Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Skiing on grass?!

You could say that the Camp Menina is miniature world; several types of accommodation, several ways of relaxation, several choices of culinary delights, many forms of sports activities ... More opportunities for all, who are looking for a real, active vacation in the heart of the breathtaking natural beauty.

Youth Hostel Menina
For more than fourteen years in a small village in the Upper Savinja valley grows a "resort", as the owner Jure sometimes calls entire complex of Campa Menina. He drove into his own little world, jumped out of the car and spread high spirits with a smile and jokes. Full of crazy, interesting and attractive ideas, with the help of his Katja and the team, camp complements, extends, and improves all the time. We’ve stopped before the "old-new" reception, which used to be the granary. When entering the wooden house stuffed eagle welcomes you, and afterwards…get ready for a mass of information.

Youth Hostel Menina
When entering the camp, it is quite clear that there is no time for boredom. Great Adventure Park is spread over a children's playground. Around the camp the stream runs, filling the lake. During the summer, it is full of bathers, especially children, who are excited about the large inflatable pillows on which they are jumping until the night falls. Meanwhile, in a nice shadow parents barbecue, girls sunbathe, and fallows enjoy with a beer in a hand. "The only thing we do not have is the sea," says Jure, "near runs Savinja River that during the summer heats up to a comfortable 26 degrees. Otherwise, we have it all. Only five minute walk away is the airport where we throw interested from the plane." When he lists all the activities offered, from guided hikes, bike tours, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling... my attention caught skiing on grass. "Have you not heard of it? You have some kind of caterpillar on your foot. Otherwise it is fu**ing hard, but with some practice it is OK. We have also ski slope on grass."
Youth Hostel Menina
Katja added that during the summer, months when they are almost completely full, they organize concerts, they even hosted Elvis Presley impersonators, they have danced Zumba and have lots of activities for children. Everything for a perfect family, active, adrenaline vacation in Menina. Of course, Camp Menina did not forget the relaxation. When the sun sets, torches are lighted up. They cast a light on a wooden, enclosed cottage in which the temperature is very high. Wrapped only in sheets, guests relax in the pleasant evenings in the Finnish sauna. Experience full of romance. For those with empty stomachs, they bake pizzas in the restaurant or prepare snacks. For more demanding guests they offer typical food of Upper Savinja Valley such as žlinkrofi. In restaurant they prepare you fresh trout or bograč, golaž (soups with lots of meat).

Youth Hostel Menina
Large complex, which extends below the treetops and where in the mystical, quiet mornings you can almost hear the murmur of Savinja, includes accommodation for every taste and pocket. 26 modern mobile homes with kitchen, bathroom and terrace are perfect for families. Among them are hiding four treker huts - small wooden houses, which were originally without showers and electricity but were upgraded later. On the spacious lawn you can select the location for your caravan or tent. You can spend the night in the hostel, which is perfect for groups. Jure says it comes in handy when the guys decide to have the bachelor party there. Not only bachelor parties, they had several marriages also. It would be utterly wrong to expect a typical wedding in Camp Menina. Jure is full of crazy ideas. The bride on her big day in a beautiful white dress sails in to the camp in canoe. The groom in his best dress rocks with a swing in the Adventure Park above his bride in a canoe. What a scene! "One bride was shouting: "Give me back my husband, give me back my husband!'" Jure explains with a laugh.

Youth Hostel Menina
In the autumn they host athletes who come to preps. When we were there, they were just preparing for the arrival of American football team. Dear girls, Camp Menina make sure you can relax your eyes. Also when winter comes, in Upper Savinja Valley it is not boring. Skiers and boarders can ski on the snowy slopes in Golte. Do not forget sledges for all kinds of winter joy. There are quite few waterfalls in the Upper Savinja Valley that fall from the mountain peaks. During the winter time waterfalls freezes and they are full of climbers who are climbing the majestic ice walls.

Anja Turk
Volunteer of Hostelling International Slovenia

Monday, 21 October 2013

10 years - Blues festival »POSTOJNSKA JAMA«

On October 24th 2013 the Cave Castle near the Postojna Cave kicks off with a concert of the great guitarist TIM MITCHELL, for the beginning of the ninth international blues festival »Postojnska jama«. Thursday night blues evenings on the stage at the Cave Castle will feature five excellent performers from the world blues scene.

