Eastern Europe Tour

Day 15 Sunday June 3, 2007
Rab - Ljubljana - Lake Bled

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The whole town of Rab celebrated Croatia's victory over Estonia the previous evening. I was awakened every hour or two by noise from the street. We could not complain that we were not warned. I should have used the ear plugs.

I woke up at about the usual time. I was very thirsty. I immediately consumed almost a liter of water. It never dawned on me that my parched state might be due to the anchovies on the previous evening's pizza until Sue suggested it.

I made an executive decision to pitch the underwear that was not yet dry. It was a little the worse for wear anyway. I used the hotel's hair dryer on socks and the remaining undies until they were tolerably dry. The brown pants were still damp around the waist band. It was probably a mistake to bring them on the trip. That was really the only packing decision that I have second-guessed, however.

If you are going to dive off of the dock, don't do it in your car.

Sue brought her double backpack with her down to breakfast. On the second trip she carried the rest of her stuff, which now included a mysterious black plastic bag.

I heard a rumor that someone had been stuck in the elevator. I never did find out who, if anyone, had been the victim. No one seemed too traumatized.

Patti showed a set of little plastic bags that she was using to hold her leftover coins from each country. I don't know if she purchased these bags on the trip, or if she planned ahead enough to pack them. My technique has been to try to spend 100 percent of my currency.

We had to wait a little longer for the ferry this time. There was absolutely nothing to do at the ferry port, which is part of Rab's moonscape. I had my computer with me, so I transcribed some of my handwritten notes to Word documents.

Susana announced the taxi times and rates. Our 7 a.m. flight to Prague was the very first flight. We would need to depart for the airport at 5 a.m. The cost would be €45. I really appreciated that Susana arranged the transportation and the costs to the airport. I suspected that we might have been cheated by the driver from our hotel two years ago. It was not a lot of money, but it meant that the last memory of the trip was a sour one.

It was too chilly in Senj for anyone else to consider going shirtless. That one dude is pointing at ...

... a suspected capitalist near the Autotrans bus.

The bus made another bathroom stop in Senj. It was chilly and windy. Everyone seemed to be ready to get back on the bus almost as soon as we were let off. I spent my last four kune on a turtle-shaped postcard for Sue. The clerk started to give me some virtually worthless lipe.

We learned that toilets were actually free at Ivana's Fast Food place. Sometimes the little victories in life are what make it worthwhile.

Susana played some Bosnian music while we were driving through Croatia. I think that the performer was named Bogunovic or something like that. It was not my cup of tee. She also mentioned a movie entitled "Queen Margot," but I did not write down what she said about it. Maybe it was shot in this part of the world.

A town in norther Croatia.

Susana told us that the Krk bridge, which connects Krk island with mainland Croatia, was the longest bridge employing concrete arches in the world when it was constructed in 1980.

The country was still quite mountainous north of Senj. We went through several tunnels until we came to the largest city in the area, Rijeka. It was heavily industrialized with a concentration of oil refining, fishing, and chemical plants. Fishing was a big industry in the Adriatic. According to Susana 80 percent of the product of the tuna farming was shipped to Japan. The city had approximately 170,000 people, which placed it third in Croatia after Zagreb and Dubrovnik.

A working Croatian port.

Susana said that the infrastructure for tourism in Croatia was not very good. It seemed a little strange that they would have trouble providing for tourists. They have been in that business for quite a long time. Perhaps they grew a little complacent, or perhaps the young people are not as driven as the young people of the countries that were allowed to throw off their fetters in 1989.

We drove past the little Croatian town of Bakar. I thought that Susana said something about a UNESCO-protected site, but I may have misunderstood. As we approached the border of Slovenia we were very close to the finger of Italy that juts down the eastern Adriatic coast.

Susana said that the two hottest vacation spots in Croatia are Istria and the Dalmatian coast. I read somewhere that Silvio Berlusconi had made an effort to claim Istria for Italy. Susana described Opatija as the one Croatian resort town outside of those two areas that has long been a popular tourist destination.

Do viđenjia to Croatia.

Some were shooting it; some were making it at this state-of-the-art facility at the border.

We stopped for another bathroom break just before border. Lots of people got out, but I stayed on the bus. I therefore cannot testify to the state of the facilities. The building certainly inspired little confidence.

Croatia was the first country that provided a sign saying good-bye in several languages. I also noticed that there was no dot on the first i in Arrivederci, even though the second i was dotted.

