Sunday, July 31, 2011

Part 14

Thursday, July 21

Moving on, we're headed for Dubrovnik today.

We had to get up early (again). When we were leaving Ljubljana, I set the alarm for 0610. So far, that seems to be a good time for getting up whenever we have something to do. Yesterday, it was a good time to get up to head to town to get the ferry tickets, and today, it was a good time to get up to get ready to leave.

Irena, the apartment owner, had offered to drive us down to the bus terminal; so we didn't have to schlep our bags too far to the ferry dock.

It was a much different ride on this Krilo catamaran. Fast and smooth, but also very full. Every seat was taken. When we got back to Split, there was what I now consider to be the "usual suspects" meeting the boat ... people holding signs for "Apartment/Sobe/Zimmer", tour operators meeting their next clients, porters offering to tote your bags on carts.

The transportation links in Split all converge at the same place. The ferry dock is right adjacent to the bus station, which is adjacent to the train station. It sure makes life easy for those "usual suspects". We hiked over to the bus station, and while Marg checked on where the bus was likely to be, I went in to buy the tickets. It turned out that we wouldn't have much of a wait; the next bus to Dubrovnik was leaving in about 15 minutes.

Who knew that buying your bus ticket didn't include "luggage handling". I had to pay a 20 kuna-per-bag "checked luggage" fee. And who knew that there was "assigned seating" on the bus. While I was dealing with the bags, Marg had gone on board to snag us a couple of seats on the right-hand side (for better views of the coast as we go southbound). With the bags taken care of, I went inside to get us a couple of kava z mlekom for the trip. I got on board and joined her. It was shortly afterwards, based on the conversation s of those around us, that we realized the "assigned seating" policy. Checking our tickets, we saw that we didn't even have two seats together ... let alone on the right-hand side of the bus. Fortunately, no one came to ask us to move.

We're working our way south along what is called the "Croatian Riveria" - and for good reason. The "beaches" along here are closer to what I would consider "beach" and there are all kinds of small hotels, pensions, apartments and campgrounds. The road twists and turns it's way along the coast; the views out over (and because it's a coastal road with plenty of ups and downs, down to) the water are spectacular. On the left, the coastal hills (or maybe they're mountains) rise rapidly. In the tourist centres, vendors with small stalls sell everything you might need when on vacation, outside of the towns, roadside fruit stands have giant watermelons. Every turn in the road brings something new.

A few passengers just got off in Makarska ... another tourist-centred town. A few more are getting on. The bus station here looks a lot like the one in Split.

We carried on slowly down the coast. The bus stopped in Ploče for a quick five-minute break and Marg managed to get in to the bathroom. I stayed behind - on the bus - to make sure that we didn't leave without her.

The road made a large loop around what appeared to be some sort of flood plain; the area was latticed with irrigation canals and roadside fruit and vegetable stands were everywhere. As we left the flood plain, the road climbed up, and up, and up - over a shoulder of yet another mountain. We rounded a few more bends in the highway and came to a passport control. This part of Croatia's Dalmation coast is fractured into two pieces by a small slice of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it wasn't Bosnians that boarded the bus, they were Croatians. As happened on the train from Ljubljana to Zagreb, passports were checked *leaving* the country. A little further on, we came to the town of Neum. Here, the bus stopped for a 15 minute break.

Marg and I got sandwiches at the small snack bar. Many of the other passengers were getting ice cream. The "rest area" has a terrace with yet another gorgeous view out over the Croatian Adriatic ... or at least what I assume is the Croatian Adriatic since the Bosnian piece of coastline is so small and includes no offshore islands.

Back on the bus and we're off - only to arrive shortly after at another passport control/customs stop. Again, it's Croatian. Margaret and I are beginning to make jokes about the secret police forces of Bosnia and Croatia ... but maybe it's no joke. At the last passport control, they checked everyone's documents ... at this control they just waved the bus through. I started to wonder what all of these people will do for a living when Croatia (and eventually Bosnia) joins the EU. What happened at the Slovenia/Austria border will happen here - the only difference being that these recently-established borders (post-Yugoslavia breakup) have not yet developed as much infrastructure.

Out of Bosnia and back in Croatia, we were on the "home stretch" for Dubrovnik. Traffic was heavy on this two-lane road. We crossed a really nice-looking single-pillar cable-stay bridge (Franjo Tudjman Bridge), turned left and down to the bus terminal/ferry/cruise ship dock. From there, we had to take a bus to the Pile Gate - the main entrance to the old city.

The old city was not quite as confusing to navigate as Venice. We quickly found our way to the apartment and got squared away. We'd had a pretty early start to the day so we had a brief siesta before going out to start exploring the city.

We started by taking a walk around the city atop the old walls. Other empires swirled about Dubrovnik ... Venetians, Ottomans, Byzantium ... all were influential in the area. But Dubrovnik (formerly Ragusa until 1918) maintained independence and in the Middle Ages offered a counter-balance to the Adriatic influence of Venice. The city remained staunchly independent as a republic until being conquered by Napoleon in 1808. Even today, the city's motto is "Libertas".

The original city walls were built up to their present state in the 15th century as protection from the Ottomans. The walls offered a measure of protection to the residents during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991. But not completely. As we circled the city and looked down across the roofs, the areas of destruction were identifiable by the presence of new roof tiles. And from the number of new tiles,it was obvious that nearly no area had been untouched.

The view out over the city from the walls was only outdone done by the view out over the Adriatic. Our choice to walk the wall late in the afternoon seemed to have been a good one; we'd heard that the parapets can become quite crowded when all of the day-trippers from the cruise ships flood the city during the early-to-middle part of the day. All told, it was about 2 km all around.

The walk around the city helped to give us a sense of perspective on Dubrovnik. For good reason it has the nickname "Pearl of the Adriatic".

We came down from the wall right where we'd started ... at the Old Port gate near the Sponza Palace. Back up along the Stradun and a couple of left turns brought us back to the apartment.

Supper that evening was at a restaurant near the site of the morning market; we had a mixed fish grill plate (for two) which was very good. After that, we did what Dubrovnik does best ... enjoyed the evening stroll around town. The streets were alive with street performers and pedestrians.

But all great days must come to an end ... so it was back to the apartment for a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Part 13

Wednesday, July 20

We leave Hvar tomorrow. Yesterday afternoon, we went to the local agency that sells tickets for the fast catamaran ferry back to Split. We were told that they only sell tickets one day in advance - so we would have to come back the next day. They had a sign posted in their window advising that the tickets for the next day (Wednesday) were already sold out; so I asked how quickly they sold out of tickets. "We open at seven, and the tickets are usually sold out by 10:30" she said.

With that in mind, we woke up early to head down into town to hit the ticket office first thing.

We haven't yet had the chance to see this side of Hvar ... the regular work-a-day things that go on out of sight of the tourists. In the town centre, deliveries were being made to the various restaurants and hotels. At the waterfront, small boats were loading up with supplies to be taken to the beach restaurants on the out-islands. The last of yesterday evening's partiers were staggering their way up the hill.

We were second into the ticket office, behind what appeared to be some sort of tour guide. Marg was worried that the guide would buy up all of the available tickets; I said not to worry because it's a big boat. In the end she only bought about 8 tickets. We got our two, so now we're set for getting to Split.

We went to a little coffee shop and had our morning kava z melekom (café au lait) along with a couple of little shortbread-type cookies. It rained overnight and it still looked as though it might rain again. At one point while we were sitting outside the coffee shop, several big gusts of wind blew some of the seat cushions around and knocked an ashtray (ever-present on tables here) to the ground. But the rain passed a bit to the north and the sky cleared off (just a bit). We even saw a rainbow.

After coffee, we walked back up to the apartment. We stopped for a bit to watch the ferry (the one we'll take tomorrow) pull in ... to get an idea of how it's going to work tomorrow. Suitably armed with that foreknowledge, we headed back up to the apartment for a proper breakfast.

After breakfast, we walked back down to the town centre to catch a boat to Palmažana. We lucked in, there was a boat just about to leave as we got to the taxi boat stand. Palmažana is a bit further out than Marinkovac or Jerolim, so the fare was a bit higher. It was still a bit breezy, so the ride was a bit rough. I was really surprised at the number of boats docked at the harbor. The main dock was full of sail and power boats; the smallest of which was in the 30 ft. range. The majority were 40+ footers. 