TIM MITCHELL BAND, 24.10.2013 (20.30)
Tim Mitchell, as many blues musicians, comes from a big family that used to live with music. He started performing as a child in the five man ensemble called The Famous Musical Mitchell. As a multi-instrumentalist (he plays the guitar, bass and keyboards – but also has a great voice) he became a sought after musician. He played in the group named Stylistics, and had a great experience in the Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and also played with James Brown, Javier Vargas, Carlos Santana, Duddy Guy and even Princem. But it was with his own band that he put forward his singing voice and the talent for being an author of songs. As a singer, songwriter and musician in the broadest sense, he plays all the classic instruments of blues live on stage:  guitar, bass, keyboards and even drums.
MIKE WHEELER BAND, 6. 3. 2014 (20.30)
Mike Wheeler comes from Chicago, so it doesn’t surprise us that he’s a typical representative of Chicago blues. He’s been playing since 1984 and as usual for a musician of his calibre, spent many a night jamming in joints until he got a big break with a tour together with Big James. Later on he went to play with the names like Koko Taylor, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Shemekia Copeland, Son Sealsom and others. His current group features four equally represented strong blues musicians.

ERIC GALES BAND, 21.11.2013 (20.30)
Eric Gales is a left handed blues guitar phenomenon of the younger generation. He won the guitar contest in the home town of Memphis Tennessee at the age of eleven! Later he established a group named Left Hand Band. In 1994 he performed at the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, which rocketed him among the greats. He’s under an obvious influence of Jimmy Hendrix, but went on an individual path in the beginning of the new century. He’s very productive and has made 10 albums by the year 2001 and the guitar is always the centre of his productions. This year’s album Ghost Notes is completely instrumental and set for the classical blues trio.
GUITAR SHORTY & BAND, 3. 4. 2014 (20.30)
Guitar Shorty (David Kearney) is among the legends of blues. Born in Houston in 1939, he spent the youth in Florida. He played in schools and clubs while still in high-school. When he performed with the Walter Johnson Band, he got a nickname Guitar Shorty and keeps this as the artistic name. He played with Willie Dixon and Guitar Slim, T-Bone Walkerjem, Big Joe Turner and even Little Richard. In his youth he was a rival to Jimmy Hendrix, so he used to listen to him a lot. Constant playing and performing brought him in touch with other musical styles, such as the music of the Eagles, Steely Dan, and a close friend Keb Mo.
EDDY "THE CHIEF" CLEARWATER,  8. 05. 2014 (20.30) 
Born in 1935 Eddie entered the Chicago scene in 50s by playing in clubs, where he performed with left handed guitarists Otis Rush and Magic Sam. Being left handed himself, his energetic playing picked up many small tricks of great masters. His strong gospel voice only enhances the experience. He used to sing with The Blind Boys Of Alabama. He still performs and his concerts are the top of Chicago blues. His performances are a trip into history of blues and a source of inspiration to future generations. Eddie is a great entertainer who really warms up his crowd. In 2004 he was nominated for a Grammy with Los Straitjackets for cooperation on the album Rock 'N' Roll City.
You can read more about the festival at:

Where to find a reasonable price for a bed? 
You can sleep at the Youth Hostel Proteus, in centre of Postojna. It’s only 500 meters from the main bus station and 1,5km from the railroad. The cave is only 800 meters away and the castle just 7km. The nearest bus stop is just 50m away and the local bus in Postojna is free of charge. In the hostel you can find rooms with two or three beds and common bathrooms. Guests can also order breakfast. From Monday to Friday there’s a possibility of ful board (if arranged in advance also during the weekend). Youth Hostel is open every day of the year 24 hours a day. In the reception area there is free internet access and you can also use the kitchenette to prepare a hot meal or coffee.

