Monday, October 26, 2009

One day, three countries

Well, Donna has left for home. When we were having dinner last night we were talking about the dreaded trip home - not because you are headed home, but rather because of the thought of 20+ hours flying in cramped conditions and endless hours of stopovers in generic airport lounges where it is impossible to get any sleep, or maybe even worse - the fast stopover that has you running from your arrival gate to the departure gate. Both Donna and I have exhausting memories of arriving at Gate 1 in Hong Kong and then needing to leave only one hour later from Gate 89 and the mad dash to get there in time. Unfortunately, she only has a 1 hour turnaround in Hong Kong again - hope the gates are closer this time Sis!

We left the Hotel Stella about 5:20 am to take her to the Airport and once she had checked her luggage through, left her at the departure point to come back and try to get some more sleep. You know what it is like when you know you absolutely positively have to wake up by a certain time - yep, you sleep with one eye open even through you have set the alarm - just in case! Huh - good intentions, but there is a construction site within easy earshot of the hotel - hadn't been a problem over the last couple of days because it was the weekend. This morning however is different . . .

And so we move out too. This begins the countdown for us as well and from here we are headed north towards Germany and Steph and Felix and then further north for London and our own departure. Don't have an exact date yet, will know by the end of the week I hope. (We are trying to change our tickets for a week later). We will definitely be home for Christmas though.

Before we leave Zagreb for good we are going back in to the old town for one last try to get a look at Ban Jelačić Square - the one spot that we have missed so far. But today is not to be lucky either - parking on a week day is just as bad as on the weekend, if not worse. Michael dives out at a Souvenir shop to get a few mementos and comes back with plenty to share with Donna as well. Nice. We also get a photo of the local tie shop - you see, neckties were invented in Croatia - go one guys say thanks! We head back in through the main commercial area to turn north and join the crawling traffic. With nowhere to park I am left wondering if they just drive round and round in endless circles!

Once we are clear of the city though it soon thins out. Today is very foggy. It looks dim and dismal, but apart from being rather dank, and despite being very cool (down to 13.5C), it is a very comfortable day for driving. We want to make one last stop at a supermarket here - I want a bottle of Orahovac (Walnut liquer) that I have come to like so much! I'll add it to the Pear Cognac I have to bring home - so from now I will be building Michael's alcohol allowance!! Don't worry though, my cigarette allowance is still intact. So we follow the signs for one of the Konzum Super stores and end up about 10 kilometres away! Still, shopping successful (we also bought enough of their lovely Jamnica mineral water - by far the very nicest we have ever tried) we re-join the motorway.

This part of northern Croatia is much like Slovenia for where we are headed en-route to Graz in Austria. Through the foggy mist, we can see mountains developing from the lowlands we have left. There is plenty of ploughing going on in the fields by the roadside - everyone is getting busy preparing for what feels might be a long cold winter. All around, we can see the smoke from the home hearths burning inside the houses. Without any wind, they curl lazily upwards in straight columns.

As we near the Slovenian border, the countryside gives way to more rugged scenery with deep chasms appearing between higher cliffs - oh how I wish we had more time to explore this part of Croatia. It has been a wonderful two weeks getting to know this jewel of the Adriatic and its people. But push on now we must. The motorway ends, with further construction going on ahead of us - boy Croatia is really in a road building blitz. And as the motorway ends, the traffic comes almost to a total stop. We crawl forwards so slowly that it doesn't even register a speed on the speedometer. Ah, this is the last kilometer before the border crossing. At least it gives me time to get one last look at the colours of autumn in their blaze of glory before winter and the white claims victory shortly.

As Croatia is not yet a member of the European Union, border posts are still manned at its borders. There is a huge traffic jam here - cars in three queues, buses and coaches in one and trucks in another. We join one queue hoping that there is not going to be any need to open theboot - I mean it is packed to the upper limit. As we get close to the officials, we can see the passengers on all the coaches disembarking to file past a border office and have their passports checked - no wonder there is such a long line of coaches. It would be faster for an official to get on the bus and check the passports - but hey, they are the ones in control, right!

It is much faster to be in the cars and none are being stopped at the moment thankfully - I think that the police are annoyed at the traffic building up that by now must be kilometres long. A police car has come to a screaming, angry stop at the border post just a few minutes ago. We get to a bored official who no doubt must have sore feet. He just glances at our passports and hands them back with a dismissive way. So we crawl forward about 50 feet and this time don't make the mistake of not stopping for the customs official. He doesn't even look at us before waving us through! Guess there is no hard and fast rule.

So we are now back in Slovenia and the EU. First stop is a roadside petrol station for a Vingette that we need to have in order to travel the motorways and main roads. And you can't get one for one day and have to buy one for a week for €15. That's an ouch as we actually need it for less than one hour to travel the 60 kms to the Austrian border where again we must buy a weekly vignette but this time we need it for about a 24 hour period as we are stopping overnight in Graz to have a look. And at €7.70 at least it is more reasonable. Ah, revenue raising in Slovenia is alive and well. As we are travelling the motorway, there is not much we can see of this area of Slovenia, but as with the more western edge, it is very scenic - rolling hills with villages in the valleys and copses of trees left standing on the ridges to minimise erosion and lots and lots of churches - some with tall spire and others with the more orthodox onion shaped domes. Bugger bugger bugger that our time is ending - there is so much more to see. Anyone want to finance us to keep travelling????

Graz is just 40 kms into Austria from this southern border, so it is not long before we are back into a city. The outskirts are very familiar looking - individual houses with fenced or hedged lawns. Once we reach the more urban areas, this gives way to medium density apartment blocks and commercial enterprises. There is the golden mile of car yards, lots of 'bars' thatare advertising scazntily clad women in provocative poses - ah, a (brothel) rose by any name is sweet I guess. There are also numerous casinos and gaming shops.

Austrian motorists here are about as crazy as the Italians, taking crazy crazy risks overtaking on this major road that is generally thick with traffic. And like many other European cities, the horn rules here as well. Gosh, you kind of forget how crazy a large city can be. Kate has no trouble getting us to our accommodation at Hotel Daniel which is literally right next door to the main railway station. However, it is as quiet as!!

The hotel is one of those funky modern types and our room is very interesting with a shower that has a glass wall that looks into the room! Hey Donna and Helen, aren't you glad that you are not with us now! Its very comfortable and that bed looks really really inviting after what has turned out to be a longer day than usual. So instead of going out for dinner, we give in to the dreaded takeaway from the world's largest chain before crashing. By tomorrow morning we should be ready to have a look around!

You know, we swore when we started out on this trip that we would not do the ten countries in two weeks thing that so many visitors to Europe do. Today proved us a little wrong I guess.

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