(All photos © Sean D Sorrentino, 2012)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Aren’t FIATs supposed to be crap?

Though everyone thinks that FIAT means Fix It Again Tony, it actually mean Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or “Italian Automobile Factory of Turin.” FIATs have a poor reputation in the US, probably because the FIATs that were imported into the US back a couple of decades ago were total garbage. They must have improved a bit since then.

I picked the FIAT Punto as our rental car mostly because it was the smallest and therefore cheapest car available to us. Less money spent on car rental means more money to spend on other things. There are only the two of us, so really all we needed were two seats, a roof, and a secure storage location for our luggage. As much as I wanted to tool around Slovenia in a BMW, I couldn’t justify the expense.

As you can see, the Punto isn’t much to look at. It’s your typical four door Euro hatchback. Ours was grey, which turned out to be about the most common vehicle we saw. It seemed that everyone had a grey hatchback, though there were several makes and models to choose from. I couldn’t really tell them apart without looking at the badges.

What was surprising was that it was a diesel. I understand that diesel cars are more popular in Europe, for the lower gas mileage. This is certainly important when you live with governments that artificially raise the price of auto fuels to an even greater extent than we do in the US. We were paying about 1.65 Euros per liter, which works out to an arm, and most of a leg per gallon. Since there is no earthly reason that fuel should cost so much, I can only assume that the governments are getting rich taxing the fuel so much. Watching the dials on the fuel pump spin was a bit like watching a slot machine whirl.

In any case, we were in the parking deck in Venice before I realized that the car was diesel powered. I started the thing up and then decided to stick something in the back when I realized that the engine idled pretty rough. It sounded like a diesel. Checking the gas cap, sure enough, “Diesel Fuel Only.” I thought that was pretty cool. Once I started listening to it, I could tell from inside the car, but it didn’t announce itself as a diesel the way some of the older cars do.

It also has a engine cut-off so that if you are waiting at a light and take the car out of gear and let off the clutch, the engine shuts off. This is supposed to save you gas. It sounds like a much cooler feature than it really is. It’s really a pain in the backside. I was taught not to let out the clutch at lights, so that you can make a quick departure if something is coming your way. That meant that I was in Ljubljana before that particular feature made itself known. I’d been driving it for 4 or 5 days at that point. The engine cutting off at a light is disconcerting. It took me no time at all to figure out what had happened, but it was still a bit of a shock. Then you had to plan your departure at the light so that the car had time to restart before you slapped it into gear.

That brings up two bigger issues. The car had a standard transmission. I am about to offend a lot of people, but I don’t really care. Sometimes you need to hear that you are wrong. Standard transmissions suck. There’s no earthly reason for anyone to drive a standard transmission. Maybe back in the day when automatics were spotty, but not now. They’ve really worked out all the bugs. “But, But, But,” you say, “standard transmissions save gas!” Baloney. It is technically possible, with perfect driving, to achieve slightly better gas economy with a standard transmission than with an auto. But you don’t drive that well. No one does. I once looked at a pair of Mustangs side by side. They were identical except for the transmission. The auto got rated slightly lower in gas mileage. At least I thought that they were identical, until the salesman pointed out that the differentials had different gear ratios. The auto was geared slightly lower, and therefore got slightly worse gas mileage on the highway. Mostly people need to stop pretending that they are Mario Andretti and get the automatic. It saves a whole lot of trouble in traffic and you are less likely to roll backwards into me at an uphill light.

The other problem was that it didn’t have cruise control. Here’s another one of those things that the “I want to do it all myself” people get wrong. I think that cruise control should be mandatory. I don’t give a damn what you set it to, but please, set your cruise control. You can’t maintain a steady speed. I know you can’t because I drive next to you with my cruise control on and you can’t maintain a steady speed. Cruise control is your key to never receiving another speeding ticket again. In the US, I set my speed to 5 MPH over the speed limit and wave at the cops as I drive past their radar traps. I consistently get to my destination faster than my GPS says I will, and I don’t worry at all about getting pulled over. In Europe, I didn’t dare speed. I have no idea what the threshold for getting pulled over is, and I didn’t want to find out. I would have really liked to be able to set my speed to 130 KPH on the motorways and just not worry about anything.

