Saturday, April 28, 2018

Trip Notes # 2: Slovenia and Croatia

April 27, 2018

When it comes to touring groups, typically we see tourists from the Western countries, Japan and more so, now, from China. We were very surprised to meet a group from Malaysia. Likewise, they were surprised that we knew so much about their country. (Jerry's work has taken us to Malaysia many times. In fact, our first visit to Malaysia was in 1970).

After a full breakfast, saying our good-bys to the hotel staff and keeping our fingers crossed that three GPS devices would be consistent and keep us on course, we headed south and away from the advancing rain.

Our first two stops were a cave network and a castle.

Postojna caves 
The caves are a 24 mile network - filled with unusual formations of stalactites and stalagmites.

A tram took us underground - about 200 yards below the surface

We disembarked and walked about a mile or so up and down steep and wet walkways. Notice the people below. There were other visitors above us!

The formations came in all shapes and sizes. 

 The underground temperature was in the high 40's - low 50's

Water dripped on us only part of the time!

The unusual formations were quite a sight. 

A large chandelier hangs from the ceiling of a vast part of the cave. This area is used for special events i.e. weddings and government activities

Many of these limestone stalactites and stalagmites are tens of thousands of years old - or more!

Besides some insects, there is a unique salamander-like animal that lives in the caves. Food source is so scarce that these animals (able to live for a 100 years) can do without food for 5-10 years.

Predjama castle. 

The castle, known for "ghost-like sounds and movements" and its torture chamber is quite different in that it is partially situated in a large cave. Its defenses are better than most castles in that (essentially) it can only be approached or attacked from the front.

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Our GPS's took us to Croatia via the small, country roads. Even though the devices were programmed for the fastest route, we're not sure that it was the best way to go. There was a freeway heading (part of the time) somewhat away from our destination but freeways tend to be faster. In any event, the dense forests, the animal filled pastures and the overall countryside was beautiful. The green was unlike what we have seen at home. It was a bright lime green accented with a dark forest green coloring. The cows seem happy - eating or just sitting on the ground socializing. Birds chirped away. Horses took little notice as cars passed by.


Not knowing quite what to expect, we got a real "WOW! when we walked into our hotel room. Two balcony doors opened up to the Adriatic Sea and its beautiful coastline

Islands were a few miles in front of us. Looking down from our top level (6th floor) room, we could look down into the clear water and see the shallow water teeming with fish. 

Guests were throwing pieces of bread into the water. The water churned as hundreds if not thousands of fish fought for the food as the sea gulls dove from above for their share of the treats.

We had the feeling as if we were on the balcony of a ship - cruising the Mediterranean. 

 Containers are being staged to be put onto a soon to be arriving cargo ship.

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Toward dusk, we wandered over to the harbor in search of a place for dinner that served fish rather than heavy meats. We stumbled onto a fish restaurant overlooking the water. 

The server indicated that the restaurant was completely booked. Some (mostly men's) group took over the entire place.

Trying to help and never should a customer be tuned away, the server came up with an idea. There was a narrow table-top area with stools outside the restaurant geared more for people that wanted to smoke. 

No one was around. Place settings were arranged, menus were in English, wine was poured, the sun was setting - we were happy!

 Food in both countries is inexpensive. A glass of wine at this restaurant was $1.50. We splurged and followed up the glass with a 1/2 liter - probably 4-5 more glasses of wine. Fish (soup and entree) was fresh and prepared perfectly

What a nice way to end the day!
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Rijeka is a commercial, industrial-type city with a decent size port. On the surface, everything seems okay. It's not. There is very little commerce. There is no industry. Few cargo ships come and go. The fishing activity seems more for the locals than for export. Tourism, what there is, keeps things going - somewhat. Like Slovenia, the economy is not doing well.

The daily market is always fun to watch. Lots of high energy as the vendors are hawking their products, customers buy what they need and people like us simply watch all of the activity. 

All the vendors use an old fashion scale and weight system. 

Asparagus is thinner than what we normally see at home. and, it is sold in bulk!

It seems like most daily markets differ in the way things are set up. Produce is in an open area. Three separate buildings house the meat, cheese and fish. Wines, deli-type food, vinegar and oil were usually found with the cheese. Pastry vendors tended o be outside. 

Local wine is dispensed (sold) in bulk. Customers can bring their containers back to be refilled.

We were involved with one funny situation. We were curious about a pastry that was some sort of fruit filled dough. With limited English, the vendor and a real customer tried to explain what was being sold. The vendor wrapped up some pastries which we thought was for the real customer. This woman assumed that we would want to taste a little of everything. We indicated that we wanted only one type. The vendor unwrapped everything, we paid with Kunas (the local currency) and off went for more touring.

Second night: Our hotel is just outside the town center - situated in (what appears to be for this area) an upscale neighborhood. It turned out that a 15 minute walk from our hotel was a small, intimate restaurant. The sever customized everything that we wanted. We had fresh fish and seafood, local wine and a view overlooking the sea. Another good experience!

