Vrsic Mountain Pass

Vrsic mountain pass is the most amazing road I have ever been on.  Full stop.

Between Kobarid and Kranjska Gora is a massive mountain range.  To travel between the two our GPS wanted us to go through Italy and avoid the mountains, but halfway along we came to a road sign that had a different opinion of which road to take.  Trusting physical items over modern technology I, to the disapproval of my misses, turned off our GPS blue line.  IMG_20170919_114245.jpg

Towards the mountains and away from Italy we go.  A light rain accompanies us on our journey.  All is well and good as we drive through a narrow river valley between two mountain ranges and driving towards a third.  Just as it looks like we will end up driving into the mountain we come to a hairpin turn.  Then another, and another, and another.  All the while climbing nearly vertical.  IMG_20170919_121612.jpg

Apparently there are 49 of these hairpins.  After about thirty of them we came to some construction workers.  At this level the rain was turning into slush.  No worries.  It is only September and I’m used to driving in snow, so a little slush is childs play.  Past these workers we climb and climb at about 20kph.  Slush turns to light snow and then quickly to heavy snow.  Within two minutes our view has turned completely white.  Gone is the green from the trees and black of the road.  I can see the summit in the very near distance but make the difficult decision that we cannot make it in our little car with summer tires.  It hurts but better same than sorry.IMG_20170919_121741.jpg

Looking for a place to turn around we are waved down by a man coming down the mountain.  Stopping and getting out to talk to him he informs us that around the corner about eight cars are stuck in the snow.  He recommends turning around.  Not one to argue we slowly make an about face and retrace our path at a crawling pace.  Testing the brakes to see if ice is forming I am taking by surprise as we start sliding.  It appears there may be a teeny bit of ice.  Slowing our pace to that of a snail we decend and in about ten minutes time are back in the slush and rain.  It was a close call but made for a fantastic memory and a beautiful view and experience.  Plus because of the snow we got to take the long way and see a small bit of Italy.  IMG_20170919_122030.jpg

Vrsic Mountain Pass is a fantastic piece of tarmac, built by Russian prisoners of war during the first world war.  There is a Russian church at the summit built by the prisoners in memory of those killed while making it.  Credit is due to them for being able to build a road straight up the side of a mountain.  The views are also supposed to be spetacular.  There are pull-in and picnic areas, as well as many hiking paths(From what I read as we never made it).  Do bring a four wheel drive or winter tires for late Autumn and early Spring(and of course Winter)!.

Szeged to Maribor

It is well known that the idiom “All roads lead to Rome” was actually stolen from the original “All roads lead to Budapest”.  If you wish to travel from Szeged(on the Southern border of Hungary) to Slovenia(on the Western border), you must first go to Budapest, which lies near the Northern border of the country.

First thing in the morning we went to Bor Ter(wine festival) in Szeged to get wine glasses that we have collected most years.  Sadly it was early and the booths were not yet open so we couldn’t enjoy any delicious wine, but it being illegal to drive with even a drop of alcohol in your system it was probably for the best.

After purchasing our motorway pass we settled in for a long and boring drive through the Hungarian farmland.  First we would head North, then South-West, and finally West to reach Maribor, the start of our Slovenian vacation.  Not a bad days drive at slightly under five hours.  Heading North was uneventful, as was our South-West journey.

Nearing the border with Slovenia things got interesting.  Dark clouds blotted out the sun and brilliant flashes of lightning took its place.  I was enjoying this wonderful display of nature until we entered a downpour.  Glad we had decided to take the Rolls instead of the convertible we quickly fogged up and both scrambled to fix the issue.  Thanks to our quick reaction we cleared the windows and were greeted with exactly the same amount of visibility, courtesy of the intense rain.

Driving by following the reflectors on the painted lane directly in front of the car we soldiered on, stopping at a petrol station on the border to purchase a Slovenian motorway pass and give my eyes a rest from not blinking for the past half hour.  Waking my eyes up we continued through these cats and dogs.

Nature did not loosen her grip until we found our rental house just outside the city , when we rewarded with a drizzle while escaping our car for a more comfortable structure.

We saw nothing of the Slovenian countryside or of Maribor that first day due to the wily combination of weather and darkness.

Slovenia-Overview

Toast and coffee in hand(and mouth), I stare out the window of the cafe pondering if Slovenia is the most beautiful country I have been to.  Not this exact location per se, as this area of Maribor, the second largest city of a whopping 90,000 population, is drab communist concrete and grey.  The overcast skys and rain don’t help raise the atmosphere.  My current view aside, the country on a whole is in league with New Zealand and other top players.