These, however, were minor complaints, and easily rectified by ticking the right boxes on the order forms. Where this car shined was going over Vršič Pass. As terrifying as it was, once we figured out how to turn off the traction control so we could spin our wheels up the final climb the car never put a foot wrong. Because it was so lightweight it had very little trouble maintaining enough traction to stay under control all the way down. There were several times that we rode the ABS all the way into and through a corner. The little car just turned in and went where I pointed it without complaint. I liked the car before the Pass. I loved it afterwards.

As for carrying capacity, it did well. My wife had one of those standard sized suitcases that no one uses anymore. It even had those stupid castoring wheels on the bottom that don’t work for rolling, take up space in the trunk, and break off at the slightest provocation. Hers died in Piran. That case laid flat in the trunk, and there was space on one end for my panel loader travel case. Her identical panel loader laid on top of her suitcase, leaving room for my daypack sized backpack, our jackets, and our dirty laundry. When we closed the hatchback, the little cover came down and it looked like there was nothing in the car. For such a tiny little car it did great for trunk space. Inside, we had no issues at all. I am 5’10” and still somewhat over 200 lbs. My wife is 6 feet tall and used to play girls tackle football. Neither of us is what you would consider svelte. We fit just fine, with no dueling elbows. An armrest between the seats would have been nice, but that’s probably no further away than just another check in the box at ordering time.

Of all the things on the car, there was just one thing that was just plain stupid. There were options I would have liked to have, like the auto transmission, cruise control, and an armrest, but these weren’t stupid engineering decisions. The only thing I found that just drove me up the wall was the key fob. Here it is closed.

And here it is with the key deployed.

It was a sort of switchblade key. This sounds like a good idea. It’s actually stupid beyond belief. If it actually stayed folded up when you put it in your pocket it would be nice. Unfortunately, the idiot who engineered it made the FIAT logo push button way too easy to activate. That means the key spent almost all of its time in my pocket in the open position. Someone please tell the FIAT engineers to either abandon this stupid idea or at least recess the button and make it harder to activate.

All in all, a good little car. If FIAT decided to sell the Punto in the US, and the wife decided to buy one, I’d endorse the decision in a minute. My automobile decisions are made for me by my company, but the wife has been looking for a cute little hatchback for a while. So you marketing execs at FIAT, now’s your chance to get back into the US market. You’d probably sell at least one, to my wife.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:

These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.

Friday, June 8, 2012

An unexpected wine tour

We had expected that today would be a drive down to Nova Gorica, that being the closest major town to the airport for our flight home tomorrow. Zep, my paraglider pilot, gave us a better idea. He sent us to friends of his in an area a bit north east of Nova Gorica, a place next to Brda called Medana. This is one of the major wine areas in Slovenia. The GPS routed us through Italy for about 45 minutes of our hour drive. It’s strange how changing countries made me nervous about the drive. I’ve been in Slovenia almost the entire time, and I’ve gotten used to the place. While they both seem to conform to Euro standard road signs, it seemed different somehow. Happily, the Carabinieri that rolled up on us with the lights running just wanted to pass us. He had more important things to worry about than American tourists.

We rolled through basically every vineyard in this part of the world and suddenly our destination appeared. To say that this place is small is an understatement of epic proportions. Apparently the rule here was that towns can only be as big as the hill they are located upon. If you build on the next hill you have to start a new town. I’m not entirely sure why they need to have a different name and town government for a place that houses 50 people and is in easy walking distance of the next town of 50 people, but that’s the way they roll.

At first we really liked the place. We were getting a nice room with a decent bathroom for 70 Euros a night. It is almost exactly 30 minutes from here to the airport, which is nice when you need to be there at 9am. The Wife will confirm to you that I am a worry wart when it comes to air travel. Early is good, ridiculously early is better. I have missed a flight before (slept through the boarding call after basic training) and I’ve had a plane leave without me (going through Canadian and US customs sequentially takes a lot of time). All kinds of stupid things can happen when you are under a time crunch. No one ever gets into a car accident or gets pulled over or gets lost when he has 2 hours to waste. It’s always when you are running late that bad things happen.