After we docked, we took the trail up the hill to see the beach at Vinogradišće Harbour. It was a very small (as in narrow strip of pebbles) beach that wrapped around the cove. There were at least three different restaurants/beach clubs doing business there. And although it wasn't "packed" with people, it was "busy" nonetheless.

Our objective for the day was lunch at a restaurant in Vlaka - Konoba Dionis. There are no roads (at least none that we saw) and the trail to Vlaka is quite rough. Not only was the surface of the trail rough - rocks, tree roots - the path was narrow and grown at the sides with small plants. Given that the climate is quite dry here, it's incredibly green everywhere. But that greenery is of the somewhat "dry, scratchy" variety. Think of picking your way through a narrow path at a Christmas tree farm. And as for the trail itself, it was sometimes difficult to follow the blue dots that had been painted as trail blazes. A couple of times we found ourselves at forks in the trail wondering which was the correct path.

We got our legs scratched up a bit ... but nothing too serious. Along the trail, we would every so often come to a break in the tree cover and be given a glimpse of yet another bay. And every bay had several boats anchored within. Palmažana, a sailor's paradise! That would explain all the boats we saw moored at the main harbour. And of you want to get a sense of how many different bays there are on the island, I invite you to look it up.

As recommended in our guidebook, we'd called ahead for a reservation. I had figured we could be there by 1400. We were a bit early, so at the last bay before the restaurant, we went for a bit of sun and a swim. The shore here was very rough, so the best we could do was sit in between some rocks and let the waves wash up and over us. It was certainly refreshing after the hike through the bush.

We headed up to the restaurant ... and it turns out that we really didn't have to make a reservation. However, if you're thinking of going, I'd recommend a reservation because his six tables could fill up very quickly.

Less a "restaurant" and more like an covered terrace, the place oozed rustic old world charm. The terrace opened off to a view of the olive grove, and beyond that, the Adriatic. We started with a pitcher of lemonade - made with lemons from their farm. Followed with a salad - made with vegetables from their farm. And shared grilled squid - no doubt caught within sight of the restaurant. The owner apologized when we ordered the squid; saying that it would be a little while for the squid because he had not yet built his fire. No problem! We were more than happy to sit and enjoy his place.

The single order of squid that (along with the salads and a bit of bread) we shared proved to be more than enough for lunch. But the owner managed to talk us into desert ... a slice of lemon cake accompanied by two small wedges of a jellied cantaloupe. Both were delicious.

But, our time there had come to an end, and we had to start the hike back to catch the taxi-boat.

It didn't seem to take quite as long to get back. And when we got to the dock area, the water taxi was waiting. "just going to wait until it fills up a bit more" he said. Well! He waited til it filled up COMPLETELY! As in "people standing at the back" full. The wind was still blowing at around 15 knots. The wind and the passenger load made for an interesting (rough) ride back.

But, make it back safely we did. For the second-to-last time, we walked back up the hill to our apartment to get ready for our last walk back down for supper.

There are some big yachts in town. We'd been noticing these behemoths the past couple of evenings. But today, there was one that has to top them all. Excellence III dwarfed all of the others it was tied up alongside. I'm not sure who was on board ... but whoever it is mush have a ton of Kuna, or Euro, Dollars or Yen at their disposal. (Later in the evening we looked up "Excellence III" on the Internet and found that it's available for charters ... and if you have to ask the price ...)

Even though the weather has turned a bit cooler, The town centre was once again crawling with people this evening. There seemed to be a lot more Brits in evidence, but I would still say that the majority of tourists here are German. At supper this evening, there was a mom/dad-2-kid family from Britain (at least judging from their accents and the fact that they ordered "chips"). At another table, we heard more British-accented English and down the square a bit, a small group of yobbos were breaking out in what I thought were English soccer songs.

We had pizza ... and after wards, I had an ice cream. On the walk back, we picked up some strudel-type pastries for the morning.

Back to the apartment; it's time to pack and get ready to move on tomorrow.

Part 12

Tuesday, July 19

Today, we had a "vacation from our vacation". We took a water taxi to Jerolim island, rented chairs and veg'd out on the beach ... swimming and relaxing.

Part 11

Monday, July 18

Wow! I must have been tired. I slept til 1000.

After a bit of breakfast, we got our beach stuff ready and began walking towards the town centre.

Although there are beaches not far from here, I'd read that the better "beach" experience is had by taking a water taxis to to one of the adjacent islands ... with the warning that they can be pretty deserted/desolate places. Our plan today was to visit Marinkovac Island.

As we walked towards the town centre, we stopped in at a small grocery store to pick up some things for lunch; bread, cheese, meat. Spoiler Alert: we should also have picked up more water.

We got to the dock and quickly found a boat heading out. We passed on the first stop at Jerolim and got off at the second stop - Marinkovac. there was a big "beach club" called Carpe Diem that had chairs, umbrellas and food. We stopped for a coffee and went off to explore the island.

To me, a beach is the sandy meeting between land and water. Here in Hvar, "beach" has nothing to do with sand ... although it is the meeting place between land and water. I'm pretty sure that land-based life did not crawl from the primordial ooze onto the shore of some Croatian island. If it did, it would have probably been smashed against the rocks. The Croatians could learn a lot from Canadians on the concept of "beach".

But, with a pair of sneakers and some good timing of the waves, it was possible to get into the crystal-clear water. Well, maybe more like aquamarine-crystal-clear. The sun was hot, the water refreshing ... come to think of it, maybe we Canadians could learn a thing or two about the concept of "beach" from Croatians.

We sunned, we swam, we ate our lunch, we swam some more ... and when we got bored, we packed up and explored the island a bit more. Remember earlier when I said that we should have picked up more water? Well, at one point, we found ourselves quite a way from the "beach club" under the broiling sun with less than a half-litre of water to share. And all of that swimming in the salt water made my mouth feel as though I'd been eating potato chips and pretzels!

The walk back to the "beach club" was OK ... the trail was very narrow and the bushes kept scratching our legs. We made a point of stopping for a break whenever we found ourselves on shady spots of the trail; we managed to get back to the "beach club" without having tom resort to drinking the condensation from the odd discarded plastic bottle we saw along the way.

After the boat ride back, we hiked our way backup to the apartment, stopping again at the store along way to re-stock our drink supply ... and making sure to buy extra for tomorrow.

After a snooze and showers, we headed back down into the centre for supper. We went up to an area just north of St. Steven's Square. There was a narrow lane way along which we found several restaurants. In the end, we settled for a place called Lucullus.

We thought we would have to sit indoors, but there was an open-to-the-sky area behind the front wall of the restaurant; a "courtyard" if you will. We took our table and the waiter brought menus. He described two of their specials for the evening - a shellfish/pasta combo and a baked fish ... I asked him to bring us those.

The food was fabulous! And the atmosphere was indescribable. There was a large group that came after us ... Marg thought that maybe they were the Croatian Mafia. Based on the champagne starters (opened with a small sword!) and money they kept tipping the musicians (two guitar platers), she may not have been too far wrong.

We wound up spending the entire evening at the restaurant. The service was't rushed ... it was simply understood that that was to be our table for the evening. Sometimes, the musicians played (obviously) Croatian songs that many of the other people in the restaurant sang along to, sometimes they played more familiar (at least to our ears) North American songs by Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. They would move from table to table; play a couple of songs and move along. They came by our table, played one song, and then asked "English?". Well, yes, but also "Slovensku". That sent one of them off to chase down their songbook. After leafing through, they found one ... and started into John Denver's "Country Roads" with Slovenian lyrics. After they were done, we thanked them ... but Margaret thought she heard the "mafia" group in the back grumbling about getting back to playing "our songs". The musicians quickly headed back that direction and started back into the Croatian songs.

Even though the Slovenes and Croats have - as far as both Marg and I know - had good relations through the years, my guess is that there may be a bit of lingering resentment on the part of the Croats (towards the Slovenes). Twenty years after the breakup of Yugoslavia began, the Slovenes are "in" the EU and moving forward; the Croats are still waiting.

