TRIGLAV NATIONAL PARK, SLOVENIA — Oh, brother, how art thou? Based on a multiday exploration of Slovenia's Triglav National Park, Crater Lake National Park's new "brother" park, it's doing pretty darn good.
Samples include ragged, jagged, dramatically upthrust mountains, including Triglav National Park's namesake peak; an abundance of gay-colored wildflowers spreading across meadows and alongside trails; royal blue lakes, boisterously tumbling rivers, plunging waterfalls; symphonies of singing birds, lush green forests and wooden bridges over gorges and other gaping chasms.
A small group representing Crater Lake and its support agencies visited the Heidi-like alpine village at Triglav's Klek Pasture just days before herds of Cika cattle, a breed indigenous and adapted to Slovenia's Julian Alps, arrived from lower-elevation pastures. At the Pocar Homestead, we traipsed though a stone-built house, its rooms filled with gritty reminders of past eras, including a hisna kamra, or bedroom, with the date 1775 on its ceiling, and a "black kitchen," with its years of grimy creosote tarring its walls and ceiling.
Simply put, there's a lot to see and do at Triglav National Park, which seems like several parks in one.
In the days before "twinning" ceremonies formally making Triglav and Crater Lake "brother" parks, our small group sampled Triglav's cornucopia of treasures and pleasures, too often seeing and experiencing just enough to leave us wanting more.
The focus of the park is Triglav, a 9,395-foot mountain peak visible from most areas of Slovenia, a country the size of New Jersey with 2 million people. It's a mountain so embedded in the country's persona that a former Slovenian president said it is the duty of every Slovenian person to climb it once in their life.
Slovenians take it to heart. When the winter snows melt away, the trails — some challenging, others requiring no special skills — are reportedly jammed, especially at the elbow-to-elbow final section fitted with cables and pitons, in the peak climbing months of July and August. It was almost impossible to find anyone — male or female, young or old — who hadn't visited Triglav's summit, usually several times.
Unlike U.S. national parks, most of Triglav National Park is privately owned. Within the park are homes, resorts and restaurants, others are part of downhill and cross-country areas. There are churches and cemeteries with headstones from the 1700s, and others remembering men killed during the brutal World Wars I and II and other conflicts, when much of the country was a battleground. There are villages like Trenta, populated with proud people such as Marko Pretner, whose families have occupied the same lands for 10 generations or longer. We ate traditional foods at his family's inn, followed him to the source of the Soca River, and listened as he animatedly and enthusiastically passed along stories.
The current generation, people like Tolmin, tell tales of life in the villages and mountains, some of them true, some intended to pass along symbolic messages of truisms.
There are myths about unicorns, about why some mountain flowers are certain colors, about dragons and Jason and the Argonauts, about gold-horned goats. There are stories about places like the Tolmin Gorge, where the river's color is mellowed a soft blue from the limestone mountains, which served as the setting for Ernest Hemingway's epic novel "A Farewell to Arms," and is said to be the place where Dante found inspiration for his "Divine Comedy."
Peter Skobernne, a former Triglav director who served as another host, insisted it doesn't matter whether tales and legends are factual, insisting, "I don't care if the story is correct if it has a powerful message."
The universal message, he believes, is simple: "Nature supports a healthy life."
Our five days provided only a peek at Triglav and Slovenia, as does this story. Other days, mostly traveling alone or a few days with another group member who extended his stay, I sampled other areas: Ljubljana, the country's charming riverfront capital city; Piran, an Adriatic coast city compared to Venice; the Postojna and Skojan caves and the Predjama Castle. All are stories by themselves.
While Slovenia is a relatively young country — it gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 — its history dates back to the 5th Century BC and a succession of rulers, from ancient Rome to the Ottoman Empire to Stalin and Tito. Through the centuries, generations of storytellers such as Skobernne and Pretner have passed along tales and myths, many of them with several variations.
But based on my experiences, a version of one Slovenian legend personally rang true. It says that when God was creating the world, he gave out land for all the people, then realized one small group wasn't included.
So, to make amends, "God gave to Slovenia what he had planned to save for himself."
— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-880-4139.