This afternoon finds me in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s picturesque capital, at a bustling café terrace in Kongresni Trg (“Congress Square”). I’ve sat here, alternately sipping my bela cava (espresso with milk) or savoring my sladoled (gelato), for the last few hours, and the waiter has yet to bring me the check… A delightful cultural quirk I’m still getting used to: in contrast to the brisk efficiency of their American counterparts, a Slovenian waiter won’t rush to turn their tables. In fact, they’ll let you linger for hours, and only bring you the bill when you specifically ask for it! Today’s leisurely afternoon has been a wonderful and relaxing way to reflect on the adventures of the past few weeks, and to prepare myself for the transition back into full-time training.
Mom and I spent ten glorious days exploring the country, from the Venetian-inspired city of Piran on the Adriatic, to the tiny medieval villages in the countryside, to the impressive peaks and vistas of the Julian Alps. Slovenia is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets–> friendly people, delicious food, and stunning natural beauty. This country *must* be on anyone’s Travel Wish List: think of Switzerland, but with cheaper prices and a Balkan/ Mediterranean/ Bavarian flair!
Among our many adventures, here are a few highlights:
1. We chanced upon the “National Costumes Festival” in Kamnik, a jubilant celebration of Slovenia’s diverse and colorful folk heritage. Musicians, dance troupes, food vendors, and artisans all congregated in the town, and we saw the full medley of traditional costumes. The highlight of the weekend was definitely the parade, where Slovenians from every province donned their traditional garb and proudly marched down the cobbled streets. In lieu of parade floats or giant inflatable cartoon characters, a la Macy’s Tgiving Parade, they had horse-drawn carriages toting accordion orchestras. An entertaining (and educational!) afternoon, to be sure!
2. A conversation during our tour of Ljubljana: Jamie– “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!” Mom–“If you say so…” Ten minutes later, I’m munching on a *horse burger* at a local cafe! Some might be horrified at the prospect of eating Seabiscuit/Mr. Ed/Black Beauty, but according to the chef, horse meat is lower in fat and higher in protein than beef. Who knew?
3. Before Julie Andrews frolicked through the Alpine meadows, Rodgers and Hammerstein must’ve cleaned up all the cow poop… the hills may be alive with the sound of music, but they’re also brimming with fragrant surprises left by the resident dairy cows! But the delicious local cheeses are worth the occasional landmine, so I won’t complain too much.
4. Mom and I both enjoyed the various, ahem, discrepancies between the Slovenian guidebook and the actual trail conditions. For example, the “two-hour walk” up to the Mt. Mangart summit was in fact a technical ascent requiring a climbing harness, the “well-maintained, easy path” to the source of the Soca River was actually a treacherous trail etched into the side of a cliff, and the “5k historical walk” around Kobarid was probably closer to 5 miles! Ha!
Dubious trail descriptions aside, the Alpine scenery was undoubtedly worth any extra exertion. *Spectacular* alpine views around every corner; the panoramas were truly breath-taking! (Note: in hindsight, the guidebooks are probably accurate, it’s just my soft-soled, city-slickered perspective that needs adjusting!)
The last two weeks have been a welcome godsend from the physical and mental pressures of selection and racing. The Olympic year will be even more intense, so I truly relish this last opportunity of rest and relaxation! (Of course, “rest and relaxation” translates to “chasing Mom up and down mountain peaks!”)
Tonight, I take the midnight train from Ljubljana to Munich, and will fly back to New Jersey tomorrow afternoon. Thanks to all this clean Alpine air (or perhaps the hearty beef goulash and apple strudel!), I’ll be ready to start this Olympic training cycle with fresh legs and a renewed spirit!
Facebook photos to be uploaded soon, keep checking back for the link!