Friday, July 4, 2008

August 16 Rijeka CROATIA to Guče Selo CROATIA 92 K / 57 Miles, First Visit to my Paternal Grandfather's village in Gladloka SLOVENIA

Today is a very exciting day of this bike tour for me and one of the main goals of the entire trip; to venture into the land of my ancestors and hopefully locate and visit the villages of my grand- parents. My Father's father and mother came to America from Slovenia in 1900 and 1903 respectively. The delay for my granmother was waiting for their second child to be born and for the girls to be old enough to travel. My grandmother went to America with my Aunt Katherine and Aunt Mary in tow. My Mother's father and mother came to America from Croatia but they were Serbian. (The Serbian people had lived in Croatian lands for centuries.) My maternal grandparents did not meet and marry(1912) until after they were in America.

I climbed for 24 kilometers to get from the seacoast in Rijeka to the interior. I stopped in Delniče, it was actually raining a little. Now begins a series of divine appointments, meeting people, that can only make you think you are being led by God Himself. I came out of a market in Delniče knowing there were no campgrounds or hostels in the area of my target town of Brod Na Kupi Croatia. So the first people I spot I ask if by chance they speak English. They do, they are from Holland. We discuss the lack of campgrounds then the wife tells her husband to get me the name of a pension that they are headed for near Brod Na Kupi in the village of Guče Selo. Turns out Guče Selo is adjacent to the Croatian village Gerbajel (seperated only by a very small stream). I had foreknowledge that Gerbajel is the village DIRECTLY ACROSS THE KUPA RIVER FROM MY GRANDFATHER SIMONCIC'S FARM in Gladloka Slovenia.

After arriving at the pension (apartment or private-room hostel) I cycled the 4K back to Brod Na Kupi where the border crossing is between Croatia and Slovenia and crossed into Slovenia and biked along the Kupa River 4K to Gladloka, my grandfather's village and where his farm had been.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

August 17 Guče Selo CROATIA to Srpske Moravice CROATIA 34 K / 21 Miles, Visiting My Maternal Grandmother's Home village

Today was the day to head to my maternal grandmother's home territory, Srpske Moraviče, Serbian Moraviče. It is interesting that my Slovenian granparents and my Serbian grandmother grew up in villages only 15 to 20 miles apart. My maternal grandfather, Jovo Kekich was from Gospič in Lika County 100+ miles south in Croatia.

From Guče Selo I cycled along the Kupa River for 10K and then the road went up steeply for miles, really steep. In Donja Dobra I met a Croatian man I conversed with who just could not figure out Americans. "Why would you want to live with so many different kinds of people?". I found my way to Moraviče, a good sized railroad town, took photos, but I was a little timid at this point because I knew there were tensions between Serbians and Croatians. And since the wars in the 1990's Srpske Moraviče is no longer called Srpske Moraviče, but just Moraviče. Anyway, on the way down to Moraviče I had spotted an Orthodox Church (St George) so I headed back up to it to shoot photos and check out the cemetery. While there I meet an old man who gives me a tour of the cemetery pointing out the family names I am giving him. He then leads me to the priest's home where the priest is not home but his wife and one son begin to contact half the village. Then a 200 year old book is brought out with the church records of births, deaths, and marriages. One man, Lazar Dragovich scans through the book for my family. Another man, Nikola Jaksič, (who has worked at Waltz Mill Westinghouse) speaks English and translates the conversation. Another man Branko turns out to be my God-Mother Mildred Vudragovich's first cousin. Since I knew my Grandmother's parents names were Simo Vuchčovič and Angelja Petrovič they could find my family line in the book all the way back to 1791.

