Category Archives: Slovenia

Happy New Year 2018

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

It’s nearly mid-January and I have only just found the time to write this new year post. Even though we have up until the end of January in France to do so, it’s still better to wish people a happy new year within the first week of the month. But lack of time is the story of my life at the present. Working full-time as a freelance technical and legal translator (I am now certified with the courts as well), looking after a large house and garden, cycling in the warmer months and hiking in the winter seem to take up  most of my time.

Jean Michel with his sons on the left and my son and daughter on the right

After a delightful Christmas with all our children – my son from Boston, my daughter from New York and Jean-Michel’s sons from Brest and  Limoges – in addition to my brother,wife and three sons, from Sydney, we welcomed in the New Year in front of a blazing fire, with warm thoughts for all our family and friends.

The cathedral in Angoulême

Travel-wise, 2017 was not quite as exciting as 2016 when we spent three months away altogether. However, we had a welcome short break and change of scenery in Angoulême at the beginning of February, followed by a most enjoyable week in Cyprus at the end of March with warm days and blue skies. We particularly liked the northern, Turkish part of the island with its wonderful painted monasteries.

Kykkos Monastery in northern Cyprus

We came home to spring, always the best time of the year in the Loire Valley. In April we had a fun day in a vintage car traffic jam in Blois with our friends Susan and Simon who take visitors on tours of the Loire Valley in their 1953 Citroën Traction Avant. I checked out family photos of my baptism so we could dress the part.

Jean Michel and I dressed for the part

The end of April took us to the Médoc (a four-hour drive south) for another long weekend where we combined cycling with wine-tasting and a breath of sea air. Living in the centre of France means that we are well-placed for this type of excursion.

With our power bikes on the banks of the Loire

In May, we finally made the decision to invest in electrically-powered bikes for two reasons – to save our ageing knees and to free us from restrictions related to the lie of the land. Our plan was to go to Romania in June, a country we have avoided up until then due to its very hilly countryside. We were not disappointed. Jean Michel applied his usual thoroughness to choosing the right bikes for our needs and we can now go quite effortlessly up amazingly steep hills. In fact, I’m more worried going down but our disk brakes are reassuring.

Said to be the oldest grape vine in the world – in Maribor, Slovenia

So, on 1st June, we left Blois with our bikes on the back of the car for a holiday that took us to Lake Iseo in the north of Italy, Maribor in Slovenia, where we tested our ability to scale new heights on our bikes, Eger in Hungary where we nearly got washed away in a freak flood, then Sighisoara in Romania, home of Dracula and sister city to Blois, which we used as centre to visit the fortified churches of Viscri and Biertan.

Sighisoara, home of Dracula and sister city of Blois

Suceava was the next port of call from which we cycled to many very beautiful painted churches, reminding us of our visit to Northern Cyprus. In Marmures, we stayed with a Romanian family where the head of the house spoke French and we learnt a lot about this still very backward part of the country with its beautiful wooden churches and friendly people.

The wonderful town of Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic

We then started on the road back to France, via Levoca in Hungary, then the absolutely enchanting village of Czesky Krumlov in Czech Republic where our hotel had a garden overlooking the castle, the perfect place for a picnic in the evening twilight after a hard day’s riding. We then stayed in Slavonice before crossing into Germany and discovering Burghausen with its marvellous hillside castle. It was good to be back in a country where I could at least read the signs!

Sigmaringen on the Danube in Germany, near its source

To end our journey, we decided to return to our beloved Danube using the little village of Herbertingen as our base. Taking the train and cycling, we went as far as the source of the Danube at Donaueschingen.

View of Lake Iseo from the top of the hill

By the 28th June the weather was starting to deteriorate so we changed our initial plan to spend a couple of days in the Black Forest and went to Orta San Giulio in Italy instead where rain and shine alternated enough to let us ride around Lake Orta and up to the sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso, at an altitude of 700 metres! Once again, our power bikes proved their worth. We arrived home via Lyon on 2nd July, having been in eight coutries and covered 5,000 kilometers.

