Saturday, February 28, 2015

Coming down the Mountain

In late January we decided to take a short day hike on Nanos Plateau, just 45 minutes from Ljubljana.  Our Slovene friends said it was their go-to hike in the winter as the Alps are too snowy.  "It's great for kids!" they said.

Dahlia and Georgia do not love hiking, but are willing to indulge me every once in awhile.  It was warm and relatively sunny in Ljubljana, so we dressed accordingly.  I advised layers, but nobody listened.   I filled the water pack, grabbed a few hats and gloves and we were off.

We could see the plateau from the highway as we got closer.  The top was veiled in fog, but it didn't look that high.  A quick 3-hour circuit and then we planned to try a new restaurant on the way home.

The famous Bora wind hit us the moment we got out of the car.  The girls were even willing to don hats and gloves, but it was plenty warm once we started up hill.

So far, not so different from a hike in the Smokies.

Soon the trees thinned out and the mud turned to snow and slush.  I was wearing waterproof hiking boots, but everyone else's shoes were slippery and not waterproof.  We were still smiling though.

Then it got steeper.  Ben had to lift Bobo up some sections.  It was no longer a hike, but a rock climb.

I made the mistake of asking a few hikers we passed how much farther to the top and they all said an hour or more.  One woman said it was really icy on top, looked at our shoes and recommended that we turn back.  This scared me, but made Ben more determined to keep going.

Then the snow turned to ice, the 'trail' was barely discernible and the drop-offs were super scary.  Believe it or not, Georgia went from whining about another hike to being a super chipper rock-climber. She likes a challenge.  Here's a photo of Georgia navigating one of the narrow ledges.   She loved it.

At this point I had a full adrenalin rush, but could still pause to enjoy the spectacular views.  You could even see the Adriatic Sea from some angles.

I kept thinking we'd climb one more stretch and be at the top, but there was always more.    

Some passing hikers said this icy slippery steep trail was also the only way down, which was frightening.  They told us the wind really picked up around the next corner and that now was the time to put on our extra layers.  What extra layers??  

Ben had a map and had read about the plateau ahead of time.  He assured us that there was another, much easier, way down.  Still, I was quite anxious.  

We turned a corner and indeed it felt 20 degrees colder.  With thick fog and blowing snow we could barely see.  The girls were cold.  Ben and I maintained a calm and cheerful exterior, but I was scared and feeling really stupid for being so unprepared, putting my kids in harms way.  I felt like we were about to become cautionary tales.

Hard to smile when you're facing the Bora Winds.

I was so proud of the girls.  They really came through when they had to.  In this photo visibility was still pretty good.  In other spots you could no more than 20 feet ahead.

This is what the Bora Wind does to snow.  It's beautiful!  I'm glad Ben took some photos of it, because at this point I was keeping my head down, slowly moving forward, not stopping for photos. 

The trail finally flattened out and we found shelter among some huge fir trees.  The scenery reminded me of Lara's palace from Dr. Zhivago.  Ben was thinking the ice planet Hoth, from Empire Strikes Back....


We stopped at the hut at the top to warm up and use the toilet.  We did not take time for a cup of tea or food because we didn't want to waste daylight.  Some hearty Slovene hikers were having a leisurely meal, a few beers and they still beat us down!

The hike down the mountain wasn't easy, but it was never scary either, and we were out of the worst wind. 

 All in all, a memorable hike.  We were woefully unprepared and imprudent, but we felt intrepid - like we'd overcome a real challenge.

The whole experience was an apt metaphor for Our Year in Slovenia.  As we got ready to leave Knoxville, we focused only on the potential for fun and excitement, not the potential difficulties.  Just like the hike, the girls were reluctant to leave home and didn't want to live abroad.  

We were not prepared for how homesick we've felt at times.  I was not prepared for how hard teaching would be, how uncomfortable I felt being a rookie at everything instead of a seasoned veteran.  Adjusting to a new school, new people, and new country has been hard on the girls too.

Slovenia is great, but just like the Nanos hikers we encountered, there seems to be a prevailing glass-half-empty sense about the culture at times - guarded, defensive, closed.  This has been very hard to get used to.

Autumn was the steepest part of our visit.  I felt overwhelmed at work and it was gray and rainy for months.  We had a nice respite over the holidays with Ben's family visiting and traveling around together.  They were our fir trees, sheltering us from the wind.

As many had warned us, January and February, were sort of bleak.  Post-holiday let-down and back to the daily grind.  Luckily I have a much lighter teaching load this semester, which has made a huge difference.  I am so grateful to our Director for his flexibility.  I've also gotten more used to the rhythms of teaching and the routines of our small international school.

And now we are coming down the Mountain.  February is over, we've enjoyed a week off from school, spending time in Sunny Italy and France.  I feel more competent at teaching.  The girls have made some friends.  We know our way around Ljubljana and a few words of Slovene.

The trail ahead won't always be easy, but the path is clear.  I can worry less and enjoy the experience more.  I look forward to Spring!


P.S. One way we tried to keep things cheerful in February is the Flashmob my Drama students created.  It was really fun to surprise the whole school.  Dahlia, Georgia and I are all in there dancing.  Ben helped film it. 

P.P.S.  Here's a photo I took of Nanos Plateau today, February 28th, on our drive home.