Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Slovenia pictures...

Predjama Grad, which means castle. And jama means cave. This is the one I part walked, part got a lift up the mountain and then walked the full 10 km back down to Postojna. Oh what a day. 

Some pictures

From Paris, inside the Notre Dame cathedral.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Last day shenanigans

Only I can miss my train stop on the last day of my trip, leading to near disaster.

I hopped the train to Divaca yesterday morning, to visit the Skocan caves. Only, when we stopped at Divaca, I didnt realize we were there and got trapped on the train until the next stop, some small town about 10 km away. 

The guy at the train station there looked at me as if I was mad when I started getting upset that there wasnt another train back to Divaca for hours, no buses and no taxis. So, I started walking.

At a gas station, I asked the clerk and she was sympathetic to my problem, but no help. I asked the cops outside who said, Divaca, that way. But, no ride. A motorcyclist talking to them said if I had a helmet, hed take me. Why on earth would I be traveling with a motorcycle helmet?

So with little more than ˝Divaca that way˝ I started walking. I had walked about 6 km in an hour, which is a good clip, but then took a turn to early and got behind. I was getting very frustrated at this point, because I needed to catch the 1 p.m. cave tour to make my 3:30 train back. It was about 12:45 and I was just a few kilometers away, but was not going to make it. 

I asked a very nice lady who was working in her yard which way to go and she spoke no English, but was very helpful. She indidcated that I needed to hurry to make it. As I rushed off, she came back shouting in Slovene and her son, who lives across the street, came out to call me back. Her husband would take me the last few kilometers. 

But first, the son showed me this enormous stone pit where they kept ice, I think he said, and sold it to Egypt in the summer. But, I was having a hard time understanding his limited English and what he was showing me.

The father spoke the best English of them all, shook my hand and started chatting. He was such a nice man and when he dropped me at the cave, he said ˝If you have any trouble, you come back. If I not there, my son across the street, he will help.˝ 

I wanted to hug him, but wasnt sure the protocol on hugging here and was in a rush to catch the tour, but his help was much appreciated.

When I travel I notice that kind of kindness more. Maybe it does exist at home, but when youre roaming the Slovenian countryside alone and a bit distressed, and someone offers to help expecting nothing in return, its a simple and genuine kindness that has no equal. That might be my favorite part of traveling. The castles, churches, sights are all wonderful, but being reminded that sometimes it all comes down to the kindness of strangers is a good lesson and creates moments I dont quickly forget.

After the tour, there was a shuttle bus to get me back to the train station, only I missed it, because the tour went long. So, I was walking. Again. Back to Divaca. With just about 8 minutes and about a kilometer or two to go, I found myself saying ˝You can do this. Please make my train.˝ 

It was hot and I was exhausted having half run, half walk, the way there earlier and then having walked entirely through the cave, which was worth the trouble at least.

Then a car full of travelers stopped to ask me if I knew where the airport was. I had no idea. They started to drive off but then waited for me to catch up and offered me a ride the rest of the way.

When I got to the train station, I had a whopping five minutes to spare and I found myself bored just sitting there, despite being exhausted. On the correct train, I was finally able to sit and enjoy the view, although I dozed through some of it, unable to keep my eyes open.

The caves are a UNESCO heritage site and Ill add more detail later, but were amazing. Apparently, the only other cave in the world thats bigger is Mammouth Caves in the U.S. There were lots of kids and people who couldnt seem to stay quiet during the tour so that was frustrating and Ill have to look up some of the details, but just to walk through them and again be amazed by nature was a good way to wrap up the trip.

Back at the hostel I ran into Scott, my new pal from England, and we decided on dinner. But he wasnt hungry yet and I needed to just sit still for a bit. So I cleaned up some and made a dent in my reading and eventually, we went off for pizza at my favorite place across the river and then a beer at a nice pub a little further back. 

All in all, a great last day in Slovenia.

In just a minute, Im headed to the bus station to catch the early bus to the airport and will be homeward bound.

Heres to hoping I make my connection in Paris!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Last days in Slovenia...

