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July 4, 2010

Some of what I’ve been up to in the past week…

As it has been quite hot (for all non-Texans) during the days, Miklas took me into the Istrian hills one evening.  You don’t have to go far inland, but it feels miles away from the coast.  He took me to some of the old villages with traditional stone houses.  Although he primarily lives in Strasbourg, France to work with the Council of Europe, he spends part of his time here restoring one such house.  One of the places we visited was Abitanti, which is largely abandoned and in ruins.  We were walking around the village when we came across a man restoring one of the houses who invited us in for a glass of refošk.

An abandoned traditional stone house in Abitanti.

Ruins in the Istrian hills.

We also trekked through the brush off the side of the road to get to the ruins of an old castle or fortress in the hills that apparently few people know about, as well as for the great view.  We were going to take a circular route through Istria, which would have involved crossing the border into Croatia – we were exploring, right? – so naturally we were on an obscure back road when we came to a closed border checkpoint.  The officer came out to talk to us (and by us, I mean Miklas).  He explained that it was really only for local use but that he might be able to make an exception for us.  Then he looked at our passports and decided that he might be able to make an exception for Miklas…but not for me.  We had to go back.  We ended up eating a late dinner of Istrian stew (a spicy gnocchi and chicken) at a little gostilna/restaurant in the hills overlooking the Gulf of Capodistria.

Another day I took the (mid-morning) train to Ljubljana to pick up Sunny.

Sunny. Sometimes also referred to as "the Fulbright car" or just "the car".

Ted had her (unlike Serbian cars that I learned are all male – by grammar – Sunny is clearly female) last year, and Lisa had her this year.  Lisa is now back in Maine, so Sunny has passed to me while I am here before the next generation of Fulbrighters arrive.  Keep in mind I haven’t driven a stick in a good 10 years, and even then it was only about once a year, typically on the West Virginia turnpike where I only had to roll through the occasional toll booth…

But, after I successfully made it out of downtown Ljubljana and back to Koper, I decided to take her out for a drive for fun.  The next day, I headed east to the Snežik mountains.  I first visited the grad (castle) and then planned to spend the rest of the day exploring the hiking trails in the mountains.  Unfortunately, access to the trails had been cut off that day for some sort of backwoods archery game.

Grad Snežik

The reason I couldn't go hiking. (Look closely - I think they got it.)

Miklas couldn’t believe it when he found out that no one had taken me to Muggia yet – a cute little town about 6 kilometers north of Koper – so another evening we made the pilgrimage across the (in this case nonexistent) border for an Italian spritzer (aperol and prosecco with a bit of fruit – which is different from a Slovenian spritzer) at a cafe on the marina underneath the castello.

And today, my host Anton invited me to his house for a 4th of July picnic.  We had a sort of Austrian soup (mainly broth with some type of sausage?), fresh bread, čevapčiči from the grill served with gorčica (mustard) and hren (horseradish), a spicy spiral sausage also from the grill, green salad with jogurt dressing, Greek salad, a main dish of zajec (rabbit) with krompir (potatoes) and korenje (carrots), chocolate cake, and ice cream with Kahlúa.  Does anyone have any idea how exhausting it is to try to remember all of this food – in 2 languages no less?!

Try explaining to everyone you meet why you want to take a picture of your plate.

A bit of product placement for Cockta here - no? Cockta is a 1950s era Slovenian alternative to foreign soft drinks.

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