Less than two months after the first CIG course in Croatia, I had a chance to participate in an interpretive walk led by two course participants and could see the influence of the course helping to bring the mountain alive. 

The first Croatian Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) course took place as a part of a Slovenia-Croatia Interreg project, called EnjoyHeritage, this spring. Anyone who has ever joined a CIG course already knows that the setting creates special connections among participants, so we all became very interested in each other’s work. 

Among 15 inspiring participants, there were two passionate ladies from the Public Institution for Managing Protected Nature Areas of Krapina-Zagorje County; its manager, Dijana Hršak, and Petra Bralić, expert associate. During the course, I found out about Dijana’s and Petra’s work on an orchid trail and the walking tour they organise each May. I instantly saved the date and made sure to be there in May. I’m not such a big fan of orchids, they seem too artificial to me, I thought at that time, imagining some sort of an orchid garden around their office. But I wanted to learn where their fascination comes from. That’s the power of personal interpretation – the passion of the interpreter alone will bring anyone a step closer to her or his favourite subject.

But as we kept mentioning the orchid trail, I realised how funny and ignorant I was. They’re not talking about the orchid flowers you can get in your local supermarket and grow in your apartment. There’s a whole world of wild orchid flowers, true wonders of nature, that are hard to spot in nature, but will fill your heart with delight when you finally do find them. In the region of Croatian Zagorje, as many as 40 varieties are found and Mount Strahinjčica in particular is so rich in them that they sometimes call it ‘the orchid garden’. 

Strahinjčica is a mountain just an hour’s ride from the Croatian capital of Zagreb but somehow it has stayed under the radar. Yet it’s an incredible place full of breathtaking viewpoints, archeological finds, mysterious legends and special biodiversity. If you love flowers, then Strahinjčica is the place to be in late spring. 

On May 20th, Dijana’s and Petra’s institution organised a manifestation called Orchid Days, and the two of them led an interpretive walk. I went there with my friends and family, not as a CIG trainer, to enjoy the day and discover something new. I’m aware that Dijana and Petra already had considerable experience in guiding visitors, and had shown great talent and passion during the course. But I still couldn’t help but notice all the details that might have been inspired by the CIG course.

After an introductory talk, I ended up in Petra’s group. As a true certified interpretive guide, she provoked care and appreciation for natural heritage – we were almost tiptoeing to protect each flower. She led us into sensational revelations in the discovery of wild flowers. She allowed us to participate fully, we all felt like researchers, discoverers and explorers. People of all age groups and backgrounds felt welcome to come forward and contribute to the tour. She helped us discover the sense of place. I still get goosebumps when I’m thinking about the area that we visited and all the overwhelming natural spectacles.

I asked Dijana and Petra if their guiding was indeed influenced by the course. They confirmed that this year’s guided walk along the educational mountain trail differed from their previous ones. The knowledge they gained made the walk more interactive, they used more methodological stepping stones, and asked more open-ended questions. They prepared the content and the structure better than ever. Dijana says that the course was eye-opening, she gained useful skills not just for work but also for everyday communication. Petra found the course very educational and will integrate this knowledge and experience when presenting natural heritage during workshops, guiding or field trips. They even intend to promote the certified interpretive guide course at this year’s assembly of the professional services of Croatian public institutions for managing protected nature areas as an extremely useful tool for their work related to interpretation of protected areas. 

I personally feel the same way about the course, it was eye-opening for me just as well, and I have been incorporating the gained knowledge in my work ever since. While I was looking at the curious faces of the people who joined the walk that particular day, seeing them fully immersed in learning although it felt just like a comfortable walk in nature, I thought of the days of hard, yet fulfilling, work that stands behind such an enjoyable experience. There is no way we could have felt the same about each flower by simply reading the interpretive signs. And, with a guide who is not a good interpreter, we couldn’t have been immersed in the surrounding nature that deeply.

That day, I brought back home more flowers from Strahinjčica mountain than I had collected in my whole life, and yet I hadn’t picked a single one. 

You can find out more about the activities of the Public Institution for Managing Protected Nature Areas of Krapina-Zagorje County here: www.zagorje-priroda.hr 

Find the schedule of the open-access CIG courses here:

Iva Silla, from Croatia is an IE certified trainer, author and manager of Secret Zagreb tours (www.secret-zagreb.com). Contact her at: iva@secret-zagreb.com.

To cite this article: 
Silla, Iva (2018) ‘Visit to the orchid garden’. In Interpret Europe Newsletter 2-2018, 19-21. 

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