Friday, December 16, 2011

Kayaking on Lake Bohinj--May 25

After grabbing lunch, we changed and drove back to Lake Bohinj. When we checked in, we discovered there was another guy who had signed up to go on our trip. From England, he was on a "guys weekend" with his son. They had spent the morning "canyoning"--which entails jumping off high places like bridges and cliffs into deep pools of freezing mountain stream water. Later he would tell us that the kayaking was a lot more fun (and warm).

We paddled around the lake a bit, learning how to go forwards and backwards and turn. British guy got it right away. I got it, but was slow and "too careful." The instructor kept trying to help Jon, but after a while just told him that "well, hopefully the current will help you." At one point I thought he was joking around because he was zigzagging so much...turns out he was actually trying.

So we dipped under the bridge (remember the bridge from a few posts ago?). It was really fun. And a LOT harder than I remembered. I've only done kayaking on the intercostal waterway and on lakes. Rivers with rocks and stuff was a whole new game. We went over little rapids, and over little dams. I didn't flip once, although I swore I was. The guide was good about warning us about hidden rocks and currents.

The dams were actually interesting, they put two sticks hanging down from the bridge above which you are supposed to shoot between. There is a ramp there so you don't kill yourself on rocks. If you don't hit the dam exactly perpendicular, you will more thank likely flip and spin top over end at the bottom. Fun. No one did that.

The first set of rapids were tiny. I went down the rapids first and was waiting for the rest to catch up. The British guy came down and told me "I think you're boyfriend's decided to take a swim." It turns out, Jon had flipped. It took a while for them to catch up. When they got there, I learned that his ring had slipped off. That's right! My new husband lost his wedding ring on our honeymoon.

Funny thing is, when we were getting ready, he had stopped and asked me if I was wearing mine. I told him that I never had trouble with it slipping, so yes. He shrugged and said yeah, but he was worried about it slipping, but if I wasn't worried....He was afraid of it falling off, but wore it anyway! He, of course, felt terrible, but it does give me something to hold over him whenever needed :-)

Despite the lost ring, we had a great time. The waters were crystal clear and the air temperature was perfect. Definitely more awesome . . .whatever else we hadn't planned on doing anyway

Driving Around the Alps--May 25

Monday, we woke up and made breakfast at the apartment before setting off towards the Alps. Because we had the kayaking appointment that afternoon, we figured we had time to do about half of the driving tour suggested by Rick Steves. We drove up the Mt Triglav pass and back down again--to go down the other side and around would have taken us until 6PM or so.

Lake Bohinj--May 24

After lunch, we headed about 30km to Lake Bohinj. It was just as beautiful, but considerably less crowded. We (I) grabbed an ice cream before walking a little ways around the lake. There was a nice little paths that led down to the lake, where we sat for a while enjoying the cool water and (I) scared the school of fish with our (my) shadow.

Sitting there, we saw a woman taking a kayak lesson on the lake. After a bit, they dropped under the bridge down the river. We hemmed and hawed about it, but eventually decided to ask about the lessons. As luck would have it, there was only one session open all of the next week--the next day at 3 in the afternoon.

Lake Bled, Slovenia--May 24

The next day, we decided to visit Lake Bled before it got too warm out. The highlight of Bled is its lake, which features the only natural island in all of Slovenia. Tito had a summer home along the lake (now a hotel). The lake was extended to facilitate rowing competitions on the lake. There is a medieval castle on a bluff above the lake.

The church on the island--Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Mary--was built in the 15th century. After going out to the island, it is good luck for a groom to carry his new bride (ahem) up all of the 99 steps in one go. Hell if anyone was going to tote me up the steps. We decided to forgo visiting the church and enjoy the 3.5 mile walk around the lake alone.

On a complete side note, we were stopped when we were nearly around the lake by some German tourists. When they asked how long it would take, Jon's two years of high school German really paid off. He'll probably kill me for writing that, but I'm sick of him gloating about his incredible language skills. Actually, rudimentary German has come in handy this trip, so I shouldn't complain! (I've only been able to use my 10 years of French to eavesdrop on some Swiss guys in Split).

I'll give up the chatter and leave you with some photos of Lake Bled:

Škocjan Caves--May 23

We took off the next day for Slovenia. The border crossing was laughable. The Croatian and Slovenian guards were sitting in the same little box deal chatting until we drove up. The Croatian guard took one look at our passports, saw they were from the US and handed them to the Slovenian guy. Slovenian guy stamped Jon's passport after glancing at the picture and joking "close enough." Mine, he saw the (long expired) Hungarian residency visa and handed it back. I wanted the damn stamp. Oh well.

Per our usual, we took the um, scenic route to Piran. It is a beautiful town on Slovenia's tiny bit of sea. Unfortunately, between the time it took to park the car and walk the 2 miles to the town center, we didn't have much time left. We had a decent lunch at a little cafe (and my system went into shock from paying in Euro), but sadly, had to leave this bell-tower unclimbed (shucks).

We had to move along so quickly in order to make the last tour of the day for the Skocjan Caves about an hour away.