Yesterday I had grand plans of visiting the oldest monastary in the country...with no luck. Because on Saturday, there wasnt another train to that tiny town until 5 p.m. and the buses were hit or miss. As much as I wanted to see the monastary, I also didnt want to get stuck in that town.

Instead, wandered around looking for gifts and souvenirs...still no luck...sorry. Jenn, from Washington state, and I went for tea at a cute cafe and then found another one that was in our guide book and tried some Slovenian wine. White of course, since red makes me sick. Its was pretty good, although it made me very sleepy and I was struggling to keep my eyes open...at 6 p.m. 

But, a new guy just got here, from Brighton, England. We chatted for awhile, nice guy. Hes also thinking of places for my next trip. Hes been to 15 countries in the last few years, putting my seven to shame. Guess I better get hopping.

Finally ate something that wasnt pizza or bread of some sort for dinner last night, had a chicken wrap from a panini place on the other side of the river. And ice cream of course. Althuogh its not nearly as good here as it was in Bled or Maribor.

But, now, on my last day here, Im headed out for coffee and then to catch the train to Divica for the Skocan caves. Thats the plan anyway! Met some Kiwis last night and theyre going too, hopefully at the same time I am.

Will tell you about the caves tonight and then see you all tomorrow!

What says Slovenia...

The way an alpaca sweater says Peru? Or a handpainted boomerang says Australia?

I have no idea, and its causing great frustration in my search for souvenirs and gifts to bring home. 

That said, dont be surprised if I bring nothing home, sorry guys. Nothing is really catching my eye, or is worth the euros, or the hassle of carting it home -- without breaking it.

Theres a market going on that Ive wandered through quite a few times today arleady and might again since my plan to visit the monastary today was foiled, since its in a small town that gets just one train late this afternoon.

Maybe Ill find something at the flea market tomorrow, or at the caves if I can sort out the train/bus schedule for that.

Otherwise, Im left with sort of cheesy crafts or lots of things that were made in Nepal, India, or China. Just like everything at home.

But, Im still working on it. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Where to next?

I know, I know, this trip isnt even over and Im already thinking about what comes next. 

But so many countries...

Top contenders, geopolitical situations notwithstanding of course:

Nepal and Tibet



Africa (working on where in particular)





Any other ideas? I told the Aussie about my goal of one country a year and he said hed try to think of a good one for me. Hes got a year off and is touring all of Europe. Im a little jealous.

Ears are ringing

Today is some sort of festival, not sure what, but it involves hundreds of kids with whistles. 

Some had shirts saying it was a dance festival, but then I have to ask, what the hell do they need whistles for?

Sorry, but it made for an excruciating train trip back to Ljubljana and struggle out of the station back through town. The ladies who sat down next to me on the train seemed like they might get into a fist fight with a truly obnoxious teen in the next row over. He was blowing that whistle as loud and as much as he possibly could. My strategy, ignore him the way you ignore crying toddlers, as long as they arent dying, its probably an attention grab and when you ignore them, they stop. 

But, there were so many of them on the train, it was terrible. Plus, most of them had bottles of wine or other alcohol. So, make that drunk, obnoxious teens. 

The worst, though, was in the train station at Ljubljana. You have to walk underneath the platforms to get out, so its basically and underground, cement echo chamber. It was literally deafening and I thought hmm...what happens if I have hearing loss because of this.

Made it out of there and can in fact still hear, thankfully.

Back at the hostel where I started the trip, I met a nice Australian guy. He wandered off somewhere and I wandered town some more, looking for streets I hadnt seen already and trying to find some souvenirs to take home with me. Problem is, Im not sure whats Slovenian. In Peru, it was easy, alpaca sweaters and handmade jewelry. Plus, there it was cheap. Here, Im not sure whats authentic and none of its cheap. Oh well, have the weekend to decide.

After that outing came back and ran into Jenn, the girl from Washington I had met in Bled. 

We decided we were both starving, so we went for some pizza slices at €1.70 and then happy hour at a pub Ive already forgotten the name of. We both drank Union, which is apparently a Slovene beer. 

