May 6 – Lukovica pri Domžalah to Celje
The day dawned with mist over the hills and the clock bells tolling from 5:00am. It was cold, cold, cold but not raining and there was just a hint of blue sky trying to peek between the clouds. Things were looking good.
We farewelled the wonderful women who took care of us at Guesthouse Pri Cebelicia and they were so kind and welcoming and supportive of our trip. They actually asked if we had been on TV because they’d seen an interview with some Australian cycle tourists on Slovenian TV and wondered if it was us. No, not us. We may not have had TV appearances, but those lovely women couldn’t have done enough for us, they were so kind. They asked to take a photo with us as we left. “We are so proud to have you stay here. It’s very unusual. We’ve told everybody! We wish you safe travels wherever you are in the world.” They were utterly lovely and it was a very friendly place to stay. I gave them a couple of little souvenirs of Tasmania as a thank you and they were thrilled that we were from Tasmania. “I know, it’s the little island,” one said. So our little home state was known to them. I told them how much we were loving Slovenia, how beautiful it is and we would send people their way if we passed other cyclists on the road, because they were just lovely, lovely people. She then put some jars of their own local honey in my hand as a parting gift.
We were definitely going to dodge the freeway today and the route we found ourselves on was brilliant. First, we had a track running alongside the freeway, but it was lined with trees, we saw a deer and we happily bumped along the pebbles and grass on a peaceful little path.
Then we had a small obstacle to traverse…a creek in front of us. Well, there was no way I was going to be able to get across that without getting wet feet. If I tried to ride it I knew I’d wobble and probably go down, so I’d have to walk it. That meant stopping to change shoes, since I was in socks and sneakers to guard against the cold. Off they came and I dived into my pannier to retrieve my Keens in preparation for the river crossing. Steve went in first and tried to ride across but as soon as he got his front wheel in, his feet went down and he got off and pushed, making it to the other side and then turning to watch my attempt.
“Is there any way that’s better than another?” I called out.
“No,” came the reply, “although, there’s a shallower bit there,” he pointed to some rocks.
I began tentatively edging the bike down the bank, trying not to slip before I even made contact with the water.
“How cold is it?” I called out.
“Pull your trouser legs up,” came Steve’s suggestion from the other bank. OK, so it’s going to be deepish.
I stepped in and…OH-MY-GIDDY-AUNT! It was COLD! That water must have been flowing straight from the Alps or something because it was ice. In between laughing, all I could say was, “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” It was the sort of cold that takes your breath away and grabs you by the chest and squeezes. I gasped, I laughed, I wheezed, I laughed, I panted, I laughed, all the way across. I waded through, feeling like someone from Little House on the Prairie fording a river with my steed…but I don’t think Ma, Pa, Laura or Mary made quite the ridiculous faces I was pulling or the gasping sounds I was making! It was like walking through an ice flow! Steve was wearing waterproof socks so he had a barrier to the cold, but I went in with bare feet and I felt it!
On the other bank, after I’d regained some composure, we were confronted immediately with a steep gravel hill. There was no way we could ride up that gravel without spinning and slipping, so pushing those bikes up was all we could do. I heaved and pushed and slipped and heaved and when Steve made it to the top he came back down a bit to give me a push from behind and we were at the top. Then I went down the other side, sitting on my bike but feet on the ground, tippy-toeing down the hill because I had a feeling I would get pebble-wobbles and probably come crashing down in an undignified heap, so I pitter-pattered down on my toes and made it in one piece.
After that we were on a road, but because it was running beside the motorway, most of the traffic was on that, so our road was pretty quiet. The traffic we did have was brilliant, giving us distance and passing us carefully. I stopped to put some socks on to try and get feeling back in my icy feet and we pedalled on, through some tiny little towns and past farms. Then we had a big long hill and a big long climb up and up and up. It was a pretty gradual climb though up to about 6%, so I could just get into a gear, find a rhythm and spin my way to the top.
We stopped for elevenses in the car park of a rest stop in Trojane and had magnificent views down the valley and across the hills to the snow covered peaks in the distance. I changed back into more dry socks and my sneakers because I had no feeling in my feet at all! That icy water and then riding in the cold with wet feet (the temperature was 6C) had left them totally numb and freezing.
