That’s it for ’21 – Now We Fly Into ’22!

Another pandemic year, difficult, hard for most and sad for (way too) many, is finally coming to an end. There are some flickering lights at the end of the tunnel and it seems we can expect at least a better, if not a good year. Hopefully.

But it wasn’t all bad in 2021 … We did a bunch of kite aerial sessions, president Janez made a bunch of kites, we did some kite festivals, explored ancient ruins, did kite aerial science, held a couple of lectures, went on TV and were featured in print – so all in all, 2021 was a fine kite year. That means this is a rather long – well, a looooooooong (ok, a looooooooooooooooooooooong) – post, so fix yourself a drink, sit down, relax and enjoy the ride!

While the pandemic made us once again miss the famous International kite festival KF Gujarat, the first good news came in early January as one of our kite aerial photos won the Best Picture of the Year 2020 on Slovenian Wikipedia!

Picture of the Year 2020 on Slovenian Wikipedia: kite aerial photo of Ljubljana Old town

Since the great IKF Gujarat was cancelled, we and our kite flying friends from all over the world organised a virtual Makar Sankranti / Uttarayan kite festival. Over 200 kiters from 42 countries responded and flew their kites on January 13-15 – so it was probably one of, if not the biggest kite festival of 2021! 🙂

The Strings of Hope initiative was going alongside the festival, and the responses were fantastic. We got so many messages of hope, and they flew into the sky on kite lines over 4 continents. Even a couple of VIPs joined, and we got messages of hope from the Mayor of Ljubljana Mr. Zoran Janković, the President of the National Assembly of Slovenia Mr. Igor Zorčič, H.E. Mr. Marjan Cencen, Ambassador of Slovenia in India, and H.E. Mrs. Namrata S. Kumar, Ambassador of India in Slovenia! Check out this video about the 2021 Virtual Uttarayan / Makar Sankranti Internationa Kite Festival and the Strings of Hope initiative:

The festival had a huge media presence in Slovenia – articles were published on all the major news websites and in the largest Slovenian newspaper.

After a spell of bad weather we had our first KAP session in February, flying in difficult conditions above Ljubljana and its river Ljubljanica, remembering the prize-fights of boaters that started over a thousand years ago.

Ljubljana and Ljubljanica river on a gloomy February day

Next was a customary visit to Planina karst field, having fun and enjoying the wind with a bunch of friends.

Catching the Tirlobite with a camera on a kite

A surprising call came in February, inviting us to a meeting with Her Excellency Madam Namrata S. Kumar, Ambassador of India in Slovenia. During the most pleasant visit at the embassy we drank tea, inducted Madam Kumar into our kite club – and discussed the ways to organise an International Kite Festival in Slovenia (spoiler alert – it might happen in May 2022!).

Madam Ambassador with the president and members of KAP Jasa kite club – and her new Rokkaku kite!

The spring was near and we captured this beautiful golden hour on the western part of Ljubljana Marshes landscape park.

Golden hour on the Marshes

The next KAP session was a two-part exploration of a fascinating feat of Roman engineering: they moved a whole river nearer to a marble quarry in Podpeč. The first part is about digging a new course of Ljubljanica towards the quarry, and the second part is about connecting it back from the new river port to the old course.

Roman-engineered Ljubljanica flows towards the marble quarry and the port under the hill at Podpeč

The Roman river connects to the old course at the bend

For the next KAP trip we went testing our luck again on the strange and mysterious Radensko polje. As the luck goes, we again failed to meet our goals – but even so managed to shoot a couple of cool kite aerial photos of filled sinkholes at the edge of the karst field.

Sinkhole Mihovca as seen from a kite – expertly piloted by Maša

Karst is a very Slovenian thing – even the word comes from Slovene “kras” – and as karst phenomena go there are few that can compare with Upper Pivka valley and its 17 intermittent lakes. What a cool KAP target would that be, we thought – but it wasn’t to be. The gods of wind conspired against us, and all we got was a glimpse pf Petelinje lake far in the distance.

A lake too far

Our kites were the main attraction at the birthday party of our friend in the eastern suburb of Ljubljana called Polje, and we did a quick KAP session over this pleasant quarter of mostly neat family houses.

Ljubljana-Polje from a kite

The magic of Ljubljana Marshes never cease to amaze us. This immense landscape park just south of Ljubljana offers something interesting, beautiful and fascinating every time we visit – and it always looks cool from high above!

The magical Marshes

Undeterred by our previous failures at Radensko polje we went back as the wind forecast was ideal – and this time we nailed it. The giant sinkholes, the incredibly meandered river Dobravka going into the ground, the swamps and estavelles … this place is really something else!

Meanders of Dobravka river just before it goes underground, and the immense Mihovka sinkhole

We have a large delta – 333 cm wide – and it was our working horse when the wind was strong for years. Then our president decided to improve it by adding a triangular box for greater stability and wider wind range. It flew perfectly – until it didn’t. The dreaded delta dive. It’ didn’t happen because of the redesign: the winds were utterly bizarre that day., and luckily both the kite and the camera survived unscatched.