Another Slovene beer is Lasko. I went through that town today on the train and what I think was the brewery, or distillery, or whatever it is you call the place they make beer. Ive tasted that. 

It rained some here, but we managed to duck out of it while we were in the pub. Were both calling it a night fairly early. 

Tomorrow I think Ill try the monastary for a quick day trip and then come back for whatever we get into. Sunday might be the caves. Who knows, two days left and the options are pretty close to endless.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rain, rain, go away.

Still in Maribor, where it is still raining.

The sun poked through for awhile this afternoon while I was in Ptuj, a small town about an hour from here (on the bus).

There, I went to the castle, which was cool, but there wasnt much to see. They charged at least €4 to see the collections and I wasnt sure what they were, plus there was a large group of obnoxious school kids there, so I opted to ditch the castle and wander about some more.

Visited the monestary, well, part of it, and then another one that Im not sure I was supposed to be in. The door was open a bit, so I walked in and poked around for a few minutes. Then the guilt of being where maybe I shouldnt took over, so I walked out. Just in time to see a tour group going into the monestarys church, so I followed for a second. But, it was in German, or a similar language. Couldnt quite make it out.

Had planned to visit Ptujska Gora, but changed my mind since it wasnt the easiest spot to get to, and came back to Maribor. Tried to go in Maribors city castle, but its closed, so went into the regional musuem instead. It was alright, but they must not get many visitors, because the ticket lady had to turn the lights on for me in the exhibits and followed me all through one further back in the castle. I felt like I was at work on a military base with a minder. It was very annoying, although she was very nice.

From there, I found the catherdral named for St. John the Baptist, which was very beautiful. I also climbed the bell tower, all the way to the top, but then got scared I was going to get locked inside, since it was close to closing time and practically ran down the narrow steps...nearly breaking a leg several times.

My map of this town in Lonely Planet has once again proved to be unreliable, so I mostly just wandered taking random turns and eventually ending up where I wanted to go in the first place. I found one of the old defense towers thats next to whats left of a monestary. Neither was in good shape, but they were both by the river, so I walked along it for a bit.

Back in the city center, I went back to what has become my favorite ice cream spot and got another scoop of blackberry ice cream. Its my favorite and its great. The guys there are super nice too.

Tomorrow, its back to Ljublijana and the plan is sort of in flux from there, but Ill post again at least once before i fly back Im sure.

Until then, a few Slovene words for you:

Dober dan--good day, hello

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Catching a break from the sun

Its been warm and sunny almost everyday Ive been here and Ive got the rosy cheeks to prove it.

But last nights thunderstorm left clouds and rain today and its actually cold in Maribor.

The bus ride from Bled to Ljublijana was alright, I think I somehow developed motion sickness though. Weird.

Switched to the train in Ljublijana and was paranoid that I was on the wrong one, but I was in fact on the right train and it was a nice one too. Shared a cabin with a very nice Slovenian woman and had great views of the countryside, mountains and rivers. Also made some progress on my book -- Andrea Mitchells bio -- without too much of the random motion sickness.

Theres some sort of tennis tournament in town and there are kids everywhere. There was also some rowing event going on in Bled I think since I saw it on the news when I got here. Although I didnt notice them in town while I was there, but I didnt go by the lake this morning on my way out of town.

Tomorrow I think Ill day trip out to Ptuj and see the church there and then come back to Maribor and tour around town for the day. Probably heading back to Ljublijana either Friday afternoon or Saturday morning and think Im going to add some day trips from there.

But for now, time to sort hostel bookings and call it a night so I can go back into traveller mode in the morning.

On the road again

Its my last day in Bled. Im catching the bus soon to head for Maribor.

Ive loved this town and met a lot of great people here.

Last night, the girl from Washington and I were chatting and heres some interesting things we noticed:

Slovenia is maybe the prettiest, cleanest, nicest, most organized countries either of us have been to. Shes been to more countries, but I agree. I decided last night too that if I spoke the language, Id love this country as much as I love New Zealand.

