What! Christmas here already….

Yes its true, the amazing Christmas is upon us once again but we actually sent all our cards on time and did all our shopping before it went crazy, we hope our cards will arrive on time this year as people were still getting them in October from last year, why, only the gods will know that…
Anyway we will talk about the weather first as it is the most important factor at this time of the year, first picture was taken on the 21st November, a lovely autumn evening out with the sheep, three days later and all had changed, we were blessed with 30cm of snow and it was very good snow, by the 3rd December we were out riding snowboards behind the chalet, wicked eh!!!

The chicken were not so impressed but managed to acclimatize quite quickly, some people were still gathering wood with the horse where they could and Maria went alpine trekking much sooner than she expected to.

Since then the snow has hung about and it has been very cold which meant that the ski resort in Vratna where Maria teaches was able to run the snow guns and consequently open its doors for early skiing, we have been up there almost every day and it has been very good, most times we have had so few people there that it was almost like having your own resort but that will change from today as everyone will be on holiday till the new year.

Lastly a lovely Christmasy picture from behind our lovely warm chalet, from myself and Maria hope you all have a very good time and all the best for the new year, good health and happy days.

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Quieter Times

This is one of the quietest times of the year for us, the garden has been tidied up the sheep are by the chalet ready to go in if the weather turns really cold and all our outdoor patio stuff is put away, so we take some time to go out walking or travelling around.
The autumn was stunning as usual and I always take loads of photos but one or two are a bit special, the leaves on the trees and the clouds that seem to appear over the mountains.20161023-016

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Still playing with the new camera, long way to go before I have mastered all the little idiosyncrasies, but half the fun of it, next two photos are taken of our chalet, one with 16-35mm lens on 16mm the other with 100-400mm at 400mm, the detail it picks out is amazing even though I took it handheld.20161028-011

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Our sheep are having time out with Maria as she takes them over the hills in the afternoon for fresh grass and it makes them much easier to handle when they are inside for the winter, the other photo is of our friends sheep, these are proper Slovak breeds, nice horns eh!!!!!20161109-036

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We have had snow and quite mean frosts but today it is 14c and very windy, I managed to take a few photos of the supermoon, it was -8c that evening so I didn’t stay out too long but it was very impressive and our skies were crystal clear so we were lucky. I took this with the 400mm lens which was not strong enough really but we think its ok…20161114-007

Had a few checks done this month as my blood pressure was a little high but all the checks found nothing so just taking a mild tablet and going back to see the doctor this week some time, that and forgetfullness go with getting older I believe. Got my ski pass so all systems go when the snow arrives, (Big when I suspect) till then we will get out as much as we can and take loads of photos.

Last of all we went to Vienna last week to do some shopping and stuff, it was really such a nice change if only for one day, the people there are always so friendly and the shops are great, stopped off in Bratislava on the way home to get a couple of things in M&S as they have closed our local branch and rumour has it that all the branches in Slovakia are going to close, oh well all things must pass. Here is a rare photo of me having a delightfull lunch in the Hard Rock Cafe in Vienna, the staff and the food was excellent, would definitely recommend it.20161116-002

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October already, it can’t be !!!

Is quite amazing how the time whizzes by, it is quite a while since I wrote in this blog, not only is it October but we have also just had our first snow and it is hard to believe that the next two pictures were taken only a week apart and it went from mid 20’s to the minuses in the same period.
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Nature really does know how to wake us up sometimes, the snow was around for about four days and it stayed cold, at the moment it is raining very hard.
Back in September we went down to Slovensky Grob near Bratislava to visit some friends who were kind enough to invite us to a wine tasting, the vineyard is in the family and very good it was too but after 24 wines we were not very good at assessing them.  The area where our friends live is so flat as to be unreal but maybe that is because we are used to the mountains, their village is surrounded by agriculture.
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I have also after 9 years decided to buy a new camera and it is very good although it is taking me some time to get used to, here are the first few pictures I have taken with it, the bugs are drinking from my grapes and sometimes there are as many as ten on each grape, they must get pretty drunk I guess.
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20161002-025Seeing the bee reminds me that we did not get any honey this year and nor did anyone in this area, we know one beekeeper who has 200 hives and never got any at all, it is almost certainly due to the very fluctuating temperatures at the start of the year, fingers crossed for next year. The sheep are doing well though and didn’t seem at all fazed by the snow..

20161006-009So, new camera which seems brill and this week we had new kitchen worktops as the old ones were very worn and now we have got solid wood, interested to see see how it wears, it looks great anyway.
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Thats about all from me except to say Maria is making amazing bread and as we go to press the loaf made today is even bigger than the photo, watch this space for any more developements…….
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Winding down at last.