One piece of advice we read "if you encounter any political-type disturbances, just leave". It seemed like a good time to heed that advice; and in any event, our supper was long over and since it was going on midnight, it was time to head back to the apartment. We walked through a still-crowded main square and waterfront, back up to the apartment for another good night's sleep.

Part 10

Sunday, July 17

We had to get up early today. Helen's flight is at 0800 and her ride to the airport is scheduled to pick her up at 0630. She'll fly with Adria to Frankfurt and then with United on to Washington and Ottawa.

Marg and I carry on now to Croatia. Our plans take us to Zagreb by train, Split by Croatian Air and then ferry over to Hvar. In between, I'm sure there will be a couple of bus connections. When I planned this out, I knew that there were going to be a few challenging travel days; Venice to Gorizia/Nova Gorica and on to Ljubljana was one. Today is the second.

After Helen was on her way, we finished tidying up around the apartment. As instructed by Miro, we left the keys in the apartment's mailbox and headed the three blocks up to the train station.

We arrived early enough to enjoy a cup of coffee on the platform; one of the other patrons was enjoying what appeared to be his first - of what were likely to be many - beer of the day. There are several impressions that will stick with me; not all of them favourable. Ljubljana is a beautiful city and in short order, will become of the the "hot-cool" destination cities. But they really have to do something about the people on bicycles that tear in and out of pedestrians at high speed. I'm all for bikes, but there are places to ride, and places to dismount and walk. Crowded pedestrian areas (IMHO) fall into the latter category.

Smoking seems to be endemic. Although banned indoors, every outdoor table came equipped with an ash tray. And if we moved it away, the wait staff quickly tried to replace it. Even our apartment - which was listed as "non-smoking" had an ashtray available on the table!

And then, there's the drinking. Not that people were "drunk" ... but there seemed to be no limit or curb on its consumption. From early in the morning, til late at night; start the day with a beer, end the day with a beer. Maybe it's my "puritanical" North American perspective. But I have to wonder how much more the society could accomplish if so many people weren't wandering around most of the day under some small alcoholic "buzz".

Sorry, I got a little carried away.

We boarded the train and found spots in a small 6-seat compartment. There's a local (Ljubljana) youth baseball team on board ... and like any trip involving young teens, there was a lot of post-boarding scrambling around to try and find seats. All is settled now, and we're heading for the Slovenia/Croatia border and out of the EU passport zone.

First, there were the Slovenes, checking travel documents and stamping "exit" from the EU. After that was done, the train was back underway and the Croatians came through doing pretty-near the same thing. Except this time, they weren't stamping the "EU" entry, but rather entry into Croatia. I was wondering what will happen to both these sets of "inspectors" once Croatia is fully admitted to the EU and the border is rubbed away. One thing is sure, it will reduce the train's travel time between Ljubljana and Zagreb by about 20 minutes.

When we got to Zagreb, we first hit an ATM. Euros are out, Kuna are in. Then we grabbed a snack and a cup of coffee. We sat on front of the train station and plotted our next move; we had to make our way to the bus station. The maps I had looked at made it seem as if it were on 4 or 5 blocks. But, given the fact that we were schlepping our bags, we decided to take the local streetcar.

It was a couple from (of all places) Winnipeg that helped us get off at the right stop. We walked to the far end of the bus terminal and found a bus about to depart for the airport; paid the fare, loaded our bags and hopped on.

For a capital city, the Zagreb airport is nothing special. Most of the passengers were taking "international" flights; the city was certainly well-connected. But there were no loading bridges. Passengers went through the boarding gates and got on buses to be taken to the aircraft that were parked at "hard"stands.

We were there quite early for our flight - approximately 2 1/2 hours! And there was nothing but a couple of vending machines in the waiting area. Marg snoozed and I caught up on writing about our adventures. (Hey... you didn't think that I wrote this stuff in real-time ... did you?)

Finally, the departure lounge started to fill and before long, we were boarding the bus.

Croatian Airlines operates Dash 8-400 series aircraft (just like home) with a small "premium" cabin at the front. The flight was uneventful and about 45 minutes after departure we landed in Split. The approach was a bit odd ... there are high hills (actually more like a ridge) to the north of runway 05/23. We did an overhead procedure, crossing mid-field at about 3 thousand feet before turning into a left-hand downwind for landing on runway 23. At first I thought that the pilot was ex-F18 by the way he slammed it into the deck. But as we taxied in, I looked back and saw that there was a significant uphill tilt to the runway. I guess it was less about him slamming it on the deck and more about how the deck rapidly rose up to slam him.

After a short wait for our bags, and a wrong turn in our quest to find the Croatian Airlines bus, we were headed for Split.

I only knew a couple of things about how we were getting to Hvar. The first ... since it's an island, we're (probably) going to be taking a ferry to get there. The second ... it leaves at 1700.

Let's see ... depart Zagreb at 1435 with 45 minutes enroute. Then, time spent waiting for bags and a 45 minute bus ride into the city. Hmmm ... it was looking like this would be cutting it close ... especially if there's any sort of walking distance involved.

We'd looked at a map in the guidebook, but nothing can take the place of actually seeing it and sizing it up for yourself. The chaos of the port was evident as the bus approached the terminal. Buses, cars, foot passengers, ferries large and small ... all loading and unloading; locals who had come to meet the airport bus were holding signs advertising rooms, over there, some dock workers trying to cram an intercity bus onto a ferry.

It turned out that there were two options for a 1700 departure: a "fast" catamaran that would get us there in about 45 minutes, and the regular car ferry that would take 3 hours and leave us a 20 minute ride from Hvar town. Now, you may well ask, why did you take the car ferry? Well, for the obvious reason ... the catamaran was SOLD OUT! Nothing much to do now except enjoy the ride.

We arrived in the town of Stari Grad and took a bus over to Hvar. The island is very dry, very rocky and quite a bit hillier than I'd thought it would be. When we arrived at the town, the owner of the apartment was there to meet us and drive us up to the place.

The apartment is small, but functional. The terrace/balcony/lanai looks out over the town and the bay ... amazing!

We had showers and took the walk down to town to get some supper. It's quite compact at the centre, and the sidewalks (no cars) were jammed wi people. At the docks were some of the most impressive boats I've ever seen.

We settled on a pizza joint on St. Stephen's square. And, apart from a 45 minute delay in getting our food from the kitchen to our table, had a nice meal. After supper, we wandered through some of the back alleys. Despite the fact that it was after 2300 most shops were still open.

We left the town centre and headed back up to the apartment for a good night's sleep.

Part 9

Saturday, July 16

I woke up early to return the rental car. When I'd picked it p a couple of days ago, I was told not to take it back to the hotel's parking garage because I would have to pay (perhaps at the entrance?). I'd left the car in the apartment agency's parking lot and wanted to get it out of the way as early as possible.

I was at the car rental desk in the City Hotel a little after their advertised start time of 0800, but the desk agent didn't show up til about 0820. He must have been out enjoying the town's Friday evening entertainment yesterday.

With the car dropped off, and it still being quite early, I took the walk up to the train station to pick up our tickets for tomorrow's train ride to Zagreb. Tomorrow promises to be one of our more challenging travel days; train to Zagreb, fly to Split and ferry to Hvar. I wanted to make sure we were all set without having to scramble at the last minute. No worries on that front. Although there was a bit of a line at the"international" ticket sales window, it wasn't that bad ... and 26 euros later, I was out the door with our tickets.

I went back to the apartment. Helen and Marg were up and ready to have breakfast. After eating, we went to what's become our regular morning coffee hangout - The Prince of Orange. We had our coffee and headed towards the centre part of the city to do a last bit of kicking around and shopping.

We went to the market area; just across the river (Dragon Bridge) from the apartment area. At the market, we bought some gifts to take back home; Marg and Helen are both getting more comfortable using their Slovenian and have managed to get a couple of small deals from the local merchants.

One of our "missions" today is to pick up another bag/suitcase. Marg finally admitted that she's packed way too much stuff and Helen has agreed to take some of it back when she leaves tomorrow. We found a good candidate the other day when we were poking around in some of the shops, so we were just hunting to see if we could find anything better before making the buy.

We started by walking (and dodging cyclists) westward along one of the pedestrian-only streets. At Slovenska Cesta the pedestrian area ended but we carried on for a couple of blocks until we came to Tivoli Park. This is the main central park of Ljubljana and exploring it would have to wait for another trip.

