Published: June 19th 2011June 19th 2011
Friday 3rd June
The final toll road of Italy took us around the NE corner and through the slither of Italian land that lies between the Alps and the Adriatic sea, we headed on via Trieste and down to the border. The first border crossing was into Slovenia and as Slovenia is now in the EU we didn't need to stop so we drove straight in to add another country to our list.
Today we were just passing through Slovenia so after around 30 mins or so driving along a busy stretch of road we came to our second border crossing, into Croatia. Here we had to show our passports which was a first since Gibraltar but with no troubles we drove in and yet another new country was added, it was also a new currency, the Kuna which was strange for the boys as you get 8 to the pound so everything seemed really expensive to them when in fact it was a lot cheaper.
The main road into Croatia has been upgraded and is now similar to British dual carriageways so the drive down to Rovinj on the Istrian peninsula was easy and well sign posted.
Letting the kids pick out 2 camp sites for us to stay at whilst in Croatia was probably risky as I had done all of the choosing before but Dan picked out camping Polari just outside Rovinj and everything was good.
Polari is a large site on a curved and mainly rocky bay with pitches either by the sea or under pine forest shade. We pitched under the trees but near a nice spot where we could easily walk and sit out in the sun next to the shingle beach. Our first days here were spent by the water either taking in the sunshine or going for a swim and snorkle or back by the van taking in some shade over the very hot mid afternoon period. Being hot during the day meant we got some great storms over the weekend nights with thunder cracks like we'd never experienced before.
On the Monday 6th we used the coastal cycle path to pedal the 6km into Rovinj town. The cycle track follows the coast and that means sometimes going through the naturist areas that are pretty common around Istria, so once again we got full frontals of all those
wrinkly old Germans!
Rovinj town lies on a former island that was joined to the main land by the Romans around AD100. A spiral of rising and winding cobbed streets leads you up to the church on the hill where there are great views across the bay and out into the Adriatic sea. We locked up our bikes and wandered around the hill town and the marina until it was time for a drink, we found a lovely little bar called Brno's where we spent the rest of the afternoon sat out in the sun with a local beer or two.
The evenings on site were pretty quiet apart from the odd bit of entertainment laid on in the beach side bar, the other small bar on site was full of Germans, Austrians and Dutch who way outnumbered us as we were the only Brits on a site with over a thousand pitches so we chilled in the van most nights.
Tuesday 7th again we cycled to Rovinj and after a short walk around we used Brno's bar again this time the boys had their notebooks to catch up with friends back home. Unfortunately the day turned wet by
mid afternoon with some more heavy showers so the journey back had us all soaking wet through.
Wednesday 8th was very hot again so we spent the day around the nice large swimming pool which was a nice change from the very salty sea.
Moving on but staying in Croatia we headed for our second site Camping Mareda at Novigrad. Having had such a nice time at the first site in Croatia this second site didn't appeal to me form the start! Because of the heavy rain the ground was very wet, there were no level pitches or even decent pitch layouts so we ended up in a crap spot. The sea front concrete looked like a relic from the eastern block days and the shower blocks had seen far better times, but we stuck with it to see how it turned out, at least it was hot.
Getting away from the camp site was the best idea so we walked another coastal path the 5km to Novigrad. The walk along the rocky inlets and through the pine forests soon brought us into the lovely town centre of Novigrad which is very similar
Sunset over the Adriatic
Our last night by the sea
to Rovinj and other towns in this area like Porec or Pula. All of us being ready for some food we found a nice little waterside restaurant which served us up some very fine local grub and plenty of drinks as we watched the comings and goings around the marina.
That evening we left the camp site to sit in a local bar up the road and discuss our travel options.
Having decided we'd had enough of this place we thought instead of picking another Croatian site we'd head back into Slovenia.
I actually really liked Croatia, the lovely peninsula towns and the green sea, the feel of the place and the nice people, I wished we could have seen far more of it (another on the list of places to spend time in the future!) but time was running out, so for the last time we left the sea behind us and headed inland on what would be the start of the long journey north across central Europe to Rotterdam and eventually home.
Crossing back into Slovenia was a slow affair, it was Saturday and the roads were busy so the queues at the border were
fairly long, not as long as going the other way into Croatia, it seemed that every German was heading there that day.(we later found out it was a German holiday wknd).
Our first stop in Slovenia was at Postojna, it's well known for it's cave systems and is a major tourist attraction. Climbing away from the coast and into the hills the air cooled slightly and the breeze was stronger which was a relief after nearly 2 weeks of very hot and humid days.
Our camp site at Pivka Jama was 4km out of town and deep into the forest and what the last camp site lacked this one made up for. The kids made the most of the day by exploring the site and using the sports area whilst I did a large amount of clothes washing.....again!
My excitement for the day was finding our first snake on the trip, I didn't have my camera and I wasn't going to pick it up as Dan suggested so no evidence I'm afraid, for the record it was about 30 inches long, mainly green with a yellow head.
Instead of going into Postanja and visiting the caves
there, we visited our camp sites own cave system which it is named after Pivka Jama. After a lazy morning we joined our group at 3pm for a journey underground.
We did the usual walk through caverns and above waterways, looking at stalagmites and stalactites with our guide switching between Slovene, German and English constantly and it was quite interesting, 2 things of note, these caves have an amphibian creature that is only found here and the water through this system eventually runs into the Black sea via the Danube river, now that's a long way.
