28 October 2011: Postojna, Slovenia
As we are leaving Italy we have decided to call into Sacile and Palmanova on the way through to Postojna.
Sacile: Just a short drive from Treviso and we are there by mid morning. This town is described as the Garden of Serenity. Well it is lovely and once you can actually find a parking spot for a motorhome (we parked at the local sports stadium) we were able to wander through the willow-lined streets into the main part of town. The town is well maintained, the road crews were out sweeping out the leaves, which considering it is autumn may be an ongoing job. The canal runs through town and there is a nice piazza where we were lucky enough to sit in the sun and have a coffee. This is an expensive looking area but there are lots of nice shops, restaurants and cafes. It was supposedly bombed heavily in WWII and has obviously been rebuilt in quite a few days. I wouldn’t say it reminded me of Venice as the guidebook says, but it is a nice spot to chill out for a few hours.
Palmanova: This is a town that Scott really wanted to visit – described as being shaped like a nine-pointed star and a town built within a fortress, you soon realise that there isn’t much left of the defences and you can’t tell anything about the stars unless you are above and there is no lookout tower etc and as hiring an airplane is a bit out of our price range. The only part you can really see are the gates into/out of the city which are still in use. There is a large Piazza Grande in the shape of a hexagon with three of the roads leading to the gates (Udine, Cividale and Aquileia). We decide as there isn’t much to see we will continue to head towards Slovenia.
The trip into Slovenia was easy and you hardly felt like you were leaving Italy. We are heading to Postojna to an Aire and for the caves. Slovenia has been settled since 250,000 BC (evidence has been found in a cave just southwest of Postojna and it sounds an interesting combination of new and old, not only that, it is on the Euro and apparently has a high level of English – fantastic news for us as we are struggling under the mountain of languages.
Postojna: We arrive there as it is getting dark to find the Aire has a barrier across it, so we park in the car-park across the road. Soon we are the only people in the whole area – really strange, anyway we can’t work out the timings of the Caves, so eventually give up, rug up in the van as it is freezing and listen to the tonne of leaves dropping on the roof. There was no option not to park under the trees, so have to make do. It is kind of eerie being all alone here, but we watch a nearby building change colours during the night.
29-30 October 2011: Ljubljana, Slovenia
We get up early to find that magically the other Aire had opened – no idea how that worked, but we find that the Caves don’t open until 10am and it takes about 4 hours to do and we wanted to be in Ljubljana today. There is still nobody around, so we pay the carpark fee (EUR10 which was cheaper than the Aire at EUR18 anyway). However if you have time this looks like a great place to spend the day, there are excellent facilities and a castle is only another 9kms up the road. Apparently Slovenia is just full of subterranean caves, although the most spectacular are at Skocjan which is a Unesco World Heritage site. Because of this geological feature lakes appear and disappear at random times, which may be why the Partisans were able to stay hidden in the bog areas of Slovenia for so long. At Postojna there is also the added bonus of seeing an albino creature called the human fish. This sort of looks like a tadpole.
The roads so far in Slovenia have been great, easy to navigate and in good condition. The towns are quite big and the scenery is drop dead gorgeous. It is autumn so the leaves are a-changing and due to the still dominant forests in this country it is a magnificent sight. So far everyone we have had to speak to has also spoken great English, better than some people at home.
We arrive in Ljubljana and head to the only motorhome park that seems to be open at this time of year – Ljubljana Resort (www.ljubljanaresort.si ) which is just a short bus-ride from the town centre. There are quite a few motorhomes in and out of the park, although we do feel like one of the few braving the colder weather and heading north, but c’est la vie. As it is still only lunchtime, we head into town. You buy a bus ticket from the reception at the campsite and that is valid for a return journey, you only need to tag on and off – bit like home. We get off at the Nama Centre which is then a short stroll to the old part of town. It is now drizzling, just a fine drizzle, but enhances the cold and we are both glad we dragged out the thermal trousers, groan.
Ljubljana was inhabited by the Romans in the 1st century AD and has since been inhabited by a variety of countries, tribes etc, all leaving their own inherent traits on the city centre. Although the longest inhabitants were the Habsburgs (Germans I suppose) who inhabited the city from 1335 until after WWI. There isn’t a lot left prior to 1511 (medieval times) due to a huge earthquake that devastated the city, but we are certainly glad that people rebuilt it. During WWII it was occupied by both the Italians and the Germans, but today is part of the EU and seems to have found a lot of success in its management into the global markets. Today it is one of the nicest cities we have visited and it would be an absolute pleasure to come again in warmer months. Today we are on foot in freezing temperatures, but the city is easy to navigate. Everything seems to look towards the Ljubljana Castle and the River.
