Thunder and lightening - not so very frightening. We left Silea this morning as the heavens opened. There has been widespread rain storms across Europe for the past week, but Italy has been dry - until sometime late last night - and the rain continues today. We are headed east for a quick drive through Slovenia en-route to the Zagreb Airport in Croatia to collect Donna who is joining us for an all too short two weeks. We could have driven directly from here, but as her plane lands at 11:40 am that would have necessitated a very early start - something we are not good at presently!
The trip totally off the highways will take more than 5 hours so we decided to begin on the motorway as far as Trieste and the border and then to re-programme Kate and see how long it will take on the back roads from there. And so that is what we do. An hour after leaving on the motorway, we are happy to leave it as we get a poor view of the world through which we are travelling thanks to the high (and no doubt effective) double guard rails. We are also travelling again with our regular companions on the roads - the convoys of trucks bearing Eastern Europe plates - gues on a Satuday most of them are headed home for the weekend. After all it is not very far from here to Slovenia, or Croatia, or Hungary, or Romania where the majority of them are from, although it is a little further to Russia (we pass a few from there as well!)
West of Silea towards Trieste, Italy is flat and open. There are varied lots of crops intersperced with small groves of birch and ash trees. I think that these are used in the furniture trade. Around Trieste, the road begins to become less well engineered. I guess this close to the border the authorities think that they dont need to maintain standards. When we cross the border with its former infrastructure just a few kilometres away at Sežana, then the standard of the road really falls away.
Now, I just LOVE the Slovenia tourism marketing tag - I feel love, Slovenia. How clever is that! Again we cross a border and cross landscapes. Gone are the flat open plains of eastern Italy and hello again to hilly landscapes. For most part the road wends its way through narrow valleys alongside fast slowing rivers. We go up into the forests and for a minute hold our hearts in our throats as the car tyres slip on the carpet of wet fallen autumn leaves as we come down a steep turn. But just for a moment - god, how would it be to go over a ravine in a country where we are still grappling with the hello's and thank you's?
We reach Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, travelling arond the outskirts. There are lots of new buildings going up - very modern in design, bright and cheerful in well laid out streets where the roundabout rules. This is nice to see. Of course, we also pass lots of older areas complete with historic civic and ecclesiastical buildings - thats Town Halls and Churches to those who don't understand.
Back into the countryside though, things are different. We are now really on the back back roads and are twisting through small villages where the houses meet the street. Buildings are surprisingly large - stand alone dwellings with space for good size flower and vegetable gardens around them. We see hay drying on tile covered racks, and ears of corn hanging to dry as well as the last of masses dahlia plantings.
We drive over one 'mountain' and down into a long narrow valley into Trbovlje that lies by the river Sava. The area is known for its rich deposits of coal and there is a large coal mine as well as three power plants. One features the Trbovlje Chimney - reputedly the Europe's tallest chimney (360 m). It is also known for its co-incineration plant, built in Trbovlje's cement factory. Smoke and steam billow in to the air and if the chemical stains streaking down the side of the tall tower are any indication, then the plant's scrubbers are not too efficient. It seems so incogruous with the ladsacpe in which it sits, any with the twittering of the birds that we hear.
Its not long before we climb out of this valley and turn into the hills again to reach Laško, driving through a covered bridge that crosses the Sava River which we cross again as we are coming in to town. The landscape is filled with small villages complete with domed steeples on Orthodox or Catholic churches - very eastern Europe for the country that is at its most western point! And as we pull in to the street where the hotel is sited, Michael spies a steam engine that he feels the need to check out a little later!
We are staying at the Hotel Hum in Laško tonight. As we are checking in I remarked to the young clerk that it was chilly up here in the mountains. "Mountains?!" he quissically commented! "Ah", says Michael, "when everything is flat in Australia, these we call mountains!" Still not sure if he knew what to make of us. Hotel Hum is very central and literally just off the highway. Our room overlooks the highway and the adjacent river, but with the windows fully closed you can't hear any of the noise thankfully. Laško is located on the Savinja River almost in the centre of Slovenia.
Funnily enough, my friend Kaye has today emailed me a list of the 'top tens'. Amongst them was the Top Ten Best European Cities to Visit. And we have been to nine of them! It's amazing what can be crammed into just a few months, and each of these cities are as exciting as they are diverse. In retrospect, it's not the buildings or the archaeological relics which defines a city - it is its people. In our ten months of travel, we can confidently agree we haven't had one bad experience with the locals.
We went down to dinner tonight and joined only one other couple eating. They are German!! We take a seat in a restaurant that must be busy at some times - it is set for 60 people. We are handed a slip of paper with todays offerings (menu!) We can choose between Beef soup or vegetable soup, then Minced beef with rice, Turkey in cream sauce or vegetarian dish. Doesn't sound much, but the food was really good.
Michael had the Goveja juha z rezanci (beef soup with noodles) while I had the Vegetarijanska juha (Vegetarian soup).
This was followed by Mleto meso obrezovalec s sirom postrežejo s paradižnika riž (Minced beef topped with cheese served with tomato rice) while I had the Turčija v smetanovi omaki s testeninami, crepes in papriko (Turkey in cream sauce with pasta, crepes and peppers). I also had a lovely glass of Slovenian white wine. There were no prices on the slip of paper and so I did assume that it was a set price. We weren't however expecting this price! All of €20.50 for the lot!!! The glass of very drinkable wine was €1.40 out of that too! Bargain.
It was Mum's birthday yesterday but she wasn't answering when we phoned to give her our greetings. I manage to get on to her tonight with Skype and we talk for over an hour! Michael is thrilled - the telly is broadcasting two channels in English (sub-titled in Slovenian), one playing movies and as I finish up for the night he is enthralled in Dracula 2000 with Christopher Plummer and Jeri Ryan - a classic and a looker in a timeless story - yep, he's hooked! An earlier night as we must be off earlier in the morning to get to Zagreb in time to meet Donna's flight. Lahko noč (goodnight)!