Then came the big downhill and that wind was ICE! The headwind going down was biting and freezing and then when we hit the flat, the wind was strong and freezing cold. Steve stopped and added another layer and on we went. From then on, it was all flat riding, on quiet back roads, past farms and through hop fields. It was absolutely magic. The green fields and trees were beautiful and we had snow covered hills right beside us most of the way, almost as if we could have reached out and touched them. We were on really quiet back roads, so quiet it was like being on a cycle path and every now and again the route would take us off road and we’d pedal across muddy tracks right beside the hop trellises. Those tracks sure made me pull faces with concentration! Riding through slippery slidey mud with less than fabulous balance is always a recipe for disaster with me and I was just waiting to go squelch into a big mud puddle. Thankfully, the reflexive face pulling must have helped, because my little bike and I made it across without taking a muddy plunge.
We stopped in the tiny little town of Grajska Vas for some lunch, sitting on a bench beside the street. These little towns are so small and so quiet, there’s not a soul around and they’re more like a tiny neighbourhood of houses than a town. I love them. They are quaint and peaceful. The temperature was still only in single digits, so we didn’t stay long so we wouldn’t get too cold, but we had a stork family nearby to keep us company.
On we pedalled through more gorgeous scenery. The palette of greens was just spectacular, so many different shades of that colour in the grasses, trees, hills and fields and still those beautiful snowy mountains around us. Beautiful…glorious…spectacular…magic!
We stopped in Zalec because there was something there that Steve really wanted to visit…the Beer Fountain! This is a spot that has six “beer fountains” outside in a small square. For 8 euro, you get a glass (that you can keep) and six different beers at the fountains, that you can go and fill up and try. Steve spent a happy 45 minutes there sampling the beers. It’s actually a great story behind the idea. One of the locals won the Lotto and the taxes from the win went to the town, so with that windfall, the Mayor was deciding what to spend it on. He was advised to spend it on roads and schools, but decided to spend it on creating the Beer Fountain. It has become such an attraction and brought so much revenue into the town, that now the money that it generates is spent on roads and schools and the revenue keeps coming. They’ve now made more money from this than the original value of the taxes. A win all round. Some of the beers were dark, others light ales and one was even green! The experience sure put a smile on Steve’s dial! On we pedalled.
We had bike paths all the rest of the way into Celje. It was still mighty cold, with the temperature still single digits and the rain just starting to pitter patter down on us. No camping tonight, although we had considered it, but with the rain starting and below zero temperatures expected tonight, perhaps not such a tempting idea. “We’ll camp when it’s 20 degrees!” said Steve! Well, I think we’re a bit tougher than that and we can camp in the cold, it’s not as if we haven’t done it plenty of times before, but wet and sub-zero…ah…no thank you.
It was an absolutely top day, a great ride, a lot of fun! Yes, it was cold…yes we had a creek to cross that was FREEZING…yes we had a big hill to climb… yes we had a head wind that was icy cold…yes we had some rain at the end…but it was magic! The wonderful people that began our day so warmly, the lovely little towns and villages, the spectacular scenery, the peaceful roads and tracks, it all added up to one of the best rides we’ve had so far. I pulled so many faces, either from freezing cold water or concentration in muddy fields that I’ve probably stretched out a few wrinkles too!
So today just showed, that a day is what you make it and surroundings make all the difference. It certainly wasn’t our easiest day and we had some challenges in there, but none of that mattered, because what we got to experience and see made all of those challenges totally worth it. We hope for many more rides like this one! I may end up with more of my reflex action face-pulling if confronted with cold or slippery surfaces, but hey, more wrinkles to be stretched out I guess…the cycle tourist’s own facelift! Mind you, as I make a fool of myself, those ironed out wrinkles will probably just be replaced with laughter lines anyway. Life…swings and roundabouts! On we go!
Distance ridden: 58.7 km
Time in the saddle: 4 hours 9 minutes
Weather: windy, overcast, cold, a patter of rain
Temperature: hovering between 6-8C
Routes for the last two days: