Monday, September 17, 2007

A long day's journey into night

Leaving Brela was not quite the smooth easy drive that getting there had been (despite the end-of-trip diversion). The second week of our holiday was to be in a small village in N-E Slovenia, which on the map seemed like a not unreasonable drive, sort of 6 hours up the motorway, by the look of it. We started out just before 7am, and headed back on to the motorway (easily this time) and started going up the coast. The first hour or so was plain driving until we got diverted off the motorway before the first big tunnel as they had opened it up in both directions for traffic going in the opposite direction (this could have been our first clue that things were not going to be as easy as we would have liked). It didn't seem like a big imposition though as we had intended to exit a couple of exits further on to visit Plitvicke Lakes national park. This just meant a slightly longer way around to them.

So we rolled on up to the national park, and found somewhere to stop in the vast and rambling car park that seemed to go on for miles, and to already (it was about 11) be packed full of vehicles. An extended hike from there to the front entrance ensued, with maps and signs informing us that there were various option to see the park - involving a kind of bus-cum-train, walking and boats. The shortest of these was advertised as taking 2-3 hours which seemed to fit our schedule fairly well, so we took it. The amount of info was fairly limited though, and after we'd bought our tickets, we got on a brain (or trus, take your pick of portmanteau words) and headed up into the lake area. We weren't really sure what to do, but got off with everyone else at what appeared to be the end of the line. From there the signs indicated that the next stage was a walk. So off we set, walking among the beautiful green lakes and waterfalls of the national park. And we walked and we walked and we walked. Some pictures what I took:




So, anyway, the problem here was not the lakes, which as you can see were well worth seeing, but the fact that we had to walk so far, taking hours over often uneven and rocky paths to get to the end of the section. Not a problem for most people, in truth, but (a) we were pushing Paula in a pushchair, which didn't quite suit the terrain, and (b) my father-in-law fell out of a walnut tree a few months ago and is still not exactly as mobile as he once was. The lack of warning and information in advance was, then, a bit of a pain. Still, a nice place for able bodied visitors who don't need to push anything.

Eventually then we set back off on our way, a little later than expected, but expecting to get to the house in Slovenia by sunset-ish. Hah. Little had we figured with the vagaries of the Croatian highway authorities. First we hit a ridiculously slow traffic jam on the motorway to Zagreb, which turned out to be just so that everyone could pay the toll. I still don't really understand this one as there were something upward of 10 toll-booths for three lanes of traffic, which you'd expect to work relatively efficiently. No such luck. 1 hour to go ten kilometres. In some countries you need to pay a kind of "motorway tax" when you arrive if you want to use the motorways - Hungary is one such place - whereby you pay the tax for X days, stick a sticker in your window and off you go. It's a little bit irritating (I always thought) but it certainly avoids this kind of chaos.

So, we eventually got round Zagreb and set off on the motorway towards Maribor. Smooth driving for the first 50km or so, and then we get directed off the motorway (at the humorously named Krapina) and onto what in the UK would be called, oddly, a trunk road. A few kilometres later and we were directed off the trunk road and onto this back country lane. Things weren't looking up. We joined a queue of traffic (which to be honest was not so much a queue as a long parking lot)

[An aside: One of my favourite US/British misunderstandings story was of an American friend of a friend who was driving round England in a rented car and stopped to ask someone where he could park. The conversation went like this - American:Is there a lot around here? Bemused local: A lot of what?]

I tuned into the radio (one of the Croatian radio stations does hourly traffic bulletins in English and German), and discovered that as much as I could ascertain (the idea is a good one, the translation a bit lacking) the Croatian police/customs/border guards had decided that the border post we were headed for was too busy, so with impressive logic, they had closed it. So every vehicle headed towards Maribor (which also included cars going towards Austria, Germany and beyond) was now parked on this back road inching towards an unknown border post in some tiny village in the middle of nowhere. I'd characterise it as less than fun. We took 3 hours to crawl three kilometres to the village of Lupinjak (Look it up on a map, you won't find it. That's how small and inconsequential it is). Still, there are not that many people who can say they've seen Lupinjak (aside from anyone traveling north on Saturday August 18th 2007), but I and my family, have. It's a shame really, as we'd had a great time in Croatia, but the authorities seemed to want us to have misery and annoyance as our lasting memory of the country. The Israelis do the same thing, subjecting you to the 4 hour plus exit policy specifically designed to ensure that you never darken their doorstep again.

Once through the border, we then of course had to find our way back towards the direction we were supposed to be going. This involved some little Slovenian back road over a mountain which was kind of daunting by that time (at some point on this leg of the journey my right eye started to behave oddly, seemingly unable to focus on anything but the road ahead - if I looked at the radio or something it went haywire. And my neck was killing me). We got stopped once by the police, but perhaps interpreting my twitching eye as an unlikely come on he let us off whatever it was he'd stopped us for (driving a Romanian car in a built up area, I think).

We finally made it to our destination - a cottage in the village of Bodonci in the far north east corner of Slovenia - at about 1.30. Over 18 hours after we had set off the previous morning. Luckily the key was under the mat and we could let ourselves in and crash (though I did find the time and energy to sink a deliciously cold beer which I had been promising myself since about 5pm).

Slovenia and the second week of our holiday to follow.

5 comments:

ursus arctos said...

Sorry to hear that you had such a hard time at Plitvice; it is a rather magical place, but it isn't really set up for pushchairs.

The border issues appeared to be endemic this summer and were equally mysterious to the locals. The Croatians definitely seemed to be trying to make a point, but no one was quite sure what it was.

I'm quite eager to read your observations on Slovenija, as the bit you visited is the one part I know the least about (my in-laws are from the Bela Krainja and the area near Ribnica, with several having since moved to Ljubljana).

Anonymous said...

mamma mia!




laura

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear you had the misfortune to experience the traffic nightmare on Croatian roads on a Saturday during the summer months. It's a result of a combination of following factors: (1) most holiday bookings run a week from Saturday, thus creating the heaviest traffic on roads on that day. (2) Two tunnels that you had to circumvent are single carriageway, thus resulting in huge jams before them. Count yourself lucky, had you not been redirected, you might have had to wait in line for hours on end to enter the tunnel (two lanes merging into one!!!). This line is known to have been 20+ km long, taking over 5 hours to pass, and the waiting is, of course, in scorching sun. (3) I have no explanation for toll booth lines, and honestly see no point in charging/paying (high) tolls for using the motorway when, adding effective travel time to waiting time at the tolls, total time is longer than using free-of-charge local roads (Zagreb-Split via Plitvice and Knin, 350 km, max. 5 hrs). Unfortunately first-time visitors to Croatia are not aware of this, but you may want to consider this tactics if you plan to come again. Finally, although I am not here defending the actions of Croatian police, since on occasion I've witnessed them not redirecting 25 km lines at Macelj crossing to other crossings, I think these lines are as much to do with Fortress Europe at the Slovenian border booths, as much as to what Ursus said that the Croatians definitely seemed to be trying to make a point.

Regards,
Igor

R! said...

Fantasically, those images remind me of pix I took in Bermuda... only more green.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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