Sunday, December 16, 2018

in which we celebrate a private mass in Slovenia and sleep in an Alpine hut without electricity {The Great European Road Trip, Day 6: St. Primosz, Slovenia to Klagenfurt, Austria}

Friday, November 2 - All Souls Day: every single day of our trip was unforgettable and i truly can't choose a favourite. but this is the day that i know we will all treasure in our hearts for years. we didn't see any huge cathedrals or famous sights. instead, we traveled to the small town in Slovenia where Chris' ancestors were born and where some of his extended family still lives. even though it had nothing to do with our own family, it was so moving to be part of this trip back to his Slovenian roots.

the day was off to a great start with a fabulous breakfast spread out for us by our hosts at the eco-farm. as we loaded up the van, the girls played with the farm dogs and we got a better look at the beautiful surroundings. i would definitely come back here to stay for a longer trip!

it seemed cruel to rouse her out of this cozy bed! 

breakfast, Slovenian style

Cecilia loved the homemade berry jam


these two would run laps before coming back to us for some snuggles

the front of the farmhouse

we met up with our local guide, who would take us to visit the town of Sveti Primož. our first stop would be a visit to the church where Chris' grandfather was baptized. Father had made arrangements in advance to say mass at the church for us. we drove through the beautiful countryside and were so impressed by how immaculate all the houses were. every single one had a small, well-tended garden. the houses all appeared to be freshly painted, with no sign of disrepair. clearly the Slovenians take great pride in taking care of their belongings! (a far cry, i'm sad to say, from what we often see in Rome or in the US!)

gold star for having an AED! 

the church of Sveti Primož stands at the top of a hill overlooking the village, which was shrouded in fog on this fall morning. we parked at the base of the hill and walked up, inhaling the fresh mountain air. apart from the distant chiming of bells around the necks of grazing sheep, it was quiet.

this Teletubby was just sitting on the side of the hill ... definitely haunted

the church itself was simple yet beautifully decorated. Nick arranged everything he needed in the organ loft, and Greta decided she wanted to stay up in the loft with him during mass. the rest of us headed back down while Father Aron prepared. Carly and Rylee were able to participate as altar servers as well, which was so special!

the organ case

view from the loft

a quiet moment of prayer before mass

love these two! 
finally, we were ready. i had to blink back tears several times during the service. it was incredible to be here in the same church where Chris' grandfather was baptized, and to think of all the faithful people who have worshiped here. Nick chanted the propers for the day:

the reverence of the moment was somewhat lost on Cecilia, however, who proceeded to throw a fit because she wanted to be up in the loft with Greta, and she wanted snacks, and she wanted any toy except the ones i'd brought with me, and essentially she wanted to be anywhere else than sitting in church. so i retreated to the back with her while mass continued.

next, we went to have a look around the church graveyard to see if we could spot any tombstones belonging to Chris' relatives. we didn't find any, but we marveled at how immaculate the graveyard was kept. every single tombstone was decorated with flowers and candles. it was a sobering inspiration to show our own deceased the same care and respect.

spot the church WAY up on the highest hill, on the left side of the photo?
gradually, we meandered back down the hill towards the car, drinking in the beautiful mountain views.

photo credit: Angel

next, we drove to the little town where Chris' extended family still lives. it was a bit difficult to determine the exact relationship (second cousins? first cousins once removed?) but nevertheless, Cousin Ivan and his wife welcomed us with open arms, freshly baked nut rolls, coffee, and ... shots!

photo credit: Angel

photo credit: Angel

Chris and Ivan's son -- so another cousin of some variety! (photo credit: Angel)
looking at old family photos

discussing the family tree
in all of this, our guide was indispensable for translation purposes! Ivan's wife actually spoke a fair bit of English, and she was so sweet -- she kept bustling back and forth with plates of fruit and treats.

the girls loved playing with this ride-on tractor

na zdrowie, indeed!

we need one of these for our house!

eventually, a neighbor boy came out to play with the girls. i'd guess he was probably about seven, and at first Greta and Cecilia were a bit shy. but soon enough, they were all running around the yards like hooligans, playing tag and hide and seek. at one point, the boy ran around a corner and started going up a little grassy hill. he motioned for the girls to follow him, so we did -- and discovered some very woolly sheep! i was half expecting to see Heidi come running down the mountain to join us.

we stood watching the stream for several minutes. such tranquility! 

eventually we got back in the car to drive to the community cemetery where some of Chris' extended family was buried, and also to see a house that had once belonged to one of his family members. by this point it had started to pour down rain, so the girls and i stayed in the car. when we got back to Cousin Ivan's house, his wife had prepared lots of kielbasa with sauerkraut and mustard (in a red tube that confused all of us, because we kept thinking it was ketchup!), fresh bread, and a delicious soup that consisted of a rich broth to which she added little crunchy balls that reminded me of spherical croutons. the longer they sat in the soup, the more liquid they would absorb until they became soft. it was so good and the girls both ate three bowls!

