Slovenia…Italy…Slovenia… .

Biking in bright sunshine the beautiful eight miles or so to the Bohinj Bovine Ball we were in high spirits.  Arriving bright and early at 10.30am things were just starting to kick off.  Accordion music blasted from outdoor speakers, craft and food stalls had set out their wares and the barbecues were just cranking up.

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Cheesemaker’s at the Cow Ball.

We looked set for a good day out.  No cows to be seen yet as the parade was to be later on.  Three hours later on.  That would have been fine if the weather hadn’t deteriorated.   The clouds appeared, got lower, and lower, and lower, then drizzle came and then the rain.  Not torrential rain but that steady wetting sort of rain.  Not prepared, we mooched about in our sandals, shorts and non waterproof jackets slowly getting wet through.

Three hours was a long time to wait in the rain, with no shelter, for the parade of the cows.  We broke up the wait with a traditional Slovenian lunch of sausage, corn mush and sauerkraut which I can only describe as a flat sausage patty served on a bed of grit.  The cows, led by their herdsmen, were worth waiting for though trotting through the crowd, bells jangling, replete in their bouquets.  Calves, some as young as a few days old, and a bit skittish, hopped, skipped and jumped along after the adults.  They will graze in the valley now until early spring when they’ll go with their herdsmen back to their mountain pastures again.

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The parade of the cows.
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What handsome cows!

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Traditional cheesemaking equipment.

Back at the campsite we wrung out our clothes and sat steaming away in the van with the heater on full blast to dry out.   After another couple of days hiking and biking in dodgy weather we threw in the towel and headed for the north eastern coast of Italy.

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Savica waterfall.

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Bohinj Lake.

Once again, it was a bit of a culture shock driving back to civilisation once away from the Triglav National Park.  Several miles of retail outlets lined either side of the road into Udine where we’d planned a stop for the night.  It was one long strip of Malls, DIY stores, food outlets, supermarkets, garages and car showrooms which seemed to go on forever.  And ever.  The weather was warm and sunny but I already had that sinking feeling of ‘what are we doing here’ having no interest in any retail therapy and already missing the calm tranquillity of the Slovenian mountains, albeit a grey, wet and cold tranquillity.  We did, however, walk to the Decathlon shop a mile or so away after we’d parked up the van at the aire to peruse the miles of aisles of sports equipment.  Yeah, I know, double standards.

Not feeling the love for Udine, even though it is said to have a historic centre, we pressed on to the coast the following morning.  We were waylaid for a few hours in Palmanova though.  We knew nothing about Palmanova but the shape of it on the map drew me in.  Planning our route I hadn’t even noticed it.  It was only when we were a few miles outside the town, whilst I was faffing with the Maps.Me app zooming in and out, that I realised it was definitely worth investigating.

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Palmanova on the Maps.Me app.

 

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Aerial shot of Palmanova courtesy of Google images.
Built by the Venetians towards the end of the 16th Century the nine pointed star structure was conceived as a defence system to keep out the Turks.  The town is now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Walking the ramparts.

A walk around the inner ramparts followed by a second lap around the outer ramparts and a mooch about the town square took up most of the afternoon and we were really glad we had stopped.

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The centre of Palmanova.  The fair was parked just to the right of the picture!

Not least because we spotted these guys basking in the sunshine in the moat below the upper path.

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Turtles catching some rays in the moat.

We hit the Italian coast at Grado. This was our first glimpse of the sea since early May when we’d left the French coast.  The sun was out, it was warm and there was an aire (aka large carpark) fifty metres from the beach at €4 per night.  Life doesn’t get better than that let me tell you.

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Carpark aire at Grado, Italy – living the dream!

Approached by a four kilometre long causeway Grado, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy, is a little island beach resort backed by lagoons teeming with birdlife.  It was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days enjoying the sunshine whilst biking around the nature reserve.

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Grado.
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Fishing boats in the Valle Cavanata Nature Reserve.
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Cycling the causeway into Grado.

Onwards then east along the coast and back into Slovenia.  Slovenia has just over forty kilometres of coastline sandwiched between Italy and Croatia.  We based ourselves for a couple of nights at an aire on the marina at Lucija.  When we arrived there were only about seven or eight vans parked so we felt mightily pleased with ourselves that we were able to bag a ringside seat right next to the sea.  Perfect.  When we returned from a bike ride to Piran several hours later though we were completely surrounded by Slovenian and Italian vans settling in for the weekend.