The church of Souvigny on one of our local bike rides

In July Jean Michel went walking in the Jura Mountains for 9 days with his sons while I stayed home and worked, looking forward to my retirement in June 2020 more than ever! I did discover a bike route into Blois that avoids the main road though. We then cycled as much as we could during the weekend and evenings until the weather turned too cold.

The blue mosque in Istanbul

September took us for a week to Istanbul which we loved. We rented an apartment just next to Galacta Tower which proved to be the perfect location. It had a quiet little balcony and small garden which provided well-earned rest after a day out in the busy streets of Istanbul. We often set out quite early to visit the sites to avoid the crowds.

Our wisteria in spring

On the home front, our automatic watering system is up and running but we don’t quite have a mini Giverny as initially planned, mainly due to our clayey soil, but we are learning as we go.

View from the garden of our new rental apartment in the historical part of Blois

Renovation of the studio flat I bought last year is making progress at last and should be ready for holiday accommodation this summer. We plan to offer an 18th century decorative experience with all modern conveniences. It is ideally located in the most historical part of Blois known as Puits Chatel and even has a little shared garden.

Typical house in the historical quarter of Blois near the rental apartment

I’m still keeping up with my daily photo on Loire Daily Photo even though Aussie in France is vitually at a standstill but I hope to be able to post more in the future, especially when I retire!

Cycling in Slovenia – our power bikes pass the test!

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We’re in Malibor in the north of Slovenia, a country known for its hills. We ask for a bike map from the tourist office and study it. In Malibor, there are cycle paths everywhere so we assume that outside the town, the bike circuits will be well indicated. We choose n°3 north of the city, which goes through vineyards and forests and is 31 k with a total gradient of 390 m.

We get as far as Kanmica without any problem but there, the bike paths disappear. Next to the church, we find a board with a bike map but our circuit is not on it. Oh well, we’ll just head for Saint Urban, the first stop. We start on a busy road but soon take a left turn up a quite a steep road. So far, so good. Our new electrically-assisted bikes* are doing well.

However the road keeps going up. Surely this can’t be the circuit indicated? You would have to be a really experienced and extremely fit cyclist to get up here! We’re a bit puffed and our leg muscles a little strained when we reach a bench off to the left of the road. We drink a half a litre of water each, take photos and study google maps on my iPhone to check we’re on the right route. However, there doesn’t seem to be any other road. As we leave, we look over to the right and see our church in the distanace, still much higher up.

Eventually, just before we mount the last steep hill to the church, we see a sign indicating  circuits 1 and 3. This must be the right route after all. The last stretch is extremely steep, probably about 40%. Jean Michel makes it up, but I have to get off halfway because I haven’t change into lowest gear (I’m still in 3 out of 9), even though I am in power mode. I use the “assisted walking” feature to push the bike up the rest of the way as it is pretty heavy.

The view from the top is absolutely stunning. Jean Michel is jubilant that our bikes have got us up such a steep slope (well, his anyway). I eventually get my breath back and drink another ½ litre of water. I take a photo from the window frame especially provided for visitors!

As we go back down the slope, I have my heart in my mouth, it’s so steep. I’ve never done this before. However, when we turn off to the left towards our next destination, Gaj Nad Mariborom, the slope is less frightening. We coast down for a while through forestland then up another hill, that is not nearly as bad, to the church in Gaj Nad Mariborom.

From then until we are back in Kanmica, it’s plain sailing, all downhill. Our bikes have excellent disc brakes so we don’t have to worry about overheating. I have also learnt very recently, to my great embarrassment, particularly considering how many years we have been cycling, that I don’t have to press both brakes on the handlebars at once. Just pressing the right brake (back wheel) makes turning and going down hills much easier. My only excuse is that the only bike I rode as a teenager had back-pedal brakes and when I first rode a bike with handlebar brakes, no one thought to explain about the two different brakes.

After Kanmica, we cycle for a couple of kilometers on the bike path along the main road and then join the bike path along the Drava River which we didn’t manage to access yesterday. We go past two timber rafts and learn about the annual timber rafting event in Moribor, one of its most well-known festivals.

