So let’s call her ‘Heidi’. She owned the campsite and didn’t take plastic for payment. No problem: she’d drive me to an ATM in the morning and I could get some Euros. The short drive proved illuminating for her conversation. She was a 50 something ‘blousy’ blond half German and half Austrian. She’d come to Slovenia 32 years ago on the arm of her new Slovenian husband. Her language skills, including swearing proficiently in English were learned in various places including Estonia.
Her family disapproved of her marrying beneath the family status and cut her adrift. It seemed she’d found her way subsequently. The drive included me getting some Euros but she was mainly en route to get bread for the campers’ breakfasts. We left at 7.50am prompt. Despite being her home then she despaired at many aspects of life in Slovenia. The Government were ineffective, the police let most things go unless they really had to intervene, the mentality of the people was always of living in an ‘occupied country’ and following other’s rules.
On this point she cited that Slovenia’s recent history was mostly as a colony of the Austrian Hungarian Empire who controlled it for all the 19th Century followed by a merge with Serbia and Croatia after WW1. Then came Tito and Yugoslavia after WW2. Now it was the European Union. On this point she said that the Euro had, in effect, raised prices but wages had remained the same. She said how could a qualified, say, teacher live on €1,000/ month? The Eurozone crisis always hurts the weakest and the smaller countries were badly affected. With only a population of 2 million then how could Slovenia have a meaningful influence in Brussels?
I have to say that that prices I experienced for food, accommodation etc were similar to the more prosperous West. Also it seemed ironic that this integration opened the door for German business. Lidl, OBI and other high street retailers were enjoying new markets where the € made trading easy.
In fact she said the main benefit of the EU was movement around Europe. However with some Schengen nations carrying out checks at some borders then that wasn’t as welcoming. So ‘Heidi’ had previously run a riding school and claimed that business fell off as the middle classes couldn’t now afford the lessons. She’d just opened a campsite and excellent bar and restaurant: clearly foreign tourists had less financial constraints and she’d identified a lack of competition for miles.
Maybe her story isn’t the complete truth but it is one of the pleasures of a trip that you get into these conversations. Richard from Uppsala (near Sweden) was cycling home. A Swede, who installed suspended ceilings for a living, appeared by his hippy look and lightweight touring approach to like to wander. He’d spent several months in the Far East including Thailand. He was now heading directly North via Germany and Poland.
I took an idyllic spot to camp but it was near a railway line that kept up a steady flow of goods trains during the night. After paying I departed to the nearest town to try and get the chain on the bike replaced. I load too much weight onto the drive train (luggage, me and bewilderingly steep climbs) and the chain had stretched so badly that finding a gear was a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. I could not contemplate further climbing with this state of affairs. I found a shop in Postojna and wheeled the bike, with luggage, into the shop. I felt that doing this would indicate ‘I was on the road’ and it needed doing now. (In York bike remedials needed booking in some time in advance: I had places to go).
This was completed and I also said goodbye to the couple of tourers from the Basque Country that I’d been talking to. She had a very guttural accent and I didn’t understand what she said when I asked where she came from. Eventually I got it. “Oh Spain” I said. A look of thunder came across her face “No, Basque”. Point taken.
The countryside was rolling and the agriculture seemed to be small holdings. I was getting used to seeing coniferous trees again. The buildings all looked Alpine and flower boxes spilled over with colourful blooms. I was still staggered that in such a short distance from Croatia the terrain, architecture and climate could change so quickly.
So I cycled into Ljubljana and from a long way out a conurbation became evident. A quarter of the country’s population lives in or around the capital. The city has a communist look, unlike the rural areas, with many square and drab concrete tower blocks for residential accommodation. Graffiti is dreadful and evident all around the city. The reintroduction of beheading for such activity will stop it, I believe – something should be done.
On the way into the centre and all around the country the State has invested in cycle paths. It is at a high level and to complement this there are rental bikes placed handily at ‘stations’ around the city. I’m very ambivalent, as a tourer, about cycle paths. They undoubtedly encourage urban cycling and improve the fitness of those who use them. They can reduce motor congestion and pollution. However they are often indirect, very ‘stop start’, badly maintained and impose a route on you that you may not want to take!
The very centre is busy and attractive with all the major European retail chains there. Tourism abounds and I heard many North American voices on the streets. Low cost airlines ferry Brits here and I had previously heard complimentary things. I suspect I never got to the heart of its charm but I’d maintain it would take some extraction. After a look around I pedalled on to the North. The plan was to find a campsite before ascension into the Alps the next day.
Good old Google gave me a site near Kranj. It was raining lightly and quite dingy so I decide to pursue. Located beside a river I checked in at Reception. The young guy took my €12 and explained where I could pitch my tent: basically anywhere.
So I cycled down and came across music. A man was bashing out quite delightful melodies on an accordion. I stopped to enjoy that for a moment and made a mental note to get as faraway from him as possible! This meant another field lower down.
I pitched the tent and then went in search of a hammer to bash in the tent pegs. As usual a kindly Dutch couple helped. On returning the tool the man said “Do you realise that there is nudism in this field?” Taken aback and being garrulous I rambled on about the time when I was 12 years old I had canoed down the Ardeche river in France. This involved paddling through a nudist colony. A potentially educational experience for a child, you’’ll agree. However, it had been disappointing because the type of people who were naked. They would have been best hiding their excess flesh and wrinkles.
As I’m concluding this anecdote it came to me (I’m slow but reliable, I know) that this man and his wife were looking at me stony faced. Quick as a Croatian post mistress I worked out that these two were ordinarily naked in the field during the day and possibly fell into my group of unlovelies.
Being evening, and chilly, there wasn’t much nudity but I did espy a woman washing up naked. I shall raise this idea with my wife when I next see her. The next morning an awful lot of female flesh waddled toward the recycling bins. I was worried she might get whiplash injuries.
As for the accordion man well he and his cohort made a dreadful row until midnight. The accordion was drowned out by men who sang with passion and the tunelessness of a football crowd. It was dreadful and inconsiderate.