border into Slovenia - 15th May 2011
Twenty metres further on we sidled up to the Slovenia boom gate where a very bored but nevertheless resplendently uniformed official gave our passports a mere 10 second inspection before lifting his own boom gate and jerking his head sideways to indicate we should now shove off in a westerly direction. Customs officials are never exactly talkative but here in Central Europe they must get their tongues yanked out before they graduate from the Academy !!
The rain is still relentless so we make our way slowly and safely towards the city of a where we'll stay for three nights. Many people have asked us why we included Slovenia in our itinerary as very few Australians seem to have been there. Well, we once fell into conversation with a guy at Mount Beauty in Victoria who had some sort of family link with Slovenia. He raved on about the place for at least an hour and convinced us it was a virtually unknown European tourist nirvana. More importantly, Slovenia lies smack bang between where we spent our week in Croatia and where we need to begin our tour of Austria. Furthermore, the Slovenian investment will be worthwhile just for the sheer superior pleasure of being able to say, "By the way, we've just come back from Slovenia". As a matter of fact Lynn and I are currently working on the development of some pithy answers for people game enough to ask, "Oh Slovenia eh.... now would that be north or south of Rockhampton?"
As our drive takes us deeper into Slovenia the countryside becomes much softer and greener looking than Croatia. There are gently rolling hills and fields of lush green grass carpeted with clouds of bright yellow dandelions and drifts of some kind of purple wildflower. It reminds us of our visit to Switzerland and the Dolomites area of Northern Italy some years ago.
Just as Lynn and I were beginning to open our hearts to Slovenia, there suddenly appeared a jarring note. There before us was a large roadside sign advertising a Harvey Norman store. Surely not, but look.... even the logo is the same. Well later that night I got on the web and blow me down, Gerry Harvey has opened six department stores in Slovenia. Furthermore, my research discovered that Gerry also has lots of department stores in Ireland, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and a few other places too. Not to mention over 100 large stores in Australia. Now who amongst you incredibly learned readers knew Gerry Harvey was a serious multi-national player notwithstanding his slow talking folksy image? He seems to have come a very long way since opening that first store in the Sydney suburb of Arncliffe back in the 1960's.
We spent next day walking around . It is a comparatively quiet, neat and low key city with many attractive buildings. Lynn and I both thought the old city portion of aa often reminded us of quiet and stately Vienna.
We happened to spy a tiny Japanese restaurant in a narrow lane so neither of us needed any encouragement to take advantage of this "find" even though one doesn't automatically associate Slovenia with seafood or with Japanese for that matter! Well, let me tell you that the food was really great and we just loved it.
We so much enjoyed our Japanese lunch that later in the day we decided to find a Chinese restaurant for our dinner. Apparently there is only one such place in a but we were feeling lucky so we sought it out and in due course we were "studying" a list of Chinese dishes written in incomprehensible Slovene. Now.... we have in the past ordered from Chinese menus written in French and Chinese menus written in Spanish. Each sch experience felt a bit weird but we kind of managed. We have also eaten Chinese food in Japan which is a far lesser challenge because one just throws aside the menu, drags the waiter into the street and points at perfect fibreglass replicas in the window. I know it's kind of gauche but it definitely works. On the other hand, Slovene had us both stumped. We didn't recognise a single word in the menu and there weren't any fibreglass.... or even paper-mâché replicas in the window
A young student was called but her English was totally inadequate for the task. Still, eventually we sort of made some selections and sat back with bated breath and rumbling tummy to see what we'd get. The first thing to hit the table was what we expected to be a spring roll... actually it was a huge ten centimetre square parcel over one inch thick (100mm X 100mm X 25mm). Bloody hell.... what kind of spring roll is THIS... I didn't think I'd ordered a GREEK PASTI !" Well folks, it did in fact contain a tasty selection of finely sliced crunchy spring vegetables in a crisp deep fried wrapper and it was absolutely wonderful. Probably the best Spring "Roll" (?) I've ever eaten. The rest of our meal wasn't too bad either.
We had originally intended to spend our last day visiting the moderately famous Lake Bled. However, rightly or wrongly, we decided that it might be a let down after our recent visit to the Plivice Lakes in Croatia. As an alternative, Lynn suggested we drive 50 kms out into the country to visit the Postojna Limestone Caves which were supposed to be pretty marvellous. At first I was was not overly keen having seen four or five other limestone cave complexes during my lifetime.
Frankly I was feeling pretty tired and in need of a rest day. Lynn won me over by saying, "look, it should be an easy day because the brochure says the tour comprises a four kilometre ride through the cave on a miniature train". Well, I carefully checked the text and that's indeed what the brochure said. What the brochure did not say is that after four kilometres you de-train and walk up and down a million steps for the next one and a half hours whilst droplets of water fall from the roof onto your head and shoulders!!
After 15 minutes of climbing I was soon pretty worn out but one has no choice but to press on because it was a one way circular walking trail all the way back to the train. And if you leave the group or fall behind you'll be in total darkness. To make things worse it was now well past lunch time. I hadn't expected much exertion so I was not carrying any candy for diabetic emergencies. Anyhow, my blood sugars got seriously low making me quite shaky in the knees. Yes, I was quite done in at the end of it all but I fortunately survived the walk. On the other hand I barely survived the tongue lashing I copped from Lynn for not being properly prepared and.... "scaring me half to death!!"
When we had purchased our tickets for the caves tour we had been offered a discount price on a tour of a medieval castle located some 9 km further west. In blissful ignorance we had opted to take the two tour "deal". However, it was now touch and go as to whether we could manage climbing up to this castle. However, Lynn said, "we can't waste the money etc etc...." Accordingly we drove to the elevated location and found the castle. It was clinging to the outside of a sheer cliff and partly nestled inside a massive cave. I generously offered, "Lynn, why don't you go along and have fun whilst I stay back here and tidy up the car." Last time I looked Lynn was scaling some very, very steep stairs. After a few minutes of tidying chores I switched on some tranquil classical music and had a nice afternoon snooze. Somewhat later I was rudely awaked by several idiot motor cyclists starting their machines and doing 20 superfluous "vroom vrooms" with their accelerators before skidding out of the carpark at 150 kph.
Finally it was back to a where two very tired tourists grabbed a quick evening bite before hitting the hay for our last night in Slovenia.