We went off to the next town over (Brda, 1.4 Km by road) to see the castle. They also had the Tourist Information Center there.

The castle was built in about 1600. I guess that by then they were less concerned with attacking armies and more with looking spiffy, so this castle doesn’t look much like a mighty fortress. It looks like the sort of castle of childhood dreams. It’s square, with a tower at each corner, and big indefensible windows where children can look out upon “their” lands. I’ll bet that over the life of the castle many child knights rode out on horseback to defend the realm, if only in their fantasies.

In addition to the restaurant on the first floor, there is a historic collection of items from the castle owners on the second floor and a gallery of art on the third. The less said about the “art” the better. It was awful. Surviving an concentration camp is great, but it apparently does not make you a great artist. The historic collection, however, was fascinating. I hadn’t even made it to the second floor when I ran straight into this, painted on the wall.

The gentleman who was running the place was at great pains to tell me that it was “Heraldic” and it was a lion. The fact that it was heraldry was what got me to stop in the first place. I think I’ve pointed out that heraldry is a hobby of mine. I had never seen a lion drawn this way before. It was rather skinny, and the claws on it made it look like it was one of those weird heraldic monsters where they combine different animals. It really looked like eagle claws to me. But no, it was just a very skinny lion.

This was across from the lion. This is instantly recognizable to every herald as an eagle. I thought it was a very fine example of what a heraldic eagle should look like. Comparing the two pictures you can see why I thought that the claws looked very similar.

I don’t know how well this photo will display, but check out this drawing on the wall of a fortified town, cannons from every turret and window, fighting a fleet of ships. I haven’t the slightest idea what town it is supposed to be, or if it was even supposed to be a real town and a real event. It seemed to me that it was a young teenager’s drawing, not something that someone had professionally commissioned. My comment to The Wife was that if I had drawn that on the wall my father would have exploded. Of course, I would not have drawn it quite so well, so that might have something to do with it.

There was a lot of heraldic stuff in this castle, but sadly it was mostly behind glass. Most of my photos are out of focus because of that. Not that I think many of you are all that interested in heraldry anyway. I mostly took the photos for reference later. Even blurry they will work for that.

After the castle tour we went to the castle wine cellars. It being a wine making area, they have decided to band together and turn the whole area into a great big agritourism center. There are apparently many wine cellars to explore, but we decided just to hit the one below the castle. The very nice lady there spent about an hour and a half letting us taste different white wines to see if The Wife and I could agree on one of them. We did, eventually, but realistically I should just avoid wine altogether. Most of it tastes like crap to me, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of alcohol in order to get me drunk. I am a lightweight from a long line of lightweights, so I come by it honestly. We bought a few bottles of one that we both liked, but I fully expect that the baggage handlers will smash the bottles in our luggage on the flight home. I would like to take the time to tell you how I feel about stupid carry on restrictions preventing me from hand carrying wine in my carryon luggage, but I haven’t made this blog age restricted, so I shouldn’t use that sort of language here.

Well the day was going along just fine until the point that we left the castle, wine in hand. That’s when it all started to go wrong. You’d thing that with a view like this, my lunch would have been fantastic, right?

Nope. I think we fell into a black hole and emerged in the “slow food” universe. Let’s be honest, no matter what you are doing lunch should not take two hours for two people. I get that the point is to slow down and enjoy good food, good drinks, and good conversation, but this is ridiculous. The Wife has been trapped in a car or a hotel room with me for two weeks. She has nothing left to say to me. We’re tapped out in the conversation department. She’s been everywhere I’ve been, and we’ve already talked about it, so we were reduced to staring at each other for 2 hours, occasionally interrupted by food. Plus it was cold in the shade. We took to getting up and walking over to the sunny spot to warm up. We got in at 3pm and we left at 5pm. It cost us 60 Euros. It was beautiful, the food was nice, and if anyone tries to take me back I will stab them with a fork.