Seconds from disaster

April is, well, weatherly challenged, and this one was no exception. First it offered soem truly divine views across the Marshes towards the Alps and Mt. Triglav, the highest peak of Slovenia …

… and barely two days later we flew in a snowstorm over Tivoli park, Ljubljana!

Then the weather stabilised, rewarding us with these sparkling views of Grmez hill on Ljubljana Marshes, a Mesolithic campsite and a remnant of Permian-Carboniferous sandstone and schist hills that are now almost completely immersed in 200+ meters deep silt of the Marshes.

Grmez in the setting sun

In May we did a most fun and most interesting kite aerial archaeological expedition. We noticed a strange feature on the LIDAR data of Ljubljana Marshes, and as we were aware of the remains of a Roman road near Ig, we thought this might be another example of bold Roman engineers building roads across swamps in the late 1st and early 2nd century. We have a nice infrared camera that can detect subtle differences in vegetation and we believed we could trace the putative road and see where it leads.

Near-infrared kite aerial photo showing the old course of river Ižica

We did two KAP sessions over the site and got some encouraging results – it seemed there are two roads going through the Marshes, not just one – enough for us to built a cool theory about Roman roads, floods and rebuilding. Check the link to see how the story ended!

Roads on Marshes: 1) the old Ižica course, 2) continuation of road A, 3) road A and 4) parallel road B, 5) bridge over the old Ižica on road B, 6) destroyed part of road A

Kozler’s forest (or Kozler’s thicket) is the largest remnant of a bog forest on Ljubljana Marshes. It represents the last phase of the evolution of a marsh, with tall trees (oaks, hornbeams, pines, birches etc.) standing on on a thick bed of peat that is still growing. To show all the interesting aspects of this protected natural monument, we flew thrice over it, each time with different camera orientation and settings.

Kozler’s forest

We explored the differences of rivers on Ljubljana Marshes – the torrential nature of those that flow from the limestone hills beyond the Marshes (and are now confined to artificial channels), and the easy going nature of Ižica that remains free and unspoilt.

Untamed river

Then we had a photo session for Ljubljana Magazine, and our kites fascinated the reporter, the cameraman and the readers of this fine municipal magazine.

Beasts in the ominous sky

As the venerable Blue Rokkaku, the very first kite we made that flew hundreds of times, was getting old and we wanted to preserve it, president Janez made a replacement: The Spark Rokkaku. It is a Sanyo type Rokkaku, strong and incredibly stable, and is expected to do most KAP sessions in the coming years. And his inaugural flight was greeted with a rainbow!

First flight of The Spark Rokkaku

In June we visited the dreamy green river Krka in Southern Carniola. Krka springs out of Krka cave at the end of a pocket valley near the village of Krka., and flows through Suha krajina region in a beautiful deep valley flanked by fields, meadows, vineyards and scattered villages.

Krka, the dreamy beauty of Southern Carniola

On an extremely hot day we went to meet our friends of the Croatian Kite Association in Zagreb – for a kite workshop, some kite flying and a couple (well, “a couple”) of beers. Of course we did a quick KAP session at Jarun lake in very low wind and very high temperatures … exhausting but fun!

Jarun lake, Zagreb, Croatia

We put our KAP skills to the test to shoot kites in flight – and it went quite well … the expansive meadows by the river Ižica are an ideal place for relaxed kite flying, and is perfect for testing a bolder move or two, like guiding a camera kite way too close to other flying beasts.

A kite catching kites in the air

River Ižica that slowly meanders across Ljubljana Marshes is a regular target of our kite aerial photography efforts. Ižica is a river of many secrets – there are remnants of prehistoric piles driven into the muddy bottom still visible, there are Golden jackal footprints on its wet banks, a tiny hazel dormouse hides in the bushes from the hovering kestrel, a trout jumps out of it to catch a brilliant blue damselfly, a swarm of junebugs fills the air with incessant droning. It’s a serene place … a place to lay down in the grass, to observe and listen, to get lost in thoughts and to be mesmerised by it all.

Mysterious Ižica

On Kostanjevica hill north of the village of Bevke on the western part of Ljubljana Marshes landscape park something strange is hiding in the middle of a dense spruce forest – a really bizarre natural phenomenon, a quirk of geology, hydrology, and biology: an isolated raised bog called Mali plac. As it is hidden behind the hill, it is a difficult, tricky and rewarding KAP target!

Mali plac swamp hidden in the forest

In a terrible heat – ad it was still only middle of June! – we wandered across the eastern part of Ljubljana basin in search of some wind … luckily we had master Viktor with us, and he expertly lifted our Rokkaku with a camera high enough to get a couple of nice shots of Zavoglje, Sostro and Dobrunje villages.

All is peaceful on the Eastern part of Ljubljana basin

The school year was coming to a close, and to celebrate the beginning of summer vacations the teachers and kids from Montessori school in Ljubljana invited us to do a kite workshop and some kite flying. The kids are schooled by the Montessori principles – learning by doing, self-sufficiency, confidence, willingness to ask for help, and hands-on approach: “Help me so I can do it all by myself!” – and we all had a very fun afternoon!

