Wednesday, July 27, 2011

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.

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