Friday, October 18, 2013

Southern Slovenia

The second half of our trip was really confusing to me. Lots of small towns with names that sounded different depending on who said what. I asked my dad to write a guest post, and he sent his portion to me before I'd even started mine! I thought about editing, but thought it was best to leave mostly as-is. Enjoy!


On Thursday we rented a van and drove south from Ljubljana.  Our first stop was in Ribnica.  Because your grandma’s grandpa was a peddler when he came to the US in 1866, we thought there might be some sort of tie with Ribnica.  The community was given the privilege to peddle in the Austrian empire since 1492.  

Ribnica is one of the oldest Slovenian towns with rich history. From the distance the visitors are greeted by two bell towers of the Ribnica Parish Church, which are built in cathedral style according to the design of the architect Jože Plecnik. Ribnica used to be an ancient parish for the west part of the Lower Carniola (Dolenjska) in the times of Christianisation. 

(buckwheat mash with bacon drippings for lunch in Ribnica)
The year 1492 was important for the economy of Ribnica as the Caesar Friderick III awarded its inhabitants the right to free trading with handmade ware. Besides for the suha roba woodenware and pottery the town is famous for its natural beauties and rich cultural heritage, which boasts the Ribnica Castle from 10th century. 

It houses four permanent displays, which depict the events in the Ribnica Valley through the centuries. Ribnica also boasts a cultural memorial park dedicated to eminent personalities, summer theatre, the birth house of the linguist Stanislav Škrabec, the Ortnek Castle, the castle ruins on Breg, numerous viewing points in the untouched landscape.

The rich heritage of Ribnica can be seen in numerous legends and cultural, ethnographic and tourist events. Here are some of the most famous ones: the Ribnica Fair (Ribniški sejem) of woodenware and pottery, the Carnival, St. Nicholas' Eve Party (Miklavževanje), live nativity scene. 

We then drove through the Kocevski Rog.  It is one of Europe’s last virgin forests.  The pine and beech woods are home to brown bears, wolves, and lynx.  It is also the location of Baza 20, the nerve center for the anti-Fascist struggle, and was never discovered by the Nazis.  It is preserved as the only serving headquarters of European wartime resistance.

We wanted to stop by the Mithrian temple site, but couldn’t find it. Mitrej above Rožanc is one of the most attractive archaeological monuments in Slovenia, and can be found along the regional road Semič – Črnomelj, in the village Rožanec. The relief most likely originates from the second century, and the image of god Mitra carved into a rock has been preserved in its natural environment in the valley of chestnut forest Judovje, near the branch church of St Jurij. The cast of the relief from the 20th century can be seen in the Bela Krajina Museum in Metlika.

We then drove to Crnomelj, the parish town that your grandma’s great grandfather, Peter Tomec, was baptized.  The parish over 750 years old and had been attacked by the Turks numerous times over the centuries.  Unfortunately, the museums, and shops were closed by the time we got there.  

We then drove into the village of Jerneja Vas, the village the Tomecs lived in.
[from Therese: we drove through this one-street town all slow and creepy-like until finally the neighbors started wondering what was going on. One couple was outside with their grandkids and asked if we needed help. When it was evident that we did not speak Slovenian, they ran inside to get their daughter who graciously interpreted. My dad and uncle started asking about the house numbers, which had obviously been changed since the town was originally built. Then they said the Tomecs were our ancestors. Then the grandpa got all excited and popped in a few houses down to grab an old, distant relative who came over with is ancestry papers. (A "living legend" as he called himself).  This totally random family in the middle of the countryside invited these strangers in and proceeded to serve a ton of food and drinks and happily discussed ancestry with my dad. They were so hospitable and friendly, and the older neighbor had the same color blue eyes as my dad which was kind of neat!]

not the house we were invited into, but maybe one that used to house our ancestors?

What I thought was interesting was we went from asking an old man if he spoke English to sitting in their house eating meats, cheeses, etc, and leaving with a bottle of Jaegermeister, that he made himself (from Canadian whiskey that he added 54 herbs and spices, and left in a barrel for a year), and the largest bunches of grapes I’ve ever seen.  The red grapes were the same varietal (they call them Modra Frankinja) that I grow (we call them Lemberger).