We then ride past what is claimed to be the world’s oldest vine, planted 400 years ago.

We end up at the wine bar at the Water Tower, one of the city’s best-known monuments originally called the Gunpower Tower and built in 1555 as part of the city’s fortifications. However, it’s a fast day, so we just have tea as we watch the swans glide down the river.

After crossing the Drava via the footbridge and taking the same photos as the ones on all the tourist brochures, we go up a very steep path to join the roadthat takes us back to our hotel four kilometres away, on the edge of town.

We vote this is one of our best rides ever, along with the S-bend in Austria and other parts of the Danube in Germany. Now we’re ready for the hills of Romania!

*Kalkhof power bikes, with a torque of 70 kN/m. There are 9 gears and 3 settings: “eco”, “sport” and “power”. The battery has an autonomy of 70 to 120 km depending on how often you use the “sport” and “power” settings. The battery is removable and takes about 8 hours to charge when empty. Price: 2500 euro.

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: All about Romanians – Mediaeval Slovenia – Travel Safety in Albania

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

This week’s blogger round-up is focussed on Eastern Europe, a destination I find quite fascinating. To start off, Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond tells us what you should know about Romanians before you travel to the country where she was born. Next, Australian-born Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel takes us to mediaeval Slovenia as part of an Adriatic sea cruise. To finish off,  Andrea from Rear View Mirror, an Australian married to an Albanian, answers a question she is often asked: “Is it safe to travel to Albania?” Enjoy!

What you should know about Romanians before you travel to Romania

by Anda from Travel Notes & Beyond, the Opinionated Travelogue of a Photo Maniac, is a Romanian-born citizen of Southern California who has never missed the opportunity to travel

travel_notes_romaniansAs a tourist in Romania, you may easily feel at home and forget that you are in a foreign country. But the welcoming and friendly spirit of the Romanian people will not help you bridge the cultural differences and understand their values. So in order to avoid a culture shock, there are some things you should know about Romanians before you travel to their country. Of course, Romanians are not all the same, but there are some cultural characteristics that most of them share. Read more

Explore Medieval Slovenia on an Adriatic Sea Cruise

by Jo Karnaghan from Frugal First Class Travel, an Australian who loves to travel – especially in Europe – and who has gradually learned how to have a First Class trip on an economy budget, without missing out on anything!

frugal_sloviniaSlovenia is a country famed for its Gothic architecture and medieval towns, the most fascinating of which is arguably the coastal city of Koper in the south-west. If you’re looking to go medieval in a big way then this city provides many old town historic sights as well as easy access to the country’s popular capital city.

Ports of call on an Adriatic Sea cruise will almost always include Croatia’s famous walled-city of Dubrovnik but if you’re looking to step back in time then ensure that Slovenia’s Koper is listed on your itinerary. Read more

Is it safe to travel in Albania?

by Andrea from Rear View Mirror (formerly Destination Europe), a fellow Australian who, after 6 years of living in France, has given up her Paris apartment to live a nomadic life slowing travelling around Europe, experiencing each destination like a local.

rearview_mirror_albaniaSince returning from an extended stay in Albania and publishing my guide to visiting the country, I’ve been receiving regular emails from readers wanting to know more.

Surprisingly, for me, one of the most common questions I’m asked is whether it’s safe to travel to Albania. I admit to finding this question a little perplexing. Aside from a brief period of unrest in 1997, Albania hasn’t been in a conflict since WWII.

Even during the Communist period when the country was mostly closed to outside visitors, it was still possible to safely travel around the country.

Random acts of violence are practically unheard of and even pickpocketing is uncommon. Read more

Weekly Blogger Round-Up: Food shopping in Europe – Bridges of Ljubljana

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

In this week’s round-up, Carolyn from Holidays to Europe takes us on a quick food shopping tour of Europe while Adelina from Pack Me To provides an excellent explanation of the beautiful and fastastic bridges of Ljubljana in Slovenia, one of my favourite cities. Enjoy!