We went a couple of blocks south and headed back along Tomšičeva Ulica. These few blocks are the homes of the formal cultural heart of Slovenia; the National Gallery, the Modern Art Museum, the National Theatre and the Slovenian National & Natural History Museum are all within these 2 to 3 square blocks. As with Tivoli Park, touring these will have to wait for our return.

As we walked back towards the old-town centre along Tomšičeva Ulica we passed by the Slovenian Parliament and the Square of the Republic. This is the 20th anniversary of The Slovenian break with Yugoslavia and in preparation for the trip, Marg and I had watched an excellent BBC series titled "The Death of Yugoslavia". It was in this square - across from the parliament buildings - that the leaders of Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia on June 26th, 1991.

What followed is called "The Ten-Day War". As a near-homogenous cultural group, the central (Serbian) authorities in Belgrade only put forward token resistance to Slovene independence. Casualties were light; 18 Slovenes and 44 members of the Yugoslav National Army were killed.

The balance of the disintegration of Yugoslavia was a much different matter.

Since then, Slovenia has gone from "independence" to "integration" by becoming (in 2006) a full member of the EU. There is a noticeable difference in levels of prosperity between - for example - Italy, Germany or France and Slovenia ... but the Slovenes are catching up fast.

History lesson over ... we headed back towards the old town centre to buy our "extra" suitcase. Marg found one that (she says) will meet her needs for years to come. With that in hand (or rather "in tow") we headed back to the apartment.

The lesson learned from our days without luggage was that we didn't need quite as many things as we had originally thought. Both Marg and I had identified clothes that we could send back with Helen. I'll leave it to you to figure out who sent back the most stuff. We also sent back some souvenirs from fils part of the trip.

With that mostly in hand, we headed back out for one last late-afternoon stroll through the old town centre. The area is really interesting and we began talking about the things we'll have to do the next time we come back.

We went back to the apartment, cleaned up and treated ourselves to supper at a restaurant named Julija. After supper, one last stroll through the centre and some sladoled (ice cream). The buskers were out in force. There was the one-man band, a guitar/drum duo and a fire-juggler with a whip. And although it would have been fun to stay out even later, the truth was that we had to get back to the apartment.

Tomorrow, Helen goes home and we go to Croatia.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Part 8

Friday, July 15

We were supposed to get going at 0900 but it was actually closer to 1000 by the time we got to the car.

Our first challenge was to try and get out of the parking spot. As is common in Europe, parking in Ljubljana is at a premium, and even though we have a small car, it was still tightly fit into its spot. Add to the problem a car parked perpendicular to us, with barely enough space to get the entire length of the car clear of the other vehicles beside us. I must have rocked that bugger back and forth about a hundred times (seriously, no exaggeration) before I managed to get it clear enough to be able to drive away. I couldn't have done it without Marg watching the stern and Helen minding the bow.

Once again, having the GPS helped get us pointed in the direction of Bled.

The weather took a significant change overnight. It's cloudy, a bit rainy, and much cooler today. Ever since we got here, the temperatures have been in the low 30's; today, the temperature is only forecast to hit the low 20's. We saw a bit of rain as we drove to Bled.

Bled is a resort town on Lake Bled. The area is considered to be Slovenia's leading lake/mountain resort area. And the crowds certainly bore this out. We had in mind going for a swim in the lake ... and drove around to the far end (from where the road and town are) towards the rowing centre. But the weather still wasn't very pleasant. We enjoyed the view of the castle on the hill, the church on the island and the lake itself before getting back in the car and heading deeper into the mountains towards Mount Triglav (tree-glau).

We got back on the expressway and headed west. At the ski resort town of Kranjska Gora we turned south into the Julian Alps.

Kranjska Gora was part of an unsuccessful bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics under the banner of "Senza Confini"; joining with other towns in Austria and Italy (both within about 20 km of our location). From what we saw, it's a fairly small ski area; I guess they had big plans to spruce it up a lot.

We followed the signs for Vršič and began the up, up, up climb to the mountain pass. We entered Triglav National Park shortly agter the switchbacks began. In all, from one end of this road to the other there are 50 and each has been numbered for your driving convenience.

At switchback number 8 we stopped to look at the Russian chapel. The road we're driving on was built by 10,000 Russian POW's from the First World War. Hundreds died of illness and exposure. And in 1916, an avalanche in this area killed hundreds more. This chapel marks the spot where the last of the casualties was recovered.

Just after switchback 24 we reached the summit. The story goes that you're not a true Slovene until you've climbed Mt. Triglav. Even though we were up just over 5,200 ft in elevation, it would still have been another 4,100 feet of climbing. The climb is supposed to be do-able by anyone in decent condition ... but it's recommended to be a two-day activity. Instead of climbing Triglav, we had a small lunch in a restaurant at the pass' summit and then climbed a way up a trail across the road. Climbing all the way to the top of Triglav will have to wait for our next trip.

Back in the car, we carried on down the other side of the pass into the Soča River valley. It was in this area that Ernest Hemingway drove an ambulance during the First World War ... and some say gathered material that he eventually used to write "A Farewell to Arms".

We carried on down into the Soča Valley and just past the town of Trenta stopped to jump up and down on a small suspension bridge. The views back up the valley - towards the mountains - were beautiful. I took plenty of pictures, even though I know that cameras can never do these vistas justice.

We turned around and began to head back ... past the 50 switchbacks, up and over the Vršič pass ... back to Kranjska Gora. But, since we were so close, we made a detour to the west and north to stop at the Slovenian/Austrian border.

Essentially deserted now, it still echoes of the line between "communist" Yugoslavia and the rest of Europe. Now, with Slovenia part of the EU, the border posts and passport controls are gone; all that remains is a duty-free shop that seemed to be doing a land-office business in cigarettes.

The weather had been improving through the day, so we headed back to Bled.

Lake Bled looks a bit like some sort of medieval dreamland. The lake is - by Canadian standards - fairly small. The town of Bled is at one end and a walking path circles the lake. There is a castle on a cliff that looks down onto the lake, and an island in the lake is home to an old church. Rowing is popular here with several places having small rowboats available for rent. Helen went for a swim, Marg and I walked a bit on the path that circles the lake. We then rented a boat and rowed out to the island to see the church.

The church is a popular spot for weddings, although we saw none today. Slovenian tradition holds that the groom would carry his bride up the 99 steps of the church to prove that he's "fit" for marriage. I'm starting to get the feeling that being a Slovene means that you have to be in pretty good shape! What with all the mountain climbing and wife carrying to be done.

Marg and I climbed the steps, and walked round the church. Since she had rowed out, I rowed back. Lake Bled truly is the centre of Slovene rowing culture. On our way back we had to be careful not to get tangled up with the young rowers out training in their sculls. Lames had been laid out running nearly the length of the lake and there were about a dozen boats (singles, pairs) out training. I'm sure that some of the people we saw will be competing in this year's World Rowing Championships taking place in Lake Bled late this summer.

After we returned the boat, we found Helen and headed over to the local "campground" restaurant. Since our mountaintop lunch a had been pretty substantial, we opted for bowls of juha (soup) and spent some time listening to a local Slovenian combo playing a variety of polkas and "traditional" music. Our waiter even managed to talk us into having dessert - Kremšnite - a local Lake Bled specialty.

By now, it was getting late, so we got back in the car and headed to the apartment in Ljubljana for another good night's sleep.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Part 7

Thursday, July 14

The first order of business today is to go and settle the bill for the apartment. When we got here, Miro - of the apartment rental agency - was very laissez-faire (or whatever the Slovenian equivalent would be) about settling up. He'd also said that their office could make arrangements for a rental car, transfers to the airport and just about any other thing we could think of.

Today's plan is to head over to Cerknica; the hometown of Marg and Helen's parents. And after that? Well, we'll just see where the wind blows us. The Europcar rental agency was across the street in the City Hotel (very nice lobby). The car was a VW Polo.

I haven't driven a standard in a few years, and the first challenge was to get up the ramp and out of the underground parking lot. I only managed to try and start the car "in gear" once, and even managed to avoid too much backsliding when I got to the top of the ramp and had to stop and wait for pedestrians.