I also learned from the couple I met at the caves last week, that this is a major transition for Slovenia. It only became an independent nation, freed from Yugoslavia, in the early 1990s and apparently, it didnt used to be so nice. So, kudos to Slovenia.

We also decided that as much as we love to travel, experience new cultures and meet people, we both appreciate a familar song, book, movie, or just something simple that reminds us of home. Must be why I turn to my trusty ipod when I get lonely or stressed out in foreign countries. And why I found myself watching an old episode of NCIS last night when I was bored.

But, thats all for now...catch you all in Maribor, the gem of the northeast of Slovenia. Then to Ptuj, a town that was mentioned by name as early as 67 AD.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Today started out a bit overcast and cool, but by midday was sunny and warm.

Around 7 or 8 p.m. the clouds started rolling in and the sky darkening...and not just your typical sundown darkness.

I was sitting in the ˝chill out room˝with a girl from Washington state and chatting and about an hour later the thunder started, then the rain and lightning.

Its passed for now and seems clear again, but gotta say, thunderstorms in Slovenia are pretty fun. Its like being a kid again with your face pressed to the window, watching lightning and listening to thunder for as long as it lasts.

Because thats what we did tonight.

one more photo for today

It takes ages to upload on here, so last one for today, will try to post more when I get somewhere with a better internet connection, or when I get home.

But, heres Bled Island, as we rowed to it. More like David rowed, I took pictures.

more photos

View of Bled Castle and the church (will add name later...forgot!) from Lake Bled, as we rowed to Bled Island.


okay, not sure that this will work, but giving it a shot.

this is the waterfall in the gorge, the artistic version. will add the name in later...

Castles, churches, more climbing.

David left this morning so I was on my own to head up the hill to Bled Castle, part of which has stood on the cliff overlooking the lake since the 11th or 12th century.

Its 600 meters up and the bugs seem to get worse as you climb. But, made it to the top and the views were well worth the climb. Got to climb all around the castle too and see a replica of a Guttenburg printing press in the town that used to be the castle prison. And the bird that spoke Slovenian whistled at me.

Discovered on the way back down that I had taken the longer and tougher route up, but its good for me I guess. Forget the gym, go to Slovenia. Get the best workout of your life, everyday. As David said, little in Slovnia was built for the tourists. The best sights require some effort to get to.

At the bottom of the hill, went in the church, which was beautiful and very quiet.

Walked around the lake a bit more, watched swans chase each other and children chase ducks.

As soon as these pictures go through (Ill try to post later), Im off to catch the bus back to Ljublijana then to Maribor.

Im going to take it easy today...

That was my plan for Monday, but instead, I walked out of town with David to the Gorge.

It took less than an hour to get to the gorge and it was nice walk through the countryside near Bled.

The gorge was absolutely stunning and David let me take some photos with his digital camera since I once again killed my battery and failed to bring any extra batteries. Stupid square batteries.

But, the clear, blue-green water, was calm in some places, but ended in a beautiful waterfall, complete with a rainbow in the spray. Not bad for a days walk.

We made it back to town around 1:30 and putzed around for a bit, then decided to rent a rowboat and take ourselves to Bled Island.

Good thing David had rowed before, since I hadnt in ages and it was pretty windy on our way to the island.

We docked without anyone falling in the lake and climbed the 99 stone steps that by tradition, a man getting married in the church at the top has to carry his bride up those steps as the last test of whether he can marry her.

I cant imagine being carried up those steps, nor do I think Id want to be. It would be a hard fall back down, straight into the lake...in a wedding dress. Not a pleasant scenario to me.

But a church has stood on that spot since the 11oos or so and its amazing that they were able to build a stone church, tower and some other small buildings on Slovenias only true island.

Theres a wishing bell in the church and youll hear it all day long in town. The legend is that a woman lost her husband to some pillagers or something and was so distraught that she gathered all her gold and had a bell cast. It was to be put in the church, but on the way some sort of storm came up and the boat overturned and the boater drowned. The bell sunk to the bottom of the lake and the brochure didnt say whether it was ever recovered. She was even more upset now, so she went to Rome to become a nun. The pope somehow heard this story and commissioned a new bell, which is now in the churh and supposed to grant wishes to those who ring it.

