Day 12 – Slovenia

25 June, 2019
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As I sit here at 6:30 a.m. with my door open, smelling the morning air and enjoying the cool breeze, it’s hard to believe it’s all over. What an unforgettable 13 days of discovery, learning, laughter, friendship, and beauty.

Yesterday morning, Kay and I went out walking around the village of Nova vas. This area was completely destroyed during WWI, and many battles were fought here. We went in search of any sign of the war that still stands. In addition to several monuments erected by grateful citizens, there are remnants everywhere of when soldiers used rocks to build walls and trenches.

Hand grenades from WWI, recovered from the fields of Nova vas

The owner of the property where we’re staying (awesome guy named Robert) has collected many artifacts over the years, and even had several of the hand grenades incorporated into the fencework at the house. Fascinating.

We hung around and relaxed during the stiflingly hot day, and opted not to go “touristing,” but rather stay home and enjoy the peace and quiet, and each other’s company. At dinnertime, we drove to Italy and had a delicious meal. After a glass of prosecco and more conversation, it was time for bed.

Now I’m all packed and ready to head to the airport in a couple of hours. I’ll take the rest of my time to hang out with B&K and stop by a friend’s house for coffee on the way to Venice. Then it’s on to Chicago (11 hours later, oy) and Cleveland, where Mavis will be waiting for me at 1:00 in the morning. She’s the best!

Now I say a huge thanks to all of you for coming along on this little Odyssey with me. It’s been wonderful reading your comments; they always make me smile!

Talk to you stateside. Much love…

Day 11 – Slovenia

24 June, 2019
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Day 11 was full of conversation, beautiful scenery, and family!

We spent the day in and around the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana (roughly pronounced loo-blahna), one of the oldest cities in Europe. Driving through the countryside, it’s evident that the northern part of the former Yugoslavia identifies much more with Austrian/Alpen roots and culture than its southern neighbors, who favor Italian and Turkish ways and architecture. Still, it was all gorgeous.

The day began with showers, and it was sprinkling pretty good when we visited a 13th-century castle near Ljubljana, built directly into the mountainside rocks. Predjamski Grad was built by a landowner as a retreat, but was later used by robber baron Erasmus in the 1500s.

I was beginning to think that the day would be besieged by terrible weather, but then, as is so often the case around here, the clouds parted and the sun came out, and stayed with us for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We continued on into the city, had a lovely lunch, and did some sightseeing.

In the city center, we parked at the highest point and took the funicular car (oy) down to the oldest part of town. (At least this contraption sat on a track, instead of hung from a wire.)

It provided beautiful views of the city, however, as all photos reveal a delightful array of terra-cotta rooftops and old stucco construction.

After our lunch at an outdoor cafe, where our waiter and I had a heated discussion about LeBron and the Cavs and the NBA in general (go figure), we explored the old section of the city. Kay bought some items from her favorite store, Bob stopped to listen to a musician play old Slovene folk songs on the accordion, and I bought some Slovenian chocolate, tagged along, and enjoyed the views.

Listening to Uncle Vinko’s stories

Then it was on to the small village of Podlipa, where we had a marvelous dinner and great conversation with members of Bob’s extended family. Maruša and Janez were splendid hosts, and the food and the company were wonderful. It was fun to listen to the stories of when Bob visited in 1968 as a young man, and everyone laughed at Uncle Vinko’s hilarious observations.

It was another fantastic day of discovery, beauty, laughter, and friendship that I’ll remember forever.

Today, on my last full day of this adventure before jetting home, we will go to the seaside, visit a medieval village, and take a hike through the forest here in Nova vas to try to find some World War I artifacts.

Hugs — more tomorrow as I close out Odyssey 2019.

Day 10 – Slovenia

22 June, 2019
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Today, I learned lots about WWI history, and the role that Slovenia played in world affairs. Bob and Kay were my tour guides and history profs; it was absolutely captivating. And beautiful!