It's a good thing we brought the GPS ... it would be tough to try and navigate our way through Ljubljana and enjoy the sights if significant attention had to be diverted to map-reading. We picked our way through the streets and soon were on the highway on our way to Cerknica.

Traffic on the 4-lane expressway was moving quickly. The volume and speed reminded me of the 401. Our little Polo was pretty well wound out at 125. At home, that speed would make us one of the fastest vehicles on the highway; sure, we'd be getting passed by the odd car or two, but nothing like the way traffic was moving here. A speed of 125 - 130 put us kind of mid-pack. We had plenty of speed to pass slower vehicles, but only moved ton the left lane when necessary, and then back to the right as soon as the passing was completed ... because, here comes someone cruising along at 150+!

At those kinds of speeds, it didn't take long to get to Cerknica.

There's not much to Cerknica. We'd read that it was (at one time) an somewhat important city along a trade route. But that was many years ago. When the railway came through, it went through another town ... and when the 4-lane expressway came through, it followed the railway. Cerknica became a bit of a backwater.

Both Margaret and Helen were working from memories of stories their mother told them. Perhaps a bit less-so for Helen, since she'd been here a number of years ago, but on that trip, she said they were chauffeured everywhere by relatives. To have to rely on your own memory made things a bit different.

We parked near one of the churches and walked up the street. Just up the road we found an old house with the name "Franc Lovko" barely visible on the front. This was the house where their mother had been born and lived until she left the country at the end of the Second World War.

We kicked around Cerknica a bit more, then got in the car and headed over to the local cemetery. The cemetery is very well tended. Each of the family plots has a large headstone engraved with the names of the family members. We found the Lovko and Skerl gravesites.

I was struck by how well kept the cemetery was. During our time there, several different people came to tend to different plots. Each grave had a small granite border around its perimeter and was covered not with grass, but with fine white gravel. In the centre of the cemetery was a monument to local young (and some not so young) men (and women) killed during the Second World War.

While I'm somewhat familiar (as any outsider could be familiar) with the events of the past twenty years - and the senseless violence that took place - I have difficulty understanding what happened here about 70 years ago. Some were fascists and threw their lot in with the Nazis; others were communists ... and still others were Slovene nationalists. All I know is that it took over 50 years for this corner of the Balkans to resolve whatever it was that had to be resolved. And while there may still be some who yearn for the days of Tito, the citizens have firmly hitched their wagon to the EU (for better or worse).

Stop fighting and be prosperous.

We got back in the car and headed for Piran.

Slovenia has only about 50 km of Adriatic coastline. Piran sits on a small peninsula that - at one time was considered strategically important by the Venetians. But history can wait, first thing is to go for a swim in the Adriatic.

We had to park the car in an underground lot and then walk down, down, down, down to the waterfront. The "beach" we found wasn't much, a concrete breakwater wall with a ladder to climb down to the rocks below. The rocks were slippery, so we had to be careful going in. It was a hot day, and the water was refreshing.

We weren't actually in Piran, that was a bit of a walk along the waterfront and up, up, up, up. We came into the town at St. George cathedral. The church's campanile was very similar to (albeit smaller than) the campanile in St. Mark's Square in Venice. The view out over the Adriatic was without equal. It was easy to see how the Venetians would consider this place to be strategically important.

We walked down, down, down, down through narrow alleys and eventually came to Trg Rartinijev ... the central town square. At one time, the square had actually been part of the harbour, but it was so well-protected that the water rarely flushed out. In 1894 the harbor was filled in and the square created.

The town's Venetian history is undeniable. We really felt like we were back in Venice as we wandered through the narrow alleys and passageways. We decided to split a couple of pizzas at a small place facing the square. After we finished, we poked around the town a bit more. We managed to find another swimming/sunbathing area ... which appeared to be far less protected for swimming than the place we'd gone. But I think that this was more the place to "see and be seen" ... the place where the cool kids were hanging out.

We headed back to the car and started down the road to Portorož.

Portorož is a real resort town ... with the big hotels and casinos, lots and lots of people and a so-so waterfront that supposed to pass for a beach. If nothing else, I can now at least say that I've seen it. I'd charitably characterize it as a mini-Toromolenos.

After our stop in Portorož (for ice cream - why not) we got back in the ar and drove back to Ljubljana. For supper we picked up falafals from a little shop in our neighbourhood. We took them back to the apartment and planned for tomorrow.

Part 6

Wednesday, July 13

We started the day by having breakfast in the apartment.

Then, we wandered through the market and picked up some fruit and vegetables for the next few days. On our way back to the apartment, we stopped at the local grocery store to get some bread, meat and cheese. Now, we're all set for the next few day's breakfasts and lunches.

We dropped our food back at the apartment and then made our way across the river to the foot of the path leading up to Ljubljana's castle.

Along the way, we stopped in at our local neighbourhood "Goth" shop. We had a very enjoyable conversation with the owner about Slovenia, Croatia, recent history, the post-war diaspora, Slayer and Metalkamp; he was a very well-spoken young man. In listening to him, I get the impression that many of the younger generation are ready to put the past in the past and move forward.

We continued our wanders and headed up to Ljubljana castle. There is a funicular that runs from the base up to the castle, but why ride when you can walk. Our guidebook mentions two trails up, we (of course) chose the steeper one. And when I say steep, I mean *STEEP*! Not quite steep enough for a ladder, but nearly so. It was one of the steepest trails that I've ever walked on. The good part though: it was all (but for a couple of short sections) in the shade.

The views from the top are spectacular. It was a bit hazy - from the heat - but i have no doubt that we could have seen all the way to Mt. Triglav (tree-glau). We wandered around the castle exploring the nooks and crannies. In the centre of the castle's courtyard was a stage and chairs set up as part of the Ljubljana Summer Festival. We found a small Gothic-style chapel and an old armoury that was hosting a modern art exhibition.

After exploring the castle, we headed back down using a different part of the trail that was not quite as steep. Once we got to the bottom, we headed back to the apartment to have a bit of lunch.

One of the things I really like about staying in rental apartments is the option you get to just go back and prepare your own meals. A well-situated apartment is like a small oasis in the middle of the desert. When I'd booked this apartment I was a bit apprehensive; from the photos, it looked like a much newer building when compared to the parts of the city centre we were interested in seeing. It turns out that the building was right on the edge of the historical centre. In the end, we had all the conveniences of a modern place, with all the proximity of an old place. It was the best of both worlds.

The old part of Ljubljana is pretty compact. The river moves in a looping arc around the hill upon which the castle sits. On the "castle" side of the river (at the base of the hill) is the market area and two pedestrian-only streets that run more or less parallel to the river. The street closest to the river is lined on one side with cafès and bars; the other side is the wall of the river with cafè tables. The street parallel to this is home to shops, a couple of restaurants and City Hall. And everywhere, vendors selling (and strollers enjoying) "sladoled" (ice cream).

The other side of the rover is more of the same. Cafès and restaurants on the street bordering the river; shops along the streets running parallel. Then whole area is pedestrian-only; although there seems to be some peculiar Slovenian preoccupation with riding bicycles (and occasionally mopeds) through these crowded streets. Not that they were moving very quickly. But we had to keep our eyes open and got into the habit of always looking around before moving from the centre of the street to any shop windows that caught our eye.

We've had our bags back now for two days and Marg has come to the realization that she brought too many things. Helen leaves on Sunday, so we hatched a plan to buy another bag, load it with the excess (along with any of the souvenirs that we buy here) and send it back to Canada with her. During our wanders we kept our eyes open for something suitable.

But the biggest attraction was the street scene. The night before, we'd picked our way through the riverside cafè scene. It wasn't quite as busy during the afternoon, but many of the cafès had quite a few people sitting, enjoying the afternoon. People watching people; that seemed to be what the afternoon was all about. And at the street corners and in the small squares were buskers. All in all, a pretty laid-back, fun kind of place.

We wandered through this street scene for a few hours and towards the end of the afternoon, headed back to the apartment for a bit of a rest and to get cleaned up for supper.

Our neighbourhood seems to be more of a " local" scene than the central (old) part of downtown. Just near the door to the building is a small coffee shop called "The Prince of Orange". and just down from there is a place advertising tapas. We thought we'd try the tapas place, but when we got there, the owner - a Frenchman - said that he and his Spanish partner had not yet received the appropriate authorizations to serve food. However, his bar was open.