This tiny country of two million sits comfortably between Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary.  The Eastern portion is made up of rolling hills that flatten out as you enter Hungary.  The West is full of majestic mountains, there is a beautiful lake near the center, and for beachlovers there is a tiny coastline in the Southwest.  The Soca river is a beautiful glacier color.  As far as nature goes the country is perfect.  Tunnels and bridges are commonplace and offer fantastic views of the countryside.  The roads are perfect, like pretty much everything else.  Slovenia is using EU money extremely well, unlike some other recipients(I’m looking at you Hungary and all your missing EU cash).  2017-09-17-1053.jpg

The people are fantastic as well.  Most speak English as well as a few other languages.  Croatian, Serbian, Italian, German being quite popular.  They are nice and service was top notch.  The service industry doesn’t ignore you as Eastern European countries do and they aren’t begging for tips or sales as Americans do.  My number one compliment to the people is to acknowldge their cleanliness.  There was no rubbish to be seen.  Not in city centers, roadsides, or on mountain trails.  I take that back, I did see rubbish in dumpsters and trash cans.  I was amazed.  I have never seen such a well taken care of country.

Slovenia is not just for nature lovers, though it is a paradise for hiking, biking, camping, skiing, motorbiking, paragliding, kayaking, climbing, and all other outdoor pursuits.  It is also rich in World War I history.  The mountains were the setting for massive battles between the Austo-Hungarians and Italians.  You can still walk through the trenches and see the defensive lines. Russian prisioners of war built the most impressive road I have ever been on.  It climbs straight up a mountain with dozens of switchbacks.  Many were killed building it and so the survivors built a pretty memorial church at the top of the pass to honor them.  My apologies to owls and partiers, I have no idea about Slovenian nightlife.  2017-09-17-1055.jpg

Food is a mix of neighboring countries.  Slovenia does not have its won food culture.  Sorry foodies.  The pizza is delicious and the local beer, Lasko, tastes like an IPA to me.  I wasn’t a fan.

Even the small things are awesome.  One example is that speed cameras are everywhere but there are multiple warning signs well before all of them.  It appears to be impossible to get a speeding ticket even if you drive with blinders on.

It does rain a lot, but that is to be expected in any green country.  I love the rain and having coffee on foggy mornings so this isn’t a negative to me.  Bring a jacket and remember that water dries and doesn’t hurt.

Visit Slovenia as soon as possible.  See Lake Bled, camp in the mountains, kayak the Soca, and take a city break in Ljubljana(just hope you never need to spell it).  Hell, if you pay my way I’ll join you and be your personal guide.  You will get a small amount of information wrapped in layers of sarcasm and wit.

 

Lufthansa – Premium Economy

Just finished my first Premium Economy experience with Lufthansa and I am very impressed.  It surely was not only two extra inches of legroom like I was expecting.

Boarding my A330 was normal.  No special treatment for Premium Economy, which is fine by me as we all get there the same time, no matter how early you board(Amazing how many people do not seem to understand this).  On board all was excellent as is normal with Lufthansa.  Spotlessly clean and everything in good nick.  Passing two rows of business class seats and the bulkhead row of Premium Economy I arrived at my aisle seat.

The overhead bin swallowed my two carry-ons and coat with ease.  Moving my blanket, pillow, and amenities case(toothbrush, blindfold, ear plugs, socks, headphones), I sat down.  What a difference from Economy.  The seat felt much more comfortable and wider.  Legroom was outstanding, but the star of the moment was the recline angle.  As I leaned back I assumed my seat was broken as it just kept going and going and going.  It was beautiful.  No complaints were heard from the seat behind me, unlike in Economy where anyone over six feet tall hits their knees if you lean back.  Beyond this the video screen is huge and beautiful.

As I got comfortable the flight attendant offered me a refreshing towel and then an orange juice while still at the gate.  This equated to business class on domestic flights.  I was very satisfied as I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and napped.  Before landing breakfast came around and put a cherry on the whole experience.  Usually I am displeased with Lufthansa food but my omelete plate was outstanding.  Now perhaps it is the same food Economy had and I fooled myself into thinking it was better than it really was but I don’t think so.

I can highly recommend Premium Economy on Lufthansa.  It is a much nicer experience than Economy and not too much more expensive.  It is especially worth it if you need two checked bags, as two are included in the price but in Economy you only get one.  Give it a shot, you can thank me later.