We survived. We also got an inside view of how Europeans view geography. Remember that tree on a pole thing I talked about back during the drive down the Sava River? There was one in Medana as well. We asked our waitress what it was, since we still had not found out. She looked at this great big pole with a very obvious tree on top, wreaths underneath, and flying a big damn Slovenian flag and professed herself surprised that it was there. She hadn’t ever seen it before. Now I have no idea how you drive anywhere near such a thing and not ask yourself “Hey, what’s with the tree on top of a wooden flagpole?” But apparently this girl had never bothered to pick her eyes that far off the ground. Now bear in mind, Nova Gorica is about 15 kilometers away by road. That’s less than 10 miles. Her excuse for not having any idea what this thing signified was “I’m not from around here, I’m from Nova Gorica.”

We went back to our room. We marveled that someone had confirmed the stereotype of Europeans as people who think that 100 miles is a long way (and we are people who think that 100 years is a long time). There was no WiFi connection at the room, so we decided to pack the computers with us to dinner. The place we stayed has rooms in a different “town” than the restaurant. That means we made the long drive of about half a kilometer back to their restaurant, which was across the street from the slow food lunch disaster. The internet connection sucked there too. We should have gone to Nova Gorica. Sure, they apparently breed oblivious women that take all day to serve a lunch, but maybe they would have both an internet connection and a restaurant that didn’t punch every single “this is pretentious horseshit” button I have. I would honestly have settled for a Big Mac at that point. It finally occurred to us to go inside to escape the screaming children in the courtyard playing some European version of Calvinball. Then our hosts made sure to do the two person version of the foodie Chinese Water Torture. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the lunch and the dinner was that the lunch place had a bigger staff with which to ignore us. They charged us 65 Euros.

Bottom line. Go to Brda. See the castle and taste some wine. The go somewhere else to sleep and eat. There is no good reason to go to Medana. Not unless you have a backside made of cast iron, the patience of a saint, and are some sort of rich, pretentious fool.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:

These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

From down in the mud to high in the sky

I think I’ve pointed out that this area was a big battlefield for a couple of years during WWI.

It’s hard to look out at the mountains and the valleys and imagine that for more than 2 years the Italians and the Austro-Hungarians pounded each other silly. What a travesty. War is an ugly and brutal thing, how much more when such ugliness is visited upon such a beautiful place.

We took the morning to drive just outside of town to a pair of forts built by the Austro-Hungarians. I knew that they had fortified this area before WWI, but I had no idea why they did so. It turns out that they had good reason to believe that this was a good place to invade them from. This is where Napoleon invaded. Naturally, the Austro-Hungarians took the past as prologue and resolved not to get caught with their pants down ever again. To that end they built some fortifications.

This is the fortress Kluže

And this is Fort Hermann

You can see the damage left by the Italian shelling of Fort Hermann. I’d rather not imagine having to live there during that shelling.

This is a military cemetery for the Austro-Hungarian dead. They moved the Italian dead to Kobarid, which is more famously known by its Italian name, Caporetto.

I spent my time as an infantryman. I didn’t fear deserts. I grew up in Los Angeles, so deserts were old hat. It was cold that I hated. I can’t imagine having to live through the winters here while getting shelled and shot at. It’s not like they knocked off the war until the weather got nicer.

I got to see Kobarid today as well. Though I got to see it in a much different way than Hemingway could have imagined. I went there via paraglider.

I’ve been saving this town for the last location on our trip in hopes of being able to go paragliding. Failing that I would have gone white water rafting. To be honest, I don’t think that very many of the people who come to Bovec think of the military history. They think of Bovec as a center for adventure sports like white water, paragliding, and skiing. It’s only people like me who wander around kicking over rocks and wishing I had a metal detector.

We arrived at Avantura at 4pm and once weather got checked, we were off in the van for a ride that was almost as much an adventure as the glide. Zep (short for the Slovene name for Joseph) drove us off the main roads and up the side of the mountain on dirt roads. The view was spectacular, but the roads rather narrower than I would have liked.

He set up the glider (they look like parachutes, but they are gliders), dressed me out in the very stylish jumpsuit,

hooked me in and away we went.