We finally settled on a spot a block up from the river ... on the east side, right near the city hall. Supper was very good. Margaret and I shared a chicken wing and potato mixture that had been wrapped in a flaky pastry and baked in a hollowed-out piece of wood. My description does not do it justice.

After supper, we strolled through the old city. Once again, the weather is nearly perfect; the evening was warm, the sky cloudless and the streets filled with people enjoying the city in the evening. We stopped for a short while to listen to a one-man band busk at the eastern end of the Triple Bridge. And looking back as we crossed to the western side of the river we could see the castle on the hill. It was lit from the front by spotlights, and from behind by the rising full moon. The bridge, the street, the castle turret and the moon all in near-perfect alignment. I took some pictures, but ...

We left the core of the old city and wandered back to our "neighbourhood"; when we were out earlier, we'd noticed that one of the restaurants in our area was serving a chocolate/orange cake for dessert. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, they were in the process of closing. In the end, we settled for sladoled instead.

Once again, I expect to be asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Part 5

Tuesday, July 12

We finally got our bags today!

When I woke up this morning, I took a look at the cell phone to see if there had been any developments. There was a text message from the apartment landlord telling me that our bags had been delivered to the Hotel Marconi at 10:00 yesterday evening.

I went round the corner to the Hotel Marconi ... and there they were!

So, this is the point in our story where I tell the tale of the missing luggage.

When we arrived in Rome, it seemed as though luggage for *all* of the Schengen arrivals (i.e. non-Italian EU) had been sent to the same baggage carousel. We recognized some people from our flight, but there were many others we didn't recognize. We waited ... and we waited ... and we waited. Eventually, even all of the familiar faces from our flight had left. The realization that we had had the misfortune of arriving once again in Rome without our luggage started to come through.

I knew the routine; go to the ground-handling agent responsible for the airline and file a report. In this case, it was FlightCare. We weren't the only ones in this predicament, and I'd waited about half-an-hour for my turn. The agent took the information, but made no offer of any toiletry kit or other amenities. We were on our own with only the things we'd carried on board.

My sense was that the bags had failed to make the connection in Washington ... and that they would be coming along on the next day's connections. I was thrown for a bit of a loop when we were told in Vernazza that they would be unable to get our bags to us there. No worries, they could leapfrog ahead of us and be in Venice when we got there.

Unfortunately, it didn't work that way, and by the Sunday, I was starting to get concerned. I became *really*concerned when I kept having to call back to Canada to get any information. In email correspondence, Lufthansa kept saying all the right things, but the actual "doing" was a lot less. Lufthansa said that they were "directing" their local ground handling agent in Venice to contact me, but I never heard a peep.

And, it seems that only after I spoke to Air Canada baggage yet again yesterday evening did anything actually start to happen.once we get home, Lufthansa will be on the receiving end of a pointy letter and a mitt full of receipts.

I took the bags back to the apartment building and loaded up the elevator. With our bags in hand, we all took advantage of having access to fresh clothes and proper shoes. We left the apartment a little after 10:30 heading for the train station.

It was quite a shock to all of us ... for my part, i had gotten used to traveling so lightly-loaded. Marg (and Helen) both said that they now realized that they had overpacked ... and began making plans for off-loading some of their stuff into another bag for Helen to take back to Canada when she leaves on Sunday.

We took one last ride on the vaporetto to the train station; arriving early enough to have cappuccino and espresso before boarding. For this leg of the trip, I sprung the extra 10 euro for "first class" tickets; the seats are a little wider, the air conditioning a bit more powerful and the car not quite so crowded. We're now on the train, headed to Gorizia.

We almost missed the stop in Gorizia. I'd been following our journey on the GPS and knew we were getting close, but the last few kilometers seemed to pass by very quickly. We scrambled off the train into the mid-day heat.

The plan was to transfer from the train station in Gorizia, Italy, to the Slovenian train system in Nova Gorica, Slovenia ... a concept not entirely foreign to someone who lives in Sault Ste. Marie. We had considered walking between the two, or perhaps taking a cab, but the local bus was right there ... if only we could figure out the ticketing system. Well, it's always best to ask a local.

We were glad that we'd chosen the "bus" option. Maybe he had a longer route that he had to follow, maybe it was all the stops;whatever it was, it seemed to be a lot longer than the walk that we'd thought it would be ... especially now that we were carrying our own baggage. We finally arrived at the small plaza that sits in front of the Slovenian train station. At one time, there was a border crossing point here, but now, with Slovenia part of the EU, the border is nothing more than a series of planters (to keep the vehicles - particularly commercial vehicles - from crossing) and a line on the ground. On one side, it's "per favore" and "grazie" and on the other, it's "prosim" and "hvala".

I think we'd been spoiled by the Italian train stations. Even the smallest ones seem to be true hubs of activity with restaurants, shops and lots of hustle and bustle. By contrast, the Slovenian train station was a dour, dark building with only a single, rather disinterested ticket agent occupying a dark booth. Granted, there was a small bar that spilled out of the front of the station onto a small patio, but that was it.

We got our tickets for Ljubljana, went to the bar and had a glass of "lemonade" (actually more like lemon juice cut with water). The "train" was actually a pair of self-propelled cars ... think "bud" car in Canada ... that were covered with graffiti. We climbed on board to get seats in advance of a rush that never came. In the end, there were only 5 of us in our car, and perhaps a few in the other car. We ate the lunch supplies we'd bought before leaving Venice and enjoyed the scenery.

The countryside is very picturesque. Old churches on forested hills, little towns in valleys, a beautiful blue sky ... almost like riding through some sort of postcard.

We were supposed to change trains in Sezanna. Judging from the number of tracks running through the station, it seemed to be a mo "substantial" sort of town. We got off our train and saw another with "Ljubljana" on the front. But a local agent instead directed us towards a bus - telling us that it would be faster. OK ... I'll go along. It was a large intercity-style bus; we threw our things into the luggage compartment, and were off!

The bus was a nice way to see more of the countryside. Windy roads, not much traffic, small towns ... at least we weren't on some big "interstate" style roadway.

We eventually got to another train station (sorry, I can't remember the name of the town) where we re-boarded another two-car train to finish the trip to Ljubljana; we arrived a little before 19:00.

I'd called Miro, the local apartment rental agent and he gave directions on where to find their office. We were just at the final intersection, trying to decide how much further we'd have to go to find him, when a young man came across the street ... and introduced himself ... Miro.

Miro took us to the apartment and showed us its features. After he left, we cleaned up and headed out to find some supper.

I'd read that Ljubljana is not going to be the next "Prague"; trendy/arty/fun. That's Krakow. But from what I saw of Ljubljana that evening, it's not far behind. Cafes and bars lined the central downtown riverfront, the streets in behind were filled with small boutique-y shops, the pedestrian-only streets were filled with people enjoying the evening.

We ate dinner at a restaurant near the river, and afterwards joined the street parade. But not for long. It's been a long day ... and it's time to sleep.

Part 4

Monday, July 11

This our fourth day without luggage.

And we found out what the bell was all about.

Yesterday, Helen had thought she'd heard a doorbell ring ... and thought that it might be our luggage being delivered. While she was taking a shower, Marg noticed a cord hanging down from some sort of switch box mounted high on the wall above the shower cabinet.just for fun, she pulled the string ... and that sounded the bell we'd heard the night before. That set off a round of speculation about what such a bell would be for.

"Maybe it's to signal for help in case you fall in the shower." No, because the end of the cord did not reach down to the floor; if you fell, you could never reach the end of the cord to give it a tug. My personal favorite was that it could be used to signal "stop" to anyone who happened to be running water elsewhere in the apartment (and causing the shower to run too hot or cold). In the end, we never came up with a satisfactory explanation ... so if anyone has any ideas, please feel free to pass them along.

One of the reasons i like staying in apartments is that we get full control over more of our meals. For breakfast, we'd picked up some Muesli and yogurt ... along with fruit. Once we'd finished that, we left the apartment and found a place (not difficult) for coffee.

With breakfast and a first cup of coffee (literally) under our belts, we headed off for a bit of exploring. And so as to have something else to wear, a bit more shopping.

Yesterday, during our wanders, we'd found the Frari church.