That night we stayed in the bed and breakfast in Dragatus.  This is the town that your grandma’s grandma, Barbara Tomec, because the village of Zapudje was assigned the Dragatus parish right before she was born.  All of her older siblings and parents, grandparents, etc, were baptized in the parish of Vinica.

our bed and breakfast

The next morning we visited Tanta Gora, the village of our distant relative. [from Therese: via and DNA swab matching, my dad met a distant relative named Ales who graciously and excitedly offered to be a tour guide for us. He was a lot of fun, he loved Slovenia, and he was great interpreter to have in the smaller towns! We got to visit his home and family in Tanta Gora, and later visit his kids in school back in Dragatus. At his house, we got to try some coffee, fresh juice, and lots of local snacks.] We left with 2 large bottles of wine.  I think this is where we got the plum brandy (slivovica) in a plastic bottle.

oldest homestead in Tanta Gora
We also visited Zapudje, the village that your grandma’s grandparents were born in.  We found out that the Gorse family was one of the 2 families that founded the village.  2 Gorse brothers from Ribnica (this might be the peddler connection) were given half the land in the village in the 1700’s when Maria Theresa was undertaking land reform in the Austrian empire.  The other half was given to the Stefanic family (we have some Stefanic’s in our family tree also), likely from Croatia.  They were still defending the borders of the Austrian empire from the Turks.  We also found the House of Gorse, which appeared to be the oldest house in the village.

250 years old and still inhabited!

so many animals and gardens

 Saturday morning we stopped in Vinica, the parish town that your grandma’s grandparents were baptized.  The church, Holy Cross, has been there since the 16th century, but has had significant remodeling.  We got some holy water to bring back to your grandma.

Vinica is a clustered settlement situated high above the river Kolpa, next to the Slovene-Croatian border and 18 km from Crnomelj. Vinica, already inhabited in prehistory, is nowadays marked by an international border crossing. The remains of the Vinica Castle are an important document of the past. The birth house of the poet Oton Župancic is located in the centre of Vinica and has been renovated, as the original house burned down in the great fire of 1888. The poet’s memorabilia is displayed on the ground floor, while the first floor is dedicated to his Vinica compatriot Oton Berkopec. The bust of Župancic can be seen in the garden and it is the work of Jakob Savinšek.

crossing into Croatia
Goodbye, Slovenia! I miss you already!
 Zupancic belonged to a talented group of Slovenian poets born between 1870 and 1878.  He remained rooted in his native soil, particularly in the Bela krajina region of Slovenia (where we were the last 3 days of our trip)

 Some verses from Zupancic:

Forge me on thy anvil, Life!
Am I flint-then I shall flash.
Am I steel, then I shall sing.
Am I glass, then let me crash.


Stars high above the midnight air,
golden, mute.
Alas, so destitute---
where to, my spirit, where in thy despair?
(more to this poem)


Could I but reach my own true image,
could I at last behold it!

For dark it is within my darkness;
it pierces, permeates me through
in its ascent.
I grope for it
with all my being, like a blindman fumbling;
I grow with its own growth
and stumble in its company
not knowing whither….

(later in the poem)
Who stubbornly pursues his aim,
with faith retained,
and yet expands through inner growth:
he may at last spread out his arms,
like one who sees the light of day,
and spans the web of dreams eternal----
he shows his image true:  the cross.

Could I but reach my image
my own and yours, my people!


It's me again! Didn't my dad do a great job? There's so much history I have yet to learn about such a tiny country I'd never really heard of prior to last year.

We spent our last day in Zagreb, Croatia. It was drizzly and cold, which overshadowed our experience a bit. But also, Slovenia was so green and pristine it was an abrupt change to go from those villages to old Yugoslavian streets. We did go on a walking tour, though, with a really good guide, and that helped me warm up to Zagreb a bit. My brothers also sent my mom some birthday flowers, so those added some color to our dreary day!

In the end, our entire trip to Slovenia was so much fun. A great first taste of Europe! (Although I'm afraid the rest of Europe might pale in comparison to this gem of a country.) It was the perfect mix of city and country, big and small, nature and culture. I can't wait to go back!

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