Monday morning of spring vacation, Allan and I left our hotel in Trieste, Italy, on the Caspian Sea, and climbed a mountain pass into Slovenia. Slovenia? Where has this country been all my life? Where was I now? Crossing borders in the EU is incredibly easy. You see the skeletons of the old border stations, but they are closed, except to trucks, and you whiz right into an entirely new country set, with no questions asked.
Big, wet snowflakes began to fall as we entered the village of Lipica. Does that sound at all familiar? It is the very place where the Lippizaner Stallions are bred and trained. This horse breed and training style were brought from Spain to Vienna in the 16th century, but a little known fact is that the breeding ranch is in Slovenia. Being an off time of year, the horses weren’t being shown, but we did get to visit the maternity ward where about 20 mares were waiting to give birth in the next few weeks. The video I linked mentions a couple of facts that I was amazed by. One is that the horses are not born white, but are genetically engineered, through exact breeding, to turn pure white at about age 8. The other was that the idea of “breaking” a horse is grotesque to these trainers. They are horse whisperers and in fact claim that the technique used in the movie by that name demonstrates their style. They don’t master the horses, but calm, befriend, and teach them. The whole ranch exuded this air of calm.
These horses weren’t just developed for royalty; they were developed for emperors. You do get a sense of awe thinking of the Habsburg Dynasty of the Austro/Hungarian Empire or Napoleon parading by, the white horses symbolizing ultimate power and purity.
Then after that, we were starving. Allan had done some research on local restaurants and had a recommendation for a slow-movement style family restaurant in the nearby village of Lokev. Tromping around a horse ranch for a couple of hours at a freezing temperature, wearing all of the layerable clothing we had packed, left us drooling over the idea of sitting in a small dining room, warming ourselves to plates of long-cooked food. We popped into the tiny dining room, expectantly, and were told it was impossible. See, Easter Monday is also a holiday in Europe and it seemed that the entire village was taking their mamas, who had slaved over the Easter feast, out to lunch. We stumbled back outside, not believing our ears. This couldn’t be true. Allan decided to go back in and see if they had another recommendation for us. The interrelated staff of 4 at this point were taking some pity on us. They said they couldn’t think of any other place that would take us at that time and then said if we could wait for 1/2 hour, they could give us a table. They even offered to let us wait at the counter where they served us a plate of sliced ham, freshly baked country bread, boiled eggs, and a huge dollop of horseradish sauce. This would typically be enough for a satisfying lunch for Allan and me, but we knew there was much more to come.
When we finally got our table, we could only share some dishes, which filled us to bursting. We began with the waiter’s recommended cabbage and bean soup. This is essentially sauerkraut and bean soup in a ham broth, and it was fantastic. The sauerkraut tang, against all of the other melded flavors, was energizing to our taste buds. We then slurped up a plate of hand-made fettuccine with wild mushroom sauce, followed by a lamb shank that was caramelized and falling off the bone. Groaning as we waddled out, we felt like we had invaded a family reunion, though they were very kind to us. It was a privileged slice of village life and we regretted nothing.
The restaurant is Gostilna-Trattoria Muha in Lokev, Slovenia. If you want to get a table for Easter Monday lunch, I advise you make a reservation at 00 386-5-767-00-55. They also are now offering 4 guest rooms and based on the quality of their food, I would be eager to rent a room. Sights in the area are, of course, the horse ranch and also several large limestone caves that we hope to see on our way back through.
About the photography, this is my first excursion where I adjusted both the aperture and the shutter speed, manually. I got some underexposure that I had to enhance to use the photo and some overexposure, which it turns out there isn’t so much you can do with. I did post my settings, mostly to remind myself what I did and to get used to associating with these numbers.