We approached the border check with some trepidation because we knew that we were re-entering the European Union. However, there was nothing whatever to the departure from Croatia. On the Slovenian side the man stamped passports with very little delay.

Susana told us that Emperor Charles V brought horses from Andalusia in Spain to Austria. The name comes from the village of Lipica, which was then part of Austria but now is in Slovenia. She said that Lipizzan horses are black at birth, but they turn white as they mature. All of their movements are apparently natural.

Almost as soon as we entered Slovenia we passed a billboard that featured a naked man and woman. Their most private parts were not on display, but the lady's boobs were not concealed in any way. We saw the same billboard several times. Once it was partially defaced. I never really noticed what product it was pitching.

Slovenia was notably greener than Croatia. The rugged look of the Croatian mountains seemed to disappear almost immediately. There was much more of an Alpine feel.

Susana told us that the revolution in Slovenia only lasted ten days. In June of 1991 Slobodan Milošević let them secede from Yugoslavia if they turned in their arms. They quickly agreed to do so and have been thriving ever since. Slovenia joined NATO and the European Union in 2004 and converted to the euro in 2007.

Evidently the Slovenians are literally crazy about all kinds of extreme sports. They will often push themselves beyond normal limits.

Slovenian food is characterized by meat, sauerkraut, groats, strudel, pršut (prosciutto), the slow food movement, and truffles. The people of Slovenia claim that their truffles are as good as the ones found in Italy.

Susana told us that the Tito regime promoted the local Slovenian soft drink called Cockta as an alternative to Coca Cola. Cockta has recently enjoyed a nostalgic revival. I made a mental note to try and look for it. [I should have made a physical note; I never ordered it or saw it in a store.]

Slovenia's climate allowed growing of grapes for wine in three regions. One is near the Italian border. The other two are on the countries eastern edge.

The grounds at Hudičevec were much more impressive than the food.

Slovenia was famous for its desserts. Susana said that there was an abundance pastry shops. Their specialties are a cream cake and a rolled pastry with walnuts called potica. I especially was looking forward to trying the latter to compare it with the delicious povitica that my grandmother and mother used to make. I asked Susana and Bojan about povitica, but neither of them had ever heard of it. [By the time that we reached Lake Bled I had forgotten all about this; I never even looked for potica.]

We stopped for lunch at a place named Hudičevec near Postojna. The people who ran the place were not ready us when we arrived. This was really the first time that there was any kind of a glitch in the plans, not counting when the bus could not leave because I left my backpack in the school in Recsk. Fortunately there was a lot to occupy our attention on the grounds of Hudičevec. A flock of sheep tended by two white dogs attracted most of the tour group. There was also a small soccer field, a bocce court, a trampoline, a playground, and a basketball hoop. Nobody complained about wandering around the fields for a few minutes.

The flock included lambs that were still uncertain on their feet ...

... and a few black sheep.

A pair of white dogs maintained law and order.

These cattle were more receptive to Bojan's horn.

Nedra, Susana, and Barbara discuss decoherence, eigenstates, and the paradox of Schrödinger's cat.

There was plenty of time to get in a game or two of bocce.

L is for Lyle and Luxembourg.

A side view of Hudičevec.

Hungry travelers get impatient.

It was wine or water, but not both.

All this waiting for cold cuts?

The lunch was rather meager. The laid out some prosciutto, cheese, and bread. There was wine and water, but everyone had only one glass. So, if you wanted some water, you either had to forgo the wine or use the same glass. This was by far the skimpiest meal of the trip. The place was all atmosphere.

There was one unexpected bonus. I turned my computer on while the bus was still parked. It found an unsecured wifi spot that I was able to use for a few minutes. So I managed to sign on to the Internet and download my e-mail. There was nothing earth-shattering. It eased my conscience to know that nothing crucial was pending.

The invasion of Ljubljana.

Bojan then drove us to Ljubljana, a town of approximately 265,000 people. We knew ahead of time that not very much would be open in the city. The guide book warned that the town was dead on Sundays.

Prešeren overlooks his round Square.

The bus went all the way into town and let us off in Congress Square, a very lovely little park. We wasted no time there. Instead we trooped down to Prešeren Square (which actually seems to be round) as a group. Susana pointed out the nearby Triple Bridge and explained how to find the Dragon Bridge, which was just a little ways up (or maybe down) the river. From there it was not too difficult to find the small funicular that led to the Castle.

No cruising on this river.