Presernov Trg: the first square or set of streets you come to culminate in a monument of Preseren (1905) and as well as linking the old and new towns, this leads you towards the Triple Bridge. This originally started out as one bridge (1842) before being expanded in 1931 by Joze Plecnik (this was one busy man in Ljubljana – his name is everywhere). The most noticeable monument in the square is the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation which is a huge pink building. There were services going on when we were there, so we didn’t go inside. We always feel bad having a sticky beak at mass times.
Central Market Area: How lucky, for once we make it to a market. This may be a small capital city, but the market is certainly thriving and is beautifully laid out. There is a lovely colonnade walkway along the river and then on your right there are loads and loads of market stalls in the open air along Vodnikov Trg selling everything from local produce to souvenirs and clothes. At the end of Vodnikov Trg is the famous Dragon Bridge which is a fantastic photo opportunity at any time of day. The dragon is everywhere here and we thought it must hail from the old days, but alas according to the Lonely Planet it is from the 20th century and was part of a bridge design to win an award. Dominating this market area is the Cathedral of St Nicholas which was built in the 18th century on the site of a 12th century church.
Ljubljana Castle: We are lazy and take the easy option of the funicular up to the castle. There has been a building on this site from Celtic times, but the current building seems to hail from the 16th century and has been recently renovated big time. This sort of renovation would ruin a lot of castles or older style buildings, but in this case it has been done extremely well and it certainly melds the old with the super modern, using glass and steel you can see exactly where the renovated work has been done. It is also a fantastic venue for any event as you can easily wander the areas and there are several restaurants/bars and a, yes I am going to say it, a good souvenir shop. We climb the Watchtower to view the castle – supposedly on a nice day you can see nearly a third of Slovenia, today however, we were lucky to see each other. Still you get the idea. At the bottom of the Watchtower is the Chapel of St George – now this is definitely worth venturing into and sitting down for a minute to take in all the frescoes and coats of arms – beautiful paintings. We wander through and along the ramparts and other buildings before ascending the funicular back into town and the thought of something warm.
After the castle we find a bar to sit down and try out some of the local wines and wow are they good! Scott also goes into roast chestnut overdrive and buys a large packet to munch on while we are sitting under the outdoor heaters. We see a restaurant across the river (Pizzicato) and decide to head there for lunch – we hadn’t seen anyone come in or out, but it looked nice. We crossed the river and opened the door and it was packed, so we managed to get a table and sit down. This restaurant does both local food and pizza as well as some very nice wine. I have a large veggie pizza and Scott ventures into the local cuisine of a stew with dumplings. He doesn’t go for the horse steak (stallion steak) and he can’t eat veal with me as I abhor the practice. The meal was wonderful and we are suitable stuff when we venture out. We continue to wander through town taking in the sights and sounds of this lovely place and decide to stay another day and come back in tomorrow. As such we head back to the campsite via the lovely roman walls (14-15 AD) and ruins as it is getting dark. Once back at the campsite, we venture into the restaurant which is almost empty – strange, looks nice, does a good variety of food, but we are stuffed from lunch and have a drink whilst doing a few emails.
Next day we head back into town. It is Sunday so there is no market on today, but we can still wander the streets and the cafes etc are open. We also realise that the time has changed between here and Italy – yes it has taken a few days and of course it makes sense that people weren’t at the restaurant so early last night. As it is not raining or drizzling today we wander the streets taking photographs and finding all the places we couldn’t find yesterday. We head back into the Old town and find the Mestni Trg, Stari Trg and Gornji Trg which house some of the oldest and most interesting architecture that highlight some of the important historical events in Ljubljana’s history. It is nice to spend the time just wandering and window shopping, stopping for coffee/cake instead of having a list of tourist sites. There is also an antique market on along the river which we wander through. The old town is full of tiny narrow streets with some lovely medieval houses and small bridges which linked the different parts of the city. We are now starving so head to Sokol for an early lunch. Again we hadn’t seen many people enter it, but once inside it is a huge restaurant over several floors all in the traditional style of vaulted ceilings with a huge selection of Slovenian food. Luckily they also did a very nice vegetable risotto. Scott enjoyed his mixed grill of different meats with picked cabbage and turnip and of course the wine was really nice yet again.
