June 1, 2010

Before the weekend, I took the bus into Trieste and met Flo.  We headed north of the city (in the TT with the top down) to Castello di Miramare.  Rather than a crumbling medieval castle, this is more of an extravagant Austrian-era villa on the sea.  It was built in the mid-19th century by Archduke Maximilian – the ill-fated Emperor of Mexico.  The interior is elaborately furnished (all original), and the exterior has both a formal garden and a forested park.  Somewhat inexplicably, there is also a sphinx on the sea that apparently brings good fortune when you make a wish while touching its eroded nose.  Which we both did.  So we’ll see…  We also visited the art gallery in Scuderie del Castello di Miramare (the old castle stables?) that currently has an exhibit of  Joan Miró’s (20th century Catalan artist) illustrated works.

Castello di Miramare

Part of the gardens at Miramare (the sphinx is in the far left middle).

At Miramare

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet Lydia – the geographer who was in Koper 2 years ago on a sabbatical and taught the class I have been teaching this semester.  It was really fun to compare our experiences.  It’s too bad we didn’t know each other earlier (although I knew her by reputation) because she had some great suggestions both for working and living here, which I still hope to be able to take advantage of over the next 2 months.  We made a trip to Piran for dinner along with her husband and the Slovene cousin she is visiting on this trip.  As would reasonably be expected, Piran is even more lovely this time of year.  As opposed to the first week in February.  Being a coastal town, seafood is a specialty, so we had the calamari, and I love the way they do grilled vegetables in Slovenia.

In one afternoon, Lydia also managed to introduce me to a slew of new people in Koper, including Toby, also a geographer and one of her former masters students who is in Slovenia working on his dissertation research.  He had a car rented through this morning and invited me along for a drive out to Cerkniško Jezero (Lake Cerknica) – also known as the “disappearing lake”.  This place is incredible.  It is a karst field in the winter that becomes a lake in the summer – Europe’s largest intermittent lake to be specific and probably one of the largest in the world.  When it is full, it is 10km long and 5km wide.  It’s not full yet but still big enough to be impressive.

Cerkniško Jezero

A different part of Cerkniško Jezero.

This is also an area where you can see a lot of the traditional features of the rural Slovenian landscape, including bee hives with painted panels and the unique kozolec (drying racks for hay).

Slovenian bee panels - look closely at the scenes. In case you were wondering, yes, those are devils sharpening a woman's tongue in the lower left panel.

One type of Slovenian kozolec.

Okay, so maybe not a totally traditional element of the landscape, but who can resist a sign for a dangerous frog crossing?

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