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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The Intercontinental is a fantastic 35-story hotel located in its own little corner, on its own dead-end street, overlooking the water. The exterior is non-descript but classy. Pulling into front area in your rental car you ask the valet how much parking is. A calmly delivered $35 takes you back for a moment. You consider parking at the public meters just feet from where you are since it is a weekend but this clever valet reads your thoughts and puts the axe to them. The meters are per hour sir and run on the weekends. Well, so much for that. You give a sigh and hand him your keys. Leaving your luggage for another valet you walk up some steps, through a glass door in a glass wall, and into a large foyer.
The foyer is a beautiful place. Open-air restaurants, statues, nice seating areas, and of course neon lights everywhere(This is Miami after all). You have a little trouble finding the front desk but you hit upon following the valet with your luggage and head to the left. The front desk staff impress you as you follow their directions for the short walk to the elevators. Now these things are wonderful. They have touch screens for the floor buttons. Perhaps these are in other buildings but I have yet to see their equal.
Your room, though not quite as nice as the foyer, is perfect. A couch by the window lets you enjoy the skyline view while the bed is unequaled in comfort. Satisfied with your accomodation you head out to explore. Briefly looking at the restaurant menus before heading out you make your mind up to find a restaurant outside as your pocket already has a hole burned through it from the room and parking. But of course there is always enough in the piggy bank for a quick stop at the Starbucks in the lobby. Carrying your drink out the front door of your base you begin your exploration of Miami.
It turns out that you are located in an office district. Off to your left are office buildings with normal associated shops and restaurants. To your right is the ocean. In front of you is a large park complete with amphitheater. You walk through this park and emerge at an old and ugly mall. Quickly going through here, avoiding all the tourist trap salespeople and some wild chickens you proceed to the other side and into Port Miami. Passing this you arrive at the Miami Heat arena and its blaring advertisements. Deciding that you have walked far enough you head back and plan for going on the bus tour on the next day since it leaves just a short walk from the hotel.
The Second City has given us Second City, an improvisational theater that has left its mark on the world by being the launching pad of many a famous comedians. Those familiar with “Whose Line is it Anyway” will understand what Second City is about, especially since most of those people came up through Second City. I had two goals on my visit to Chicago. Watch a Second City show and try a deep dish pizza. One was good and one was terrible, but which would let me down?
I do not find pizza to be a breakfast food and all shows are in the evening so that left a full day for exploring the city. Only taking three hours to make myself beautiful, the misses and I headed out in search of a Starbucks. Our hometown doesn’t have a Starbucks if you can believe that. We are a bunch of savages, so a sugary coffee on vacation is a special treat. It was not a very involved search. Stepping out of the hotel we found one, and one more on the next block, and the next, and two more after that. I can assuredly say no one will suffer from caffeine withdrawls in this city.
After our sugar rush we roamed the streets towards Magnificent Mile. Braving the cold for all of ten minutes we decided to try some local cuisine for lunch. A cozy little restaurant called Chipotle sounded interesting so we favored them with our business. All was well and good. People must be familiar with this Chicago eatery as we are always asked if we got ill from eating there. It is an odd question and no, we did not get ill.
With heavy bellies we continued to roam the city, admiring the shops and skyskrapers, until we cam upon the Chicago River. We were impressed with this waterway, and not just for the looks. It has interesting traits, such as it flows backwards, which is extremely impressive. The view along the waterway is also impressive. A path along the South side allows a view of the triple decker Wacker Drive and of the waterway. A must visit area of the city.
Finishing our walk we head for one of the famous Chicago pizza restaurants. We were both excited as we love New York pizza and couldn’t wait to compare. The Battle of the Pizzas. The restaurant itself had a fabulous atmosphere. Dark with graffiti everywhere and photos of famous people who visited, though I didn’t recognize more than half of them. Sitting down the first thing we noticed was the price. It seemed outrageously expensive. We discussed leaving but couldn’t do it. We had to give Chicago pizza a fair shake. Ordering our deep dish pizza and a pitcher of local beer we settled in. The beer arrived quickly enough but the hour and a half wait for the pizza seemed a bit ridiculous. Then things got bad. Chicago style pizza is disgusting, plain and simple. It is nothing but tomato soup with a block of melted cheese. It is a gut bomb with no taste. Chicago, you lose this competition badly. Please stop making this pizza(that isn’t even really a pizza) and concentrate on the many things you do well. Let New Yorkers make pizza from now on and have it shipped in.
