Kobarid, Slovenia

Tucked in the mountains on the extreme western edge of Slovenia is the tiny town of Kobarid.  You may be familiar with the town without knowing it as it featured in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.  During World War I it was the front line between Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces. You should read up on it as the history is interesting.  After many battles the Italians retreated but were given the area after the war(Spoils to the victor). In the hills surronding the town you can still find trenches and embattlements, but those days of fighting are long past.  Now this beautiful area is a nature lovers and adverturers paradise.

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The town proper has a small main street with a hotel and restaurants.  There is the Kobarid museum, a school, quite a few guide shops(one selling my favorite outdoor wear, Prana), and of course, houses.  Surrounding the town are a few campgrounds and mountains full of well marked trails, both hiking and biking.  But the main attraction is the Soca River.  This colorful river hosts kayakers, swimmers, and rafters.  There are a few bridges offering fantastic views.  By following little crystal clear streams that enter into the Soca you will come to some impressive slap(Slovenian for waterfall, perhaps named after the sound they make).

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Make Kobarid a stop on your trip through Slovenia.  The campgrounds are fantastic(Detailed in another post), the pizza at the restaurants delicious, the river and waterwalls beautiful.  There is nothing not to like.  Kayak or raft down the river, hike or bike up the mountains, travel back to World World I by standing in the embattlements and visiting the museum.  Then spend a day relaxing , just staring at the mountains and breathing in the fresh air.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia

You know that you are approaching Ljubljana courtesy of the roadsigns, but you find no other evidence of a capital city approaching.  Most cities announce themselves from afar, with tall buildings, some industry, or at the very minimum a water tower.  Not Ljubljana, which I shall now refer to as the hidden city.  It goes from forest to a city in an instant.  One moment you are looking at trees and the next you are on the off-ramp into the center.

As you leave the motorway and drive through the city you cross nothing special.  There are some clean and modern glass offices and some old grey concrete blocks of flats.  It looks and feels like like most other Eastern Bloc cities.  Hopefully the center will be interesting.  Looking for a parking space you are unable to spy any of the pedestrian area.  Doing a few loops you are amazed to find that there are no spots, which seems old on a weekend.  Giving in you pull into a garage and park right next to the elevators.  Why the spot is painted red you don’t understand.  Another car parks next to you and asks in English why the spots are painted red.  You answer that you have no idea.  They decide to drive higher into the garage but you decide to risk it.  IMG_20170917_124448.jpg

Leaving the garage you enter an empty and dark plaza.  In the corner is a casino, which is the national icon of Slovenia.  Walking towards the center you start to see people wearing hiking packs and other obvious tourists.  On your walk you pass a little fountain decorated with many cute and fat horse statues as well as a very colorful building that would be more at home in Barcelona.  IMG_20170917_124551.jpg

Arriving in the old town surprises you.  The city opens up and a beautiful view presents itself.  A large predestrian area complete with river and bridges fills your view.  To your right is a church but you skip it.  You cross the river and walk along beautiful shops and restaurants.  In front of you rises a castle up on a cliff face.  You would love to go up there but time is not permitting, so instead you roam up and down the little alleys of shops.  All clean and beautiful as you have come to expect from this country.  IMG_20170917_125249.jpg

After ducking into a few of the shops you settle down at a restuarant on the riverside and get a coffee and nachos.  The river is flowing heavily due to the recent downpours.  The water is not the crystal blue you hope for but for some reason the brown water doesn’t bother you.  Your view upriver is fantastic and the one downsteam isn’t too shabby.  After finishing your meal and watching all the well behaved dogs being walked, it is time to explore some more.  Crossing to the other side of the river you stumble across a little market.  Vendors are selling what would best be discribed as junk.  Toys from your childhood, old books, posters, and kitchenware.  You wonder to yourself if anything might be a collectible, but are there really such finds these days? IMG_20170917_130349.jpg

Loving this city you are sad that you have to get to the mountains in the west before nightfall to set-up your camping tent.  A shame that you haven’t gotten to see more of the sights.  A castle on a hill, a huge park, and even dragons on a bridge.  If only you could spend a few days here, but no worries.  You make a mental note to return as soon as possible.

Walking a zig-zag back to the parking garage you stumble across more shops, plazas, government buildings, and restaurants.  All of it looks wonderful.  Lucky Slovenians you mumble to yourself.  IMG_20170917_134519.jpg

Arriving back at your car you are happy to find that the red spot apparantly doesn’t mean anything, as your windshield is free of any papers and the tires are free and clear.  Exiting the structure and driving to the motorway you bid the hidden city farewell.  You will return, given that the road signs stay up and you are able to find it again.

