Riding to Romania
September 14 – 29, 2019
Remember what I just said about not riding our bikes into big cities? I was about to break that rule. When Dan and I were in Slovenia in 2017 we considered visiting the city of Ljubljana, but decided to discover the joys of Lake Bled instead. Ever since then, I have heard nothing but good things about Ljubljana and since we were nearby, we decided that we would make an exception and see it on this time through the country.
The overnight rain hadn’t stopped yet, making packing up the motorcycle a pain in the wet conditions. I pulled the bikes into the hotel’s passageway so that we could at least have some shelter while we filled our panniers and put on our helmets and gloves. Wet gloves are always a hassle on a motorcycle.
One of the interesting things that I had noticed yesterday and this morning was that most of the houses along the road had their own well in the front yard. Some of the wells looked severely neglected, but most of them were well maintained (yes, I wrote that on purpose!) and took a central part of the landscaping. It was surprisingly difficult to photograph these wells!
I am so disappointed that this photo didn’t turn out, but the geese were really enjoying the puddles!
As we crossed the open and wet countryside I recalled the warnings from the last time we were in the area: Croatian roads are slippery when wet. No sooner had I considered this than both tires made a fun little side-step as I rounded a bend in the road. Nothing like a front wheel slide to really grab your attention! Dan experienced the same thing directly behind me and we both cut our speeds after that.
And then the sun came out!
I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
Ahhhh – blue skies are coming our way
Sidewalk displays in a town we rode through
One thing that I had noticed ever since entering Hungary (yes, Hungary) were pole-topped nests. I never saw any birds (not surprising at this time of year), but the nests were huge, and often encouraged based on the structure under them. They looked a lot like the stork nests I have seen around Basel, and when I did some research once I was home, I found that I was correct: storks! I tried to photograph the nests throughout the trip, but this is the only shot that really came out.
Stork nest in Croatia
Blue skies and dry roads
We wanted to have plenty of time to explore Ljubljana so we sacrificed some “good riding” in exchange for “good time” and took the motorway around Zegreb. I’m glad that we did, as the motorway wasn’t too bad, the scenery was still visible and we avoided the congestion around Croatia’s capital city. And we weren’t on it for very long, which was a nice bonus.
Off the motorway and back to two-lane roads
Route 66 Cafe in Croatia; I guess that’s like having Dracula’s Castle in Florida, right?
We had reached an area that had a lot of road construction and a few detours were noted. I noticed one sign stating that the road was closed, but the van in front of us went ahead anyway, so I followed. Maybe he knew something we didn’t?
It turns out he didn’t know anything: after quite a few blocks we came up against some concrete barriers that blocked off the end of the street, the end of the detour visible just on the other side. We did what any self-respecting motorcyclist would do and squeezed between the barrier and the pallet of construction supplies. I was actually surprised that my panniers fit – my bike is rather bloated when fully kitted out for a road trip!
The van had to turn around while I squeezed through
In the next town we came upon another detour and once again bulled our way through it. Getting back to the road was a little more difficult, as the only way past the construction vehicles was via the pedestrian path. We waited for it to be clear and then made our way through.
Twenty minutes later we were at a border – surprise! I hadn’t realized that we were so close to Slovenia and it was a tiny crossing at the town of Rigonce. No one else was there and we pulled up to the guard in the booth. I handed her my passport and then Dan’s. She looked doubtful, and then explained that this crossing was for EU member states only: anyone outside of the EU should go to a different crossing. She could let us out of Croatia, but the odds were that the Slovenian guard wouldn’t let us in. Dan and I conferred: we had nothing to lose and decided to give it a shot.
The Slovenian border guard didn’t even blink when he looked at our passports and welcomed us to Slovenia. Sweet!
Welcome to Slovenia!
Look at that welcoming blue sky – and the “natural” telephone poles
Ah, finally back to civilization (proper recycling)
What’s this? The Sava River, of course!
Tidy Slovenian town
Our route followed the Sava River for two hours. Two hours of fantastic roads and scenery. I had no idea that this region was so beautiful and remote. There were some vehicles on the roads with us, but it all moved quickly enough not to interfere with our own riding.
And this is when my camera battery died
The camera must have not turned off, or the cold temperatures drained the battery more than I had realized, but my Olympus was dead. There would be no more pictures from the back of the bike today. Well, unless I tried the Canon. But the Canon isn’t easy to use with one hand, the controls are slower, and it is harder to get in and out of the tank bag pocket. But I’d try!