I was shocked by Ljubljana. From the write-up in the guidebook I thought that Ljubljana was nearly in the same league as Prague, Kraków, and Budapest. It was a pleasant enough place, but it was nowhere near as grand or as exciting as any of those cities. The stream that flows through Ljubljana, the Ljubljanica River, barely qualified as a river. With a good tail wind you could spit across it. It was nothing like the Vltava or the Vistula, and it scarcely seemed fair to put it in the same universe as the Danube. I also was expecting great things from Ljubljana's chief architect, Jože Plečnik. The two bridges were nice enough, but they were nothing to write home about. It seemed to my uneducated eye to be much ado about nothing. I had to wonder if Plečnik's "newfound touristic currency" was the guide book's self-fulfilling prophecy.

An Irish citizen would make a tasty lunch for a Slovenian dragon.

Sue and I walked down to the Dragon Bridge. We took the requisite photos and then walked up to the funicular. Sue decided to take the funicular up to the castle. I decided to try an find the trail that was supposed to be nearby. After a few unproductive searches I ran into Patti, who was taking photos and movies of Tom going up the funicular. I then carefully followed the instructions for finding the path in the guide book. I located the statue of Vodnik. I crossed the street and went up the alley. It eventually deteriorated into a wide and steep path. I never encountered anyone until I reached the grounds of the castle.

I located Sue without much difficulty. We trooped around a little together, but it was pretty hot for her. I wanted to climb the tower, but she was not interested.

The funicular is the easy way ...

To reach the grounds of the castle.

The adventurous must locate Vodnik's statue.

Ljubljana and its river as seen from the tower of the castle.

Another view of Ljubljana.

The tower's view of the castle grounds.

I walked over to the tower and bought my ticket. The ticket included the right to climb the tower and the right to see the movie. The young lady at the desk told me that the movie would start in twenty minute. She said that I could climb the tower. I decided that I would not have enough time to see the whole movie, so I concentrated on the tower. The climb was easy, and the views were quite impressive. It was a hazy day; if it had been clear we would have been able to see the mountains more distinctly, and the shots of the city below would have been extremely impressive. The most fun that I had in Ljubljana was in photographing the city and the castle grounds from the top of the tower. I was even able to find the park in which the bus had let us off.

A clock tower and steeple near the castle.

The pink church of St. Mary in Prešeren Square.

All those trees are in Congress Square.

This kid took the steep path down.

I took the other one.

On the return trip down from the castle I decided to take the other path. It was a little less steep, but it ended quite a way away from the triple bridge. I was shocked to see that the streets seemed to be almost completely deserted. However, after I had walked a few blocks, I encountered a large number of people at sidewalk cafes on a long pedestrian street that I think was actually the Town Square. Everyone seemed relaxed and care-free.

Along the way I stopped at a pastry shop and gelateria named Crem Caffe. I got two scoops of pistacchio in a cup. It looked like gelato, but it did not taste like gelato. It was cold, however, and the day was a little warm.

When I got back to the Triple Bridge I used the men's room. It cost .17€ (or maybe I should write ,17€). I ran into Paul Miller on my way out, and I warned him about the charge. For some reason he thought that that was funny. Maybe it was because it was such an odd amount.

The sign at the bottom of the path.

One of Ljubljana's picturesque fountain.

Where is everybody?

When I reached Prešeren Square, I saw Joanne and Lee finishing up their own ice cream. I asked them what flavors they got. Lee had selected chocolate with vanilla specks. Joanne opted for lemon. They both said that their treats were pretty good.

Ice cream was the food of choice at these cafes.

The Fountain of the Three Carolinia Rivers framed by two towers.

The train went up to the castle.

Harlyn, Audrey, Sue, and obviously potable water.

The administration building of the University of Ljubljana.

I walked back to the park and immediately found Sue sitting with the Thompsons on the edge of a small fountain. The fountain had a stream issuing from a stone pot about chest high. Sue had consumed some of this water, and now she was worried about whether the water was potable. I assured her that it had to be potable; it came out of a pot. I expected her to break out in laughter, but she just looked at me.

The bus stopped at a toll booth between Ljubljana and Lake Bled. Evidently the Slovenes have figured out capitalism. They took Diner's Club, Visa. Mastercard, and American Express.

This would be the last leg of journeys with Bojan. He addressed the bus with a few inspirational remarks that ended with a story about the Slovenians that visited one of the pilgrimage sites. He said that one day a man came out of the church screaming, "I can walk again; I can walk again." A devout pilgrim asked him if it was a miracle. He said, "No. Someone stole my bicycle. I can walk again."