Youth Hostel Proteus
Welcome to Postojna, where you can – apart from the festival – also visit the world famous attraction the Postojna cave and not to miss the Castle Predjamski grad.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Warning! This road goes through Slovenia

As it turned out, Slovenia is quite the opposite of being dangerous. Now, after 3.400 kilometres on two wheels through the whole of Slovenia, Tyler and Carolyn are still impressed with this small country. Both agree that everything went smoothly. They are full of great advices on where to cycle, which route to take, what time is the best for which region... and as we mentioned in previous interview, they are preparing first and only bicyclist guide to Slovenia. That will be written by Americans! Here we present the first impressions after their amazing bicycle tour in Slovenia.
So, now after the tour round Slovenia what are your impressions? Was everything as you expected?

Carolyn: It was more than we’ve expected. Now that we are out of Slovenia we are actually missing it quite a bit. Everywhere we turn here in Croatia we’re reminded of the things we miss: the incredibly friendly, hospitable people, the really good value for money, and the spectacular diversity of landscape. 

Tyler: What is funny is the lack of crowds in Slovenia, even in the popular tourist destinations. On the one hand we really enjoyed being one of the few people there, but on the other hand we wanted to promote it. It is catch-22; we enjoyed the lack of crowd but wanted to see more people coming there.

You plan to make first and only bicyclists guide to Slovenia. How is it progressing? When can we expect it?

Tyler: We are still gathering and sorting information. We are expecting to finish it till late spring 2014. That is our target. And the focus will be a combination of cycling routes and information plus tourist and travel information. The idea is not just to give the map to tell where to go cycling but a travel guide for bicyclist that tell you what to expect when you go to this places. What to look for, the hidden gems, the great hostels to stay at… We are working towards completing the book now and we are always interested in finding partners help us promote this product and the great cycling Slovenia to offer. So we are open to anyone who would like to help us with resources and would like to become partner. We think it can only benefit Slovenia in the long run.
Is Slovenia, now that you’ve cycled it across and over, a good place for cyclists? Or is just a transit country?

Tyler: I think right now it’s both. Unfortunately, now it is more a transit country, because the information is so scattered and incomplete. There is no central place to gather all routes and travel information. That is if you do not speak Slovenian. That is why we decided to write our guide. As outsiders, we found it difficult to find information but it is really great place to cycle. I think it can be seen as a destination with the right kind of marketing and information. 

Carolyn: Even if it is a transit country, there can be ways to get people to stay more than just few days. For example, we made a great route from Maribor to Ptuj and to Brežice and Kolpa River. This is a different transit route from Austria to Croatia, but you see a very diverse section of the country. There are great wine cellars, Kolpa is beautiful, peaceful river, and there are some great, quiet routes for cycling. 

How many kilometers app. have you made in Slovenia? We know Slovenia has many hills, mountains… Would you suggest it to less experienced cyclist? Did your muscles suffer?

Carolyn: Our goal was 3000 kilometers. And by the time we were running out Slovenia it was just about 3.400 kilometers. We try to stick to back roads and small roads as much as possible. We did quite a good job.

Tyler: Are there hills in Slovenia? Yes, you have to be prepared for Slovenia. I think most cyclists actually see that as a benefit because it is challenging and it is typically beautiful.
Carolyn: There is a great reward for the effort that its put involved. And that is what cyclist would like to see. Some amazing views, great places to visit that are worth the effort to get there. But there are also many places that are less steep and challenging in the eastern part of Slovenia. There is something for everyone.

Which region did the biggest impression on you? When we spoke before your tour, you said, you are saving the best for the last. Was it Gorenjska?

Tyler: We were so impressed by the entire country it is hard to say. The biggest surprise was Jeruzalem, Goričko… North-East Slovenia. It was beautiful and, people are very hospitable.

Carolyn: Every place has a different charm for us. We love Bela Krajina, soft and gentle peaceful place. Soča valley is filled with incredible energy and white water. Logarska valley has incredible valley with gigantic peaks. Goriška Brda and Karst were nice. Our favorite place for us can depend on the season; in summer time it is great to be in the mountains as it is hot everywhere else. In fall it is great to be in Karst and Slovenian Istria. Every region has something to offer.
What about people? You have a lot of contact with locals as cyclist, what would you say about us, Slovenians? We usually do not think that we are that nice, friendly, hospitable as you say we are.

