Last post from Slovenia - written after returning. Thanks for following. "How do they harvest the grapes that are planted straight down those steep mountains?" The wine cellar guide in Ptuj (pronounced Pit-tooey) looked at me like I had tasted one too many of their lovely wines. "Well they just climb down and pick them." The day before on a loop ride out of Ptuj along the Drava River and into the Haloze wine region on the Croatian border, we had found ourselves at the top of some of these mountains with vineyards planted straight down the steep slopes. I had stood at the top and looked down those almost vertical lines of grapes, so steep that I had held on to a grapevine with one hand and leaned out as far as I could, only to see the grape-laden vines disappear immediately from sight as they plummeted down the steep slope. As I stood hanging on at the top, I assumed the only way to pick the grapes was to anchor at the top with a rope and harness and essentially belay down. So I asked the question again assuming she had not understood. And she just laughed, "Oh no. They just climb down and pick them. They are used to it. There is a saying in Slovenia - Even the goats have sticks." This was the end of a very interesting morning tour of the central wine cellar in the small medieval town of Ptuj in the northeast corner of Slovenia. Wine has been produced here since the Romans, and consistently in the town for over 700 years when the local royalty chartered a monastery and charged them with wine-making. Since then the area has produced wine consistently, and is particularly known for its incredible white wines. We were touring the old Ptuj wine cellar,
"Sorry. Do you speak English?" This comes from one of three grungy and slightly odiferous young men sitting on a bench overlooking the Aegean Sea. "Do you like Rock music? We are a rock band from Estonia." We play rock and roll, blues guitar, Jimi Hendrix ... He hands me a CD with eighteen songs, one named "A Stairway to NO Heaven". "We wrote the songs ourselves." They are dividing their time trying to sell their CD's to everyone who walks by and watching the naked young woman swim in the clear waters of the sea below. The young woman is proving an effective distraction from commerce. They say they are selling these CD's to support their music tour around Europe, which will ultimately end in a show in Bulgaria. They are surprisingly persuasive, and I see people holding their CDs as they walk up and down the promenade of the ancient seaport town of Piran, Slovenia. They assure me that I can buy the CD for good karma, if not for the music. I have to admire their tenacity. But hauling everything on a bicycle has a way of making saying No easier ... Even to charming young rocker wanna-bes who assure me they will make it big and come to the States one day. Plus, sadly experience has taught me to be wary of charming people speaking perfect English with a grand tale to tell and a request for money ... Especially in a place that attracts tourists. There is no telling what's on that CD. I'm in Piran, Slovenia, a former walled city on the very tip of Slovenia on the Aegean Sea. The City was part of the Venetian sea empire for five hundred years, and the walls and cramped old city with winding streets and Venetian styled windows and
We couldn't resist. The international bike trail known as the Alpe-Adria was just too tempting. A bike trail that stretched from Salzburg Austria to the Adriatic resort town of Grado, Italy. We had joined the trail after we left Bled, Slovenia as we worked our way around the high Julian Alps of North Western Slovenia. Gorgeous riding through a valley with granite mountains on either side of the trail ... a former railway that has been converted to a dreamy bike trail. Former rail stations now serve as bike trail cafes for snacks and coffee breaks as the trail rolled first west and then turned south. The trail was packed with bike pilgrims all making the journey to the sea. Familiar faces from the trail appeared again at restaurants and strolling the streets in the towns and cities along the way, with waves and conversations. And best of all, after the strenuous climbing through the mountains of Slovenia, the Alpe-Adria route offered a dreamy downhill profile ... Miles of coasting on smooth trail rarely turning a pedal. It was so tempting to continue on through Italy to the sea that we simply couldn't resist and caved to temptation. Italy has worked its magic once again. And so since posting from Valbruna, Italy on the border of Austria, we biked for five straight days working our way to the Adriatic with a few minor detours. And after reaching our destination when we rolled into Grado yesterday afternoon as the thermometer topped 90 degrees, we stayed over night and the next morning headed back north to the Italian/Slovenian border town of Gorizia. This trail - The Alpe Adria - would be a fabulous trail for a first time self-supported bicyclist learning how to bike tour. Just make sure you head from Salzburg to the sea not
Oh Italy. There always seems to be a reason to go back. This time, as I write this from Gemona, Italy in the North Eastern province of Fruila, we find ourselves here because, simply, we could not find a good route via bike through Slovenia's Julian Alps with our heavy loaded touring bikes. The leg-wrecking alpine passes with their multiple switchbacks and 15% grades seemed stupid to attempt at the beginning of a long ride, regardless of how tempting they might be on my super-light Orbea unburdened by panniers stuffed with gear. And the mountain bike trails offered challenges for Julie's skinnier tires. So, after riding 70km northeast from Ljubliana to the Slovenian resort town of Bled in the Julian Alps and spending a day taking in the Bled Triathlon, we headed north again to the valley on the border of Slovenia and Austria and caught the gorgeous international bike trail through the Alps into Italy. The cycling has been gorgeous - though challenging. The mountains are spectacular. Wildflowers line green valleys and grey granite peaks pierce the blue sky.
