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Mountains, Lakes and Mini Cities

Coffee with Kofi

semi-overcast 10 °C

The bus trip from Dubrovnik to Zagreb started with another scenic winding coastal road. The Dalmatian coast from Dubrovnik to Zadar is littered with islands floating in jade waters, inlets with quaint villages of white stone buildings and terracotta roofs with the ever present olive groves and pencils pines neatly arranged within small stone fences. There is no shortage of stones. After a few hours heading up the coast we diverted into the mountains for a lunch stop, gawked at the beautiful view and then it was up and away into the mountains proper. Huge peaks, kilometres of tunnels, massive bridges and barren rocky landscape. Finally we reached the top of the peaks and wide open valleys appeared with larger settlements, orderly fields making a patch work across the valleys between small 3 storey houses, of varying colour from pale green through tangerine to iridescent yellow. Large stands of dark green pine trees are interspersed with naked silver birch and the early signs of spring blossom on leafless fruit trees; the scenery made more romantic by a haze of smoke settled in the valleys, caused by controlled burning of grass presumably by farmers in the area. We had heard and read that Zagreb is the financial and administrative capital and so we planned to spend one night there before heading on to Ljubjlana, Slovenia.

Alighting from the bus at Zagreb, we were pleased to be able to catch a quick tram trip to our accommodation, The Main Square Residence, which, oddly enough, sits at the edge of the main square. A lovely art nouveau building which is in the process of being restored from years as an office block. The receptionist carried our luggage to our rooms and in answer to our questions, suggested Boban's restaurant, which is apparently owned by a star local footballer. Despite our misgivings, it turned out to be delightful. An antipasti of various meats and cheeses was followed by the most enormous sirloin we had ever seen, to share. It was all absolutely delicious, particularly the accompanying red wine and we finished the lot off with dessert and coffee. You've probably guessed that we almost got stuck in the alleyway on the way home, such was our girth and to be fair the road was only wide enough for one or two cars!

An early night saw us well rested by the next morning and raring to board the train for Ljubljana. We had envisaged a return to flash Euro style trains and were slightly disappointed to find that ours was in fact an older style train; not to worry, without delay we were being whisked through the suburbs of Zagreb toward the border. Again Cath’s Australian passport caused some interest at the border and Ian’s UK one was given a cursory glance, and to his ongoing displeasure, no stamp for him and two for Cath.

Once across the border into Slovenia we followed a broad dark green river, which had been dammed in several places, through bucolic valleys of trellised fruit trees, vines and fields ploughed, awaiting spring crops. The fields interrupted by large forests climbing the gently sloping hills where large houses and churches could be seen amongst the forest. Picturesque villages of no more than 30 houses, surrounding the ubiquitous church dotted the banks of the river and the slopes of the valleys. We had been struck by the tidiness of the rural areas in Croatia and this appeared to have continued into Slovenia, everything appeared very orderly and cared for.

As ever in this part of Europe it was not long before we were heading into mountain passes, where at times it seemed impossible that the train would not topple from a craggy outcrop into the river below. After chugging uphill for an hour or so we reached a plateau where fields gave way to a small city before we headed up the next peak. Eventually the countryside flattened out and in no time we were on the outskirts of Ljubljana. The numerous high rise apartments gave a somewhat false impression of the city as these quickly gave way to older buildings from the turn of the 19th century and suddenly we were at the station and walking through a rather modern CBD.

Our apartment was only 2 kilometres from the railway station, but we traversed a continually changing, but still well integrated collection of buildings, ranging from the ultra modern, to quaint and ancient. Our apartment on the 3rd floor of an otherwise nondescript, possibly communist era 5 storey building, turned out to be delightful, with a vista over a local park, filled with very old trees, a courtyard and one of many statues that we have since found throughout the city.