We only paid €10 to rent the boat for an hour, but we ended up being gone for two, but no extra charge. Quite a bargain really.

I got quite a bit of sun for the day and was exhausted. We spent ages trying to email those pictures to myself, and eventually I got frustrated and quit. We went for pizza instead.

Just 2km to the hostel

I think the author of my Lonely Planet guide was confused when he wrote the book, because the train station is certainly more than 2km from town and its certainly not an easy walk with a 20-30 pound rucksack after youve already been walking creation for a week.

Plus, its not the easiest hostel to find and is up a decent hill. By the time I got here, I was exhausted.

But, no stopping while traveling and I set out to wander a bit. The camera battery also died in Venice so I was seaching for a disposable, but again, Sundays arent conducive to getting much done here.

Instead, sat on a terrace for a pizza dinner and watched the sunset over Lake Bled.

At the hostel, met a great Canadian couple and my roommate, David, from England. We chatted for a bit and it turned out to be a pretty decent night. We had our own bathroom in the room, so I took a nice, long, hot shower, and this time, no water on the ceiling.

˝The train doesnt go there˝

Leaving Venice wasnt tough, just packed up, ate breakfast and finally had a cup of coffee, and hopped on the boat back to the train station.

Of course, the guy at the ticket window wasnt friendly and while Im sure he spoke a least a bit of English, he wasnt in the mood to be helpful that morning.

But, got my ticket for the 10 a.m. train to Gorizia at 9:59. Plenty of time, the ticket clerk said.

He was right. Made it on, and all was well until just two stops from Gorizia.

The train conductors went on strike.

The train stopped and I had no idea what to do next.

Luckily, I ran into a Slovenian guy who works in Dublin and was on his way home to Nova Gorica, which is where I was headed. Plus, he spoke Italian.

We also ran into an American couple from Seattle and the four of us sat around, waiting, as train after train was cancelled due to the strike. Finally, two hours later, we were back on a moving train.

The Slovenian guy even bought us a coffee while we waited.

Despite being behind schedule, we had a good time and all made it back to Nova Gorica eventually.

Of course, at the Nova Gorica train station, the ticket windows were closed. Oh the joys of traveling in a predominately Catholic country, on a Sunday.

I wandered the platform and finally found someone who reassured me that the train to Bled was coming and I could buy my ticket on the train.

About 30 minutes later, I was on the train, looking out over the Socka River.

And two hours later, I was at Lake Bled.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Venice...on a few dimes and just a few hours.

I made it to Venice with no real problems and headed straight for the hostel. Thats when it got a little tougher. They dont really have roads, or cars, but canals and boats. So figuring out which boat goes in which direction is a bit of a challenge. Especially where theres a crowd trying to do the same.

But, the couple I met in the Postoyna Cave live in Italy now and they told me to get a Venice Card, which is like a metro card or all day pass to public transportation in any big city. Definitely a money saver.

Found the hostel, checked in and changed, and about two hours after arriving in the city, was finally ready to go exploring.

I hopped back on the boat at the Zitelle stop, just two away from San Marco, which was my first stop. Visited the Basillica, in just 30 minutes, since the bag check closed at 5 and they wouldnt let me in with my little backpack.

Considered a trip up to the top of the tower across from the church, but for €8, I figured the postcard was cheaper. Youre supposed to be able to see all of Venice and on a clear day, as far as Slovenia and Croatia, but it wasnt that clear.

They say the best way to see Venice is to get lost. So I did. For hours, just wandered through the alleys, over bridges, and when I couldnt walk another step, rode the boat all the way around the city back to the hostel.

But after a few minutes in the hostel, I got restless, so I went back out. Debating whether I should buy dinner or Murano glass earrings. Those are made from glass blown on Murano Island, between Venice and the mainland. I opted for lasagne, because I was too hungry and I already have glass jewelry from London. They make great glass pieces in Slovenia anyway, and it costs about half.