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Aire at the marina in Lucija.  It filled up on the Friday night.

Piran, set on a triangular shaped peninsular, is just charming.  Thanks largely to nearly five hundred years of Venetian rule much of Piran and the coast of Slovenia is Italianate.  It’s a compact warren of alleys lined with narrow houses and tiny churches.

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Approach to Piran.
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The narrow alleyways.
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Looking down on the rooftops of Piran.

 

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Tartinijev square, Piran.
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Looking towards the square from the harbour.

The following day we thought we’d cycle to Croatia.  Now, Tim has been itching to get to Croatia for months and his plans have been scuppered by our dilly dallying here and there.  But finally, finally he was going to get there.  We picked up the Parenzana Cycleway just outside the marina which took us past the salt plains to the nearby border.  Once at the border we were confronted with passport control.  What?  Taking our passports hadn’t even crossed our minds.   We haven’t needed them on any other border (apart from Gibraltar).  I tried it on with my driving licence but passport control man said ‘NO’.   Croatia, then, still eluded us.

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Passport control on the Slovenian-Croatian border.  No passport.  No entry!

Returning to the van I left Tim to check on the back of his eyes whilst I cycled to Koper along the Parenzana Cycleway in the other direction.  And what a great mostly traffic free ride it was too.  A bit up and down, a couple of tunnels, views of the coast, vineyards, and olive groves.  A very popular day out it seems and a well used section of the path.

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One of the tunnels on the Parenzana cycle trail.
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Looking towards Izola.
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The old coast road from Izola to Koper is now traffic free.  It felt like riding on a road that had been closed for the day.

On Sunday morning we nudged Ollie out through all the vans, camping tables, chairs and bikes surrounding us and made our way to the Croatian border.  This time clutching our passports.

Tako dolgo!

Loving Slovenia…. .

We. Are. Loving. Slovenia.  Despite being one of Europe’s smallest nations at less than 21000 square kilometres it sure is diverse.  Oh so green.  Oh so clean.  Oh so pretty.  Oh so hilly.  The Slovenians have it sussed.  We love it.  And that is despite the weather being grim for the first week we were here.  It’s on the list for a future visit to spend more time here.

We came in from the Hungarian border in the east skirting around the motorway keeping to the non toll roads.  After the relatively flat lands of the Czech Republic and Hungary it’s been wonderful to go up and down a bit.  It felt like being in rural Devon or Dorset with all the chocolate box hamlets but without the single track lanes and high hedges.

Stopping at an excellent aire attached to a Bioterme thermal water park in the little village of Mala Nedelja I had a quick blast out on the bike whilst Tim washed the van.  Oh how I wished I’d taken the camera.  Vineyards, forest, haybarns, fields of corn, pumpkins, artful wood stacks, wild flowers, beautiful houses both new and old, vegetable patches.  I have a thing about vegetable patches at the moment.  That and allotments.  I love seeing them, particularly ones which are filled with flowers.  It started back in Germany.  The Germans have the klein garten.  They are everywhere.  They aren’t just scraps of land where old men go to plant a few seeds and sit in a dilapidated shed chewing the bratwurst with the neighbour.  Oh no it’s more serious than that.  Aside from vegetables and flowers many have lawns, garden furniture, running water, a hut (some the size of a small bungalow) and outdoor kitchen.  More a weekend retreat then than allotment.  I think they are fab and I really like the concept.   But, I digress.  Suffice to say Slovenia is, I think, my favourite country so far.  Or maybe this season as Portugal is still up there.  And parts of Spain.

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The excellent aire at the Bioterme in Mala Nedelja.

Staying on the aire next to the Bioterme gave us a discount on the admission fee.  After 7pm we were able to luxuriate in the several 38 degree thermal mineral water pools complete with bubbles for just €3.10.  Absolute bargain.  Two hours of wallowing and we’d cleaned up a treat.

Moving on in murky weather we stopped in at Ptuj, the oldest and continuously settled site in Slovenia.  Not finding anywhere to park we pitched up in the Aldi (or Hofer as it is called in Slovenia) carpark, did some shopping and then walked the mile into the town from there.

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Looking down from the castle at Ptuj.
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The castle courtyard.