Sunday found us ready for a lazy stroll in the morning sunshine. Ljubljana is remarkably compact and we are, after all, only a few blocks from the river and centre of town. The mixture of architecture here is quite reminiscent of Prague. Whilst not as grand, it has a similar eclectic mix. There are broad boulevards along the river, populated by restaurants' tables and chairs and it was lovely to stroll past a flea market, negotiate three or five different bridges and have the opportunity to admire quite a large number of unusual sculptures (many appear to be by the same artist, whose style is fairly idiosyncratic one might say Daliesque). We finally found a table and chairs in the sun and sat back to enjoy the locals at their weekend.

Monday was market day. Although it is still the off season, there were plenty of stalls, both inside the traditional market building and outside where a variety of fresh vegetables were available. We staggered home, laden with bags of veggies, fruits, sausages, breads and a variety of stuff, which Cath was looking forward to turning into dinners and lunches and breakfast and more dinners!! The rest of the afternoon saw Cath whip up a storm of food, while Ian whipped out a couple of bottles of red and the blend culminated in a roast chicken dinner. With wine of course; oh and a quiet wee dram afterwards....

After a lazy day Tuesday, Wednesday was determined to be Lake Bled day. What a fabulous trip! We caught a very comfortable bus to Bled and as the lake actually sits right next to it, we were off immediately. As is our want, we decided to do the lake clockwise, after correctly noting that almost everyone else went in the opposite direction. By the time we had traipsed around the lake's edge, just past the town, we found a small grass embankment where we set up a picnic. The backdrop being the lake, the castle and enormous snow capped peaks set impossibly high was stunning. Sometimes the grandeur of nature just can't be captured in a photo... Anyway, having finished lunch off with Kremsnita, the local cake (think vanilla slice on steroids) we continued the walk around the lake, until we had reached the "Gondoliers" of Lake Bled. These men row Gondolas, out to the island, while standing up at the rear of the punts. We boarded and were in no time walking up the endless stone steps to the top of the island, where an ancient monastery still stands, Ian neglecting the traditional carrying of his bride to the top of the stairs; apparently this will happen when "my wife has the same surname as me". We were given half an hour to wander the island, before we were quickly returned to shore and finally completed our circumnavigation. A quick red wine overlooking the lake was required to warm up before we caught the bus home. We headed off to our local, a manga style street art covered but trendy bar where English is the 4th language of everybody but us, for a couple of night caps before returning to our lovely warm apartment.

Travelling for an extended time has given us the chance to have days where we relax and wander in our local neighbourhood, Thursday was one of those. Our apartment overlooks a park, gallery and embassies and it is great people watching sitting at the breakfast table with a couple of coffees and the newspapers. A wander through the Tivoli Gardens and home again, to keep out of the cold grey afternoon and plan our next steps, the coast of Slovenia and finally Italy.

Our last day in Ljubljana turned out to be a rainy grey day and although it was pleasant to see rain and not snow we decided it was best to have a few drinks, video chat to Australia and laze around, all in all a very successful rainy day. Never ones to let an opportunity for a drink pass us by we then wandered in the snow (you guessed it the rain gave way to snow) to our little local for a few quite Friday night drinks and by the time we were ready for home the streets were covered in a blanket of snow, making our last walk in lovely Ljubljana a very romantic, if slippery stroll home.

Saturday morning saw us up and about in beautiful sunshine for our trip to Piran, which is on the Adriatic coast and touted as the Jewel of the Adriatic. The bus trip was once again a pleasure, passing through countryside surrounded by huge snow capped peaks, fields covered in a thick blanket of snow and frost and small villages slowly bursting out of winter into spring. And then we rounded a bend and magic happened, enormous snow covered peaks surrounded beautiful jade green water, the Adriatic. The snow covered fields gave way to terraced groves of olive trees and grape vines tidily awaiting spring as we arrived into very touristy Porterose and finally our pretty seaside town of Piran. Piran is said to rival Venice, without the crowds. It does appear quite a bit smaller than we imagine Venice to be, but the gorgeously coloured buildings built right up to the shore are surely not far behind. A lovely afternoon spent wining and dining before an afternoon nap.

Posted by Seantiel 06:50 Archived in Slovenia

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