Ran into two ladies from California and we wandered around some. They were hilarious and we found some streets and parts of the city I hadnt seen earlier, mostly because we were lost again.

Alright folks, its late and Im tired, so will post more tomorrow!

Roll Tide...in Venizia?

One of those crimson shirts about caused me to tumble down the steps of a ponte (bridge) in Venice when I spotted it on the street below.

I also instantly became one of those tourists I hate. The kind that stops, out of nowhere, in the middle of a pathway and causes everyone behind them to lay on the breaks or duck around.

But, a Roll Tide shirt in Venice? I had to be sure. So I waited for the man to take a photo of his girlfriend or a duck, couldnt really be sure, and then I waited some more for him to walk straight back toward me so I could read it clearly. Yes, Alabamas reach is as far as the canals and plazas of Venizia. All this made funnier by the fact that the guy wearing the shirt was absolutely not from Alabama. Or even the U.S. He may very well have been Italian, but I couldnt make out the language quick enough, even though Id been standing and staring at him for several minutes at that point.

Guess you never really can wander all that far. Something familiar always follows.

Other odd spottings in Venice:

A bride, in full wedding garb, looking very ticked off. But I would be too if I was fighting my way through the streets of Venice and people were stepping on my dress. But, she had her fiance/husband and bridesmaids in tow so Im sure she had everything her way eventually.

On the Rialto Bridge, saw what may have been part of a bachelor party. Group of guys, mid to late 20s, all very loud and drinking. One, the groom perhaps, was wearing striped but mismatched socks, two different shoes, Mardi Gras beads, an ivy wreath and a hat that looked like Dr. Suess cross-bred with St. Patricks Day. He was very drunk. So drunk that he tried to talk to people -- through the window -- of shops on the bridge. He put his beer down on the sill to do so, probably to use both hands to steady himself. Alas, he wandered off for more merriment without his beer.

Water on the ceiling?

Alright, its been a few days, so Im breaking this into a few posts.

You know in cartoons when someone turns the water on and the hose swirls and the person frantically tries to catch it, making a mess in the meantime?

Well, thats what I did Friday night at the hostel I finally made my way to in Nova Gorica. I left the library after my last post and hopped on the bus and got off in Rozna Dolina, a little village right on the Italian border. I was thrilled to have my own room with my own bathroom, so I decided I would dump out my entire bag, spread things out everywhere and take a nice, long, hot shower.

It wasnt a stationary shower head though, it was one of those stupid moveable ones, with the long cord. Cant remember what theyre called and while theyre great in theory, thats how water ended up on the ceiling -- and all over the wall and floor -- of my hostel in tiny Rozna Dolina.

But, I did get my long, hot shower and a decent nights sleep. Although Im pretty sure a Spanish couple were sitting outside my window and they talked forever.

The next morning, got up early, waited a good 45 minutes or more for the bus back to Nova Gorica. Walked, and got lost again, through town to the train station, caught the shuttle across the border to the Italian train station and headed the two-hours to Venice.

Friday, May 8, 2009

And here comes the hiccup.

Lonely Planet guidebook. You are seriously failing me on this trip.

In Nova Gorica right now, at the public library. Not entirely sure where Im going to sleep tonight. Need to go sort that out in about five minutes. But, in this town, and the last, Lonely Planet maps and information have not been awesome. Oh well, making do as I go.

Got up this morning and walked the 1km to the Postojna Caves. That was worth the hike and the ticket price. The cave is roughly 3 million years old and was discovered in 1818. It opened to the public in 1819 and I think the guide said theyd had electricity down there since 1824. Either way pretty impressive. When the crowd broke into groups by language for tours it looked like I was the only English speaker for a second. Then a lovely couple joined. Shes South African, hes Sweedish. She told me that military forces had stored ammunition in the cave, until the Allies figured it out and blew it up. Id have to check that, but would make sense.

The caves were great, although my legs were hating me the whole time. We only walked about an hour and it wasnt too intense, but after yesterdays hike, Im still feeling it. One couple brought a baby to the caves. Thought that was a bit odd. Not a toddler. A baby. In a cave. It was about 45 degrees and wet and dark in there. By the time we got to the ˝concert hall˝ the baby was wailing, so it echoed everywhere.

