Tuesday, August 17th Italy to Slovenia

We were all a little sad to be leaving Venice. Every single time I come to Italy, it is never long enough.  But today we had to drive to Slovenia.  This was another adventure as none of us had ever been to Slovenia.

On the way to the Slovenia we took a little detour to visit Riese Pio X. This is a tiny town just past Castelfranco north of Venice. “Pio X” at the end of Riese means that a Catholic Pope was born in Riese.  Pope Pius X was born in Riese June 2, 1835 and died August 20, 1914. The Catholic church has now made this Pope into a saint.

Riese is the town my grandmother was from. My cousin, Karen Regan had previously been to Riese Pio X to research our roots.  She went to the Catholic Church and met Gigliano Gaetan, a lady who works at the church and lives in Riese Pio X.  Gigliano is an artist and she researched our family tree on my grandmother’s side and sent the information to Karen.  It turns out that my grandmother was one of nine children.  She travelled to Canada to marry my grandfather who had immigrated to North America several years prior to their marriage.  I suspect that this was an arranged marriage. The oldest sibling of my grandmother  has two grandchildren, (a boy and a girl) living in Riese Pio X still and one (girl) living in Canada.  We called on them but they were out for the day; however, the wife of one (John Gonzola) came over to meet us.  They are going to Canada in October to visit his sister but she lives in Ontario, not BC. Even though we did not connect with any of the Gonzola family (my grandmother’s maiden name) we had a lovely visit with Gigliano and her mother. 

We then left Italy and headed off to Slovenia.  There is no border as both Italy and Slovenia are part of the European Union.  Our next stop, just inside the Slovenian Border, was to meet up with “Tall Terry’s” cousin Simon and his family. “Tall Terry” is Terry and Gillian Johnston’s friend and we all had dinner with him and his wife before we left on this trip. He arranged this meeting with his cousin.  Simon, his wife Tina and their daughter Nikla greeted us and we then followed them to their village  “Duvrocnik”, about 45 minutes away.

It was a beautiful windy drive through forests, over grassy fields with little villages along the way.  Sometimes we drove on a tiny one lane road and when another car drove up going the opposite way, we would pull over as far as we could, stop and let them pass us.  Somehow it all worked out.  The scenery looked like it should be on a postcard. Rolling hills with farms of corn or some other type of vegetation. Cows and sometimes goats. Absolutely beautiful.  The houses have steep roofs as it snows heavily in the winter and the windows all have shutters because it is hot in the summer.  These friendly hills make you feel like yodelling. During the winter they have someone drive them to the tops of the hills and they ski down and during the summer they hike the hills. It is a little piece of heaven on earth.

The small settlements are very Bavarian looking and always have a church, usually a Catholic Church, in the center or up on a hill looking down at the houses. There are  even higher mountains in the background, called the Julian Alps.  The highest mountain is Triglav, 2,864 metres above sea level.

Simon and Tina’s house was located up the mountains in a settlement of farms with 83 people living there.  Their house is 150 years old and the barn holding three cows is attached to the house. Above the barn is a loft for storing hay. There is no water to the house so they have made a catch basin and pipes from the roof collecting rain water lead to this basin, the water is then taken into the house, I am assuming by a pump.  Their house is very modern inside.  Granite countertops in the kitchen and a full bathroom. A very comfortable home with a spectacular view of the countryside. There is a small chicken coop, vegetable garden and a summer patio with a barbecue area in the backyard. 

Tina and her mother made us all a very nice lunch consisting of homemade sausages, bread, cheese, pickles and a traditional Slovenian cake with plums and cinnamon. There was also a Slovenian beer which is combined with grapefruit juice. Very refreshing.

Simon had the keys to the village church so we all had a tour of the church which was built in 1791. There is a service every Sunday, a priest comes from another village to give the service. Beside the church is a small graveyard and I was surprised to see that almost all of the grave sites had fresh flowers or candles burning beside them. 

We couldn’t stay much longer because we had to check-in to our hotel in Bled which was a long way from Simon’s house.  Simon suggested that we take the train.  This is a train that cars drive on to!!  This was a great idea. We followed Simon to the train station in “Most Na Soci” (“Most” means bridge, so the name of the town where we caught the train translates to “bridge over the Soci River”). Before catching the train Simon had us stop at a viewing sight overlooking a man-made lake in the next village to his.  This is the village where his children go to school. Tina said that when it is hot the water in the lake gets to 80 degrees F. It was a beautiful colour of blue/green and many people from the area were enjoying the water!

We got to the train station just in time and we were the last vehicles on the railcars. It was a very interesting experience, we drove up to a platform and backed the cars on to the railcar. We were not tied down or anything. The railcar had thin metal railings and you could get out of your cars and walk all around, which Russ did. This train ride saved us a couple hours of driving because the train goes right through the Julian Alps with a tunnel 4 miles long! The inside of this tunnel was pitch black and the railcar rocked side to side, needless to say I fell asleep before we reached the end of the tunnel. This ride was a great ride and only took us 1/2 an hour. By the time we got off the train we only had 18 kms to drive to Bled, our first stop in Slovenia.

Tatiana, our Russian guide from last year, was at the hotel to meet us.  It was a happy reunion as Russ and I love, Tatiana.  She is easy going and a very good travel manager.  The hotel, Villa Hotel Bled, originally built in 1920 was spectacular. It was the former summer residence of President Tito of Yugoslavia.  Located on the shore line of Lake Bled in a 13-acre park. In our rooms we were all welcomed with a fruit basket and champagne.  Our rooms were two bedroom suites with views of the lake.  Outstanding!!

We ate on the patio of Villa Hotel Bled, had a great reunion with Tatiana a great ending to a fabulous day.

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