If you want to know more about them specifically, Wikipedia may prove useful. Basically though, there are two sets of major "tourist caves" in the Krast region of Slovenia. The others are apparently ever so slightly more stunning, but are significantly more expensive and half the time is spent on this train (think Disney World) that whisks you into the hills way too quickly to see anything. And these were on our way. Regardless, these are the ones we went to. Photos aren't allowed in the caves; despite things I'd read to the contrary, the guides really enforced this rule, so I didn't try to sneak any photos. Here are a few I've borrowed (beh. They're giant and I can't change the size right now.):

First off, if it's not obvious enough, that bridge was kind of terrifying. I mean, stability-wise and all, it was fine--I think it was rebuilt just a few years ago. The caverns though, were absolutely stunning. Along the parts near the river, you could see the paths carved into the wall from the tourists paths from the early 1900s. Which was cool...except for the parts where they would dip hundreds of feet down and back up in a matter of a 100 meters or so. Blarg. Near the end of the tour, we were allowed to take photos, so here's the mouth of the cave.
Way to live a stereotype, right?

We paid to go on an extra tour of the area around the caves, so after we exited the caves, we broke off from the English tour group and joined a teacher and some students from Bavaria who had also elected to go on this part of the trip. It was interesting to get to hike around and see some of the other smaller caves. It's almost not visible, but you kind of can see the lights reflecting back up from the river.

This one is technically considered a cave--its roof has just fallen in! As a result, the ecosystem is incredibly unique.

Probably the best dinner I've had

We were pretty exhausted after getting back from Rovinj, so we decided to take it easy the rest of the night. We took a swim, then went back to get dressed for dinner. Having had pizza the night before, we decided to have a nice sit down meal. (Granted, the pizza was covered with procuittio).

Hrast was a restaurant near to our resort that had been recommended by the tour inform lady. When we got there, the place was empty. And not just of guests....I couldn't find a waitress or hostess either. Definitely a good sign. One showed after we poked around awkwardly for a bit.

She sat us out on the deck overlooking the sea as the sun was setting. Beautiful, but I consequentally had the sun in my eyes the whole time.

Man, oh, man was the food good. Probably one of the best meals I've eaten.
As a "starter" we had noodles with fresh mussels in a garlic butter sauce. That was nearly a meal in itself. On top of that, we had ordered calimari. Instead of strips like are common here, it was cut into pieces maybe three inches long and left as rings. I don't know how they did it, but it was lightly pan fried...and tasted kind of like fried chicken.

Somehow the waitress had misinterrpreted our order and we ended up with twice the amount we wanted. It was a little painful to finish, but heck if I was going to leave that behind!

We sat for a while longer on the deck, just enjoying the night. Slowly other people started to show took us til then to realize how early we were--we started dinner around 7 and it was just 9 or so then. Glad the restaurant was doing well.

Full as we were, I decided on dessert...a triple chocolate berry cake of some sort.

Sorry for the lame food post...but man, was that calamari good.

Wine, Olives: Door to door

This post doesn't really fit anywhere in order, but I wanted to be sure to post it.

Croatia is known for several things food-wise.

First of all truffles. I didn't know much about truffles before we visited. Like how ugly they are. Or that they grow underground. Or that they are more often hunted with dogs than pigs. One of the guide books we read mentioned that one of the restaurants we ate at is often visited by the family's truffle dogs. Unfortunately, there were no pups to be seen. Also, Jon doesnt think Josie would make a very good truffle dog. His loss.

Truffles are awesome. But the real thing I wanted to write about was wine (and to a lesser degree, olives, but those are gross). Croatia's climate makes a lot of the country, in particular Istria, perfect for growing grapes. This means that lots of families own vineyards and bottle their own wine. However, instead of selling it in stores, many sell out of their homes. Same goes with olives (and olive oil).

Which is awesome. And weird. You're driving down the road and there are signs with arrows pointed down little lanes and rutted tracks that just say "vino" or "oliva." To get to said wine, you just turn down the lane and hope to find it. We were nervous to do this at first. I mean, what if the shop was closed. Shop? Regular hours? What was I thinking? More often than not, you pull up to someone's home and knock on their door, hoping you don't catch them in the middle of dinner or something.

The first few places we found were closed (?) one was home. On a whim, we stopped off on our way back to Porec from Rovinj and followed a small dusty road. It looked about as open as the other places we had tried, despite the cars out front. But then a little girl (maybe 6 or 7) appeared. She kind of stared at us for a second...who am I kidding with "us"? She stared at Jon because I was too chicken to get out of the car. He shrugged and stuttered "uhh....vino?"

The girl turned and ran. From inside the house we heard her yelling "Paapppiiii!" Oh dear.

Before long a man appeared. We shook hands and he invited us into their cellar. We learned that they didn't hear us pull up because they were cleaning up the results of a failed champange bottling experiment. It was actually quite the set up. (There were another four vats on the other side)

They let us sample all of the wines, explaining the types of grapes that went into each and telling us about the family's business. As we debated which to buy, the wife appeared and set out olives for us to try. We put on our best smiles and ate a couple. You know, they weren't that bad for olives. Still not something either of us would eat willingly. The olive oil was so-so. We washed it down with more wine.

We passed as politely as we could on the olives, but bought a few...a half dozen bottles of wine. I was the perfect amount to fit in the box. How could we not?