Caught the bus to Nova Gorica this afternoon. That took almost two hours and when I got here, I got lost, accosted by some annoying kids and a soccer ball and eventually ended up here at the library. Its been a slightly rough afternoon. Since I got here, nothing has gone quite right. Still havent found the hostel, so Im leaving momentarily to catch the bus to Rozna Dolina, which is about 4km away and where the hostel is. Hopefully, they have a room. Fingers crossed! Because if not, Im a little bit screwed.

Tomorrow morning Im walking across the Italian boarder to catch the train to Venice. And I do have a hostel booked when I get there. Im tempted to just go now, since Im pretty sure they arent full, but I think Im too tired for that.

The ride from Postojna to Nova Gorica was nice though. Very green, saw some great churches and castles. And a Betty Boop bag on a local girl on the bus.

Well, booked hostels through May 14, except for tonight. And just missed the bus again. Have to wait another hour. Its too bad there arent more accomodation options in this town. Id like it better if there were.

Alright, done for now. Will be in Italia tomorrow and hopefully in a better state of affairs!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Live like royalty anyone?

I did today.

Well, if you count hoofing it up a hill for a few kilometers until a very nice Slovenian woman takes pity on you and gives you a ride most of the way up. And then you climb all over a castle in a cliff thats cold and dark and leaky (from being partle in a cave) and then hoofing it back down, the whole 10 km back to town.

If thats not the life, what is?

Actually, it was a fantastic day, minus the fact that I cant really feel my legs now and I know I have blisters. Tomorrow Im walking just a kilometer to the caves, and I think it might be rough.

But, lets pick up where I left off yesterday. When I left the cyber cafe, I wandered around a bit more and wound up at the park. Just sat there and watched people walk by for at least an hour. An adorable little girl came up with who must have been her grandparents and was feeding bread to the pigeons. It was a tough concept for her, because she tried to toss the entire chunk at once instead of little bits at a time. Then she ran around and scared all the birds. Amusing.

Back at the hostel, I met Isabel, a French-Canadian from Montreal, but she spoke English! And another kid from California. He just finished his sophomore year at a school in Portland. Isabel and I went for dinner, pizza on the river. A small is actually a pizza bigger than your head, so a good deal really.

Caught the bus for Postjana this morning and while walking to the bus station almost choked on my water when I saw a Duke t-shirt in a store window. It was a sports store, but all the shirts in the window display had American teams and schools on them. Plus, there is American music everywhere and at the bus station, a girl had an Old Navy bad. Even saw a Ford on the road.

Theres some sort of sportting event going on now outside the hostel. Not sure what it is, but its loud and there are lots of people everywhere. Its not even my hostel, but mine doesnt have Internet, so had to come over here. But at least its free!

Back to the castle. It dates back to the 12th century and the oldest surviving records of the castle date to the 13th century. It was built with security in mind and is built into a cave below a cliff. Predjama Castles most famous resident was Erazem, who was there in the 15th century. He managed to defend against a month-long assault. But legend has it that a disloyal servant gave away his location -- when he was on the toilet -- and was killed. That was in 1484. Theres a cave under the castle too, but I didnt go in there.

Headed to Postojna Jama (cave in Slovene) tomorrow. Its supposed to be amazing. Ill report back afterward.

Until then. Na svidenje.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day on in Slovenia

Dober Dan!

Thats hello in Slovene. And Ill apologize right now for typos and bad grammar, the keyboard is in Slovene and a bit difficult to sort out. For example, the z and y are reversed and the symbols, oh I wont even go into those. Hence, no proper contractions.

Alright, travel details.

Got to Atlanta fine, and actually made it out of there on time. Flew Air France to Paris and landed on time. Made sure I could leave the aiport with out a problem and that my bag was checked through and then headed for the RER rail into the city. I wont lie, it took me about six rides up and down the elevator to figure out how to get to the rail station (the arrow on the sign pointed down) however, it meant go straight about 30 meters, then go down. So, Im now very familiar with the concourse at Terminal 2C.