I was really worried about the takeoff. I knew, being a former paratrooper, that I could handle the landings. I’d done that before. If the worst comes to the worst, just tuck and roll. Hope you miss all the rocks. But with an inflated glider, the wind, and two people harnessed together on the edge of a steep hill, tripping Zep by being a clumsy oaf could have serious consequences. I shouldn’t have worried. I just ran when he told me to and before I knew it we had slipped the surly bonds of earth.

Forget all you think you know about this sport. It’s not an adrenaline sport at all. There’s no leaping off cliffs, death defying barnstorming, or anything really scary about it at all. You just fly.

Don’t get too close to the other gliders, stay off the rocks, and fly.

It was relaxing, if a bit chilly. I would have done better with a pair of gloves, but I did my best not to whine about it. Cold hands seemed such a small price to pay for the experience.

We flew for almost an hour. First this way and then back, searching for the best lift. Zep caught some updrafts along the hill and we were soon soaring way above our takeoff point. We looked down on two more gliders getting ready to fly.

Then we flew down the valley for a couple of kilometers, stopping here and there for updrafts, heading towards our goal, a landing in Kobarid.  We flew over the Charnel House in Kobarid. Here is where all the Italian dead were moved long after WWI.

Hemingway described his Caporetto as

I remembered it as a little white town with a campanile in a valley. It was a clean little town and there was a fine fountain in the square.

The fountain is apparently no longer there. The campanile is.

So Mr. Hemingway, your campanile is still there. The area is quiet now, and as beautiful as it ever was.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:

These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What the hell was I thinking??!!??

I’ve wanted to drive over Vršič Pass for as long as I’ve known about it. It’s the highest pass in Slovenia and it has a fascinating military history. Go read a bit about it and come right back, I’ll wait.

Pretty cool, huh? Somehow they left out the fact that it is absolutely insane in dry conditions and stupid to the point of suicidal in the snow. Can you guess what the conditions were today?

I would like to take the time to thank The Wife of 5 years for not beating me over the head with a rock once we got off that mountain. I think she remained really calm for someone trapped in a front wheel drive FIAT Punto with a husband who had not driven in snow for 3 years and had never in his life driven in snow on a mountain pass.

It started out innocently enough. We left Bohinj in the rain this morning, marveling at the beauty of the snow in the higher elevations. The wife had her anti-nausea ear patch firmly in place and was enjoying the ride out of the valleys of Bled and Bohinj.

The twisty roads yesterday didn’t sit well with her stomach, but with the patch, she had no trouble at all. What’s funny is that we were only going about 20 Kilometers as the crow flies. Of course in good weather it’s a 2 hour drive.

It was just raining during the run up to the pass. We should have paid attention to all the motorcycles in the first turn off. They were looking at their maps, probably considering other options. We drove on by, secure in our ignorance. Zoom, zoom, zoom, up the hill we went, looking for something I really wanted to see. The Russian Chapel was built as a memorial to 400 Russian POWs who died in an avalanche during WWI when they were building this road. I wanted to see that.

I paused for a little prayer for the souls of the poor prisoners dead building this road for the Austrians to use to attack the Italians. I will definitely be getting a copy of A Farewell to Arms, which is set in this area. The wife refused to get out of the car. It was cold, and snowing lightly. She broke out the strawberries and had a snack while I was up at the chapel. We found some mountain goat poop in the parking lot, so she left a few strawberries for them. They were a bit overripe, but she thought that the various little goats would like the treat. Plus she left them the ends of the strawberries she ate. We joked that she was leaving them as a bribe to Zlatorog, the mythical chamois goat, so he would watch over us as we went through his National Park.

It was all just fun and laughs until the car decided that 8 inches of snow and steep grades were too much for it. Just before the summit, almost 500 meters altitude above the Russian Chapel, we hit the last pitch, and the car wasn’t going to make it. I realized that it was engaging the traction control system, and making it impossible for us to go forward. There was a guy who had parked his van and was walking up the hill. We passed him, then he walked past us. At that point I found the TCS button and disengaged it. We spun the tires all the way to the top. When I say it like that it sounds so easy. It wasn’t. It was damned scary.

