After a few years hijacked by global warming, this winter was finally cold, snowy and long. Our ski-touring season started in November and lasted until the end of May. I grabbed this opportunity by the horns and made some great trips with the lads but also with coworkers and family. So lets go back to November 2017, which was heavily hit by powder. Together with Robert we attacked Vošca (1737m) both from sunny Slovenia and shady Austria:
December brought additional snow and semi-stable conditions, making Karavanke an easy and logical choice. Artač and Leon, who don't need additional introduction, popped-up like rabbits on the first sunny weekend. Srednji vrh (1797m) gave us light "Canadian" powder, which is not very common in Slovenian mountains. Even Artač was showing signs of emotional delight, which is even less common :)
Since Karavanke mountains were becoming our good friends, Leon and I decided to take another stab at Srednji vrh. Above Tinček, we were seduced by a solid ski-track which led us directly towards Stol (2225m). We turned around on 1800m and enjoyed a chilly lunch with spectacular views. Solid skiing but less powder due to South / East orientation of the slopes.
December was so nutorious that we decided to tackle a new region in Karavanke. East of Trupejevo poldne, there is a gorup of mountains around 1800m high, all very safe and attractive to ski. We started in Srednji vrh and skied both from Grajščica (cca 1780m) and Murnovec (1864m) which is the highest member of the gang. We cooked pasta at the very top and enjoyed powder on a perfectly sunny day. Again it was very chilly and we estimated around -20C in the shady valley behind Murnovec.
After we completed the memorable Murradweg about six years ago it was (more then) time for a new cycling adventure. Over the years I have learned that pushing our physical limits was usually not yielding dividends; on the contrary, other aspects of the journey were pushed aside and Ana was not happy with me to say the least. For this reason, I decided to make a very easy plan with maximum 50km of cycling per day and a bigger emphasis on local culture, food, swimming, nature and most important - relaxation. The expression on Ana's face at the end of the trip in Villach (photo above) is proving the plan was accomplished.
Before entering Slovenia the Drava (Drau) river flows through south Austria for around 300 kilometers; however, not known to many, it starts its journey as a tiny stream in Italian Dolomites, very close to a town called Toblach (Dobbiaco). After Lojze and Zoja dropped us off and headed home, we started to descend towards the Austrian border and later to Lienz - a lively alpine city. We were very lightly equipped, but had all the basics we needed. We cycled for about 3 hours per day, did a lot of swimming in Drava and the nearby lakes. We also enjoyed the Austrian food, which is not very light but certainly worth the sin. After 4 days of cycling, we took the train from Villach to Ljubljana and concluded we are coming back, next time with the kids!
If you decide to plan a similar trip, see our costs and recommendations:
Total cost for both: 400 eur
Bed per person: 25-35 eur
Dinner per person: 10-15 eur
Train ticket per person + bike: 20 eur
Must sleep cities: Lienz, Villach
Cities less interesting: Greifenburg, Spittal
Village for cofee/food: Lind im Drautal, Sachsenburg
Must stop for swim: Tristacher See, Moll-Drau confluence
Spittal: nice park, noisy, good restaurant: Mein Wirtshaus
Villach: picturesque, shopping, train station in center, Caffe Latte bar
I really cannot help myself but to post a traditional title "with the boys" for our legendary trips in the Balkans. Also note there is a post category called "Boys week" on the right side menu, which will filter out all the historical multi-day adventures with more or less the same boys!
This year we decided to go for a Balkan classic - starting in the Rila mountains (Bulgaria) where we finished off exactly two years ago. We then continued across the border to Macedonia, a country which is culturally diverse and geographically rugged. The biggest mountain range stands on the west, stretching from the capital Skopje towards the Ohrid lake on the border with Albania. A big portion of the mountains fall under the Mavrovo national park, while the highest peak is Korab. Not known to many, but this was actually the second highest peak in former Yugoslavia (right after Triglav in Slovenia). In addition, smaller mountain pockets are sporadically distributed across the country. This year we were really not lucky with the weather, but still we managed to squeeze three ski-touring trips and even more important, enjoyed quality time with the boys. The trip map and a few snapshots below.
