Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cliffs of the Vipava Valley

Predmeja meadow

Pot [path]

It’s really SPRING in Slovenia!! I know it is spring [or trying to be spring] where you live too, but here spring is oozing out of every pour and the air is sweeter than a candy shop. The sweetness is roses that reach caressing me when I walk by screeching me to a stop, the sweetness is the locust trees hanging their flowers in front of my face along the bike path, the sweetness is the crowns that light up the giant chestnut trees along the street, the sweetness is the cluster of lily of the valley sneaking under the fence begging for attention.

When we first moved to Slovenia in August the air was thick with the smell of roses, lavender and rosemary and I was so distracted by the scent that I had to be careful crossing the street. Now those scents are not as strong to me because they are so familiar, but when spring comes new scents attack me and this year seems to be more intense than the past two years. I never remember being overwhelmed by the smell of the air in Ohio. I’m afraid that we have so many hybrid plants that the roses are perfect and beautiful, but they don’t smell. Lilac bushes are the most glorious scent, but we were given a lilac for our new house that did not smell. I was profoundly disappointed. How can they steal the lilac smell? So I am delighting in the taste of each smell here and planning my walking path to pass by certain gardens and trees.

Last week I had an unusual free day and I went hiking near Predmeja. To get there I have to climb, weave and wind along a long narrow road that has 3 tunnels hand cut out of the rock. At the top, the walking path follows the cliff edge looking into the Vipava valley and dashes in and out of forest, meadow, farm fields and rocky out crops. The profusion of wild flowers was amazing; florescent blues and yellows tucked protected in the grass or near the base of a rock, white clusters spinning in the wind along with the apple blossoms that called to me with the song of the Sirens. The complete peace was interrupted only by the twitter of yellow and grey birds, the warning of a rooster or a farm dog. I could have walked for days, but the wind quickly exchanged cotton candy clouds for charcoal whirlwinds and I escaped just before the rain.

Vipava valley from my picnic spot

path marker

forest floor of blue

glow of the sun at my feet

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sunny yellow cottages tip-toe through the grass
like dandi-lions dotting the walled pastures.

Slab stone flat pavement glistening in salt spray,
their toes tickled by delicate blossoms, seeds blown from across the wind.

Guinness chocolate foam licking the lips of repeeated melodies
of flute, concertina, guitar
toes tapping, stepping to time.

The language sings to the wind swept bushes
nothing could be greener.

Burren looking to Fanore

Cliffs of Moher

Rocky coast

Bob went home to Ohio the end of January because our house was going to be empty during the most bitter cold part of the winter, and we just couldn’t take the risk of damage due to freezing pipes. It’s difficult to be here in Slovenia without him. Not only have we spent 35 years supporting and caring for each other, but after a day of traversing another culture, another language, and many cultural differences, it is a huge comfort to come home to the snugly warmth of his arms. But the thing I have discovered most is that I am pretty boring company for myself!

We decided to have a romantic rendezvous for my May holiday, I kept telling people that I was meeting my American lover . Now I know that no cartographer would believe that Ireland is half way between Slovenia and Ohio, but for us it seemed like the perfect mid point. And they do speak English. Don’t they?

We each flew into Shannon. Bob arrived before me and was all ready with a rental car, a warm loving smile and the comfort of US. We planned to hike a lot, and I wanted to do the entire trip by foot and bus transport, but Bob really wanted to drive on the left side of the road so we had a car [and I am really glad we did]. We had booked a B&B on line outside of Doolin for a couple nights and the rest of the week was up for grabs. Bob did great with the driving!! I just said “left” when we turned corners to be certain that he was not on automatic pilot. The only difficulty he seemed to have was judging exactly where the left side of the car was. The secondary roads are cart paths lined with 5ft. high stone walls and bushes growing on them. He could see the middle of the road just fine, but the side of the road was a mystery. I learned quickly not to hang my arm out the window.

We stayed only on the western coast along the monstrous cliffs to the sea. It is the most amazing countryside. Checkered all over the rolling hills are ancient stone walls used still to corral cows and sheep. The land rolls and rolls along until it falls off the cliffs of Moher into the crashing, smashing sea. And there are no trees!!! Yes I really mean that in some places there really are NO trees. The trees that do stand, jitter-bug all day with the wind and have a distinctive limp. The soil is thin on top of the glaciated rock, the wind is powerful, but we also read that the English cut down all the trees so that the Irish would not gather in the woods. This is just one of countless despicable acts done by the English to keep the Irish in slavery, desperate poverty and as a subservient population to the crown. The lack of trees though provides brilliant vistas to the sea and we could watch the rain storms and the bursts of sun come and go on the currents.

