Working and Playing in Slovenia: Airplanes, Horses, and Gourmet Dining

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AIRPLANES

Slovenia:  Land of Surprises!  This was primarily a work day, but it was full of serendipity. My husband, our two friends, and I discovered the future of aviation at Pipistrel, a light aircraft manufacturer and one of the world’s leaders in aviation. Its paradigm-breaking aircraft include electric models and the first hydrogen fuel-cell airplane. Before the day was over, we also made three more discoveries: the iconic Lipizzan horses, the illusive bottle of gin. (See Really Life? You’ve Now Taken Me to Slovenia?), and another gourmet dinner at our guest house.

After meeting Ivo Boscorol, the company’s general manager and founder, we took a factory tour led by his genial daughter and public relations manager, Taja. Her enthusiasm was not hype. We saw the ground-breaking airplanes and the technology that produced them:  3-D printers; a water-jet cutting machine and an 8-axis robot-mill to fabricate parts; a quality control system designed and used by Toyota; and the building itself, a “green building,” which is energy-efficient and self-sufficient. Seeing the creativity of the process from conception to execution, plus observing the human team making all this possible, made us appreciate Taja’s animation even more.

Pipistrel is the winner of many aviation awards, but the one that is garnering the most attention lately is the NASA Green Flight Challenge Award, which has a prize of $1.35 million, the largest prize in aviation history. According to NASA, the award was “created to inspire the development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and spark the start of a new electric airplane industry.” The goal was a lofty one:  to design an airplane that could fly 200 miles in less than two hours while using less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity. Pipistrel’s electric-powered Virus not only reached the goal, it exceeded it.  It flew using just over a half-gallon of fuel per passenger, thus achieving twice the fuel efficiency required. Pipistrel not only won this award once, it won it three consecutive years.

My husband understands firsthand what technological leaps Pipistrel took to win this award. He worked at NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia, for 33 years.  During that time, he was a member of the government-industry partnerships that developed technologies that now inhabit virtually every airplane around the globe, including the Virus:  glass cockpits, composite airframes, crash-worthy airframes, and laminar flow aerodynamics.Today, his consulting business has taken him to work in the field of hydrogen fuel-cell electric propulsion. How  satisfying it is for him to see his work reach such a successful conclusion!

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Our only disappointment of the day was that we were not able to fly in one of these awesome aircraft.  Pipistrel’s headquarters sets in a valley in Ajdovščina which falls victim to some very forceful predatory winds.This day, the Bora wind phenomenon was clocked well below the 125 mph that can occur, but high winds still held us hostage, so we were grounded.

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LIPPIZAN HORSES

After my husband finished his business with Pipistrel, we were able to hurry over to Lipica, the home of the oldest European stud farm to be continuously breeding the famous Lipizzan horses. We arrived too late for a tour, but early enough before sundown to see these beautiful horses grazing in the field. A return trip is warranted!

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GOURMET DINING 

We made one more stop in Lipica at a Lidl grocery store where we finally found a bottle of gin after a two-day search. There was one choice only, Castelgy London Dry Gin.  If we had wanted schnapps, our shopping cart could not have held the selection. I discovered that we found a very special brand of gin, Lidl’s own. The Guardian reported that in a taste test of both inexpensive supermarket brands of gin and more-expensive brand-name gins, Castelgy, the cheapest at 9.99 euro a bottle, did very well, earning second place.  (Beefeaters came in fifth.) We also un-expectantly found a bottle of bitters, so visions of Old Fashions started to dance in our heads.  Along with the gin and the bitters, we bought an orange, a lemon, and sugar cubes, so Happy Hour was just a car ride away.

Back at Apolonia Guest House in Sezana, the four of us raised a toast to a fun, productive day with three classic Old Fashions, plus a new concoction of gin, lemon, and a dash of bitters. The cocktails were elevated compared to ones we drank the evening before and a fitting introduction to another gourmet dinner prepared by our innkeepers, Marissa and Manuella.The first course was End of Summer Zucchini Soup, which was a work of delectable art in a bowl.  I don’t know what herbs and / or vegetables other than zucchini the gals put into the soup to make it so green.  The vibrant green was a beautiful canvas to highlight the dabs of pink shrimp, brown croutons, and the white dollop of cheese wrapped in a sliver of cucumber.  It was as delicious as it was beautiful.

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Tonight was “Fish Night,” and Salmon with Sage made an impressive main course.  It was moist and flaky, garnished with tomatoes and sage leaves.  Accompaniments included buttery potatoes and grilled zucchini slices.I have never had sage with salmon before, but the flavors marry very well. In fact, I found a similar recipe from NYT Cooking  that I want to try at home.

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A crisp Slovenian white wine, which I won’t be able to find in Virginia, complimented the dish. Instead, I believe I will pour a glass of Citizen Cider’s Unified Press; it’s off-dry, crisp, and excellent with all seafood.

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Manuella, with a bottle of excellent Slovenian white wine,  is an accomplished chef and gracious hostess at Apolonia.

Dessert wasn’t an afterthought.  Even though it was called “A Cream with Fruit Sauce,” its plebeian title didn’t distract from its royal taste.  In fact, it was so good, we didn’t even take time to ask what fruit concoction the rich, creamy pudding was swimming in.  The puff pastry cookie  and crumbles on top added the perfect “crunch.”   When we thought the meal couldn’t get any better, Manuella brought out house-made blueberry liqueur to end the evening sweetly.

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We still had one more meal to look forward to at Apolonia:  breakfast. Each day starts  with an omlette or sunny side up eggs, three kinds of meats, cheese, a basket of rustic bread, fresh croissants, and rugelach, plus juice and coffee.  As I write this, I have been in Europe for two weeks, and Apolonia has  had the best accommodations and the best dining of any of the B & Bs / guest houses we have stayed in.  Thank you, Marissa and Manuella!

Now, it was time to return to our rooms and snuggle into our large, comfortable beds.  Visions of not only sugar plums, but also airplanes, horses and gin would swirl in our heads, never a nightmare, just a perfect dream of all the varied surprises we found in Slovenia.

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