In the last week, we have seen so many magnificent sights, they are the New Wonders of the World – according to us!
120 – Monday: Wonder 1 – Leaning Tower of Pisa
Having arrived at a campsite the night before we continued with housekeeping … cleaning and washing. After lunch we wandered into Pisa and found some repair equipment, such as glue and screws. We had plenty of time before collecting Maddy from the airport to have a wander. I had been to Pisa a couple of times before and believed there was not much there other than the Square of Miracles with the Duomo, Basilica and Leaning Tower (Campanille). However, we discovered some lovely piazzas and arcades of shops.
J had the brainwave to get the bus to the airport rather than disturb / pack up Chardonnay. So EUR2 each and a short ride to the airport … having watched a man go apoplectic as he missed his airport transfer and had to catch the public bus … the air was blue … shame as he was with his young son. Plenty of time at the airport and not driving, so we had a couple of glasses to pass the time!
My Munchkin arrived :). Bus back into the centre and we bought timed tickets to go up the Leaning Tower. We wandered around the cloisters that had been badly damaged and saw statues and some of the restored frescos and had supper.
I scaled the Tower about 28 years ago with my father. It had then been shut to tourists and only reopened in 2001 after inserting a concrete plinth underneath to correct the lean slightly and prevent further lean. As you look at it, it really is amazing that it does not collapse. Incredibly, it started leaning after they constructed the third story and they kept building! The circular stairs hug the wall and you can sense the angle of lean as you climb. They also get narrower and have more wear to the tread. Climbing is not for the faint hearted or unfit. At the top, the narrow walkway is all of about 90 cm wide. Now there is a very high fence, but there was not when I climbed up all those years ago. I can still remember moving around the walkway with my back pressed to the tower thinking that this really is not safe! Some super views.
Other people taking Instagram pix
Maddy doing an Instagram pic!
Katherine doing an Instagram pic!
James doing an Instagram pic; James style! … if only he had an account!
James declined the climb up and rested, until Maddy poured water on him …
121 – Tuesday: Pick up in Padua
We drove to Padua to pick up Kerstin who had arrived by train from Germany a couple of days before. Having set Sally Sat Nav for her hotel near the station, we were guided into the tram lines and one way systems …. a slight concern, but Kerstin was on the look out for us. So a quick traffic halt as we bundled her, and her back pack on board.
We drove to a campsite on the Branta Riviera and had a BBQ.
122 – Wednesday: Villa Pisani and onto Venice
The main reason for staying on the Branta Riviera was to be near Venice, our destination for the next evening. However, the guide book had bigged it up. Accessible from the Venice Lido, the wealthy merchants has sailed up the river and built numerous villas along its banks. Some were small holding and some designed to be ostentatious to impress. Boat rides along the river were available, but at EUR65 PP, this was a NO.
Villa Pisani is billed as the most impressive and open to the public for all of EUR10pp. As it happened, no discount for J’s great age, but Kerstin had a 25% discount for being a Professor – much delight. Pisani had been partly redecorated under Napoleon and Hitler and Mussolini had their first meeting here. However, it lacked a cohesive charm and was very soul-less – guess we have been much spoilt by the National Trust. It was, however, perfect for such a morning of heavy rain. Kerstin and I had a coffee and met an English couple, who had hired a boat from which to do Venice; they had even been able to sail part way up the Grand Canal.
After lunch in the carpark we set off for Venice. Whilst Sally had been programmed to avoid toll roads, i had omitted to include ferry crossings. With her destination set for a campsite on the spit of land the other side of Venice, she guided us along a long bridge and INTO Venice to the port. The crossing would have cost EUR56, but Sally advised us that re-routing along terra firma was only an hour and Maddy advised us that she does not like boats. So we turned back along the long bridge and headed to the spit. It actually took about 2 hours as the traffic was horrendous. I was later informed that it was a major change over day for all the holiday villages that inhabit the area. Slightly concerned that the campsite I had ear marked would prove to be similar to the ones we were passing, we were delighted that we had a large pitch and it was quiet. The receptionist was extremely helpful and sold us the ferry tickets and we were able to BBQ 🙂
Our Pitch for two nights.