Maribor, Slovenia

Though it was cold and damp outside I awoke to a toasty bedroom thanks to a little space heater sitting near the bedside.  Getting dressed I walked through the kitchen to the living room of our rental house.  Here I stood with my face nearly touching the window.  Beautiful green hills lightly covered by mist unfolded before me in this tiny village just south of the city.  Unable to move I take in the sight for twenty minutes, watching a colorful police car drive up a small lane to a school, turn around, and return from where he appeared.  Everything seems so peaceful and simple.  It is simply perfection. What a heartbreak that we have to leave today.

After showering and packing up we leave our wonderful rental house.  A gigantic spider appears near the top of the bedroom wardrobe to wish us goodbye.  Thankfully I did not see it earlier or I might have had a different opinion of our night there.  After taking in one last view as I finish putting our luggage in the car we head off to downtown Maribor for breakfast.

It is a drizzling weekend morning and traffic is light.  A perfect road without a single defect takes us into the city.  Driving in we pass many large Ikea-like stores and other modern construction.  It all looks new and clean.  A bridge spanning a river near the center appears to separate the old area from the new area.  The south bank has modern glass construction while the north gets much more Communist.  Here we decide on sightseeing by car has it has begun to rain.  We drive a couple of laps around the center but cannot find anything of interest.  Coming to a small park with parking areas around its perimeter, which the GPS seemed to think was the center of the city, we pulled in and discussed our next move.  As we talked the rain suddenly stopped, as if inviting us out.  Not one to argue with nature we quickly evacuated our car and walked towards a large pedestrian area.  Around were decent buildings but the communist hand was everywhere.  From the mandatory giant statue depicting war and sacrifice to the ugly concrete squares they call buildings.

The rain starting again we ducked into a corner cafe.  The outside was not inviting but inside was beautiful.  A large area opened in front of us and a fantastic heavy timber ceiling above.  A waitress smiled at us as we took seats by a window and came over to take our order, in perfect English, as we dressed down and got settled in.  Outside a fruit vendor and kebab shop were making preparations to open.  Across the way a Communist looking shoe shops eaves protected a lady and her dog from what had become a downpour.  Dreaming about the beautiful view we had just an hour before, and comparing it to what we saw now, we felt quite against Maribor.

Turning our attention to the table, we drank our mediocre coffee and ate our tasty tost and apple pastry.  With the rain stopping again as we finished our meal we briefly explored the area before giving up due to lack of interest.  Safely back in our car we headed for the motorway and onward to Ljubljana.

Perhaps Maribor is a beautiful city and we just happened to be in the wrong area with drab weather and negative attitudes. Or perhaps it truly is the ugliest part of Slovenia.  I will leave my judgement open until the next time I visit, for I will most certainly be back.

 

 

Allen Edmonds

Allen Edmonds is a mens leather shoe and belt company located in Wisconsin, USA.  They have a variety of dress shoes and boots, as well as matching belts.  Now I have gone for comfort over appearances my whole life, but as I am getting older I am being drawn towards the desire to dress-up a bit, but without sacrificing comfort.  Enter Allen Edmonds.

During a sale I purchased two pair of shoes and a belt.  When received(as I live overseas and had them shipped) I was disappointed to find that the shoes were too narrow and too long.  I always knew I had very wide feet but I didn’t know they weren’t as long as I thought.  All these years I have been using length to make up for lack of width in generic shoes.  These shoes would have to go back but first I inspected them and was extremely impressed with the quality.  Never before had I seen such nice shoes.  The belt was of the same quality and also fit perfectly so it quickly found a spot in my closet.

Back my shoes went with a request for replacements a half size smaller and much wider(EEE to be exact).  Allen Edmonds make there shoes in most widths, from AAA to EEE, so you can get darn near a perfect fit.  With absolutely no hassle at all I received the replacements extremely quickly.  To my dismay they were still too long.  Unbelieveable.  Back they went again and again the replacements came, half a size smaller yet again.  This time though I was a happy camper.  They wrapped my feet perfectly.  The leather was perfect(so soft and beautiful).  The craftmenship likewise perfect.  They took very little time to break-in and now stand at the ready for work.

I was so impressed that I ordered four more belts and two more pair of shoes.  All the belts were perfect but one set of boots came with a tiny but deep cut and a crease.  Some people might have sent it back but I plan on my boots being damaged from use anyway so I kept them.

So Allen Edmonds makes a fantastic product for a fair price(especially when on sale).  The shoes and belts are worlds beyond the mass produced items I have always used.  But this company goes beyond with their service.  Items are shipped quickly, returns are easy and free, shoes come with nice cloth bags to store them in, even the boxes they come in are beautiful.  But their customer service is what really sets them apart.  One set of shoes I ordered was out of stock, and it took a few days for the warehouse to pass the information on.  I received a nice personal email informing me of the fact and apologising for the delay.  They offered me my choice of shoe as a replacement for a heavy discounted price as compensation.  Of course I jumped at such a deal.  It didn’t end there though.  When my new shoes arrived(by next day air!) I found included a set of shoe trees, a bottle of leather lotion, and a hand written card explaining that these items are free gifts.  What amazing service for only being out of stock of an item!