Then we had to go down. Here’s where it went from merely scary to terrifying. Going up we could count on gravity to stop us if we started sliding. All we had to do was hit the brakes and let gravity work with what little friction we could come up with and we’d be fine. There was even a little mountain hut on top. We could have stayed there if we had to. On the way down, gravity was no longer on our side. I swear to you with my hand on a stack of bibles that I did not exceed 15KPH all the way down. Sometimes we were in second gear with the brakes on full, ABS screaming, but I kept the speed down. I didn’t want to hit a guardrail at all, but if I did I didn’t want to be going fast enough to punch through the thing. It’s amazing how fragile they look when they are the only thing between you and a 500 meter plunge down a mountainside. In the snow. We met a van with a tour group going up. They looked like a bunch of young people who had rented a van and were off to see the sights. We told them in no uncertain terms to turn around and come back another day. I hope that they listened. I don’t think that they would have made it.

We stopped once on the way down, still in the snow, to clear the wipers.

You can see our wheel tracks behind the car. Just below here we stopped another car, a FIAT even smaller than ours. They heeded our warning and turned around. I don’t know if I saved a life today, but I think I might have. No sense anyone else being as stupid as I had just been.

Remember the strawberries? The Wife is the least superstitious person I know. She threatened to punch me out for trying to carry her across the threshold when we got married. She pulled out the strawberries and dumped a few more while we were clearing the wipers, just in case Zlatorog and his little goat friends hadn’t gotten enough near the Russian Chapel. That tells me more about how bad it was than anything.

We survived. It was an adventure. I’m glad to have lived through it, and glad to have the experience, but I’ll be damned if I ever do it again. I think that if it’s raining near that pass next time I’m in the area, I’m going around. FAR around. Those poor Russian POWs who had to build that road.

We are save in Bovec, using the internet in the café/restaurant below our hotel. The rain has stopped, but the cold remains. Tomorrow should be a nice day, so hopefully there will be more, but safer, adventures. The kind of adventures where you pay some professional guide to keep you from doing stupid crap like driving over the highest pass in Slovenia in the snow.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:
These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A long drive to the mountains

It was a terribly long drive today. It took us just a bit over two hours to drive from Ptuj to Bled. I know, It’s a terrible burden to carry, but we are trying our best to bear up under the strain. I think I’ve mentioned that Slovenia is approximately the same size as Connecticut, so that means there really aren’t too many places that are that far apart from each other.

Bled is one of those places that if you were building your own planet, and you ordered Bled, they would tell you to stop screwing around. Seriously, where else in the world do you get a picturesque castle clinging to a rocky cliff high above a lake with an island, with a church on it?


Island in lake with church on it.

It’s almost too much.

Bled is about 35 minutes from the capitol city, Ljubljana. In the USA, everyone would try to live in Bled and commute the 30-50 minutes to work every morning. Here it’s considered a vacation destination. There are lots of “villas” around the lake where very rich people in the late 1800s built their summer “cottages” on the lake. Most of those cottages look like they cost everything you and I put together will ever earn, and likely they cost exactly that when the richest people in the Austro-Hungarian Empire built them. You’ve got to see this place once in your life.

We continued down the road another 25 Kilometers or so to a quieter place called Bohinj. There’s no castle, no island, but there are several churches. One of the better skiing hills is here, Vogel. During the winter I expect that this place is slam full of skiers, but right now it’s about as quiet as a place like this can ever be. Luckily they are still running the 80 man cable car up the mountain to the ski lodge. There’s no one staying up there right now, but for 13.50 Euros, they’ll haul you almost 1000 meters up the side of the mountain to see the sights. It’s worth it. The sights are spectacular.

You can't tell, but I'm standing on metal grating. There's nothing but air beneath my feet for a very long way. A VERY long way. Have I mentioned that I'm not a fan of heights?

Then it was time for our “hotel.” I am currently parked in what can only be described as “the ass end of nowhere.” Except that there’s a road straight to this place! I can’t believe that we’re not hip deep in tourists. Here’s the view from my balcony.