Driving in Europe or another country for that matter is always an interesting experience. Driving patterns will differ, getting used to the many round-abouts and understanding the signal sequence is important. In many European countries, the lights go "Red" to "Yellow" to Green." As soon as the signal turns "Yellow," it's time to start the car forward as "Green" will appear in a half-second.

When do Slovakians and Croatians eat? It's strange to see so many "locals" drink morning coffee at a outdoor cafe, drink an alcoholic beverage during noon, partake in some sort of beverage and a pastry in the afternoon and consume another alcoholic beverage during the early evening.

More later...

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trip Notes # 1: Slovenia

April 26, 2018

LAX  is going through another major change. A new terminal  is being built west of Bradley. Hopefully, everything will be finished before the Olympics. In the meantime, the traffic near the airport is and will be awful for the next several years.

Looking Out From Bradley Building

 Air Tahiti Nui remains a great airline. Food was over the top, flight attendants were good, sense of humor livened up the long flight and this was probably the smoothest ride ever.
 Lobster Tails and Shredded Duck: A Starter

Our connecting flight (Paris to Ljubljana) was with HOP, an  Air France subsidiary. There was a pilot strike with a possibility that some flights would be cancelled. 

Fortunately, we were the lucky ones. We got to Ljubjliana arriving on time - 24 hours from the time that we woke up at home.
All of our luggage has "Canadian identification tags." 

Typically, people come up to us and want to talk or do something nice. A woman went out of her way to make room for our luggage as we were using a shuttle to transfer between terminals.

A man helped carry one of the heavy "wheelies" up the stairs to the aircraft.

Everyone loves "Canadians."

With an extra hour to spare, we almost missed our connecting flight.  Rather than trying to navigate stairs to the ground floor of the terminal, we decided to use a small elevator set up for wheelchairs and passengers that have difficulty using the stairs. We got stuck in an elevator, rang the emergency bell, no one was interested in helping us get out. Finally. after pressing a lot of buttons, the door opened and we rushed to the plane in time before the gate attendants stopped allowing passengers to board the plane.

Flying over the Slovenian alps and looking down from 15,000 feet at the snow covered mountain tops 

and the carved out glacier valleys presented a fantastic perspective of nature's beauty.

Ljubjliana: Drop the "J's", don't pronounce the "L" and you have the correct pronunciation -- "Lubania." We returned to Hotel Cubo - an excellent boutique hotel minutes from the older and historical part of town. (We stayed here last June). 

There were two major changes since our last visit: Everything in the fully stocked mini-bar is free and each room comes with a "Handy" cell phone with unlimited internet and global calls.

Making Good Use Of The Phone: Calling Home

After checking into our over sized room, we walked to an outdoor restaurant where we ate last time.  Following a quick and satisfying dinner and unexpectedly with the temperature in the mid 70's and no rain, we strolled along a pedestrian walk-way where we could "people watch" and enjoy a yummy cup of ice cream. We then walked to a pedestrian bridge situated over the town's river and listened to local musicians. Back at the hotel and up for over 30 hours - we "crashed!"   

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The hotel staff was very accommodating and it was fun to see some of the same staff. The breakfasts remained over the top! 

Besides eggs prepared any possible way, there were assorted meats, local cheeses and beautifully prepared garnishes. Unique homemade jellies and jams, assorted delicious breads exotic honeys (such as with truffles) and super caloric deserts prepared us to face the day!

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We planned to spend the day at a national park and do some mild hiking along a picturesque gorge. It tuned out that the place was closed until Mid-May - perhaps due to this not being tourist season and it is too expensive to keep it going. The hotel staff suggested that we visit a lake area (Bohinj) that would be open and located in another national park. 

The 90 minute drive from the hotel took us to a beautiful and picturesque lake. Unlike Lake Bled (pretty but touristy), we (almost) had the entire area to ourselves.

We had a picnic lunch, fed some ducks, enjoyed the serene view

Best of all, Jerry was not worrying (too much) about work ...

Jerry even took time to draw a picture of the lake with his water colored pencils.

There is an old saying: "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck!" Well, Jerry was "Quacking" to the ducks. The ducks cocked their heads trying to understand what Jerry was quacking. I guess the ducks didn't understand his Californian accent.

We met an interesting couple. She's from Spain, he's from Switzerland and with two mules carrying their gear, they started "Trekking" from France and have been walking for six months. Amazing!

Dinner this evening was at a restaurant at a different part of the old town. Pumpkin oil (rather than olive oil) was served with the bread. Yum!  Also a treat was the truffles. Truffles came with everything. It is truffle season.

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Look carefully and see some interesting things: 

 Tea for two, a car for one 

Jerry likes to take pictures of manhole covers

Jerry's Trying To Figure Out How To Buy A Parking Ticket

More soon...