The thin, long-haired young man stopped his skateboard and spoke with Julie while I photographed a red mural that was painted on an abandoned building by the river. "You should go to Metelkova," he said. He handed us a glossy postcard of the Slovenian Ethnographic Museum. "It's only 15 minute walk. " Then he looked at me, "There is lots of graffiti there." That got my attention. I love street art if it is intelligent. Graffiti and murals tell stories. They can say more about a culture - and its less promoted counterculture - than any museum or tour. Plus ... I love photographing those colors and the contrast of bright paint scrawled on pompous or boringly functional buildings. The next morning, our geeky tourist maps in hand, we set off north along the maze of streets and eventually found what Ljubljana locals describe as a "City within a City", rows of art-covered walls and sculpture and graffiti sprawling across several blocks and unmistakably our destination. Metelkova is one of the largest squats in Europe. It is a sprawl of old army barracks and a former prison that were taken over as housing after Slovenian Independence in 1991 when artists moved in to the vacant buildings and started their own community. The city did not - and still does not - like them. They are tolerated however - perhaps because people here seem to hold the area as a special place which may be a product of the decades of socialism under Tito and the spirit of a brand new democracy. They have turned their entire community into a creative haven for alternative artists. Today, over twenty years after moving into those abandoned buildings, they still squat and live there live there rent and tax free. Metelkova has become accepted enough now by the
Slovenia! Small, but mighty. Big Alps. Good food and wine. A love of the outdoors. Castles. I'm here with my bike and a friend for three weeks with plans to circle this small but packed country with detours into some of its neighbors ... Italy, Croatia, maybe Austria and Hungary. But today we are getting organized, building our bikes, catching up on sleep and checking out the fabulous capital of Ljubljana (pronounced Lube JAHN Yah). As I write this a band playing the salsa street party and lots of Cuban sound has my toes tapping and is doing a grand job of keeping me awake to get on the right sleep schedule for our 9 hour time difference. This town thrums. The entire city center is pedestrian and bicycle only and the difference in noise and carefree mobility is remarkable compared to dodging cars in my Seattle neighborhood. It's an old city that integrates the modern and a sense of humor. A modern metal sculpture of a headless man with tail is profiled by the stately columned buldings lining the river. And young people sip beer and snack in the dozens of outdoor cafes - looking equally at home in their casual shorts and blue hair as the older generations strolling arm in arm along the river. This city seems to have retained a unique personality - maybe like Portland , OR has managed to stay unique despite the growth and change around it. Perhaps because it's still hidden from the tourist throngs of neighoring Italy, Vienna and Croatian coast. We are looking forward to seeing more as we ride around and roam through this country at the deliciously slow bicycle pace that enables a visitor to really experience a place and meet interesting folks. And based on the courtesy and
Mobile, Alabama is home to (arguably) the country's first Mardi Gras. They have been parading and celebrating for over 150 years. Think of the Mobile's Mardi Gras as a more "family friendly" version of New Orlean's notorious party - the kind your mother will enjoy, too. The last two years I've visited Mobile with my Mom and attended some of the Mardi Gras parades. I've loved the spirit of fun ... everyone is smiling and playing. Great music. Fying Moonpies. Tons of throws. Festive hats. All walks of Mobile Society are out and about together. This celebration of culture and traditions is special. I'm sharing some photos from attending two parades this year on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday and LundiGras in February 2016. More photos from 2015 Mardi Gras are in the photo galleries link. If you want to learn more about Mobile's fabulous celebration, check out the Mobile Mask.
A friend recently sent me a Washington Post Article about a study out where scientists test images for Memorability. Take a look at these four photographs I took in Africa last spring and rank them according to which photo you believe is most "Memorable". As in, "The viewer likely to remember the image 100 seconds after they first saw the image. Ready for the Results? I was surprised ... I love all of these photos. But my favorite image of the entire travels to Africa - the Girl in Pink - ranked the lowest on memorability. A mere 46.5% of you, the the viewers, will remember this photo for more than 100 seconds. The most memorable photo of this group is the Flamingo ... ranked high as very memorable with 81% memorability beyond 100 seconds. BeeEater follows with 75% and Dunes of Namibia with 66%, a mediocre medium. Much of the basis of this study boils down to what graphic designers and professional photographers already know about photo composition and color of an image. They earn their living choosing the images and designing the graphics that please the eye and successfully sell their wares ... they want you to remember their image from the advertisement you saw when you are out shopping for your next pair of shoes. Where the study falls short, though, is in measuring the intangible. To me, a memorable image awakens emotions. Or shows an unrecognized truth. Or prompts re-living a memory. Or peaks curiosity and a desire to learn more about a person or a place. To me, the little girl in her white dress and bright pink coat slowly sauntering barefoot along the boardwalk - lost in her own world and thoughts and framed by the mountains of South Africa's Southern Cape - evokes my curiosity and stirs my imagination more than a picture-perfect image of a beautifully posed and
There are many baby animals in the park of all species this time of year. This very young baby elephant was napping under the shade of his mother. It got up, had a stretch, and then started to nurse. This young male lion has just finished eating his share of a zebra, and is off looking for shade to digest his meal while the three female lions in the pride eat the remains of the kill. Even though the females hunt, the male eats first. We watched him swat off the females until he had finished eating. Male lions mostly lie around all the day ... interesting to me that the females tolerate it. This springbok nibbles the leaves of an acacia tree with 2 inch long thorns. Springbok travel in large herds, and when they are frightened they bounce high in the air and run with huge high leaps off the ground, moving amazingly fast considering how high they jump with each stride. Lone male Red Hartebeast. Many of the antelope species have one dominant male in the herd. He forces the other young male out of the herd, and you see them either wandering alone or in small groups of males, away from the breeding herds of females and young. The birdlife in and around the park is also extraordinary. This Lilac Breasted Roller is just one of the incredibly beautiful birds - many which adopt incredible nesting and survival techniques to survive in the desert. Red Breasted Shrike - formerly the National bird of Namibia until they won independence in 1990. They replaced the lovely shrike with the fiercer Fish Eagle. This Bee Eater has caught a juicy dragonfly. It takes a while to choke it down, but it eventually manages.