We took advantage of stable weather in the first days and capitalized a round trip across Malovitca (2738m), booking 25km and finishing in pitch darkness:
Lonely Plenet mentioned "there is not much to see" in Kyustendil, and since Artač is a big fan of such cities, we had to make a short stop before crossing the border with Macedonia. In the end this common Bulgarian city rewarded our visit with a cheap and authentic lunch, draft beer and as you see on the photos below, a few tourist attractions also:
The last day in Bulgaria was cloudy and cold, but after passing the border the skies cleared up and we were welcomed with warm Macedonian sun. This was rather expected as the sun is strongly promoted on their national flag. After a few kilometers, Artač asked his rhetorical and (by now) legendary question: "I wonder what is hiding in this valley?" Before anybody could respond, we were already ascending south and passing deserted mining facilities. When Leon woke up, he could not completely comprehend this ad hoc ski-touring situation. After about 15 minutes, we were already ascending towards Ruen (2251m) and quickly found out that the lead mining in the mountain is far from being deserted. Even though most of the trip was completed in darkness, the mountain gave us the best skiing of the trip:
Macedonia is full of cozy monasteries which played a crucial role in preserving Christianity during the long period of Muslim dominance:
Skopje is a city of paradox - the center is completely renovated with spectacular monuments which are suppose to revive the "Macedonian" heritage. You can find the Muslim quarters (Čaršija) just a few minutes away. Naturally we spent a longer time in Čaršija and enjoyed traditional pies (burek) and countless sweets such as Trileče, Baklava and Rice puding:
The next day we drove to the Mavrovo national park, and as the weather was looking slightly more promising, we decided to attach Korab (2764) - the highest mountain in the country. After overcoming a long and rocky road, we made a nice ski touring trip, but due to bad weather we did not reach the summit. No problem, we have to leave something for next time:
We then continued towards the south and finally reached Orhid, a very historical town and lake protected under Unesco heritage:
We spent the last day in Bitola, a lively city with a slightly Greek atmosphere. The city has a long and spectacular walking street, which is very unusual for the Balkans. We celebrated the success of our trip by a long night drinking in one of the local pubs. Obligatory morning burek to gear up for a long drive back to Ljubljana:
Although the weather was not really cooperating, the trip had other emphasis and we could really absorb the Macedonian culture and most important - free our Balkan soul.
If you are following my blog at least to some extent, you have noticed that every year we do a one-week trip with the boys - usually a combination of ski-touring and traveling in the Balkans. This winter my son Jakob was born and therefore we staged a summer trip to Georgia, where we explored Tusheti Mountains, Kakheti wine region and of course the capital Tbilisi. Besides a very remote 4-day trek, we stopped in Telavi, Sighnaghi and the David Gareja monastery on the border with Azerbaijan. We climaxed the trip in Tbilisi where I finally met Sopho, a schoolmate from Almaty times. We have not seen each other for more than 13 years! Below are a few snapshots from this short but very intensive trip.
As I mentioned, we spent 4 days crossing the spectacular and remote Tusheti Mountains. There are countless ridges and valleys with no civilization:
Well, we did meet a few lonely shepherds with massive flocks of sheep. They also explained there are lots of wolves and bears hanging around:
Snow plantations and glacial streams became our good companions above 3300m. The highest mountain we climbed had something around 3600m:
We passed a lot of ancient villages, some almost a 1000 years old. They usually had a high tower, which was used for protection:
David Gareja monastery was founded in the 6th century. It had its ups and downs throughout the history, and after the Soviet Union dissolved, the monks have again settled in the rock. The monastery is right on the Azerbeijan border, therefore you can also feel the presence of the army. The dry landscape is something completely different from the rest of the country:
Tbilisi is a beautiful and lively city, especially in the night. Thanks to Sopho, we "found" a picturesque waterfall, which is located practically in the city center:
A very traditional Georgian dish is khinkali - some kind of giant tortellini, filled with meat, cheese or whatever. On our standard menu was also tomato and cucumber salad covered with walnuts and not to forget khachapuri - a mixture between burek and pizza. Kebr was not sure how to pronounce the word; therefore he simply named it "Čipuri":
Spring is by far the most active period, considering the indoor activities such as basketball and badminton are still ongoing, ski-touring is climaxing and the running preparation is well under way. In May I joined three running competitions - Tek Trojk (13km, 200m), Radenci half marathon (21km, 80m) and Tek na Krim (5km, 750m). Organized by the Slovenian mountain rescue organization, Tek na Krim starts almost in front of our house in Vrbljene and finishes on top of Krim - a legendary mountain already perpetuated during the course of this blog. Teams of two have to reach the top in the shortest time as well as complete a first aid challenge. I am proud to say we have monopolized the podium - see the photo above. At the same time, first place has slipped out of our (better say Damjan's) hands for the second year in a row. Even though he had a very strong finish, his brother Simon simply did not have his day. Leon and I finished third. Conveniently it was also my birthday, so with the other lads joining, we continued the celebration on my garden. A great finale of a very active spring. Family and relaxation are the main priority of the summer!