We went to the Frari church and when we came out, there was a trio playing Vivaldi out in the Campo

After our time in the Frari church, Marg and I had another coffee (no more coffee for Helen) and listened to the string trio that had set up on one side of the campo; they were playing Vivaldi.

It was getting on to lunch time. Given the central location of our apartment, it really wasn't necessary to schlep our lunch around with us while we explored the city. So we worked our way back towards the Rialto Bridge (very easy, just follow the signs). It was just as well that we took a break from the crowds and the heat. It was easily well over 30C and many of the shops had closed for whatever the Italians call "siesta".

I was still waiting for some contact from *anyone* who knew *anything* about our luggage. I had been told that someone would attempt to contact me, and I'd also asked our landlord to give me a call if anything materialized.

Now, with the battery on the phone nearly dead and the internet cafés closed for "siesta" I was starting to feel like we would never see our bags again. Fortunately, the battery lasted through our lunch break (our own siesta) and once the shops began to open up again, I went to a Vodaphone shop and bought a charger. Marg and Helen were still shopping and poking around, so I found an open Internet café and spent half an hour on the Internet trying to chase down our bags (and, taking advantage of an available power bar, put some more charge into the phone).

I'd arranged to meet Marg and Helen on a little bridge just outside the internet café. People would come up to me from time to time and ask if I could take their pictures. It was a pretty spot - gondolas were taking tourists back and forth through the narrow passageway. (In fact, I think that this was on the route our gondolier had taken when we were here a few years ago.) the passageway was so close that, from time to time, a gondolier would have to use his foot to "kick out" from one of the buildings. They looked so smooth doing it, I'll wager that they've been doing exactly that for quite a number of years.

We made our way slowly to piazza San Marco.

Wandered there ... eventually went on a very quick tour through, then back to the waterfront ... back and forth ... wandered different paths trying to get lost and eventually returned to the apartment.

The bags were finally supposed to arrive at 8:20 ... RRRRIGHT!

8:32 ... still nothing.

At 8:50, I wound up making yet another call to Air Canada to see if there was any new information that they could share. It turns out that the bags had been consigned to a local delivery service - to be brought to "597 San Polo", that the delivery had been cancelled and that the bags were now scheduled to go from Venice to Vienna for forwarding to Ljubljana. The problem with the delivery? Our actual address is "579 San Polo".

Now, you might say ... "What problem? Why wouldn't you have seen the guy going to 597 and just re-directed him?"

Addresses in Venice are strange. There are several sections of the city, and each building or even entrance to a building has it's own unique number within that section of the city. Our apartment is actually on Calle Madona. "597 San Polo" may be over on the next block ... or it may be on a cross street ... the only thing for certain is that it is not just "up the street".

But ... as I have kept saying to anyone who will listen ... all someone has to do is call, or give me a functional phone number that I can use to contact someone. So far, it seems as though the only people I can ever get any information from are the Air Canada lost baggage people.

So, minus our baggage, we headed out for our final evening in Venice. We found a nice restaurant that even had, as a bonus, a three-piece string group busking in the square.

After supper, we walked over to the train station to get the tickets for our next leg of the journey - to Gorizia. With those in hand, we did the nighttime vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal from the train station to Piazza San Marco; taking in the sights of Venice at night. Then, it was a short walk back to the apartment for a good night's sleep.

One more note ... when we got back, there were 17 missed calls from the apartment landlord. I think we're starting to get Lufthansa's attention.

Part 3

Sunday, July 10

We woke up early to catch the train to La Spezia. I thought we'd get a chance to go back the the 'Pirate' restaurant but, it being Sunday, he was closed ... at least that early. So we headed for the train and got to La Spezia a bit early. Coffee was in a little bar across the street from the train.

As usual, with Trenitalia, the connections were good. The train from Parma to Bologna was crowded; the rest were OK.

I tried several times along the way to contact the apartment landlord using the information that had been provided to me by the rental agency. I finally, managed to connect using information on the same apartment from a different agency's web site.

I'll say right now that I never experience anything quite like the rush I get whenever I step out of the Venetian train station and look out over the glorious chaos that is Venice. The sun was shining, the water gleaming. Boats, gondolas, vaporetti all jostle for position on the Grand Canal; that ribbon of water that bisects the city. The city is old, it's tired, and it cares not that yet another tourist has wandered in. Venice continues her continues hum and bustle as she has for hundreds of years ... and always the question ... for how many more years can she survive?

We dove in and took the vaporetto from the train station to the Rialto Bridge. There, we hooked up with the landlord.

The apartment is nice ... very nice. On Calle de Madona, the apartment is just a few steps up from the Grand Canal, not more than 100 meters from the Rialto bridge. In a tourist city, it's in the most tourist-y of areas ... but the central location is hard to beat.

Both Marg and Helen are in need of something else to wear - since Lufthansa still has not come through with our luggage. So, there was some more shopping.

We walked, shopped and gawked in neighbourhoods on the "south" side of the Grand Canal. During our last two trips to Venice, we never spent much time over here. We stayed pretty close to the main route (following the signs directing us to the train station). Eventually, that's where we wound From well, actually across the Grand Canal from the train station. We crossed and worked our way back towards the Rialto bridge on the north (much more tourist-y) side of the Grand Canal.

This was the side of the Grand Canal that was much more familiar to us. We stopped at a couple of grocery stores to pick up some breakfast and lunch things; and eventually made our way back to the apartment.

To this point, the weather has been spectacular! But sunny and warm combined with walking and crowds meant it was time for a pre-supper cleanup. That done, we headed out for supper.

After supper, we made our way over to Piazza San Marco to listen to the different cafe orchestras. Then, after a stop for gelato, we came back to the apartment.

Just as we were all climbing into our beds, there was the sound of a "doorbell" rang. Helen thought it was our bags being delivered ... but there was nobody there; it was probably just a "wrong number".

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Part 2

Saturday, July 9

Before going to bed last night, Marg washed out a couple of of things in the sink and hung them to dry on the line outside the window. So, "fresh" clothes and a shower helped improve my outlook on the world.

Unfortunately, it started with not-so-great news. Francesca, the wife of the fellow who had gotten us set up in the apartment we were in knocked on the door. Gemmy had been been contacted by the company consigned to deliver the luggage and was told that it would not be possible to get our bags to us in Vernazza by today ... and was there another address where the bags could be sent for Sunday. I dug out the "address" in Venice along with the contact phone number I had been provided. 

That done, we started walking up to meet Helen. But before we got very far, we saw her walking down towards us.The first thing we decided was to consolidate into one apartment. Helen's place was plenty big enough - with one queen and one twin bed. Helen was with her "landlord" so we told her okf our plan and paid for the upcoming night. With that taken care of, it was time to get something to eat.

The night before, I'd noticed a restaurant right at the base of the building that Helen was in - La Piratta de la Cinque Terre - was one that I had seen mentioned in a guide book as well as a recommendation for dining in Vernazza from the Internet. So we schlepped our way back up the hill and sat down for breakfast. While Marg had said that she wanted eggs, the owner convinced her and Helen to go for a ricotta-filled pastry. It was great! With that, and a couple of espresso in my stomach (cappuccino for Marg and Helen) we were ready to face the day.

We went down to the shop that our "landlord" runs; left word of our change in plans and paid for the previous night ... now, we were free to do as we pleased for the day.

We started in Vernazza looking in at all the shops. Since we had no luggage, we spent some time looking for some clothes for which United/Lufthansa would pick up the charge. We spent quite a bit of time poking in and out of the various little shops in Vernazza. Down at the waterfront, we watched the end of a local swimming race (a close finish between the first-place finishing man and the first-place finishing woman). We ate some pizza for lunch, browsed some more, explored the town, went up and down what seemed to be a million stairs (none of which seemed to hold to any of the regular rise/run standards) and basically turned the town inside-out.

Our original plan for the Cinque-Terre had been to hike the trail from one end to the other. In a way, I was glad that we hadn't received our luggage. Hiking the trail would have been a very hot and exhausting endeavour. Exploring the town and taking refuge in the shade was (IMHO) a much better - and smarter - thing to do.