Only able to eat half of our soup bowl we got the rest for take away and tried to give it away to a begger on Magnificent Mile. Here the misses learned a valuable life lesson. The beggers refused this expensive pizza when we offered, saying they only wanted money. So sad that these people ruin it for those that really need help. Shaking our heads we leave the bread bowl of nastiness on top of a garbage can where it belongs and head back to the hotel to get ready for our night of laughs.
Finishing my toilet in two hours this time and looking and feeling fantastic we head for the Second City theatre. It is not in the city center so we hop on a bus North that takes us along the lake and into a nice area. After a short but freezing walk we arrive at the theatre. Chilled to the bones and quite early, we get our will-call tickets and settle in at the attached Starbucks. Warmed a bit we hop into the theatre, which is much smaller and simpler than I expected. It surely wont be mistaken for a Vegas showroom. Shown our simple chairs we mentally prepare ourselves for a night of laughs. The drink lady stops by but we pass on drinks. She is to become a thorn in our side all night. Annoying and mistaking us for other customers, first giving us someone elses drinks, then someone elses food, and then their bill. Maybe she cannot see well in the dark. I advise the company to purchase her a headlamp.
For a few hours we enjoy the show. They are not as good as Ryan Stiles or others I have seen, but perhaps it takes years of practice. It is more set routines than improv which disappointed me, but my expectations were sky high, so I blame myself. At the end of the show they announce that they will now try new routines and those that wish can stay to see them. This is worth skipping unless you wish to help them and provide feedback. We stayed and missed the last bus because of it. This wasn’t too bad as we got a taxi with an Indian immigrant who was nice and funny, telling us how he had gotten used to the cold. He was a little perturbed at us though as he was heading to Wrigley Field, which offered much better fares, but instead we took him away from the stadium.
Second City, while not perfect, makes for an enjoyable night. You will laugh, cringe, and leave with a smile on your face. If for some reason you really hate the show and get depressed, go get a Chicago pizza and drown yourself in it.
Bored with the shopping on Magnificent Mile, your eyes struggle to focus on something that isn’t a shop. Finally they land on a small and simple signpost reading ‘Navy Pier’, with an arrow pointing the way. Well, anything to escape this current situation. Looking at Navy ships sounds as good as anything. Your feet lead you East towards the lake.
Emerging from the city skyline you realize that you have been fooled by the sign, or more truthfully fooled yourself, as signs are rarely at fault. Opening in front of you is a large park and pedestrian walkway, with modern buildings and a ferris wheel watching over all. No large grey ships are to be found. Instead of a Navy Pier it is more of a city center, or tourist attraction if you please.
You begin your walk around this 3,300 foot(1,010 meter) long pier. Starting on the right side like all sane people, you start your loop. Have no fear of the pier collapsing. It has been standing strong for one hundred and one years. You think back to those days, imagining the people who came before you. The Roaring Twenties with the women dressed to kill in Art Nouveau sequined dresses, the men in suits, walking arm in arm along the pier. Enjoying the live bands, fireworks, concerts, and even airplane and motorboat races. Out on the water are freighters lined up to dock and leisure ships departing full of tourists. It is a bustling sight.
Enjoying the cold lake breeze you walk past the wave wall, which is touted as the Spanish Steps of Chicago(They are really in Rome), and the Ferris Wheel. You would love to ride the wheel but those are a lot of steps and there is no elevator(A glaring omission of the planning council). You continue your walk around the pier, passing restaurants and a gift shop, all the time admiring the cleanliness and beauty of this pier. You wonder if it looked this good during the Great War.
This poor little pier is barely a year old and yet it has been taken over by several regiments of soldiers and Red Cross workers, who now live here. In one area is a barracks for new recruits and a jail for draft dodgers. It certainly is no where near as clean.
Coming to the end of the pier and its empty beer garden you quickly make the loop around without stopping, as the cold wind is too intense. With head tucked in and bones frozen, you breath a sigh of relief as you finally get your back to the wind. Looking onto this building that stands 3000 feet out in the lake you are amazed to see how little it has changed in a hundred years.
Sailors and Marines are training everywhere, becoming metalsmiths, mechanics, and diesel operators. The noise and amount of people is incredible. This Navy pier has become the largest training facility of its kind in the world, playing an important part in this second world war. When the war is over there are rumors that it will become a University.
Walking this North side of the pier is quite different from the South side. You feel like you are in the back of everything. There are high walls and loading docks. You spend most of your time enjoying the fine skyline in front of you as you pass Uber and Lyft pick-up points. As you come back onto land and into the pier’s bus terminal you praise the city and the nameless people involved for the redevelopment in 1990 of this amazing area.
Navy Pier has stood through fortune and disuse for a hundred years. May it prosper and always return from downturns for a hundred more.