“You crazy Slovenians, do you always need to hike? “ this is what I often hear from some of my friends that come out of the country. Whenever they describe us, we always come off as avid hikers, skiers, bikers, runners, dressed up in waterproof clothes and sports gear on a daily basis. Even when they sit in a cafeteria they can point a finger to us… and it is so true. If I think of most of my friends, sports is really who we are. I personally come from a sports family, my Dad is a three time Olympian in ice hockey. I wasn’t doing any of the sports professionally, but skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer and lots of other activities in between were a natural way of life over here. Raising our sons is not that much different – they both play ice hockey and miss every day when practices are not in session and besides that we hike, ski, bike, swim, paddle… during any other time we have available. Being active is something that is helping us also in these times of covid-19. I cannot think of a day in the past months that we were just laying on a couch doing nothing. We couldn’t make it – it is a natural force within us that calls us into nature and kicks us off those couches.
Sport is truly something that I would characterise as a part of being a Slovenian. Athletes are also our biggest heroes and people we are super proud of. They are the ones who make promotion for our beautiful little country – much better one than any of the politicians do. If I would talk about what our national sport is, it would be a hard thing to choose. We identify with a lot of them. It is true, first and most, we are a skiing nation. Usually we learn how to ski at the age of 3 – so even before we start walking properly, we are skiing down the slopes of our ski fields. We are all amazing in winter sports – although the last couple of years, winters were not really generous with snow. But we still somehow find patches were we ski, cross-country, sledge, snowboard or ice-skate. We also love watching sports and following all kinds of competitions. Slovenia as a country always ranks high up internationally in all of team sports – ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, team handball, even football occasionally. We are always proud of the results they achieve and party hard when they return back with medals around their necks. Villages usually host parties for their heroes – sport athletes that live over there. Every good result in Slovenia is a reason to throw a party. Summers are exclusively reserved for hiking and biking. While biking takes more stamina, hiking is actually what everybody does. Once in a lifetime you should climb up Mount Triglav, the highest Slovenian mountain at 2864 m, to prove you are a true Slovenian. Triglav is also on our national coat-of-arms, this is how serious we are about our mountains. Even when we go on summer vacation somewhere along the coastline, you can recognise a Slovenian – he will be the one hiking, biking, climbing, paddling, canoeing, windsurfing early in the morning when normal vacationers are still asleep.
The times we are going through at the moment are harsh for us also from sports perspective. Everything that we watched on TV was cancelled. People that are a part of teams and clubs – and that is a lot of people – were on hold. No results, no reason to throw a party. And the first two months were hard on us also because we were locked to the boundaries of our small municipalities and pretty soon we were done with most of the hiking routes in our areas. When the restrictions eased – guess what – it wasn’t the bars and terraces that were full, it was the parking spots of the famous hiking destinations. Sayings like “onto the bike for healthy body” and “healthy soul in healthy body” are the constant in our world. And since famous hiking spots were full we had to think of alternate hiking adventures. At first we were super happy to hike just above our house. We discovered numerous little paths and areas that we have never walked before. One of our favourite ventures was finding a waterfall called “Devil washing an old lady” – very funny name and a beautiful spot to do some of the hiking without the crowds. But then we started exploring other options and came to Juliana Trail. A beautiful long-distance trail that goes along the edges of the high mountains of the two mountain ranges of Slovenia, Julian Alps and Karavanke, parts of it are taking you through the Triglav national park area, an immense area full of incredible flora and fauna that is partly protected by UNESCO world heritage. Besides discovering pastures, river springs, bigger and smaller waterfalls, enchanting forests, there is also enough history that follows the trail of old miners, writers, poets, musicians, blacksmiths, beekeepers… It sounded so exciting that we decided to do it. The path’s length is 270 km and runs along 16 stages, starting and finishing in Kranjska Gora. It doesn’t reach any high peaks, but it helps a bit with personal endurance of being able to walk around 20 km per stage, slightly up and slightly down the hill, and respect towards amazing nature and what our ancestors left for us to cherish. The stage is marked up with letters J and A that lie in a diamond shape sign with a little spruce in the bottom. J and A stands for Julian Alps, because this is where the majority of the trail goes. Julian Alps, for those of you who are not aware, are the same mountain range as the Alps that start in France and finish in our country. They are the lowest part of the range – this is the reason why Julius Caesar back in the day decided to cross it right here and has given our part of the Alps its name.
At this moment we only started with the trail. We gave ourselves time till the end of this summer. The first six stages are completed and we are overwhelmed by the beauty and charm of the place. On all walks so far we haven’t encountered other hikers – only a handful of locals and farmers, at points where trail goes through the villages and pastures. But we have encountered immense beauty, peace and tranquility. It is like finding a path back to ourselves and to our beginnings. Birds chirping, flowers blooming, leaves whispering with the help of light winds. Our lungs are full of fresh air, and fragrant pastures. The eyes are bathing in the wonderful scenery that is unfolding itself in front of us step by step. And I am surprised how easy it actually is to walk those 20 km a piece. Yes – the feet hurt, muscles ache but the body cannot wait to go on another stage and discover more and more of the beauty our little country has on offer. Stay tuned!