photo credit: Angel
we sat around the kitchen table for an hour, eating, talking and laughing. Father had spotted a trophy displayed on a kitchen shelf and it turns out Cousin Ivan won it in a wood-cutting competition (after much discussion we were pretty sure that meant wood-chopping, not wood-carving, but we couldn't get an answer about how much wood he had actually chopped. the important thing is that he beat out much younger men.) we also heard about how they both like to dance. as dusk fell, we finally had to say our good-byes. there were lots of hugs all around, and they invited all of us back next year. we said they should come visit us in America, and they laughed like it was the funniest thing they ever heard, shaking their heads. before we left, they gifted us with pounds of homemade cured meats and sausages, and bottles of homemade blackberry liqueur.

now it was on to the most rustic part of our trip: our stay in an alpine hut in Klagenfurt, Austria! i vividly remember when Father first floated the idea to us. at €250 for the entire place for a night, it was a bargain! Nick and i were sitting out on the terrace of our apartment in Rome in the August heat. we looked up the listing on Air B'n'B: this place had a five-star rating and glowing reviews that mentioned the crisp mountain air, beautiful views, and snug cabin. it didn't have electricity, but the reviewers glossed over that fact and assured the reader that there were plenty of candles. "that sounds like fun!" i said.

well, as we crossed the border into Austria and approached the house of the Air B'n'B host (who would drive up ahead of us in his car to show us the way and get us settled), we weren't feeling so sure. no electricity is maybe fine for June or July, but on this damp November evening, i had visions of us shivering under blankets. and ... what exactly was the bathroom situation? no one could remember if this was mentioned. would we be taking sponge baths in the morning? and -- a horrifying realization -- how would we charge our phones or Angel's camera battery?!?!

Father and Angel did recall that there was a stove that could be used for cooking as well as for heating the house, so we made a pit stop at Hofer (an upscale version of Aldi's) and picked up ingredients for cheeseburgers and hotdogs, some yogurt, lunchmeat and cheese for breakfast (how very European of us!), plenty of beer, and enough candy to fuel Willy Wonka's most elaborate fantasy. then, after much more frustrating GPS ineptitude, we finally found Bernhard's house and he and his son got into their car and led the way.

up, up, up the dark mountain road we climbed, both somewhat relieved and disappointed that we couldn't see where we were going. this was most definitely a one-lane road, and i didn't want to think about what would happen if we encountered a car trying to go down. but thankfully, that didn't happen, and after at least ten minutes of driving, we stopped. Bernhard and his son showed us how to light the propane lanterns, and lo and behold, there were plenty of candles, and even better, electric lanterns that stayed cool to the touch (so even Greta and Cecilia could safely carry them around). and miracle of miracles, there was a bona fide bathroom with an actual porcelain toilet, running water in the sink, and a shower with hot water provided by the stove! i don't think we stopped smiling once as we brought our luggage inside and started to cook dinner. the kitchen was stocked with pots, pans, and utensils. the kids set up coloring books at the table and, after Chris and Nick built a roaring fire in the stove, Chris got started making the burgers. it felt so cozy and industrious, all of us helping to get dinner ready while the fire crackled and the candlelight winked on the windowsills. while i set out the buns and toppings for our burgers and sausages, Father poured us each a shot of the blackberry liqueur and we toasted to the trip, to Chris' family, and to The Hut, which was turning out to be a rather good choice, after all.

getting settled in

there were two of these kid-sized lanterns!

Boy Scouts of America

opening their Kinder Surprise eggs and making shadow puppets

the bathroom! 

Chris working his magic

to the Pongracs!

Greta made a little fort under a table

after dinner, we sat around talking and laughing for a while before i had to put my sleepy girls to bed. it was so nice to be able to visit all together in our own space, rather than separating out to our various hotel rooms (although, having our own space was necessary, too!). but especially after the girls were in bed, it was wonderful to just come right back downstairs and join the party. before bed, though, we had one mishap that could have been disastrous. we were all standing around in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner, when suddenly, Greta said loudly, "this is bad!" we whipped around to find that some tissue paper on the kitchen table had caught fire from a candle. it was one of those moments where time actually slows down -- our brains force us to examine every bit of input from every single neuron so we can react in the most appropriate way. one of us yelled at the girls to stay back (with their long hair! my worst nightmare), somebody poured water on the table, Nick grabbed the burning mass of tissue paper and carefully carried it two feet outside to the cement porch where he stomped on it, i grabbed the girls' coloring book which was damp but still smoldering and took it outside in the rain, and just as suddenly as it began, it was over. miraculously, nothing was damaged -- the table cloth was not even scorched -- and more importantly, no one was hurt. we gave Greta a big hug and i told her several times that night that she did exactly the right thing. after that, we took all the candles off the tables!

after everyone's pulse had returned to normal, i took the girls upstairs to get snuggled in our room. the Will family would be sharing this room with one huge family bed. with Greta on one side of me and Cecilia on the other, we snuggled under the down comforters and i read Little House in the Big Woods to them. we were only a few chapters in, and Laura's description of their snug log house in winter could easily have described our own lodgings that night. in a few minutes, the girls were sound asleep. the rest of us played rummy around the kitchen table into the wee hours, before finally joining them in dreamland.