After a huge thunderstorm that lasted all morning, we took off after lunch and went exploring. But first, I have to show you this magical place where I’m staying.

Up in the mountains, directly across the border from Italy, is the tiny country of Slovenia — part of the former Yugoslavia, along with Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia. Due to political upheaval in the early 1990s, all six countries split apart, and Yugoslavia was no more. Each country maintains its unique culture and social constructs, and Slovenia is a wonderful conglomeration of both alpine and Italian roots.

The sunny kitchen

I’m staying with B & K in the tiny hamlet of Nova vas, in a beautiful apartment situated among the pine trees. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

The balcony

I’m seeing village life in real time, while enjoying the breathtaking mountain views, churches built in the 1500s, and winding roads that take you to dizzying heights.

First, we drove to Nova Gorica (the next town over), and walked through the town square, had a cappucino at a friend’s restaurant, and then took off up a mountain to the old village of Šmartno, with stunning views of the Dolomite and Alpen mountain ranges, and the Adriatic Sea in the distance.

From there, we drove down to the Italian border town of Gorizia, and visited churches and walked the town square. I saw the apartment building where Bob and Kay lived several years ago, and they relived memories of going to small cafes and restaurants during their time there. On the other side of the mountainous area, we drove up to Sveta Gora (Slovene for “sacred mountain”), where they attended church and sang in the choir every Sunday.

More spectacular views followed, and as a bonus, we eavesdropped on a wedding in progress inside the church.

We took a leisurely drive along the Soca River, and ended up back near Nova vas at the grocery store, where we bought supplies for dinner, went back “home,” and cooked a lovely meal for ourselves.

Tomorrow, we’ll go to the capital city of Ljubljana, have lunch in the city, and then travel to Podlipa, the home of Bob’s Slovenian relatives, for dinner. Looking forward to more beautiful scenery and great conversation.

Ciao! More pictures soon.

Day 9 – Venice

21 June, 2019
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What a wonderful time it was in Venice with Kay, getting ridiculously lost notwithstanding. (Easy to do in Venice, where all the streets and different piazzas look pretty much the same.)

Instead of jamming ourselves onto boats and doing touristy things, we decided to just take in the city, one canal and one street and one restaurant at a time. It enabled us to sit and chat, enjoy great food and each other’s company, get caught up on conversation, and just generally take in the surroundings without the press of all of humanity. It was nice.

We did, however, take the opportunity to sit in Piazza San Marcos and listen to music while having a drink at the historic Gran Caffe Lavena. Time well spent! (And yes, they definitely played the theme from The Godfather.)

We had dinner in an out-of-the-way restaurant, talked forever, took a long walk around the shoreline, then called it a night.

This morning, we got up early to walk the city and take photos.

Sleeping gondolas, waiting for the day’s insanity

Again, San Marcos and the surrounding areas were nearly empty, and we took advantage of the quiet. Then it was time to go back to the hotel, have breakfast, check out, and schlep it to the train station.

We got horribly lost trying to find the station on foot, so we ended up on a crowded vaporetto, which dumped us where we needed to be — but not in enough time to make our train to Gorizia. So we hung out at the station, had a cold drink, talked, and waited on the breezy platform till the next train was ready to go.

I think Venice is a place I’m glad I visited again after all these years, but it’s not a place I will necessarily miss. Perhaps I’ll go again after I’ve retired, so I can experience it when it’s not so busy, like in November or March. Still, it was fantastic to reunite with Kay there, and we shared a lot of laughs and great conversation in that beautiful place, which we’ll always cherish.

At the end of our 2-hour train ride, we met up with Bob, who drove us to my final destination before home: Slovenia. I will enjoy these last four days — and I know you will enjoy looking at the pictures of this incredibly beautiful place, full of history and stories and family and tradition. And great food — don’t forget the food. :-)

Stay tuned!