I was about to leave and cycle back to Guče Selo when the priest arrived with his other son and they told me to cycle down the road a 100 meters and a lady would be waiting for me. I head down the road and sure enough there is a lady who leads me into her house and introduces herself and her husband. They are Nedekko and Ljubica Ceravič, first cousins of my God.Mother Mildred Vudragovich(Nee Widich). Well, in comes Nedekko's brother Simo and wife, Simo's 2 grandchildren, and Simo's other daughter Marta and her Croatian husband Zlonko (who speaks perfect English as well as Italian, Spanish, and 3/4 French). So now I have a translator. There is alot of food, and laughs, and stories, and history lessons, and slivovitsa.

After nearly 12 hours of conversation I am invited to stay at the Ceravič's overnight.

Monday, June 30, 2008

August 18 Srpske Moravice CROATIA to Guče Selo CROATIA 67 K / 44 Miles,

I begin the day eating breakfast with Nedekko while listening to a cassette of American music from the 1970's. "I can't live if living is without you....".

Today I will cycle to my maternal grandmother's village, Donja(lower) Vuchcoviči. So Nedekko draws me a map and I am on my way. A quick lesson here: I learned yesterday that Srpske Moraviče is not just the railroad town but a small region comprised of 27 villages. Each village carries a family name, thus Vuchcoviči (my grandmother's village), Petroviči (my great-grandmother's village, Vučiniči, Careviči, etc. I also had learned that Serbian families assumed a knickname to distinguish themselves from other Serbians with the same last name. It was discovered that my grandmother's clan of Vuchcovič was known as Mateša.

I was interested to know, if possible, which house my grandmother had come from. Upon arriving in Donja Vuchcoviči I get the attention of the home owner. He doesn't know much English. He does know Italian and Dutch though. Anyway I am telling him my grandmother was a Vuchcovič from there, and he's getting the point. Then I mention Matešs and he lights up. He points up the hill and communicates that the 4th house on the left is Mateša. I cycle up a very steep lane and shake some people out, but no English-speakers. But we manage. And again, once I mention Matešs, they light up. And the woman speaking to me from the 4th house on the right is probably a long distant cousin. She says her house and the one next door are Mateša-Vuchcovič.

Next I move on to Petroviči, it is close by. Here I am walked by Branko Petrovič to the English-speakers. Here I meet Bob Vuchcovič from Englewood Florida via Croatia and Serbia. He lives part of the year at his father's homestead there in Petroviči. So Bob helps me through numerous conversations. Thanks Bob. I decide to cycle to Upper Vuchcoviči (which is actually lower). Here I find a much poorer village at, I think, a dead-end road. The people look at me like I dropped in from Mars. But again, once I utter the word Mateša, the whole village lights up. You must realize the village is maybe 10 houses. But still, they are very excited that I am identifying myself as Mateša. But the one man, the apparent chief, quickly lets me know that Mateša is Donja (lower) Vuchcoviči. Confirming that Donja Vuchcoviči is my Grandmother's home village. The people are concerned I find my way out of their village so one guy grabs a motorcycle helmet. I begin to leave and they all motion to wait. Soon I hear a motor scooter fire up and it turns out I am being escorted back to Moraviče so I do not get lost.

I then bike through Brod Moravice and back to Brod Na Kupi where I cross into Slovenia and head up the 10K climb to my paternal grandmother's home village of Nova Sela. Here I start up two conversations with very old ladies. The second lady motions to follow her to the English-speakers. Sitting around a table behind what used to be the stage-coach house are Wayne Tuttle (Canadien turned Slovene after 27 years), his girlfriend Lily and her sister. We have a wonderful chat and they encourage not to leave the area until I talk with Štaško Južnič. Štaško has written a book on the History of Kostel, the small region of my grandparents. And he is a founder of the Slovenian Genealogical Society. So since I don't get to Slovenia that often I coast back down the mountain to see if Štaško is home in the village of Fara just about 2K from the border crossing. His house is easy to find but he is not home. So I cruise through the border checkpoints again showing my passport. In Brod Na Kupi at the market I meet Zoran and Angela from Vancouver British Columbia. Zoran was born in Croatia and comes to Croatia often. A short time after we talk at the market we meet again at the restaurant and they invite me to sit and eat with them. It was a great evening and really good food.