Thursday, September 12, 2013

Slovenia, Revisited

I left Rijeka on an early bus to Ljubljana and arrived a few hours later to the city I'd fallen in love with a just a few months earlier.  At the bus station, I was greeted by three members of my extended family I had not yet met: my cousin H and her teenage daughters, J and A, with whom I would spend the next several days.  They all speak excellent English, which allowed us a conversation over coffee (which grew to include Masa and Sebastian) that wasn't stunted by my lukewarm foreign language skills.
H, her husband J, and their daughters live north of Ljubljana in Kranj.  At the house, the girls showed me to my temporary room (A slept on the couch so I could have her bed; people here are so generous) I took a lengthy nap.  I was awoken some time later by A, who informed me that some people wanted to meet me...  To my delighted surprise, Vesna, Darko, Tadej, Sandra, and Baby L (who was still cooking in June) had all come over for dinner!  It's hard for me to describe the happiness I exuded over this reunion but, in a word, it was joyful.  (And the dinner was delicious). 
Tadej, me, Sandra, and baby L
A and me
I would have liked to spend at least a week with family, but I spent more time in Romania than I had originally factored into my trip, so I only had a few days in Slovenia.  We made the most of that time, though; I bonded with my new-found family over food, sightseeing, and (in typical ex-Yugoslav fashion) loud and lengthy conversation.  Time went by too fast.  The morning of Tuesday, August 27, I left Slovenia for the last leg of my trip, which I will relate in the next post.  Until then, enjoy the pictures!
Veliki Otok
Predjama Castle

Friday, September 6, 2013

On Rijeka, Mrzle Vodica, and Family Roots

After exiting the ferry in the crisp early morning, I stepped out to get a taste of Rijeka.  I bought some fresh strawberries from the market but my luggage didn't allow me to do much else so I returned to the ferry port for a taxi.
The harbor at Rijeka
The taxi drove me to the home of my great-grandmother's 95-year-old brother Josip and his wife Anka, who were already out on their porch when I arrived.  It was a beautiful, cheek-kissing meeting of long lost family.  Josip and Anka don't speak English, but we were able to get by with a mix of Croatian, Italian, and copious hand-gesturing.  I had only informed them that I would be visiting the day before,when I asked a woman in Split to help me call their home and tell them that "Victor's granddaughter" was coming to Rijeka the next morning.

Josip is the kindest, gentlest old man imaginable,and he still works for a few hours every day.  Anka is the more exuberant of the two and shows her generosity through the Eastern European art of "feeding the guest."  (I had hardly eaten in Split, so I was ready for a home-cooked meal!)  They had already prepared a room for me to sleep in, and were surprised to learn that I was only staying for one night.  Before lunch, Josip cracked out the rakija, and I finally tasted the "firewater" I had heard so much about... it's strong stuff.  (For some reason I always drink the hardest liquor with my nonagenarian relatives).  I napped shortly after we finished eating, and I blame as much on the rakija as I do on the uncomfortable overnight ferry.
Anka, me, Josip
Rijeka from Josip's balcony
(Like his sister Marija, Josip also aided the partisans during the second world war.  Tito's memory is very respected in this house).
That afternoon, my cousin Andrea brought Anka and me to Mrzle Vodica, the place that once was my great-grandmother's village and is now entirely immersed underwater.  The lake is quite beautiful, but it's strange and sad to think about the village; not all of the memories below those waters are happy ones.  The Nazis occupying Croatia during World War II demanded that Josip's father (my great-great-grandfather) give up his land; he turned his back on them and was shot.  He died in front of the house, in front of his children.  (And this happened after the family was incarcerated by fascist Italians in Gonars concentration camp).  At any rate, it was a weighty experience for me to visit the site of the stories I heard from my grandfather during my childhood.

I stayed the night in Riejka but had to catch an early taxi to the bus station the following morning, to meet and reunite with other family members in Ljubljana.  More on that will come soon.
In Croatian, "Mrzle Vodica" literally means "frozen water." The village where my great-grandmother, Josip, Marija, and their other siblings were born and raised no longer exists, having been converted into a man-made lake after World War II.
At Mrzle Vodica: my ancestral shores

Thursday, September 5, 2013

On Split

I've been up since 4am Minnesota time; such is jetlag.  It's so strange to be home, but I am ecstatic to see my family.  My 15-year-old sister is the only one of my five siblings to be home currently, and our reunion was absolutely joyful.  So it's good to be back.

I will try to backtrack on my trip as much as possible now, though it will likely take a few posts to accomplish.  After Sarajevo, my next destination was Split, Croatia.  I had originally planned to see Dubrovnik before Split, but since I spent more time in Romania than I originally intended, some cities had to be skipped.  Such is travel.  The bus ride to Split was exhausting and when I finally got to my hostel I just wanted to sleep.  After the taxi dropped me off at the hostel, I was greeted by the owner's mother, who informed me (in Croatian) that her son would give me a key in a few minutes and asked me about myself and my trip.  I held up better than expected, conversing in Croatian, but our conversation was cut short when her son came down and checked me into my room.

Roman ruins

The weather was incredibly hot in the sunshine but the evening was considerably cooler.  I went out that evening and discovered Diocletian's Palace, among other lovely sights.  The unfortunate thing about Split was that it felt pervasively touristy and party-ish.  That isn't really my scene and I was even less enthusiastic towards that atmosphere since I was traveling alone.  I avoided the bars and stayed out for a couple of hours around the city center, but eventually travel exhaustion set in and I went back to the hostel.

The next morning I returned to Diocletian's Palace and joined a free walking tour around the ruin.  I learned quite a bit about Diocletian who, according to my tour guide, was the first Roman emperor to retire from office, and he lived out the rest of his life in Split.  The palace was abandoned with the fall of the Empire.  Later, Croatians fled inside its walls to escape attacks by advancing Barbarians in the 5th century and never really left.  For this reason, Diocletian's Palace is the best preserved Roman ruin in the world.
According to my tour guide, Diocletian's Palace will be a filming location for the upcoming season of HBO's Game of Thrones.
Adriatic coastline
I spent some time on the beach before I had to pack up and head to the ferry port.  I had booked my deck ticket in advance for the overnight ferry from Split to Rijeka.  $30 was definitely my cheapest option for transportation, and I saved myself from paying for a room since I'd be spending the night on the deck.


That trip was certainly an experience, to say the least.  Prior to departure, I hadn't realized just how cold the deck of a ship could become at night.  I didn't have a blanket with me, but I did have a beach towel I'd bought for my brother... (towels aren't very warm, for the record).  I wrapped both of my scarves around my ears and my put hood on, but I finally had to wrap my up whole face to keep out the cold.  My feet were freezing so I resorted to zipping myself (as best I could) inside my duffel bag, which is easier said than done.  Despite the obvious discomfort, I managed to get a few solid hours of sleep before we ported in Rijeka at 7:00am. 

In retrospect, I would highly recommend anyone who plans to spend the night on deck of a ferry to bring a sleeping bag or, at the very least, a real blanket.   I'll certainly be more prepared next time!
My ride (I may or may not have been thinking of Titanic for the entirety of the ferry trip...)
Dalmatian sunset