A Slovenian village.

These hay racks are supposed to be memorable for some reason.

Andy was up for flying in the sail plane, but his ball and chain vetoed the idea.

The view of the island from our hotel room on the hazy evening of our arrival.

The castle was also visible above the casino.

When we arrived at Lake Bled, Bojan drove us halfway around the lake. I resolved that one of the first things that I would do was to jog around the lake that evening.

Sue were assigned room #204 in the Hotel Lovec, which was part of the Best Western chain. They gave us two electronic keys to the room. It took us a while to figure out the electricity. In fact, Sue was on the phone with them when I discovered the little box by the door in which one had to insert the key. We had stayed in a hotel with the same configuration in Sorrento four years ago. On that occasion we had only one key. This time at least we had a second one.

Eat your heart out, Rudy Maxa. This room had a jacuzzi, ...

... a towel rack, ...

... and my own private office and nap room.

In a way we had our own elevator. It had a special button for rooms 201-204. The back door opened, and we went into our room. It had an extra room for a second bed. I figured that I could use this to work in the morning while Sue was sleeping. I was thrilled to see that the bath tub had jets like a Jacuzzi. We found out a little later that free ADSL access was available from the hotel. They lent Ethernet cables, just as the hotel in Krakow had.

It was only a little after 6. I told Tom that I planned to go jogging around the lake. He said that I should call him when I was done so that he and Patti and I could go out to supper together. Sue planned to consume some portion of the commissary that she has been hauling around. I got all of my batteries recharging, did my stretching exercises, and took off.

I had to drop through some retail establishments and restaurants to reach the path around the lake. The first half mile or so was basically a slalom around unpredictable tourists. For the most part the path was flat asphalt. After the pedestrians thinned out, I followed a young man on roller blades for quite a while. He finally left me behind on a downhill stretch.

An unusual chess set encased in glass near the lake.

The views of the island were quite nice, but I did not stop to savor them. I was surprised to see some kids jumping off of the top of a building into the lake. I got to the other side at about 7. I thought that I was about halfway done, but I must have been wrong. The other side seemed nicer - much more peaceful. A sign said that it was 21°. That is roughly 70° Fahrenheit. It did not seem that warm.

The second half was a little more stressful. For a good stretch the walking path converged with the road. The gravelly part was barely a foot or two wide, and some of the cars and motorcycles were moving at disturbingly high speeds.

I saw Lyle walking from the hotel as I finished. He seemed quite surprised that I had run all the way around the lake. It was only a little over three miles. Anyone in halfway decent shape could do that.

The pub.

I arrived back the room at 7:30. I immediately started filling up the tub. Soaking in the jacuzzi would make me a little late for supper, but I figured that Patti and Tom would understand. This was Europe. Hardly anyone eats before 8. The Jacuzzi was great. I could really get used to this kind of treatment. I just hoped that I did not fall asleep during supper.

This is food for only three people.

Tom chose Gostilna Pri Planincu as our supper venue. The pub was a ten-minute walk, but it was definitely worth it. I had half of a huge grilled chicken, an enormous helping potatoes, and a salad that contained lettuce, tomatoes, shaved carrots, beans, and other stuff. Patti had a cappuccino and the pork a la Ljubljana, which was similar to Cordon Bleu. Tom easily polished off his risotto with sea food and helped Patti with hers. We drank Union beer. For the first time on the trip I was not a member of the clean plate club.

Tom gave a learned disquisition concerning the worthlessness of scampi. This was the second time that he had had to do battle with a scampo for a thimbleful of meat. He said that they were much too difficult to get at, made a big mess, and offered a meager reward.

The Hotel Lovec offered an unusually large number of keepsake items.

At the end of the feast, I consulted the Slovenian phrases section of my guide book and then confidently asked the waiter, "Račun, prosim." He said, "Sure. How did you like the meal? Was the food OK?" The couple across the aisle from us ordered in Italian, and he sounded equally fluent in answering their questions.

The food certainly was much better than OK, and the three of us only spent €40 altogether. Patti thought that it was the best meal of the trip. I could not think of a better one. I only wished that I had looked to see if they had potica. I could not possibly have eaten another bite, but maybe I could have taken it back and shared it with Sue.

We walked directly back to the hotel. As usual I had no difficulty getting to sleep.