If you need, or want, leather shoes or a belt go and get them from Allen Edmonds.  They have stores in major cities so you can get a perfect fit and not go through my tiresome trial and error. Or do use their website and browse the clearance items.  They also sell other items such as shirts, socks and leather bags.  I can speak highly of the shirts, the socks are in the mail, and a bag is soon to be ordered.

If I see you on the street in your new shoes and with a smile on your face I will give you a nod of approval.  Please extend the same courtesy to me in my new Higgins Mills.

A Blonde Eastern European Travels to Saudi Arabia

It was early in the morning when I got on the plane in Budapest.  Excited, but already tired, knowing that I have a twelve hour of journey ahead of me.  I was traveling alone(like usual), which generally does not make me feel worried or anxious.  However this time it was a completly different story.

I am an Eastern-European blonde and blue eyed women looking forward to be reunited with her American husband in the Kindom of Saudi Arabia, where he worked instructing new Saudi firefighters.

I had to change planes at Frankfurt airport, where the culture difference became crystal clear. It was amazing how different the crowd getting on the plane was from my last flight. This was my first time seeing a man in a thobe, the traditional Saudi attire, and women wearing the abaja, covering their whole body and head in black fabric, though not all were dressed like this.

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During boarding I found my assigned seat occupied by a Saudi man. No problem I thought, it is alright and happens fairly often. I will just ask him to move.

Oh if I had only known…

The man immediately called a hard-working Philippino stewardess to his rescue, explaining to her that he wanted that seat and refuses to sit next to me so they will have to find me another seat. I felt a bit embarrassed, but was ready to find myself a new seat and avoid this rude man. Here I came across some more difficulties and learned a bit about their culture, as more and more Saudis refused to sit next to me, regardless of their gender or age. At the end, as the outcast of the plane, i found peace next to an old Indian man who was more than delighted to have me as his traveling companion for the hours to come.

After listening to the “Prayer of the Travelers” from the Holy Koran, which played on the monitors, the plane took off and I was finally on my way to the amazing Kingdom of sand, camels and terrible coffee…which all deserve their own story.

Air Berlin – Farewell

Owing to a keen and unfortunate ability of mine, known as bad luck, I purchased a flight from Budapest to San Francisco on Air Berlin days before they declared bankruptcy.  Unable to change or refund my flight I settled in for what might turn out to be an unfortunate trip, though assurances from the German government and Lufthansa that operations would continue lifted my hopes.

The day of my flights arrived and all looked well.  Both flights were listed as on-time.  Check-in in Budapest was uneventful and my flight left on time.  The only issue was a girl that must have partied too hard or been drugged passing out shortly after take off.  Sad for her but did not have an effect on the flight.

Tegal airport was a different story.  This terrible airport is an awful place on the best of days, but this day it exceeded itself.  The terminal was a mess of stranded travelers.  Feeling sorry for these poor souls I saw my flight to San Francisco was good I got a pretzel and beer and waited to escape Tegal.  Come boarding time we were informed that our flight was delayed twenty minutes without a reason given.  No need to worry.  Delays are understandable given the circumstances the airline is under.  Twenty minutes later we are told the flight is canceled and to get on a bus to take us to baggage claim.  Again no reason or apology is forthcoming.  Rumor on the bus was that crews were taking sick days so the airline could not fly the planes.  Understanable reaction by people about to lose their jobs but quite annoying to people trying to get home or go on vacation.

Figuring that I would be transfered to a Lufthansa flight quickly I was not worried too much, but oh how I should have worried.  Being one of the last to get my luggage I was greeted by all 300 passengers in the rebooking queue in front of me.  I would stand here, with many bathroom breaks, for six hours.  Air Berlin dumped all of us on three airport staff to rebook over 300 people.   Happy and positive when it came my turn I rebooked on Lufthansa through Frankfurt the next day.  When I asked for a hotel she almost laughed at me and said Air Berlin will not pay for anything but I could write to them complaining.  I thought this was against international law as this cancellation was not an “act of god” but was the airlines fault.  I guess they didn’t care since they didn’t really exist anymore.  So I paid out of pocket for hotel and food and went to sleep.  The next day I flew on beautiful Lufthansa without a hitch, recognizing many people from the day before.

I wrote to Air Berlin asking them to pay for my hotel and food and also to change my return flight to Lufthansa since they were unreliable.  Two months later and I have yet to hear a peep from them.  Though I was nervous waiting at the gate for my return flights both went off without so much as a delay.  I guess some of the crews still enjoyed flying.

I will miss Air Berlin a little.  I had enjoyed their planes and crews up until they declared bankrupcy.  They had severe headwinds in the forms of a terrible airport hub and Lufthansa as competition, but they did well.  Now that they are gone I hope Berlin will tear Tegal down and replace it.  Then perhaps Air Berlin can rise from the grave and try again.

Farewell Air Berlin.  You join Malev in airlines that I have liked and lost during my time.