Day 8 – Venice

20 June, 2019
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I woke up early yesterday and hoofed it to the Trieste Centrale train station, where I had a great big croissant and a tiny little latte while I waited for my train to Venice. Once I arrived, I needed to grab a vaporetto (equivalent of a city bus, but it’s a boat) to my hotel.

Un. Believable.

I haven’t been to Venice in 43 years. Not much about the facades of the buildings and the layout of the city has changed, but oh my…the place is nonstop crawling with tourists. And I don’t mean lots of people leisurely strolling, taking in the sights and snapping pictures. Rather, I mean yelling, rude, selfish, inconsiderate, and obnoxious tourists — and believe me, not nearly half of them were Americans.

The biggest contributors to Venice’s overcrowding problem (besides the fact that it’s an island, and can hold only so many inhabitants) are the discount airfare businesses who make it possible for folks who aren’t rich to travel internationally, the cruise lines, and the organized tour industry. Enormous cruise ships (I saw three while at the docks this morning) tie up outside the city, and disgorge thousands of people at once — literally thousands — into Piazza San Marco. Tour groups of 60-70 walk the slim alleyways and rent multiple boats on the canals. When I saw it all yesterday, I was stunned into frozen silence. I just stood there like a dork, gawking at it. I refused to take a photo of any of it. I found myself — a tourist, absolutely — getting honked off.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to my arrival.

I got in line to buy a vaporetto ticket, paid my 7 euro, and went to the holding area. That’s where the ugliness began.

People started pushing to get to the front of the dock, where the next boat would pick up passengers. I was bounced around like a pinball. I started to make motions to calm people down, and it worked for about half a second. The more people pushed in front of me, the more disgusted I became.

So, like a champion salmon, I started pushing upstream — outta there. I decided I’d rather walk to my hotel than deal with these idiots for the next hour, so I burned that 7 euro and took off walking, with Google Maps as my only guide.

Off I went, on what Maps said would be a 29-minute walk. Wellll yeah, not so fast. haha I’d forgotten how easy it is to get lost in Venice, as the narrow streets (and by “narrow,” I mean they measure about 6 people across) look the same, and some aren’t labeled very well, or at all.

Ninety minutes later, after schlepping 20 lbs. of gear in the 90-degree heat, I dragged into my hotel, whereupon I was told my room wasn’t ready yet. Yay! So I left my backpack behind the front desk, went to the lobby rest room and washed my face and drank a gallon of water directly from the sink, and set out to find lunch and rest — which I did. The pasta carbonara was great, as was the air-conditioned restaurant. I returned an hour later, checked into my room, got a shower and clean clothes and a bit of a nap, and felt a ton better.

By that time, it was getting to be late afternoon, and I was still dragged out. The only thing I did last night was venture out after the sun went down to find a pharmacy (left my clippers, tweezers and Tylenol on my desk at home), so I had a nice stroll. But I still hated the crowds.

So what do you do when you want to get a nice photo, but hate the pressing crowds? Wake up early, before the three cruise ships parked just outside St. Mark’s get their breakfasts over with and barf everyone down the gangway.

It was a beautiful experience, watching the sun come up. Behold, the city at 5:55 a.m….

A back canal with no traffic (yet)

 

Basilica di San Marco, with the sun rising behind it

 

Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)

 

I saw four different couples having their wedding pictures taken.

 

Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) — the most famous in Venice, built in the late 1580s. (And usually crammed with a thousand writhing bodies, but not at 6:30 a.m.)

 

Beautiful and serene; the calm before the hurricane.

 

I went to the market and watched them set up for the day’s business. Everything looked delicious!

 

Hey, what say we have some of these slimy, gelatinous things for dinner tonight? *hORk*

So I beat the tourists after all, at least for one hour. Today, Kay and Bob arrive in the city — looking forward to sitting over a long meal and catching up. I’ll report on our wanderings later — thanks for checking in! Hope you enjoyed the photos.

Hugs