In all honesty I seriously considered lying and telling you that we spent the night in the Hotel Zlaterog or some other place and keeping this place a secret. I’m afraid that if the secret gets out that it’ll be overrun. I’m staying in a tiny 6 room pension called Stare (pronounced Star-ay)[warning, auto music start]. It’s listed in Lonely Planet as “if you really want to get away from it all without having to climb mountains, this is your place.” And they’re right. You have to pass two signs that say, basically, “No Trespassing unless you are a guest.” The only other people who get this far up the road are people hiking up to the falls about an hour up the trail on foot.

And man, can these guys cook! Tonight’s dinner was trout. I hate trout, but I decided to eat here because The Wife loves the stuff. This trout was swimming in the lake today. The Wife thinks it was the best trout ever. The guy was so nice that he even made something different for me. He, his son, and his mother are all the staff they have. We watched Mom walk out to the garden to pick herbs. She must have picked some horseradish, because we ate it with some cheese and bread. It was weapons grade stuff. Where else can you have food that was living and growing just hours before you ate it?

So stop in at Bled and see the sights, but keep driving down the road to Bohinj to spend the night. Spend several nights.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:
These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The oldest town in Slovenia

Ptuj has been settled as a town since at least the Stone Age. That’s an amazing length of time for humans to inhabit one area. It’s hard to fault early man for picking such a nice spot. It’s just upstream from a nice lake, along a pretty good sized river. It would be easy to transport stuff up and down that river as it’s big enough to allow you to float anything you’d care to build, but flows slowly enough that it wouldn’t be a giant pain to go upriver. By Roman times there were 40,000 people living there, almost double the number of people who live there now.

Unfortunately, all we could investigate was the “Old Town,” which by comparison to the history of the city was almost comically recent.

The castle was built in the mid 12th century,
The first mention of the Tower was in the Town Statutes in 1376.

and the town hall was built in 1907.

Yet people had lived here in town for thousands of years before it ever occurred to anyone to build that particular castle. You really get a sense of the massive history of our planet when you consider how recent even the oldest things you have ever seen really are.

Ptuj is definitely worth a trip. Stop in at the Tourist Information Center. They’ll hand you a map with a short tour and you’ll be happy for hours. Just the castle alone will take you 2 hours to go through. With everything from wooden furniture to an old penny farthing bicycle. Seriously!

They’ve done a great job of trying to explain how Ptuj, and the area around it, played a significant part in the history of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the process, the rest of the world. They are massively proud of their place in the world and I think they deserve to be.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:
These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I’m not spitting

We made the arduous 1 hour and 15 minute journey from Zagreb to Ptuj, Slovenia. If you remember that the letter “J” makes the “Y” sound, the town’s name really does sound like you are spitting. Ptuj is a little town on the banks of the Drava river. Yesterday in Zagreb the wife said that what she really needed was a day off. I’ve been wanting to come to a water resort place, but she’s not much for swimming. I thought that this would be my opening. We got a last minute deal from the Grand Hotel Primus that included breakfast, dinner, and free use of the hotel pools and the waterpark across the street. And no sooner did we get here that we were in the hotel hot tub.

This did mean that we didn’t spend a whole lot of time outside the hotel today. I did insist on a walk into town after dinner. It’s Sunday, so there’s not much to do at 8 pm in Ptuj, but that’s ok. We took in the sights, wandered around a bit, and came back to the hotel.

That’s Ptuj Castle, taken from this side of the river.

There was a helpful warning sign posted in town

Plus this was painted on the wall in town if you missed the obvious danger of running near small dinosaurs.

Luckily we made it back across the river before the dinos got a hold of us, just in time to catch the castle as the dark.

It’s a pretty town. We’ll be doing more exploring tomorrow.

For those who are interested, the main background photo for this blog is a photo of the Drava River taken from the foot bridge.

Federal Trade Commission Disclaimer:
These blog entries reflect my personal opinions about the locations The Wife and I visited during our travels. I have not received money, freebies, or any other inducements to provide positive coverage of anyone, anywhere, or anything. In fact, no one on this trip knew or had any reason to know that I am a blogger. I do not work for the Tourist Boards of any country, nor am I employed in the travel industry in any way.