petek, 23. maj 2014

Slovenian coast

Slovenia has a coast that's approximately 46km long. The bad news is if every Slovene decides to go to the seaside, you'll have to take turns to get in the water. But not everybody likes the sea so Iv'e always had enough space to launch my sea kayak. Good news? I can paddle the whole national coast in one day and I know a guy that did it twice. You would have to visit Bosnia or Monaco to top that result. Useless statistics aside, although it's short it has enough potencial to plan a weekend trip or a day trip if you're already in the country paddling somewhere on a river or lake.

Sea kayaking has been gaining popularity in Slovenia in the last few years. Previously sea kayakers were not organized and every beginner that took up the sport felt like he was the only person in the country to have such ambitions. Nowadays with social networks the scene is getting bigger and more connected. Infact as I write that I can see fresh post from my paddling colleagues that decided to take advantage of the nice weather this weekend. There are few providers that offer technical training for sea kayakers that want to improve their skills and want to be assessed by Euro Paddle Pass standards. Euro Paddle Pass makes it possible to obtain knowledge that is equal to paddlers in other countries.

If you would like to explore the whole coast you should start in Debeli rtič, the most northern part of the coast. The road will take you to a small cove above the peninsula. From here you can explore the Italian coast further north, but you'll soon hit the industrial part of Gulf of Trieste (Tržaški zaliv) so it's better to head south to Ankaran. You can easily climb out of your kayak in every city to take a break and cruise the old town before you continue. You won't escape the industry here either as the next city is Koper with its port. Make sure you stay away from the port and cross to Izola safely. Once you pass the marina the more isolated stretch begins, first with the natural reserve of Strunjan with its cliffs and the first salt pans Strunjanske soline). After a few smaller holiday resorts and camps you'll see a peninsula with a church and the old town of Piran spreading down to the shore. The small concrete plate? with stairs can be used to 'park & go'. If you climb up to the rampart? you might spot dolphins on the open sea. But if not you'll at least be able to see where you came from and what lies in front of you. The land that you see southwest of Piran is already Croatian Savudrija. As you continue down the coast you will come to Portorož. Portorož is more touristy with bigger hotel complexes. Once you pass the marina at Lucija you should see the channel of salt pans of Sečovlje around the corner. There's a small museum dedicated to the craft of producing salt by trapping the sea and letting the water evaporate. You can buy a package of salt there if you feel you don't have enough of it on your clothes and gear. The specialty of the salt pans is 'Salt flower' (Solni cvet), crystals of salt that get hand picked, never touch the ground and build up only when there's no wind. That should satisfy the gourmet in you and the last 46km should satisfy the paddler in you. If not just turn around 180' and there's another 46km of wonderful coast in front of you. Bon voyage!


sreda, 21. maj 2014

Slovenian lakes

If you would search for the list of the Slovenian lakes online, you would be really amazed at the 300+ hits you'd get in return. 321 to be exact. And if you are willing to paddle all of them there're some really obscure trips waiting for you.
First it would take you to numerous wetland 'lakes' that are as big or as small as 20m2. As the name wetland implies, gum boots are a must. Also you would need a decent sweep stroke because 20m2 is not very big. Then you would have to carry your kayak up to the Triglav lakes, there are seven of them, and the highest lies at an altitude of 2006m. I hope you're a playboater with strong legs. Bad for you if you're carrying a family canoe. If you're like me and have a tendency to drop things into the lakes (electronic equipment mostly) then make sure you stay on 50cm deep wetland territory and avoid the Družmirje lake with its impresive depth of 85m. 'Wild lake' (Divje jezero) would also be a bad choice in that case because of its sifon that was explored to a depth of 160m so far. And of course there are the elusive karst lakes that could be dry in the summer with a modest stream at best or frosen in the winter, but if you hit a sweet spot after the extensive rainfall in early spring or late fall, the Cerknica lake (Cerkniško jezero) fills up to its impressive 25km2 (up to 38km2) surface area.
So would I paddle all Slovenian lakes? No, not really. After using some common sense I limit myself to lakes that are big enough to make a short trip interesting and photogenic enough to please the eye (and the lens). If you're at a specific lake for the first time it's always useful to ask the locals if paddling there is somehow regulated. They can also point you to other interesting sights.

Since I spend a lot of time in Velenje it has become my no.1 destination for paddling. There were no lakes before the area of Šalek lake (Šaleško jezero) began to sink slowly just before World War 2 as a result of the coal industry. The second lake is Velenje lake (Velenjsko jezero) and the third is Družmirje lake also called Šoštanj lake (Družmirsko jezero/Šoštanjsko jezero; The village of Družmirje began sinking around 1975). Digging is continuing so the size of the lakes is not definite. The biggest of the three is Velenje lake, it has a perimeter of about 5km. Because it's one of the biggest lakes in the country it's interesting for recreational use. Sailors, divers and wind surfers are regular guests there. SUP, kayak and canoe paddlers share the water with them as well as fisherman, swimmers, swans and cormorants. The northeastern bank was and still is forest and as it sinks it forms a very special sight, the sunken forest. You can paddle above and touch the highest trees that still point out of the water. It's hard to stay unaffected if you paddle there in the evening light and have a bit of imagination. Once you have enough of the sunken forest maybe it's time to take a brake on the Floating city. This unique structure is a system of four geodesic domes made out of wood that was built by a group of local craftmen/artists better known for their Ondu wooden pinhole cameras. The platform is very cozy and if you end up there out of swimming season you have a good chance to be alone.