After a mooch round in greyness we set off up to the ski resort at Rogla hoping for the cloud to miraculously clear to reveal a stunning view of the mountains and a bit of alpine walking.  Alas it wasn’t to be with freezing fog and visibility at a few metres it was pointless venturing out.  After a night of rain we were still optimistic that it might clear.  By 4pm it was clear it wasn’t going to clear.

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Rogla ski resort.  Excellent aire.  Shame about the weather.

We called it quits the next morning after another night of rain and reluctantly drove back down the mountain where the weather was no better either.  Ho hum, never mind.  We at least had a couple of free nights at an aire behind a hostel in Slovenj Gradec complete with electric hook up and super fast free wifi.  We managed to get out in between showers for a couple of short walks, frequented the hostel cafe and did a bit of shopping.  Basically we were waiting for the weather to improve.

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A 50th birthday me thinks.

With the weather no better it was time for a city break.   Ljubljana, the capital city, was just a short distance away.  Everything is just a short distance away in Slovenia.  Ljubljana was awarded European Green City in 2016.  I think it deserved that award.

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Looking over Ljubljana from the castle.

A huge chunk of the city, either side of the river, is completely pedestrianised.  Absolutely flipping marvellous it is too.  It’s such a refreshing change to visit a city but feel as if you aren’t in a city.

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Looking towards the Triple Bridge.

Green spaces abound from the walk up the hill to the castle and its surroundings to a stroll across town to Tivoli park.

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Photographic exhibition celebrating the work of the architect Joze Plecnik in Tivoli Park.  Ljubljana is chock full of Plecnik ‘s iconic buildings and city features and it is what it is today largely due to his vision and influence.

It’s not a city to go shopping, more a place to amble about, admire the architecture and enjoy the relaxed cafe atmosphere all in a calm traffic free setting.

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Cafes and restaurants line the streets.

P1090336.JPGA big tick for Ljubljana from us.

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Metelkova mesto, an Autonomous Cultural Centre that developed from a squat in a former army barracks.

Also a huge boost after our week of iffy weather was the discovery of Slovenian craft beers.  The very knowledgeable owner of a little shop dedicated to selling beer talked to us about his countries own beer and recommended a pub to go and try some.

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A few take away Slovenian beers to share with our friends Di and Chris when we next see them (if they last that long).  The beers that is, not Di and Chris!

We found the pub after a couple of laps around the town (just as well it is nice and compact) and spent a happy couple of hours finishing our day off sampling the Slovenian beers.

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Sampling the Slovenian beers in Sir William’s Pub.

What a revelation.

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Beer Menu.

Fourteen beers on tap mostly from Slovenia.  They were all excellent bar one, Reservoir Dogs – Cum Grano Salis.  I’m not sure if we offended the barman when we queried whether it was off.  We were reliably informed that it was a sour beer which are apparently very popular in Slovenia.  It tasted more like a cider.  A vinegary cider.

With the weather now restored to sunny, cloudless days we moved on to the Lake Bled area in the eastern Julian Alps.  We’ve based ourselves at a campsite at Bohinjska Bistrica in between Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj to explore by bike and foot.  Also we were in dire need of getting some washing done.  I was down to my Bridget Jones Big Pants which only get worn in emergencies as just one pair will take up the whole drum of a washing machine.

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Washing done at last.

It is a truly beautiful area with crystal clear waters and snowy capped mountain peaks.  A superb cycleway took us through pretty hamlets and farms to Lake Bohinj yesterday.

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Pretty hamlets on the ride to Lake Bohinj.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to walk around the whole of the lake but it is on the agenda for later in the week.

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Lake Bohinj.

Today, a bus trip to Lake Bled.  Much more touristy than Bohinj but still very attractive with the castle, gondolas, island, rowing boats and people.  Lots of people.

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Lake Bled.

After a walk around the lake we were ready to get the bus back to the campsite for a bit of peace and quiet.

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P1090383.JPGTomorrow we have a very exciting day coming up.  Cinderella is going to the ball.  The 60th Cow’s Ball in Bohinj that is.  It’s a festival celebrating the bringing back of the bovines to the valley of Bohinj from their summer mountain pastures.  The best looking cattle will be presented with a bouquet followed by local dancing, food and drink.  Super.

Zbogom!