come in the autumn to collect them. I felt like I'd passed a little test, and that's a good thing.
For those of you with the stamina, here's a 20 minute video of everything I just said. With cow noises.
Yes, it's been ages.
So it's been just over 6 months since I left America. The moment passed without ceremony.
I've called this post snapshots becuase so many things have happened I've become overwhelmed. Like a wave tumbling over itself, life in Slovenia has a way of overtaking my reporting. So to make sense of it all, I'll just post a bunch of flashing images (using words, so epileptics need not worry).
Easter came and went with flowers blooming and bells ringing. The church bells rang out the Easter message with such gusto that it broke into a crazy synchopated rhythm, like an eclesiastical Scott Joplin piece. The priest has been known to go about on rollerskates. Once he was seen on a unicycle.
While snow still sits subborn on the mountains, the meadows are so typically Alpine that I feel they must be kidding. The cows and sheep are out, Sabina and Igor walking their herd past Frank's house in the evening and it is truly a sight to behold. All the farmers collect their cows at the same time, so the streets are full of them, splitting off into their own homes en route.
I took the bus to Radovlica to begin the process of getting my Slovenian ID. It's a bureaucratic monster, involving proof of everything, but it went fairly well. The only thing I was missing was proof of medical insurance. "I tried but couldn't get any as a tourist," said I. "You can't get an ID without it," said she. I was going to say Chicken and Egg, but bringing poultry into this wasn't going to help.
She made a phone call and said that the company down the road would sell me some, so off I went. I bought 2 months for 100 euros, so now the world can inflict 40,000 euros of damage to me and it'll bounce right off, insured, as I am, for the first time in 14 years. I feel invincible.
Armed with a bullet-proof insurance policy, she stamped things and filed things and said it's done. All I do now is wait to see if the government wants someone like me. "Do I have to go live in Austria if they say no? I asked. No, she said, you can stay. It's Europe.
The ID is useful if you want to do anything more than smell the flowers and marvel at the cows, so fingers crossed.
Sabina gave me a patch of ground to grow things, so I have crops! Untill they came up, all I had done was bury someone's lunch. I planted some potatoes and onions. A week ago they emerged, and it was cigars all round. Crops. I'm ridiculously excited by my few veggies, partly because I am growing food in the shadow of snow-capped mountains, and partly because they are mine, and they are growing. A new life in Slovenian soil, done by me. Apposite or what.
Tourists are here and the chicken van has arrived near the house. The van sells cooked chicken, salad, chips (fries) and all sorts of convenient things. More important than nearby cooked food, Ali and Melita who run the van have befriended Tyson and come out to give him dog biscuits whenever we wander past. They are typical of Slovenians: Good people who love Tyson's quiet warmth. He's made so many friends here. He's put on some weight too, which is no bad thing. He's always been streamlined and a very fussy eater. He's happy.
I sit on my balcony and look out on the church, the farm, the emerging alpine spring, and I'm happy too. Deep down happy. This is a good place, a slightly surreal place that at times is like Willoughby. If you are unfamilliar with Willoughby, goto Youtube and look for "A Stop at Willoughby," and you'll get what I mean. The place where you want to get off the train and just stay.
A Slovenian lady has been waving at me through the window of her house for months. In another place you would think that she knows me, or that she has mistaken me for someone else. Last week she was in her garden and we finally spoke. "Ah, you are English!" she said. She has grandchildren and looks younger than me. She is a member of a mountaineering club. She embodies the Slovenian traits of extreme friendliness and extraordinary physical fitness. Like Shangri-La, some day I will discover that all these people are over 1000 years old.
I went into the fishing-tackle shop across the road. He has signs outside for tandem paragliding flights for tourists. So here's the thing -- when I knew I was coming here, I had a 4-point plan. Could I get here with Tyson? Could I find a place to live? Could I earn enough to support myself? And lastly, could I realise a life-long dream to become a qualified paraglider pilot? The last time I tried was in New Hampshire, 2010. I went there for 7 days and only got in 2 days of lessons. It's a difficult sport to learn becuase you need to be there for a month to get the right conditions to learn.
So I took my terror in hand and asked if he knew of a school, rather than a place for tourists. He got on the phone. I spoke to a school who will be teaching next month and can pick me up. Gulp. "We start on small hills," she said. When I told this to Frank he said..."yeah...a small hill by Slovenian standards..." True. These people walk up mountains as an after-dinner stroll. That's why they are all magically 1000 years old and look 20.
I am terrified of heights and it's getting worse but a life-long dream is a curse. I tried it first 20 years ago, and in 20 years' time it will be far too late. Watch this space.
Snapshots of life. I moved here to be near my brother and be near mountains, but the picture that has developed is one of the Slovenian people. I don't know what they are saying, but kindness is universal. Zlato in the fishing shop laughed so hard when I complimented his English, he phoned his wife and gave me the phone. "Tell her!" he said, and she started laughing too. I have no idea who I was talking to (Mrs Zlato, obviously) but every single interaction is an experience which lifts the day.
The events of my life have overtaken my ability to report them. The International Space Station went over last night -- I watched it sail silently past at 11:20. I'm sure the astronauts didn't notice me on my balcony, but if they did, they might have wondered why I was smiling.
Slovenia, writing, other things