Kites, kites, kites!

August brought us the second edition of our International Kite Festival Vrhnika! This time it was really international, as we welcomed friends from Croatia, Poland, and India. It was hot, the wind was strange, we had so much fun and laughs and beer and love … A perfect IKF! Žare and Žuža (Zmajoljupci), and Barbara and Marcin and your cool daughters (Kuklok) – you are the best

We were honoured to be invited to the gala reception at the residence of Ambassador of India to celebrate the Independence day of India. We brought smiles to the guest by bringing a bunch of patang fighter kites, and we had a photo-op with H.E. Namrata S. Kumar, the Ambassador of India in Slovenia.

In September we published an article that became the most read of them all in 2021 – a story about the intermittent lake Cerknica. This lake is a true natural wonder, mentioned by Strabo in his Geographica, studied by Valvasor, and cherished by generations of people who live on its banks. Because of the limestone karst on its northwestern edge it fills up with the spring rains and melting snow, and it disappears during the long hot summer, when the ground is thirsty.

On the same day (!) we had a probably most crazy KAP session – flying on the edge of a precipice above a 160 m deep hole in the ground. The village of Škocjan is one of the most unique villages in the world, as it guards the Gates of Hell. This picturesque little place is perched precariously on a natural bridge between the river Reka canyon and a huge abyss of Little Dolina. On both sides the cliffs fall almost 200 metres deep to the entrance of one of the greatest wonders of Classical Karst: Škocjan caves.

Then it was science time! People of the House of Experiments Ljubljana invited us to do some kite science for the European Researchers’ Night 2021. This year main theme was water, and while we have a lot of nice photos of rivers, lakes, swamps and the like, we wanted to do more. So Maša came up with the idea to use a near-infrared camera carried by a kite to assess water pollution – because the influx of various pollutants change the NIR reflectance of water bodies in various ways it can be documented, analysed, and the pollutants identified.

We checked a couple of rivers – Ljubljanica on three different spots, Sava and Kolpa – and discovered the process works perfectly! Here is the report on using kites for identifying water pollutants.

Nitrogen pollution before and after an influx of agricultural runoff into Ljubljanica river

Our ERN lecture held in the Municipal Library of Šiška was a total success!

Our president and Jerneja spent some time in Novi Vinodolski on the Croatian coast, and did some kite flying in difficult conditions … The power of bora is not to be ignored – but the beauty of the blue Adriatic sea is a big incentive to do a KAP session even if risking the kite and the camera.

We repeated the Kites & Water Pollution lecture on the beautiful Adriatic island of Prvić, Croatia, for we were invited to the festival Kreativni dani Fausta Vrančića (Creative days of Faust Vrančić) in honour of the great Croatian Renaissance polymath. But the main thing on the island was a superb day of kite flying with friends in the warm October sun.

And check out this exceptional KAP shot of the Trilobite in action over the sea, shot by master Viktor!

Autumn is arguably the best kite and KAP time. The winds are steady, the heat is gone, and the forests don their best outfits. We caught the colorful trees with our kite, thinking about carotenoids, Verlaine, and the D-Day.

Polje is an English word that comes from Slovenian language, denoting a large, flat-bottomed Karst depression. Planina polje is a classic example of this geological and geographical feature, a 5 km by 2.5 km flat depression oriented northwest-southeast (a typical Dinaric direction). It lies some 40 km southwest from Ljubljana, Slovenia, and is full of wonders.

We got a new RC controlled Picavet rig from the inimitable Sandro Macchi – the one that allows you to point the camera where you want and shoot, so eliminating the need to set the camera in one direction, fly, pull down, change the direction, fly again etc. While flying and pulling down is a good exercise, it can be tedious and in late autumn there isn’t much daylight to play around. We tested the rig on the high plateau of Bloke, taking pictures of immense forests, gentle meadows, and meandering rivers.

Another visit to Ljubljana Marshes, to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps, produced eerie photos of strangely colourful wetlands. Check out the story of Bronze Age pile dwellers living at the edge of a shallow lake, 5.000 years ago!

The last – we can hear you whispering “Finally…”! – KAP session of the year took us back to Upper Pivka valley in search of at least one of its17 intermittent lakes. And while the gods of wind again conspired against us (the wind simply disappeared at ~150 m altitude), the kite aerial photos of this strange land came out just fine. And that was it for KAP in 2021!

One other thing – our friends urged us to make a video presentation of our activities, and we made this video, to show everyone why we fly kites:

So, what more to say … oh, in the first half of January you are again invited to a Virtual Uttarayan / Makar Sankranti Kite Festival with Strings of Hope; this time the main agenda is fighting the climate change that affects us all, so check it out, sign on and fly!

And – psssssst! – maybe (maybe!) there will be a great International Kite Festival in Murska Sobota, Slovenia, in late May 2022!

Dear friends. It was a tough year and our hearts go out to all who persevered, who fought this terrible adversary, who coped with loss and devastation, who broke down and got back up again. You all rule and we love you. And we will surely meet soon, somewhere on a field, with a kite line in hand.

Happy Ney Year from KAP Jasa – kite team Slovenia!

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