“Try not to look like you’re going to die.”
I have climbed several mountains recently, and I’d like to climb Triglav, the highest in Slovenia and so peaky that it’s proudly emblazoned on the country’s flag, but I’m not quite ready for it. I’m getting better though.
I returned from South East Asia having not walked anywhere for 5 months. It was too hot and too humid. Consequently, all my exercise and even gym visits of the previous summer were undone by the tropics. I imagine that jungle warfare was quite slow, with both sides clearly visible to each other but with everyone doubled over, out of breath, saying, “Wait, hang on, give me a minute. It’s really humid, isn’t it? Where are they? Oh yes.”
The air in Slovenia was fresh and lovely as I arrived at Ljubljana airport. Tatiana was there to pick me up, which she did as a very welcome surprise.
It took six weeks to find somewhere to live but I’m happily installed in a small village near Kranj. Kranj (which I like to pronounce as though it rhymes with “flange” but it actually rhymes with “bran”) is the fourth largest town in Slovenia. Is it touristy? No, not really. I miss the immediate mountains of the Bohinj valley, but, and here’s a surprise…it’s flat! I can ride my bike.
I have everything I need and Joze and Marta, my new landlords, bring me little Red Cross parcels and check that I’m alive.
It may be flat, but just up the road the mountains look down upon us, and I can see the ski resort of Krvavec. When the snow comes and with a decent pair of binoculars, I should be able to see people falling over without falling over myself.
“I’m not going to die.”
“Are you sure?”
Tatiana had some free time and suggested that we climb Stol. I said that sounded like a lovely idea, not really knowing what Stol is.
“It’s the mountain behind Bled.”
I stole a picture from the internet so you can see what Stol looks like in a) a stolen picture and b) when it has snow on it.
Yeah. It’s the Mount Fuji looking thing behind the famously wet Lake Bled.
Off, then, we set. A thin unmade road from the village of Zirovnica goes up and around silly bends and exhausted hikers to a lovely kocha called Valvazorjev Dom. If you’re not sure what a kocha is, it’s the term used for the mountain hut/chalets that pepper these mountains and provide succour, beds, alcohol and food to those that hike. They are quite brilliant, and I love them. The name “kocha” comes from the small houses that were once the simple dwellings of tied workers, but these mountain saviours are large, warm and comfortable. This network of wilderness hotels keep the mountains alive and it’s a mystery to me how they are kept stocked. Valvazorjev Dom marks the start of a long walk up hill.
The combination of “long,” and “uphill,” made me wonder why I don’t put more thought into saying “Okay, that sounds like fun!” Tatiana, as I may have mentioned before, is young and fit and is far more inclined toward inclines than I. At some point during the proceedings she was prompted to ask after my health. Encouragingly, it took less than five minutes for me to tell her I was fine.
Theoretically, it’s possible to go up Stol and come back down again in about six hours, but I got up late and, you know, the tropics. It was clearly going to storm by the time we reached the almost top.
Stol is a Twin Peaks kind of mountain, and on top of the first peak is a kocha! Slowly it got closer and I could hear the sound of goats and tinkling bells and chatting voices. Civilisation was to be found at the top of a mountain that divides Slovenia from Austria. It was good to sit down and drink beer.
We discussed the idea of getting back down again but it was impossible. Joking aside, I wouldn’t have made it before it got dark and there was, indeed, a storm a-brewin. Tatiana is Russian but speaks excellent Slovene, and she organised food, alcohol, and what turned out to be bunk beds in a kind of dorm. She made complex phone calls because being stuck up a mountain wasn’t the plan, and then her phone ran out of juice with no way to charge it. We gave in to the wonderful isolation of a hut up a mountain. We looked over at the other, higher peak and thought it a shame we wouldn’t get there.
We strolled around though, now that the pressure of getting home wasn’t a factor. I asked the girl who, with her husband, were running the place for the summer.
“What happens when the beer and food run out?” I asked.
“It comes in by helicopter,” she said.
That’s the answer to that, then.
Later, a group of young people from the Czech Republic arrived and they had iPhone chargers for Tat’s electrical needs. A fire was lit and the dark swell of a stormy night up in the Karavanken Mountains enveloped the lot of us. We told stories by the fire, and it was primal and it was good.
The light show of a mountain storm was like a fluorescent bulb that won’t quite turn on. It was constant and stroboscopic and oddly silent, lasting most of the night. I’d stumble about in unfamiliar corridors looking for the toilet and in a blinding flash there’d be the static lit image of a Czech person doing the same thing.
In the morning, it was raining in a fairly major way, mixed with bits of thunder and wind. We put it off as long as we could but had to leave in the cold and lashing rain. We got to the car grateful and wet.
Other trips to other kochas were warmer, dryer, and not quite so long. Tatiana would still ask if I was okay, and actually, I was. I got better as we climbed more things and she claimed to notice an improvement. We found a wonderful gorge just north of here and we climbed and swam our way upstream until we could go no further. On another occasion we searched for a lake where she could swim, got lost and found ourselves at the Slovene/Austrian border. I hadn’t realised it was close. It was all very Sound of Music.
For a month, I remembered why Slovenia is the place I call home.
Now it’s autumn and rain is falling on the apple tree by my balcony. I’m not wearing shorts for the first time since January 13th when I arrived in Bali. Tatiana is busy again and my thoughts turn to writing. I’m sorting out the two novels I have for sale because I need to sell some. And I’ve started writing another. All is quiet, as autumn tends to be.
I guess soon the snow will come and Tatiana will say, “Do you want to go skiing?” And I’ll say “Yes! Okay, that sounds like fun!”
Then I’ll remember that I’m a bit rubbish at going downhill too. And yet I’ll enjoy it, and get better at it, and be glad I got the chance.
Slovenia, writing, other things