Slovenia markets itself on the basis that the word love is within its name. It’s entirely appropriate – there’s a lot to love here. Mountains that tower over you, rivers that tumble from them into canyons and fall over cliffs to land in deep pools below, lakes that reflect the bluest of skies. Not to mention towns that come straight from an Alpine picture book, with picturesque churches and red flowers in window boxes. Food is fresh and plentiful (if a little on the sturdy side), the wine is good and the beer flows well. By turns it reminds us of northern Spain, Italy and Canada, or many other places we’ve seen in pictures although not been to. But I’m moving too fast. We need to get here first.
I’ve only ever slept on a boat once. Well, twice, if you consider that I did the return journey from Portsmouth to Santander, which is twenty-four hours and apparently a popular mini cruise. We were bored out of our minds. Anyway, I mention it because I’m about to sleep on a boat again, the Hull-Rotterdam ferry on an overnight crossing, and things have changed in the last few years. Previously I could sail in and on anything (Santander to Portsmouth was particularly rough and I had no issues); now I only have to look at the sea and my stomach threatens to return anything I’ve recently eaten. I blame the menopause. (Why not? It seems to account for most of the other health issues I’ve had in recent years.) But, thanks to the wonders of modern science, help is at hand, in the form of a patch I stick behind my left ear. Eureka! No problems with seasickness. But it irritates my skin slightly and I keep going to scratch, like a cat, only as I touch it to remember that the instructions were clear: wash your hands thoroughly after handling the patch. Crap!
We have two days of driving in front of us. The journey through Holland is uneventful. And flat. Boy is it flat. I could never live here. What do the Dutch do when they go elsewhere and find a hill? Do their muscles even work on a hill? (Well, Tom Dumoulin is Dutch and he won a very hilly Giro d’Italia a couple of years ago.) The flat extends into the north of Germany, which surprises me as I always think of Germany as a hilly country, probably because my only experience of it was many years ago when I visited the Rhineland as a teenager. It’s when I fell in love with travel, but that’s another story.
According to Google the drive for today is seven hours. It takes us roughly eight but, allowing for coffee, loo and lunch stops it’s pretty much what we expected. The second day should be slightly shorter, less than six hours. It’s a wonderful word, should. We learn today not to rely on it. Less than an hour out of Nürmberg, where we stayed overnight, we stop. Dead. There are roadworks ahead but we drove though many sets yesterday with little more issue than a slight drop in speed. We crawl for over an hour. It’s educational though – traffic in the outside lane moves very close to the central reservation, traffic in the middle lane moves close to the inside lane. When a siren sounds in the distance the police car has no problem getting through three lanes of clogged traffic. This should happen everywhere. Should.
Notes on driving in Germany: it’s fast. There is no speed limit on the Autobahn. In fact, as you enter Germany, alongside the Willkommen in Deutschland sign is a picture of a speed camera with a big cross over it. It’s Nirvana for speed freaks. In the past Neil was amongst them. That was when he didn’t have bikes on the roof of the car and grey hairs on the roof of his head. He’s remarkably restrained, sticking to the advised limit, venturing into unlimited territory only to overtake and, basically, get out of the lane fast before an Audi, BMW or Mercedes tries to get into the boot and steal our luggage.
After we finally clear the traffic – a coach broken down and blocking one lane of two in the roadworks, glad I’m not that driver – the road is, unsurprisingly, almost clear. The lack of speed limit is more obvious now, cars whizzing past us so fast we feel the draught, even though we’re doing 130kph. Austria does have speed limits and cameras, but it seems some drivers don’t get the message. We don’t have to stop for the border but we do have to stop to buy a vignette, a small ticket that we stick in the windscreen that allows us to drive in Austria. Thoughtfully, they also sell Slovenian vignettes.
You pay for the privilege of driving in Europe. In France most highways are tolled. In Germany there are no tolls but if you want to use any facilities you pay, for mediocre and unappealing food and especially for toilets. The same in Austria (plus a toll!) I don’t mind per se, and if it means a clean toilet I’m all for it, but some of them aren’t, and I at least expect toilet roll and a working hand dryer, which one facility doesn’t provide. On our last stop in Germany I enter the cubicle and notice that the seat seems to be the wrong way around. It’s moving, and it’s whirring. There’s an automated device that spins the seat and cleans it, retreating into a slot beneath the cistern when it is finished. I laugh out loud. At least it’s worth the entrance fee.
We enter typical Alpine territory, lush green fields scattered amongst dark pointed pines that smother hillsides. Low wooden barns lurk on the edge of the forest. Between drifting clouds, high mountains oversea small villages where churches have impossibly thin towers with needle sharp spires that seem to defy any laws of physics. It makes you feel healthy just looking at it and if Heidi skipped out with a pail to milk one of the tea-brown cows that dot the green I wouldn’t be in the least surprised. Maybe the group of young men wearing Lederhosen I’d seen climbing out of a car at our last stop were on their way to play their part.
The mountains rise, the road snuggled between them and punching through tunnels. Most are short and one way only, until the last, 8km. Never a fan of being under tons of rock I’ve been nervous in tunnels ever since we drove through the St Goar tunnel years ago, just before the horrific fire in the Mt Blanc tunnel. It’s a long 8km. But it takes us through to Slovenia.
By the time we arrive in Bohinj we’ve been on the road nearly nine hours, a lot of it in queueing traffic. Neil deserves his beer that evening!
There are few pictures of this journey as it’s difficult to take them from a speeding car. So a few from Slovenia are scattered through to whet your appetite for the real thing. Which I’ll get to next time. Obljuba!