Yep, we are at last finished with the haymaking the last two fields have been cleared and the hay is now in our friends barn, till next year the scythes can relax but it has been long and drawn out this year due to the unreliable weather, not something we can control, thank goodness or we would muck that up too, here is the last field of ostrvas.
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Since my last blog we have been busy though, we finally completed a display of Maria’s grandfathers photos in the foyer of Boboty Hotel in Vratna, we started the project last year and were working on it when time allowed so it has been great to see it up and running, the prints are all on canvas some almost a metre square, the managment were very pleased and it has had lots of positive feedback, here is a picture and anyone is welcome to go and see for themselves.
20160719 008We also took time to go and watch the horse parade during the Janosikove Dni weekend which is an annual folk festival held in Terchova, performers not only from Slovakia but many other countries come here for the three days and on the Sunday there is a parade of horses and carts all traditionally dressed up which tours the town and goes up through Tiesnavy Pass into the mountains, they stop there for a while , rest, drink and sing before returning to the festival area, it is very good to watch and photograph, here are a few pictures.
20160807 009 20160807 025 20160807 035We also met with some friends from Bratislava in a village called Cicmany, it is renowned for the artwork on the old buildings and is a protected site, it is very picturesque but the weather was not too kind to us so I did not take many pictures.
20160813 004Last but not least we have been out and about picking fruit and mushrooms, notably 5kg Wild strawberries, 7kg Wild Rasberries, 3.5kg Blackberries and 10 litres Blueberries all for wine and jam, we are of tomorrow to pick a few more Blueberries to take to our friends and that will just about do it, may go for a few more Blackberries for wine, it is so nice after a year, like a fine port, just the thing for a cold winters evening, last two pictures, see if you can spot Maria picking Blueberries…20160804 001
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Scytheing and Haymaking

I thought it would be a good idea to explain some of the activities that we get up to over here in Slovakia and this the first of many I hope.
In preparation for the winter we have to cut and dry hay to feed our sheep as they will be inside our barn from mid November to late April during which time they will also have their lambs, we hope!
In my last blog I put a couple of photos of the flower meadows that surround us and on the 16th June we started to cut them for hay.
At 0500 in the morning we go out to cut because the grass is heavy with a dew which makes cutting much easier and it is still cool till the sun gets higher.
20160616 004We cut the first two fields with scythes and the first day out there each year reminds us that it is hard work, but you soon get into the swing of it, I will not bore you with the intricacies of how to scythe as there are more experts out there than you can imagine and they would be telling me how it is done properly, that much I am sure of.
We have been using old scythes for a few years given to us by Marias father and they were fine but this year we decided to splash out on new ones, they came from Austria who seem to make some of the best scythes available, made by a company called Fux Scythes and you can look at the website here http://www.schroeckenfux.at/index.php/en .
I use a 80cm blade and Maria uses a 65cm, we both have different snaths (handles), Maria is trying out one from Fux and I am still using the old Slovak one although I have ordered the Fux model as Maria assures me it is comfortable to use and makes you keep your back straight which is a bonus I can assure you, the photos will show what I mean.
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Once we have cut the field we will leave the grass in the lines for most of that day to start the drying procedure, over the next 3 or 4 days we will spread the grass about until it is reasonably dry, this season our first two fields dried quickly because of high temperatures and strong winds so we were able to put it straight into our shed.
Most times it will not dry so well and we will put it into a haystack using a piece of pine taken from the top of a tree which is known as an ostrva, it is a traditional way to dry hay, any rain will just run off the outer layer and the inner will gradually dry, the tools we use are also traditional, wooden rakes and forks, they are so easy to use.
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This year we also purchased a mower unit by Vari that fits on out existing rotavator chassis which is a Robix, it makes it easier for us to cut some of the fields that are very uneven and have not been cut by hand for a few years, it does a very neat job and leaves the grass in tidy lines, you will see that all the grass is then put on ostrva’s, I may add that it takes several years and lots of hay to perfect the construction of these stacks, too tight and it will not dry, too loose and it will blow away in the wind, we seem to be getting the knack at last and do not get too many adverse comments from the old boys who watch us with interest.
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Once we have enough hay in our store we will give the rest away to our friends who do us favours at other times, we wait for a nice warm sunny day and then strip the stacks and spread the hay out to give it a final drying. The pictures show our friend Jaro with his horse and cart which we load up and then off it goes to his barn and that is another seasonal chore over for this year.
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It is very satisfying to scythe a field and as a bonus you get fairly fit over a couple of weeks…..

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