Leaving the camp site we drove just around the corner to take a look at Predjama castle. Built 123m up into the rock face in the 13th century it's has a reputation for been virtually impregnable and was once home to a famous Slovenian knight Erazem Lueger.
After a quick visit and a relatively short drive later through landscapes looking more and more alpine after each mile we reached Slovenia's capital city Ljubljana. The camp site is very close to town and the bus stops right outside the gate so after checking in and lunch we jumped on the bus into
Slovenia is celebrating 20 years of independence in a few weeks time and preparations were ongoing for a nationwide party on 1st July. The old town area is small but very charming with Alpine/Venetian style buildings around small plaza's. Parts of the old town feel very bohemian with the university close by and a vast array of small boutiques beside hip bars attracting many student types, it's probably a good night out here, not for me though, I've forgot what one of those is in the past year!
After couple of hours we'd walked the old town and parts of the new, we covered most of the sights highlighted in the local guide I'd picked up, Ljubljana castle on the hill, the river bank walk and it's bridges and all the squares, so back on the bus to site and another quiet night with a local beer.
Apart from a walk to the local supermarket and shops all we did was chill out and play the odd game of badminton by the van.
Our next destination was recommended to us by a couple of different people we'd met on
this trip so we were up and on our way early to Lake Bled in northern Slovenia, just 20km from the Austrian border. The camp site is right on the lake at the western end and is easy to find. Having got there before lunchtime we had the whole day to chill out by the lake and take in the views.
Now this is probably the most scenic place we've stayed so far. From the lawned sunbathing area by the waters edge you look across the lake first to the islet in the middle, then to the castle on the hillside, then onto Bled town itself all with the high Juliskje Alps in the background, under blue skies and bright sunshine it's picture postcard stuff (I think I've said that before on this trip!).
There are lots of things you can do around this area, Bled is on the edge of Slovenia's only national park, Triglav, so walkers and cyclists have endless trials to follow and mountains to climb, there are also gorges and more lakes to visit and for the more adventurous there's stuff like rafting, gliding or skydiving. With leaflets on all-sorts of adventures I sat down to
work out what we could manage in 3 days.
With a cycle track around the lake it's easy to get to Bled town so that's what we did first. The small town of Bled offers the usual hotels, bars, restaurants and a few shops but it's the lake side setting with lawns and benches that attracts the masses, sitting and admiring the views or taking a gondola across the water. We had a browse around town, bought some cakes and had a game of mini golf before sitting by the lake and feeding the swans. We also went up to the alpine toboggan run for a go but it wasn't open, so after the cycle back we spent the afternoon on the lawn in front of the site sunbathing and taking a dip in the lake (we were told the next day that there is a 1.5 metre catfish in there somewhere, now they tell me!) What we'd also done in Bled was book ourselves on the Emerald River Tour for the following day so it was early to bed as we had the earliest start of the trip so far.
Up at 7am
we packed our bags and were picked up by Tisch in the minibus at 8am. Picking up our other companions for the day, Ken and American on a months tour of eastern Europe whilst his wife and kids attended summer camp back in US (her idea) and Brian and Claire a young Aussie couple form Melbourne on a 5 week tour of Europe, we headed off for the first stop of the day.
Its a long day and we did a lot so I'll be brief but if you want to know more details go to www.explore-more.com and click on English then Emerald River Adventure.
During the 12 hour day we hiked over a mountain pass at Vrsic, traversed up a rock face to get to the source of the Soca river, visited lakes at Kranjska Gora and Bohinj, white water rafted through cat 3+ rapids along the Soca, hiked up to the Boka abd Koslak waterfalls and swim in the pool below, jumped from the 12m bridge at Most na Soci into the emerald green waters beneath, we drove through stunning scenery in the Triglav national park and the Julian Alps, we had lunch together in Bovec and took
the car train through tunnels to Bohinjska Bistrica, throughout it all we had a great guide in Tisch and great company as the 6 of us got on really well and swapped contact details for the future.
The website says 'the day will be the highlight of your holidays' and it's right up there for us.
Our guide took loads of photos of the day which I don't have yet so I will add thm later.
I wanted to walk the Vintgar gorge and climb the local hills but with aching arms and legs the boys were having none of it (another thing on the list for the future) so we had a fairly easy day instead. The boys swam in the lake and used the trampolines and I read another book for most of the day then cycled into Bled for a few provisions.
At half past midnight the predicted rain started to fall and with it some very heavy thunder and lightening, soon it was torrential and the camp sites roads were more like rivers, it kept on going for 9 hours solid, not much sleep due to the noise (heavy rain on a
motor-home/caravan is pretty loud).
We had meant to leave today but with little sleep and storms predicted along our route we decided to stay on and have a quiet day and hope it clears up for Monday, as I type the thunder is rumbling again in the distance.
As it's our last day here I've got to say that we have had a great time in Slovenia and I would highly recommend it to anyone, there are all the outdoor activities you would expect of an alpine area but there's also the lovely lakes, towns, caves and castles for a more gentle holiday and it's the cheapest place so far! put it on your list to visit one day.
Into Austria next so bye for now and take care all.
Neil Daniel and Harry
There are more photos below