We picked up our Cinque Terre cards and took the train to Monterosso al Mare. This had been the town we stayed near when we were here a couple of years ago. The biggest difference between then and now was the size of the crowd at the beach. Two years ago (in May) there were crowds in and around the towns, but not at the beach. Now (July) the town was packed, and so were the beaches. Funny, the beach in Vernazza was much nicer (sand) but much smaller; here in Monterosso, the pebble-rock beach was absolutely packed! We managed to snake our way through the crowds and get down to the water. Given the heat of the day, it would have been nice to get cooled off in the water. But I don't know if I would have wanted to fight my way through the crowd. We've started compiling a list of things to do on our next visit ... and I think "a day at the beach" is going to get quite a few votes.

I don't think I fully grasp this idea of "shopping". To me, "shopping" involves they act of money leaving my pocket (or bank account) in exchange for some sort of goods. Now ... what we did in Monterosso can technically qualify as "shopping" since there was an actual exchange of cash for goods. I only know that so much more of what we did that day is called "shopping" because that's what I was told that we were doing.

We took the ferry from Monterosso all the way to the other end of the Cinque Terre - Riomaggiore. As the gateway town, Riomaggiore seems to have positioned itself decidedly "down-market". The waterfront is not as nicely kept as the others and there seemed to be no shortage of vendors selling the "Hello Kitty 5-Terre" type of t-shirt. I think the town functions as some sort of "dive centre" ... but since that's not my thing, I'll withhold comment.

The Cinque-Terre area is a group of five seaside towns joined by a series of trails and paths, as well as by rail and ferry. From Riomaggiore, we walked the "via del Amore" back to Manarola. This is the most developed section of the trail system; and to refer to it as a "trail" is a bit of an understatement. The entire length of the via de Amore is paved, with rock and brick walls on either side. Along the way, lovers have pledged their eternal love by placing padlocks (some with their initials) on, or woven heart-shaped strips of cloth into, the chain link fencing.

It was getting pretty late in the afternoon, and we'd had a pretty action-packed day, so we hopped the train back to Vernazza. We weren't so tired though to pass up on one final burst of shopping (courtesy of Lufthansa Airline's Lost Luggage fund) before heading back to the apartment to have a cleanup before supper.

We strolled back down to the waterfront for supper.They were finishing the setup for some sort of concert (perhaps associated with the swimming contest?) and we managed to snag a table right close to the stage. But even though we dragged our supper out as long as we could, we were still finished well before any musicians took to the stage. We left the restaurant and walked off supper for a while ... and then got ourselves gelato before heading back down to the waterfront square. The band had started playing ... I think they said they were from Brazil. In any event, they played some Brazilian-style music; we listened for a while before trudging back up the hill to get some sleep. I think I was out before my head hit the pillow.
Thursday, July 7 and Friday, July 8

This trip has not gotten off to the best of starts. After getting up early this morning and finishing off the packing, we made it up toOttawa with plenty of time to have a very quick (street-level, front-of-NAV CANADA-building) visit with Zandy before going over to pick up Helen.

We parked the car at the NAV CANADA facility on the west side of the airport and took the short cab ride over to the terminal building.

The first thing we found was that our departure from Ottawa to Chicago was running late enough that counter agent felt it best to re-book us to travel (with Helen) by way of Washington. And while that eliminated any problems we could have encountered with different arrivals and possible delays, it did mean that we had to sit around for an extra couple of hours ... never mind missing out on Lufthansa hospitality.

The departure from Ottawa was about 10 minutes late, but, combined with a bit of extra flying to divert around thunderstorms, meant that we only arrived in Washington with enough time to catch the shuttle bus (8 minute wait) from the 'A' Terminal over to the 'C/D' Terminal. we got to the gate just as the boarding was getting going.

United was an early purchaser of the B777, and this particular aircraft's interior definitely looks like it's seen better days. There is no AC power at the seats ... and the "on demand" video system uses TAPES! The seat is comfortable enough, but the fittings have a rather "worn and frayed" appearance.

We pushed of the gate - only a few minutes late - and taxied out for departure. We even lined up for takeoff, but then the captain came on the PA and advised that there was a problem with the indicators for the crew Oxygen system. So ... back to the gate for a quick visit from Maintenance (well, quick in that it only added 1:30 to our eventual departure time) and we finally got underway.

The flight was uneventful and I managed to get a bit of good sleep. Because we were late leaving Washington (and subsequently late arriving in Frankfurt), the lounge was quite full and I wasn't able to get in for a shower - the line-up was just too darn long! Margaret and Helen managed to get themselves cleaned up a bit ... but since I was holding out until the last minute for a shower, I wound up having to do my cleaning up on the Frankfurt to Rome flight. It's pretty amazing how fresh you can make yourself feel even when you're only using the things available in your plastic baggie carry-on and an aircraft washroom.

The scene at Rome's airport was all-too-familiar. Not from the masses of people crowded around old baggage carousels; not from the heat and humidity. Once again, we managed to arrive in Rome without our luggage!

Perhaps it was the connection in Washington ... after all, we did have move quickly between the 'A' terminal and the 'D'. And given the amount of traveling I do, it's to be expected that my luggage would be delayed from time-to-time (even though I normally travel with carry-on luggage exclusively and try to stick to direct flights). But, really! C'mon! No fair!

At least I knew the drill. Stand in line while some molto-bored guy takes information about our bags and where we're going to be staying. That only managed to consume a couple of the few that we'd set aside for a whirlwind tour of Rome; taking Helen to have a quick look at some of the sights.

So, by the time we got downtown, the best we could manage was a quick subway ride over to the Colosseum. 

In a city notorious for pickpockets, the most notorious place is the subway. I know that. When you go to Rome, you have to keep your wits about you at all times. I know that. Twice that little weasel nudged himself in front of me and then stopped dead for. No apparent reason. If I were to find myself in the situation again, I would lay my full weight on one of his feet, or "accidentally" scrape his ankle with the bottom of my shoe. Instead, for today, I will content myself with knowing that he only got about 25 euro from my right pocket. My passport, credit cards and additional money remained safe in my backpack (all that remains of my luggage - for now.

We wandered around the colosseum area for about 20 minutes; time to go to the train station to head for La Spezia and Vernazza.

It's Friday afternoon in Rome - and now, it seems, all roads lead FROM Rome. At least that's the way the crowds were heading. The train heading north was nearly full;  although it was not as bad as the trip to Florence two years ago when we had to stand for over four hours. The Eurostar was fast, running along at speeds up to 180 km/h. It was also very comfortable, we had two seats on one side, and one on the other of a little table ... which had an electrical outlet built in. Too bad my phone charger and plug adapter are in my (delayed ... lost ... missing) luggage. :(

It was dark by the time we got to La Spezia, fortunately, we did not have to wait long for the train to Vernazza.

While enroute to Vernazza, I called Gemmy, owner of the bed and breakfast I had booked earlier this year. We met her just after we left the train station. When I had originally booked our stay in Vernazza, it was for Margaret and I for three nights. When we convinced Helen to join us, we trimmed the Vernazza portion by one day to open up some time for a s top in Venice. Rather than use the "booking" portion of her web site, I wrote to her directly; asking her to adjust the duration of our stay and add a second room for my sister-in-law. She wrote back and said it would be taken care of.

Perhaps it was because we made these arrangements outside of her normal booking process ... but when we met Gemmy, she realized that there was going to be a problem: three people and only one double reservation. She recommended we have supper and that she would contact some of her friends to make other arrangements.

I'll take this opportunity to recap the score: three pieces of lost luggage, one pickpocket and misplaced accommodations reservations. A pretty full 10 hours in anybody's book if you ask me.

Gemmy managed to come up with two different friends who had rooms available. While Margaret and Helen waited at the restaurant, I went to check them out. "Our" room was up this rabbit-warren of narrow stairs and passageways. As we got close, the "landlord" asked me if I was going to remember the way back ... well, funny he should ask me that, because I was just starting to wonder the same thing. Fortunately, there was a simpler way ... "just follow the red stone in the stairs". I did and then went with the other landlord to check out Helen's place. This one was in a newer building, straight up the road from the restaurant. More than a "room", this was a whole apartment. Accommodations settled for the evening, I went back to the restaurant to finish supper.

After supper, I managed to send an email to Lufthansa's "Lost Baggage" group ... giving them the address to which our luggage could be delivered. That taken care of, I put my head on the pillow and fell asleep.