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.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things