123 – Thursday: Wonder 2 – Venice
A short walk to the ferry port (the main reason for picking this campsite) and a 40 min ride to near St Mark’s Square. Despite being early, there were already massive queues to get into the Duomo. Venice is much larger than most people realise … 122 islands, canals and waterways everywhere with small arched bridges. We twisted and turned the narrow lanes to reach the Rialto Bridge, which was partly under scaffolding and busy. A rip off coffee and dry bun (what do you expect!) and we wandered N to some of the quieter streets. Our ferry ticket was valid for 24 hours on all the public ferries, so we hopped onto the Number 41, which took us around the main island complex. At the end of this line, we caught the Number 1, which took us all the way up the Grand Canal. A real treat and the guide book earned its weight as it explained all the buildings as we passed them. We selected a restaurant for lunch with aircon and it was reasonable value. Maddy got her pizza in Venice!
We wandered some more, but by now it was getting extremely busy and uncomfortable. We caught the ferry to Murano, which is where the glass making was moved to in the 15th Century. A very different feel to it; more residential. Had a coffee and gasped at the prices of the glasswares. Managed to catch a boat directly to where we wanted via two other major Venice islands.
As we had an early start the next day, K went to pay … but the cash desk (and card reader) had officially closed :(. Oops – we really needed to be on our way as soon as the gates opened at 7.00 a.m. in the morning. Fortunately, the lovely girl on reception said she could process the payment with cash and would leave her boss, who opens up, a note that we had paid. Service and with a smile. 🙂
124 – Friday: An early start and into Wonder 3: Postojna Caves
We packed up efficiently, of course and drove to Venice airport. The traffic at 7.00 was, needless to say, very quiet. James and Kerstin dropped Maddy and I at the airport and went off to have a coffee. I received a text from Kerstin that James was also having TWO croissant! They are full of air, aren’t they?!? Maddy was already checked in, but as we have no printer, we thought we would have to queue, but as she had no luggage to check in, it was the fast line and all really quick. Full marks to Monarch airlines …. the flight and a pre-assigned seat was all of £42. Maddy and I also decided to have a drink and oozed around the airport for a bit. A hug and K watched M disappear again until October half term … A text to James, and he and Kerstin came and picked up K within 5 mins.
Kerstin only had till Tuesday afternoon before she returned to Germany and she had a shopping list of destinations. So we set Sally Sat Nav for the 1st destination on her bucket list – Postojna Caves. We realised the guide book had not over egged it when we saw the size of the FULL car parks and the size of the complex. They tried to sell tickets for extra museums and exhibitions, but we settled for the caves and Predjama Castle. We even had a timed ticket, so we had an obligatory ice cream and then Kerstin and I investigated the mill, which was actually pretty basic. But what was of more interest to most visitors were the dog kennels housed inside!
We presented ourselves at the cave entrance at the allotted time, along with half the population of natives and visitors to Slovenia. It was EFFICIENT. You scanned your ticket and stood by the sign with your language. Then as a body, you moved forward to the train with the language guide. We boarded the train. It rattled though the caves for about 4 km – you had to mind your limbs and head as in parts, the rock had been carved out just to accommodate the minimum that was needed! We all experienced a slight concern …. the train was so fast, we barely had a retina impression of the stalactites and stalagmites … a blur. However, the train stopped, we alighted and we had a further 1.7 km of walking through the caves. Over the years, we had all done a lot of caves in lots of countries, but these, we agreed, were the seriously the MOST AMAZING CAVES WE HAVE EVER SEEN. There was cavern after cavern of varying formations: the colour depending sometimes on the soil and mineral deposits above. We saw golden, reddish and pure white drip stones. Before the electric train, diesel was used and the formations are stained black. There is a Russian Bridge, built by POW in 1916. The final cavern is used as a concert hall and can seat 10,000 people – must be amazing. Here, there are also tanks that housed two Proteus anguinus – a form of salamander only about 8” long. These are known as ‘human fish’ and found only in some of this region’s (Karst area) caves. For the animal lovers … the Human Fish is blind, only lives in water in caves, can go 12 years without food, but still manage to reproduce! Where do they find the energy???
I think Kerstin would have been up for doing the castle in the same afternoon, but J and I vetoed this and headed for Pivka Jama campsite. Very wooded, over the top of another cave … the area is riddled! A BBQ, which included a strange dessert! A local had wandered around selling his honey (beekeeping is a really big thing), which we bought. On the embers of the BBQ, we made a foil plate and toasted pine nuts. To this we added slithers of local cheese and just as it was melting, added honey. Delicious – TY James for not consuming … more for Kerstin and I.