Nope, not going to happen. No more photos until we got off the bikes. But the road was so interesting – it crossed over the Sava River a number of times, each time the water getting narrower and faster. The road we were on was pinched, wedged between the river and the railroad and steep hills. At one point the road was so narrow that it was regulated to one way traffic, controlled by a traffic light. I swiped some screenshots from Google Streetview just to fill in some gaps since my camera was of no use.
Waiting for a green light
I was glad that it was one-way
Our arrival in Ljubljana was coming up quickly, and at an awkward time of day: too late for lunch, but much too early for dinner. We hadn’t eaten today since breakfast and I knew that if we waited until we got to our hotel, dropped off our gear, changed our clothes and found some place to eat, the “Hangry” side of us would have surfaced. I suggested that we stop at McDonalds for a quick bite, thereby removing any urgency to the rest of the day. It was a good call.
Our reserves replenished, we made the final leg into Ljubljana and started the search for our hotel. The search took a little longer than expected, as the front of the hotel had changed since the last iteration of Google Streetview was recorded, and the name was no longer displayed prominently as I had seen. We pulled our bikes onto the sidewalk and after finding the hotel’s entrance, we made our way to the reception desk.
The view from our room at the Central Hotel
I had chosen this hotel on two accounts: location and cost. It wasn’t easy to find affordable accommodation
that didn’t leave us on the outskirts of town. The Central Hotel was a chic and modern place – and mere blocks from the trendy Prešeren Square at the center of the old town. The receptionist was very friendly and welcoming, giving us the information needed for our room, some local suggestions, and our breakfast buffet arrangements. I asked her for a suggestion on where to park our bikes, as I could find nothing that lead me to believe that we could leave them on the sidewalk where they were now. She said that there was city parking in the lot under the hotel, but that I might have luck in asking at the police station across the street. Apparently the officers frequently parked their motorcycles there, so perhaps we could be granted the same liberty.
After moving our bags upstairs, I went across the street to check out the situation. There was one officer inside, busily ignoring me while chatting on the phone. When he eventually finished his call, I explained that we were staying at the hotel across the street, and the receptionist suggested that I ask them for permission to park in front of the station. He looked astounded. Incredulous. Upset.
No, that would not be allowed. There was no sidewalk parking allowed in Ljubljana. Why would I think that he’d allow us to park there? If we’re staying at the hotel, then it was the hotel’s obligation to provide parking.
Honestly, at his first refusal I tried assure him that I was merely asking, and not expecting, to be allowed to park there. But no matter how I tried to just say “Thank you, that is fine”, he kept on going on and on. I finally escaped and we parked the bikes in a spot in the public lot.
No motorcycle parking allowed in front of the police station
It was time to explore the city in the late-afternoon light. A quick check on the internet gives us a bit of recent history of the city: “Ljubljana is dominated by a medieval fortress, which dates from the 12th century. The old quarter of the city lies between the fortress and the river. Only a few old buildings of the Austrian Baroque style survived a violent earthquake in 1895. The subsequent rebuilding of the city, particularly those buildings designed by the Art Nouveau architect Josef Plečnik, gave Ljubljana (apart from the old town on the right bank of the river) a modern appearance. The city also received a grid pattern. Fine stone bridges, such as the Tromostovje (Triple Bridge), were constructed across the river.”
More recently, and related to our last couple of days of travel, is that in 1991 Slovenia, along with Croatia, declared its independence from Yugoslavia. But in quick order, Slovenia climbed the “Western Europe economic ladder”, with the EU recognising Slovenia’s independence in 1992 followed by the joining of the United Nations. In 1993 it joined the International Monetary Fund and then the EU and Nato in 1996. This quick acceptance of and by the rest of Europe helped Slovenia retain its already strong economic position. The country really does seem like a hidden gem, waiting to be discovered by the outside world.
The city was lively: full of people, shops, restaurants and amazing architecture. We wandered over bridges, down alleyways, up hills and down side streets. It was refreshing not to see the same chain stores on every block, selling the same clothes and trinkets that I can find in every other European city. Instead there were unique window displays and interesting items available. I wish more places were able to hold on to their individualism.
A musical boat passes by.
The castle on the hill, overlooking the city
Dan and I tramped the streets of Ljubljana for hours, finally exhausting our desire to explore any further. We found a delicious kebab shop across the street and much to my dismay, continued to walk while we ate. Dan has no “off” button.
Disturbing duck sculpture
The tale of Ljubljana’s dragon
Keeping the cobblestone streets in order (yes, I know that these are actually paving stones)
I’m glad that we took the time to visit this city. The whole of Slovenia has always impressed us and Ljubljana was no exception. I was sorry to have to leave it tomorrow, but we are planning to come back again some day.
The castle by sunset