Well, finally we have passed through Croatia and are in Slovenia. There really is a different feel here. For one thing, we are back in the land of the Euro, versus the Kuna, which is the name of a small, weasel-like animal printed on the coins of Croatia. The sea is a different colour blue, more navy blue than the crazy turquoise colour of the Adriatic, and the sky is lighter. This combined with the coolness in the air really reminds me of home.
As we are waiting to be moved from the customs dock to our site, a friend and I go for a wander through town. We find a delicious orange and chocolate ice cream for 1 Euro a scoop, a nice park on the point with gorgeous clear water, and a church on the high point with brightly-coloured adobe buildings around it. The people are immediately much more friendly, and the whole place feels really contented and relaxed. We are looking forward to a glorious six days here.
The site is at the end of a labyrinth of boats, and requires another impressive parking job by the Captain. In the end we are parked diagonally in a corner with both ends nearly touching the walls, it is that tight. At the back, the rudder is slipped between two anchor chains that form a triangle of support for the dock’s gangway. To the starboard side are moored several small boats and a concrete mooring block just under the water’s surface. It is quite a feat to place a 90ft. boat so precisely in such a tight space, so further kudos to Captain Paul Kirby for his impressive maneuvering skills.
On the second day, a group of five of us rent a car and went for an epic drive. We find a castle that is built into a cave with 45 kms of Karstic caves, like the ones we saw in Croatia, forming an underwater highway under the mountain range. These have been turned into tourist attractions, which due to our time constraints we didn’t pay for, but we did explore the castle, which had various displays of the lifestyles and implements of that time. This was nowhere near as well done as the display at Krka National Park, but the whole environment was very beautiful; a little settlement tucked into a green valley at the feet of these rocky cliff faces and caves. There was even a jousting strip with a viewing box where they hold events to celebrate historic life.
We drove further along a lovely scenic route charted out on the map towards our destination, a gorgeous part of a river to the north of Isola. As the day neared to a close, we pulled off the highway and found a campsite. Although the man was nice, the sites were 10 Euros per person, and we decided we didn’t need to pay to sleep out under the stars, so in spite of the descending darkness, we pushed on. By some beautiful synchronicity, we found the absolutely perfect spot that answered everybody’s requirements and prayers.
It was a lovely sandy spot right by the river and under the shelter of some leafy green trees. It even had a fire ring and a little bench already there! We had brought potatoes, red onions, oranges and olive oil to make a rustic salad our Aussie cook had learned while in Greece. We wrapped potatoes and onions and some corn we had nipped from a field along the way in tinfoil, and while they cooked in the fire, shared a nice bottle of sweet wine I had purchased from a household winery in Novigrad. After a satisfying meal, we set our sleeping bags up in a square around the fire, and fell into a cozy and fresh camp sleep. By chance, there was a small church just above us on a hill whose hourly chimes felt sweet and homey.
The next day, after rising, tidying, and a light breakfast and stretch, we headed on our way. We were conscious of the time, as we were meant to be back at the car rental shop by noon, and had work to do that day on the boat, but we didn’t let it curb our enjoyment of the stunning landscape we had found ourselves in. We had driven quite close to the Alps, and the countryside was the most vivid green I have ever seen.
At a turning in the road where we were meant to cross back over the river towards the highway, those in the car unanimously agreed to head upward instead, on impulse. We rose instead into the foothills of the Alps along a very tight switchback road, arriving finally in the sweetest village I have ever seen. It was the kind of place you could park your car and just walk away from the outside world and never miss a thing. We decided that this was the place to have coffee.
We found a super sweet little bed and breakfast, which smelled like chicken soup when we walked in and were delighted to also see a cappuccino machine! Although the coffee was a little weak, the view was breathtaking. I was so excited to be so close to the Alps, which I have read and wondered about since I was a little girl. Now I was actually here!! It was easily as beautiful and impressive as BC’s coastal mountains, and surpassed all my expectations.
On our way back we drove through many picturesque small towns and valleys that can only be described as verdant. I have never seen such brilliant greens, and this coming from a native of beautiful BC is a statement indeed. The nicest town we passed was called Kanal. It straddled the river with the classic stone buildings I am now becoming familiar with in this area, and had lovely rises and falls throughout the small town, surrounded by this magnificent countryside. I would love to go back there.
On the way back we took a stop to jump in the river. The water was very milky light green and shockingly cold. It was a good way to wake up and refresh ourselves from all the driving, which in all turned out to be about 4 hours each way. We were late getting back, but it was so worth it! We packed so much into those 12 short hours, and saw so much of the country.
When we got back there was still time for us to complete our chores as part of the Amara Zee appreciation day, during which we lavished care and attention on the more elaborate needs of the boat that has carried us like a big mama turtle on her back all this way. Then we had a fun drive in a kiddies/tourist train, which we all packed into with some on the roof. We had a tour of the town, and then arrived at the billboard on the outskirts of town that advertised the show. We had fun taking a group picture in front of the billboard and then came back to the boat.
That night we had the most magnificent meal of the trip so far. Several of the sponsors have treated our group to meals, as part of their hospitality, but the meals have ranged, in general, from monotonous to atrocious. This meal, however, was so delectable, even the cooks in our group were raving and drooling. It was served somewhat like tapas, with many different cold and warm dishes, mostly seafood, but also some cheese, veggies and delicious, bottomless wine. The hospitality also was wonderful. It was a meal not soon to be forgotten and the most wonderful ending to a magical day.
On another occasion, a group of us tried to go to hot springs, which, according to the tourist information lady, was at literally the other end of the country. We were all tantalized by the possibility of warm spring water and a natural setting, so set off on the drive. When we arrive at our destination, we found it to be a spa therapy centre for old aged people! Imagine our shock, after sitting for 3 hours in the car. However, it was a remarkable thing for me, to drive from one end of the country in less than the time it takes me to drive home for Christmas to see my family who live in the same province as me!
We quickly recovered our aims and redirected our mission to the capital, Ljubljana, which was a place that I really wanted to see. We had an amazing meal, maybe the first meal I have paid for since leaving Vancouver 3.5 months ago, and then walked briefly through the city and towards the squat, which was meant to be a place of art and culture. We found an area with tons of art on the walls, graffiti, mosaics and collage. There were a couple of bars; inside one was a live dj with really interesting projections, and a table with artists selling their comics and various other work. The area was really interesting, and in general, I found Ljubljana to be full of art. A very interesting city, and I’m glad I went.
Isola also had the first coin-operated laundry we had encountered since leaving home. I did my laundry in the super efficient, state of the art washing facilities with a great sense of appreciation, after washing my clothes by hand for the past 3 months. It was brilliant, made all the more special by a great connection with the lady owner, who also folded all my clothes when I showed up late to pick my clothes up. What a sweet treat!
The people in this town were definitely our best audience. Most of them stayed until the end, and cheered demonstratively at the end. In general though, the people here were so warm. As a Canadian I really noticed the absence of the precognition of fear around social rejection that creates such a chilly atmosphere of correctness in our public spaces (though certainly not our private ones, as people are wonderful and warm under this protective surface).
We all had a lovely time here, and were sad to say goodbye, but onward we sailed this Tues. morning towards Lignano, Italy.