125 – Saturday: Wonder 4: Predjama Castle
In the morning Kerstin went down the Pikva Cave and complained about the number of stairs she had to encounter. K and J unimpressed as we had gone for a run / slog. She did come back with the information that a lot of the caves are pretty much connected. We stuck camp and headed for Predjama Castle.
Perched up a rock face / half cave and half castle. It is a seriously dramatic location. Various owners, but the most notable by far was Erazem Lueger. He was a C15 Robin Hood type who robbed the rich to feed the poor. He was under siege in the castle by the Austrians, using the secret passages out the back of the caves to carry on his daring exploits. He was so brazen that he sent fresh cherries, which had not yet ripened in this valley, and roasted OX etc, down to his attackers. He developed a mystical status. However, he had an ignoble downfall – literally! The weakest point in the castle was the toilet and the Austrian’s bribed a servant to alert them to when Erazum ‘went’ and the blasted him. What an earth shattering experience!
Models of the Human Fish that you could buy … no prizes for guesses what we decided they looked like!!!
We lunched in the car park and people watched … car park manoevres and a group of ageing scouts (average age 60) who persisted in peeing in one particular spot in the car park!
Slovenia is NOT big; it is the size of Wales, so it was a shortish hop onto Ljubljana. We had identified a CamperStop just the the east of the city, which cost EUR10 compared to 30+ on the city campsite. We were not sure what to expect, but it was a real find. It is restaurant with a motorhome parking; unusually with toilet, shower and full services AND free if you eat in the restaurant. Mein Host, yes his German is better than his English, is obviously an industrious sort. The place is immaculate and he keeps chicken, pigmy pigs and goats, offers a bakery service for the morning and loaned me a map of campsites to photograph. A cheeky chappy waiter helped us perfect and judge our versions of HVALA – thank you.
126 – Sunday: Ljubljana – Not a Capital City
Mein Host sells bus tickets and dispenses city maps … the CamperStop is at the end of the bus line. We caught an early bus in – 8.30!!!! Must be the Kerstin influence, as this is far too early for J and I!
Ljubljana is not like other capitals. Slovenia only became independent in1991. It has a young feel as it is home to the main University, and since it is free to students, most young people have degrees and doctorates. Unfortunately, since the Slovenia recession, many are unemployed. It does have an intimate feel – I suppose due to its small size; certainly Bristol is very large and sprawling by comparison. James was tour guide with a slight detour to see the Sunday Antiques market and several attempts to see the saint’s corpse in the church (yes, really, this was how it was described in the guidebook, but it was actually very disappointing – wax face and hands, nothing like the real C15 saint’s corpse in Lucca) … until … he relinquished all responsibility as we were handed a leaflet for a free walking tour … due to start in 10 minutes. No brainer. As we have found before, these walking tours really hep to give a sense of place and time and tell you so many snippets that the guide books omit. Well worth the tip one gives.
The Tourist Information for Slovenia proved a real gem … with a little pressing, the young girl found loads of leaflets and marked interesting places, not on the main tourist trail on a map for us.
We lunched and Kerstin wandered up to the library to see the reading room, but like the whole of Ljubljana, it was small …. nice story, that during WW2, it had just been built and the local populace did not want the Germans to use the building, so they hand carted several thousand books from the old libraries. Sadly, many of these were later lost when the building was bombed.
We walked up to the castle, via a wine booth. Kerstin is SUCH A BAD influence, she enticed us to buy a bottle of red to drink whilst we imbibed the views from the castle. Bless, the vendor even de-corked it for us! We did not make it into the castle, but enjoyed the views.
We caught the cable car back down and back on the bus. Supper in the restaurant … Kerstin and I shared a pork rib dish and then helped J out with his Wiener Schnitzel … we still had a doggy bag!
Slovenia is still 80% Catholic, despite Communist rule (Tito) and a nun was dispensing food and checking he was alive …
We first saw a bridge of love locks in Helsinki. Wonder what happens when the relationship breaks up … how many still have keys with which to remove them?
The triple bridge at the heart of the centre.
Both with wooden bikes!
K dispensing coffee …
K dispensing wine into the coffee cups…
From the return bus … a fairly typical hay drying rack