Walking past the Opera House (building 1892), we head towards the large Park Tivoli and through an art installation of paintings and sculpture, all set off by autumnal colours. Back down towards the Serbian Orthodox Church we venture inside to a church full of blue and gold paintings, every surface explodes in colour. We stop for an afternoon coffee and I have a cake whilst Scott has his container of hot chestnuts. It has been a great day and we head back to Vinnie happy with everything we have seen and done and just loving the friendly atmosphere of this city.
31 October 2011 – 1 November 2011: Vienna, Austria
The drive doesn’t look very far on the map, so we set off early for Vienna. We finally released it was a public holiday here in Slovenia so the shops were closed, although we did find a LeClercs open so did some shopping and bought some Slovenian wine before heading into Australia. Our driving therefore was quite easy, with the exception along the way we had to buy a vignette to use the motorways in Slovenia and also had to buy one to use the motorways in Austria. Not sure what the money goes on, but in Austria it certainly isn’t the roads as they are some of the worst we have travelled on in Europe, with only Republic of Ireland being worst. We had initially hoped to be at the campsite in Vienna at 3:30pm, however after finding our first two campsite choices closed, we find an Aire, but that didn’t seem the best, so hung our luck on one final campsite (Camping Wien West) which was open, well open, but nobody in reception, so we parked in the carpark and I poured Scott and wine and cooked dinner as he was shattered driving through, in and around Vienna in peak hour.
We got up early and I then stood in the queue at the Reception counter to finally get told by the worlds must unhelpful person that I needed the number of the spot we were in, so I went back and got the number and queued again to find that wasn’t the number, it was meant to be the other number!!! I gave up and told Scott to deal with him. Scott came back eventually after checking in (apparently we couldn’t have been in the number Scott gave him, and he had to go and check that yes whoever was there had left). We got a map and a ticket and headed off into Vienna, only to realise that yes, it is a public holiday here today. Hmm we hadn’t really had a good vibe so far with Vienna and this means that nothing will be open. Oh well, we are here now. We get on the bus and change at the train station at Karlsplatz. We venture towards the Hofburg area which is where the Habsburg dynasty ruled Austria for six centuries. The buildings are seriously grandiose and overpowering, certainly no lack of money in those days. However, they need to be cleaned and the whole area needs to have somebody go through picking up rubbish. Everything else seems to be under some form of covering or undergoing interminable renovations. We wander around the outsides of the buildings and through the parks. It is seriously cold today. Different sections of the area has been grouped into different museums, galleries etc, but we aren’t in the mood for the galleries and having been to Paris, London Scott is way over art. Most of the monuments so far all relate to Emperor Franz Joseph I (1848-1916), he certainly liked to see his likeness around the place. We stop and have a coffee at a small cafe – not cheap are these things and we are served by Mr Grumpy, who must be related to Mr Grumpy at the campsite reception. So far two out of two people in the service industry have been incredibly miserable and unwilling to help, although they did speak English.
We headed towards the Stephansom (the cathedral) which you can’t see from afar like other cathedrals, instead when you walk around the corner it is literally there. A huge Viennese Gothic building full of pillars, ribbed vaulted ceilings etc. Mass is on so you can only stand at the back of the cathedral so we decide to come back later.
We walk around the corner towards Mozarthaus. This is the only remaining address for Mozart left in the city and it is certainly a desirable residence. Obviously things weren’t tough as a composer, although he only lived here from 1784-1787, supposedly his happiest time but the effects of a gambling addiction saw the end to that and he died a pauper 1791. We didn’t go inside as the house does not have any of his personal possessions and I am not an artistic person and struggle to imagine what it would have been like. We then start the long walk to the Danube Canal and we go via the Prater which is an old style amusement park. Being a public holiday you would think this place would be packed, but alas, hardly a sole here which is a real shame as it is a fantastic spot for kids with a huge variety of rides and amusements. Continuing on, we finally reach the Danube and what a disappointment – it isn’t blue! It is just a large canal with industrial ship works on the sides, no restaurants etc. There weren’t even any cruises running. Oh well we gave up and headed to the underground and back to Stephansplatz where after walking past the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Reitschule) allows you to see the Lipizzaner horses before they perform. I am not sure if they are different to the Lipazana (or however they spell it) horses in Slovenia? We found a restaurant that was open and served local food. Again this was staffed by Mr and Mrs Happy and service etc seemed an unexpected requirement. Eventually we got some food and some wine (awful wine, so glad we stocked up in Italy and Slovenia). After our fill of food we headed back towards the Stephansom where Mass had finished but as today is a public holiday you can’t see the Catacombs or take the elevator to the north tower, although with the fog or pollution no point in trying to get a city view anyway. So we saw the bits we could and eventually gave up with the cold and started the trip back to the campsite which was actually very easy and well located.