Ptuj lake (Ptujsko jezero) or the so called Sea of Ptuj (Ptujsko morje) is on the Drava river which has many dams that accumulate the water for power plants. One of the dams forms an impressive artificial lake that has an even more impressive backdrop, namely the oldest town in Slovenia, Ptuj. Ptuj was known as the roman town Petovia, but findings have shown that it was already inhabited in the stone age. The source doesn't say if the first settlers were using stone kayaks but you could ask in the tourist information centre. I'm sure they'll point you in the direction of the recreational centre which has a good approach to the water. Make sure you read and understand the zone and time chart as the area is divided into three sections - A, B and C. Zone A can be paddled from the 1st of June to the 1st of October and lies downstream from the put in ramp. Zone B is open from the 1st of May to the 1st of October and will take you upstream under the highway bridge and to the city of Ptuj. Zone C is closed for all crafts and spreads on the right riverbank 50-350m from the shore and in 100m radius from ornithological islands and electricity poles. Although you might wake up early, the birds were there before you so make sure you keep away from them. Once on the water you'll share the lake with flatwater racers, sailers, motor boaters, water skiers and wake boarders so take care in the high season. In case you get tired of paddling you can choose from running, cycling, beach volleyball, bird watching, culture or coffee. My suggestion would be paddling and coffee.

Cerknica lake (Cerkniško jezero) is (occasionally) the biggest lake in Slovenia, however you wouldn't believe it if you would visit it in the dry season. The terrain goes from forest, to thick grass, to a swampy plain, with the narrow stream Cerkniščica in the middle. Cerkniščica is the only surface inflow of the lake. Its flow is to small to fill up the entire lake of course but this is where the complex system of karst springs jumps in. The water comes in from several springs and after flowing underground for kilometers. It all sums up into a beautiful lake with the alps in the background. It's interesting that there's no outflow as the whole water sinks through the sinkholes again and returns to the ground. The local road goes around the lake so it's easy to choose where to put in your boat. When the water is high the roads just disappear into the lake. At the middle level (lets say 'normal' water level) you'd push yourself away from the shore and once you've freed yourself from the ground and grass contact you'd be free to find a way slightly above the vegetation that let's you imagine where the Cerkniščica is normally making its turns. When you cross it it looks like you're hitting an impermeable wall of speargrass still rising out of the water up to 2m high. But once you hit it the bow of your kayak opens a passage and the grass wall closes again at the stern. Only a bunch of surprised insects that fall on your foredeck and head are the witnesses that a kayaker went through. Another lake with similar character is Planina lake (Planinsko jezero). It's not full so often because the water progresses faster but when it fills up it gives you a unique view because of the trees that point out of the water. Sadly it had a very high water level this winter because of the icy rain storm that broke almost all the trees that provided enough surface for the ice coat to build on. The branches accumulated around the sink holes and prevented the water from flowing out of the field and the level rose up dramatically, flooding the houses and forcing people to move out for weeks, leaving the whole area without electricity. The firemen and the army had to intervene and the works are still going on. In the first weeks approaching and paddling was prohibited because of the number of curious people that stood in the way. Now that its all settled down the water will probably stay there until the early summer but the word 'discretion' comes to mind if you plan to paddle there.

Last but not least we have the Bohinj lake (Bohinjsko jezero) that's actually the biggest constant lake in Slovenia. Its inflow Savica is gathering water from Triglav lakes that flows over the 71m high Savica waterfall and then fills the lake on the west side. On the east side the outflow Jezernica confluences with Mostnica after 100m to form Sava Bohinjka that's also a known destination for whitewater paddlers. There are some sailing and rowing boats on the lake, open canoes, whitewater kayaks and a flatwater racing club that's known for its big and fast growing recreational paddling community. The club will hold the organisation of this year's Canoe marathon world cup in June. The lake is also known for its Iron triathlon (Triatlon jeklenih in August that combines paddling, cycling and running. All disciplines go uphill, except for paddling of course, although it might seem a bit uphill in the waves that competitors make at the start.The end of the race is a good 1200m higher than the start and you have to walk the final section back down again. The lake attracts a lot of tourists in the summer and gives you a cooler alternative than the sea. It's also a good place to combine paddling with mountaineering and mountain biking. Joggers will also appreciate the path that runs around the lake and forms a loop around 12km long.

The lakes of Slovenia seem to represent the country as a whole, not very big in size but definitely worth exploring either from the shore or from the paddlers point of view. There are so many gems waiting for you that you could spend years to get to know the majority of them. So why not start now? And let me know when you finish.