Bed and Breakfast cottages speckle the landscape all along this area brightly painted yellow, salmon or trimmed in shocking blue. Tourism has brought new life and lots of people to this farming community, but the B&B’s are still working farms raising cows for milk and meat as well as sheep and following Irish traditions with warm hospitality and kindness. We booked a couple nights at Moher Lodge on the internet and stayed in the lovely home of Mary and Patsy Considine, but then moved to the Aille River Hostel so that we could cook our own meals. The off season rate for the B&B was 35€ per person plus breakfast, the hostel was half that, but we had a private room and we could cook. One of the fabulous things about the B&B was breakfast; fresh squeezed orange juice, fruit, home made scones and a traditional Irish breakfast for Bob. This breakfast of sausage, bacon, black pudding [blood sausage], potatoes, eggs, grilled tomato washed down with strong tea would be torture for a vegetarian, but I understand for a meat eater it is “The way to start the day”. I had a hard time sitting at the same table with him.

Doolin is advertised at the music capital of Ireland and we decided that the Irish have the same gift of exaggeration as the Slovenes, because it is hard to even describe Doolin as a town let alone a capital. But this title brings people from all over the world to this tiny hamlet, without a grocery store, a bank or an ATM, to hear traditional music. There are lots of places to stay and pubs for music, food and Guinness. After watching the sunset we went every night to O’Connor’s to hear music by a different group nightly. I am pretty sure there were never any locals in the pub, but lots of Americans and French. None the less, to sit all night soaking a dark foamy beer engulfed in fiddle and flute tunes is a taste of heaven.

Bob hiking in the Burren

music at O'Connor's pub

Aille River Hostel, Doolin

trees dancing with the wind
During the day we hiked. I had hoped to hike from town to town and settle in a new place each night, but the hiking routes described in “Walking Ireland” are really walks on these narrow roads that have a 100km/hr speed limit. What are they thinking?! So we were really thankful for a car.

We drove to the Burren and hiked cow paths, across fields, climbed walls and walked for hours on bare rock polished by the glaciers. This is a karst region just like our area in Slovenia, but nothing at all like it. Karst is a geological phenomenon caused by slightly acidic rain dissolving the limestone surface creating fissures and then forming under ground aquifers. In Slovenia sink holes are very prevalent and the underground water comes to the surface out of holes in the side of the mountain or sneaking under the hill. But in the Burren the fissures are crevices in strips and down inside there are miniature flower gardens protected from the wind and able to collect the rain. Looking into the distance on the path from the Black Head Lighthouse the Burren landscape looks like giant petrified cow pies. It is tricky walking up the hill and over the slices in the ground. Humans have lived and worshiped here from pre-history and forts, tombs, and stone circles still remain. Unfortunately if you don’t know what you are looking for everything looks like rocks piled on top of rocks so everything or nothing looks like an ancient monument. We had a marvelous time wandering; chasing the sunshine and hiding from the rain showers.

Poulnabrone Dolmen [prehistoric tomb]

fissure garden

prehistoric fort on Blackhead point

the Burren
We also watched a local Gaelic football game. It was played on a plateau over looking the bay and it is a combination of soccer and basket ball. They did not dribble the ball with their feet or their hands, but both. Running down the field at full speed they would bounce the ball on the grass or kick it off their foot back into their hands [did I say they were running full speed down the field being chased and guarded??]. One point can be scored if kicked through the goal post [like Am. football] or 3 points if it is kicked past the goalie into the net [like soccer]. There was very little physical contact between the players, but a lot of running without stopping. I was exhausted just watching!

With the map of the area we also went searching for castles, churches, monasteries and grave yards. There are so many remains of old buildings that cows graze in the living rooms. The map tells of a castle, but the signs are few and far between. It made great adventure turning down rough roads trying to find a place that is pictured in a guide book, but hidden in the mist and only available for the very determined.

In a few towns thatch house can still be found. Many are charming tourist spots, but some are still lived in. It is clear that the Irish economy is doing well by the energy that is used to keep the houses in lovely shape and beautifully cared for.
Everywhere people were warm and friendly and curious. I found it very difficult to wade through the accent, and I found my self speaking more slowly and simply the way I do in Slovenia because I couldn’t understand them. I had to shake myself into remembering that English was our common language [although all the signs are in Gaelic and we heard a lot of Gaelic spoken].

My family immigrated from Donegal, Ireland before the potato famine that devastated the country. 50% of their population immigrated from abject poverty and slavery. On the next trip we will go to Donegal and search the McGarveys.

High Cross at Dysert O'Dea

O'Brian's tower

Gaelic football

thatch house in Adare

makings for thatch

horses have the greatest view

signs in Ballyvaughn