Tyler: It is relative situation. Comparing to some other places, Slovenia is very hospitable. We are tourists and we get different treatment as the average Slovenian that lives there all the time. That is true, we can point out at least one situation when Carolyn was in the market and didn’t understand how to weigh some vegetable. The vegetable lady snapped at her but when she realized Carolyn was a tourist, she came back and helped her. As a tourist you get a different treatment as locals do. Slovenians are great. And almost everyone speak English, so we didn’t have any problems communicating. We met several other cyclists and all agreed how easy it is to communicate in English.

Could you share with us two or three adventures on the road? I saw you were eating cherries in Brda, you’ve climbed Vršič, tasted delicious wine, took loaded bikes on gondola…

Tyler: The North-East part of the country was remarkable as we did not know what to expect. The beauty of the countryside, the hospitality of the people… it was incredible. And Slovenian Istria. We were there in august and it was so hot, we couldn’t do anything. Then we went back two weeks ago (in mid-September) and it was so incredibly wonderful. Part of it was probably because we came out of the rainstorm from Postojna down to Izola. It was raining and so cold in Postojna and sonny and worm in Izola. It is charming little seaside location.

Carolyn: Everything was so smooth throughout Slovenia. We were connected to tourist professionals and local people. But there were times when we weren’t and it was still so smooth. Nothing stands out as a horror story, we didn’t get lost at all. For me the biggest adventure, my personal highlight, was from the route from Maribor across the Pohorje transversal and down to the Alps, to Logarska valley and then back to Kamnik. It was very challenging, some great climbs. It is not a route for everybody, but if you are up for a challenge it is incredible way to go. Almost no traffic, no bikes, no other human either. Just amazing mountain views, beautiful valleys, small farmhouses.
Where did you sleep? HI Hostels? What do you think about HI Slovenia hostels? Hospitality, standard etc. You were the first guest in totally new Hostel Bovec!

Tyler: Our experience with Hosteling International Hostels was really great. I can say that we were the first guest in Hostel Bovec. Those guys were so cool and we enjoyed staying in their hostel in Koper as well. We really liked Celje and Pliskovica.

Carolyn: Yes, Pliskovica in Karst was amazing; that 300 year old farmhouse in the beautiful little village. There is some great cycling there. That was a unique experience, specially the hostel.

Tyler: We liked Brežice also. It was exceptional nice hostel to stay in. And the folks who run it were really great. The last hostel that we’ve stayed was in Izola, Alieti. They were unbelievably accommodating. It is nice facility, right in the center of Izola, near the sea. It was great.

Carolyn: Generally we were impressed with HI hostels standards in Slovenia. The staff was very personable. Like Hostel Bovec, Hostel Histria and Alieti are small run family style businesses. Like the Hostel Celje and Brežice are more of a youth hostel style, which are also brand new facilities, good accommodations, more traditional with a youth mission. Those were fantastic as well. The HI is always a sign of a good quality hostel and that stays true throughout our trip. It is also interesting to see different types of hostels that are under the umbrella. There are lots of different options within HI Slovenia.
What was the weather like? In Gorenjska rains a lot… How do you deal with weather?

Tyler: As far as the weather, it was mostly sunny; it rained only four or five times. The rainiest day we’ve ever cycled in our lives was in Slovenia coming from Postojna down to Izola. Typically, if it is going to rain a lot, we just do not go. But you can get caught up. So we bring our rain gear with us and we try to take shelter were we can, in a café or in a bus stop. It is not preferred, but it happens. 

Carolyn: The rain comes but the sun always comes afterwards. That is another thing.
What would you, as experienced cyclist, who made numerous kilometers round the world, suggest to our municipalities to improve when it comes to cycling? 

Tyler: As far as municipalities, I think you need to think nationally not just each municipality as a single unit. I think that currently is a problem as each municipality has its cycling routes marked, but there is no cohesive network nationwide. I think you need to think more cohesive: national, regional and then local network. And sign it all the same nationwide and recorded it all in one place nationwide, on all three levels. And make a resource for people from outside to find.

Anja Turk
Volunteer of Hostelling International Slovenia