Oh, and it was amusing to me that on the route map shown on the plane that Abilene, Texas was on everyone until we got over water. We used to live there and I didnt realize it was such a notable town.

In Paris, I went straight to Notre Dame cathedral and spent about an hour wandering through there. Next, I walked over to the Louvre, even though its closed on Tuesdays. Took way too many pictures of the glass pyramids. Did see the Eiffel Tower on the way over, while walking along the Seine. Went back to Notre Dame for noon mass. Then back toward to Louvre with plans to visit the Eiffel Tower. But instead, I detoured to the Park and walked up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. That was a long walk, and I had planned to veer over to the Eiffel Tower next, but I was exhausted (didnt sleep much on the plane) and the RER station was conveinently right there, so I hopped back on and headed to the airport.

In the train station met a French guy who lives in London, but was on holiday in Paris. Oddly enough, he needed my help to navigate the RER. But he was going to the airport too, so easy enough. Apparently I look as if I know where Im going in a city I spent five or six hours in, because quite a few people asked me for directions, in French. I took four years of the language in school, but my skills are limited.

So, today, I slept in late to make up for a few days of not sleeping. Then headed into town. Went straight up Castle Hill to the Ljublijana Castle. Not a lot to see there, but a good hike and nice weather. Then wandered down the other side and through more of town. Went to the open air market and bought some apples, since things are expensive here, markets might be the way to go.

Im sitting in the internet cafe right now, which it costs a ton to use the internet, so Ill wrap up here in a second, but theres American music blasting, Miley Cyrus at the moment no less. The taxi driver last night was also playing American music in his Mercedes. But, he was very friendly and helpful.

Tomorrow, Ill spend some more time in Ljublijana and then head to Postojna I think. Thats where the caves are a castle is nearby. So, need to get to some logistics. Will post again soon.

Nasvidenje. (Goodbye in Slovene)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pre-trip freak out mode

It's typical that the night before an international adventure, or any trip really, that I'm only starting to pack or plan the trip.

After spending most of the weekend in Birmingham (part work, part play), I came back to Montgomery this morning to spend several hours in the office making sure some work was done (and I'll have to go back in a few hours to really finish). Then waiting out a quick bout of severe weather that knocked out power and tossed tree branches all over the place. Then it was a dinner break and errands run with the roomie -- needed some more travel size goodies like shampoo and face wash, only to get home and discover I still have a bin full of those things from the last year's worth of trips. Also noticed there had been a run on hand sanitizer since several people in Target were asking clerks about it and there was about one bottle left -- I snagged it! So thanks for that swine flu.

But, have covered the Lonely Planet guides with scrapbook paper. It's a handy trick I read in Real Simple's travel magazine and used it in Peru last year -- definitely worth the 20 minutes it takes to cut and tape the paper to your book. That way you don't look like a completely lost tourist and an easy target. 

I've also wrapped up a quick bit of laundry and I think finished the bulk of my packing. I doubt I'll know what's actually in that bag till I come home and unpack it again after the trip. I just go through drawers and shove things in the bag. If it doesn't fit in the orange backpack I bought in New Zealand, it doesn't go. The bag is the perfect size for two-week trips with room for souvenirs. 

And, to calm my mom's (and secretly my own nerves), I've booked my parking for the Atlanta airport and my first hostel in Lbjuljana. The travel itinerary is also starting to take shape. Probably won't finish it tonight since I'll need something to do in the airport tomorrow!

I do need to figure out what to do for my 8 hours in Paris though. Turns out the airport isn't close to the city center and the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. Most unfortunate. But, I think I've settled on the Notre Dame cathedral and snapping photos of the Eiffel Tower and the arch. Possibly more, but catching the flight to Slovenia is the priority.

Things I still need to do: find a flashlight for caving and load up the carry on bag. Should also brush up on my basic French and learn a few words in Slovene. I never got past "dober," or good. The roommate taught me that one as she read my Eastern European phrase book more than I did I'd bet.

But, for now, sleep.