Last week, I promised to share more of my wonderful exploration of Slovenia, tracing some of our footsteps across this beautiful country, including such gems as Lake Bled and our scenic drive through the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park.
Today I continue our travels in stunning Slovenia and I’ll show you more great sights.
Next on our itinerary was Ljubljana, the vibrant city in the heart of the country. Its location at the crossroads between Slavic and Germanic and Latin cultures has played a significant role in shaping its history and culture. During WWII, it was occupied by Fascist Italy and remained the capital of an Italian province until the end of the war. Then it became the capital of Socialist Republic of Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, until Slovenia became independent in 1991.
A glorious evening greeted us on our arrival, and we could not wait to get out and explore. We took a leisurely walk from our modern hotel on the edge of the city, and found a really cool restaurant where we treated ourselves to the fabulous local cuisine. A drink to accompany a fine meal rounded off the day perfectly.
Following a sunny morning with more sightseeing, we happily set off to Piran (Pirano in Italian), a town in southwestern Slovenia on the Gulf of Piran on the Adriatic Sea, once part of Roman Empire, next taken over by Venice and then belonging to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Now it is a major Slovenian tourist attraction.
It was easy to see why – Piran is pretty! It reminded me a little of Venice, which of course, is not too far away, just across the Adriatic sea. I could almost see it on a clear day, as we sat by the sea sipping a cool drink washing down fresh seafood for a late lunch. The pictures below give you a glimpse of its enchanting beauty.
A word of warning: if you are driving there, as we did, you will have to park just outside the quaint town and take a walk to where you need to go. It is not built for the car.
Again, we were lucky in terms of weather. By then we had definitely left the cold and wet days behind. We were treated one of the best sunsets and made the best of it.
Our one-week holiday was near the end, when we travelled to a northeastern Italian city of Udine on Saturday, 25 miles from the Slovenia border. We were due to fly back on Sunday from Trieste.
Guess what? That Saturday fell on the 17th April 2010. Remember the volcanic eruptions of Eyjafjallajallajokull in Iceland? For six days between 14-20 April, air travel was disrupted across western and northern Europe, and as fate would have it, our return flight from Trieste was cancelled, with no definite answer as to when it would resume.
Nobody knew how long the volcanic eruptions would last, and apparently when it last happened back in 1827, it lasted two years! Damn!
No flight, so how else could we get home?
We thought of train, and went to buy tickets. We didn’t mind the detour, Germany, Belgium, Holland, as long as we could get tickets. No. Sold out. Everyone wanted to get home to somewhere in Northern Europe.
So we went to hire a car. Between Udine and England, it was only over 1200 miles, across land and sea, but it was do-able. The problem?
“No, you can’t hire a car to drive all the way to England,” the girl behind the Europa counter told us.
“You just can’t. You have to hire a car in Italy and return it in Italy. The hire another in France and return it in France.”
We found out that we could hire a car to drive all the way back to England, but that hire would set us back three grand, in pounds, and only one or two companies did that, and they were running out of cars.
In the end, we hired a car in Udine which got us to the Italian French border at Courcheval. We took a bus the next morning through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Chamonix, then a taxi to Sallanches followed by a short train journey to the next car hire office near Bonneville. Then it was just a 750 mile drive North to St Malo from where John had managed to book us passage on a ferry to Portsmouth.
This booking had taken three hours on line, and there was only one crossing free. Racing against time we stayed in a Rouen hotel before a last dash to the ferry in the morning. Dumping the hire car with hundreds of others at the port side we walked on board and breathed a massive sigh of relief as we sailed out into the English Channel bound for home.
On board we met a couple desperate to communicate with home and John allowed them to use his mobile to Skype the UK. That act of kindness led to them offering us a lift from Portsmouth in their Range Rover at high speed all the way to Redditch near Birmingham. One more train journey of an hour and we were walking down our road.
Home, at long last.
All in all, it took us 72 hours, by car, bus, taxi, train and ferry, instead of the three hour flight we had booked.
What an epic!