A Quick Guide to Shopping Etiquette in Europe

by Carolyn from Holidays to Europe, an Australian based business passionate about sharing their European travel expertise and helping travellers to experience the holiday in Europe they have always dreamed of

french-boulangerieWhether you are on an escorted coach tour or travelling around Europe independently, at some point during your holiday you are going to need to buy something from a shop. It might just be a snack at a convenience store, a gift for a someone back home, or you might even need to stock up on groceries. Whatever it is you’re buying, it’s good to know some basic shopping etiquette and what to expect in stores and at the markets in Europe. Read more

The Beautiful and Fantastic Bridges of Ljubljana

by Adelina from Pack Me To, a Chinese American who’s been traveling for as long as she can remember and has lived in the Netherlands and Hungary. She loves telling stories, and eating and exploring her way around the world

adelinawong.caWandering about Ljubljana, you’d be immediately struck by how many bridges there are connecting parts of the inner city. You’d probably think that there is nothing special about the bridges – they just connect medieval Ljubljana to modern Ljubljana, more a means to an end. However, if you look closely, you can easily tell them apart. Each of them have unique features and have their own stories to tell. Read more

My Croatian Itinerary – Part 7: Ljubljana in Slovenia

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

In part 6 of my Croatian itinerary, published way back in June last year, I recounted out stay in the Istria Peninsula. The next day we left Croatia for Slovenia. We stopped at the little mediaeval town of Vodnjan (Dignano) with its somewhat dilapidated Venitian Gothic Renaissance buildings to write our last postcards.

The main square of Vodnjan in Istria
The main square of Vodnjan in Istria

We then worked our way up the coast, skirting round Trieste where we had intended to have lunch, but the traffic was so bad that we headed for Slovenia instead.

Inside the Proteus Restaurant
Inside the Proteus Restaurant in Postojnska

Our first stop was the town of Postojnska where we had a very cheap three-course meal for ten euro at the Proteus. Inside the restaurant, the people were sitting around tables surrounded by strip curtains. They obviously like their privacy! After Istria, everything seemed very neat and clean.

Philharmonic Hall in Congress Square
Philharmonic Hall in Congress Square

Our arrival at Ljubljana at 5 pm was a little traumatic even though the town seemed very pretty. There was nowhere to park near our hotel so we lugged our bags in the rain to Hotel Emonce. It turned out I had made a mistake with the booking and they were not expecting us until the next week! Relationnel, who had been driving all day, was not impressed.

Along the Ljubjanica River
Along the Ljubjanica River

We went to the tourist office where they found us a much classier hotel called the Central Union which was offering a cheap mid-week rate and had underground parking. We dropped our luggage and went in search of an apéritif. We sat down gratefully to a glass of lovely cold Slovenian wine at the Divine along the Ljubjanica River just near the Triple Bridge.

Recycling bins in Ljubljana
Recycling bins in Ljubljana

I immediately took to Ljubljana, the only large city in Slovenia with a population of about 270,000 people. I found it clean and friendly. I liked the people, the architecture and the atmosphere. There are five different sorts of recycling bins that are emptied into the ground below, electric cars, city cycles and lots of bike paths.

Triple Bridge
Triple Bridge

It was a little difficult to choose somewhere to eat, but I always find that’s the way when you go to a new country. It takes a while to know how everything works. We settled for al fresco eating at the Abecedarium where we had lamb cutlets and veal medallions with dumplings. Nothing special but pleasant. Afterwards we wandered round the city a bit before walking back to the hotel.

Saint Nicolas Cathedral
Saint Nicolas Cathedral

Next morning after a good sleep despite the sheet system (the same size as the bed!) and an excellent breakfst we visited the market which was rather sparse and went back to the cathedral with its lovely frescoes outside and beautiful baroque interior.

Dragon Bridge
Dragon Bridge

We visited the famous dragon bridge, which has given the city its emblem. We then hiked up to the castle on the hill overlooking the city and got there just as the rain started pelting down. The mediaeval castle is nothing special but the panoramic view from the top is stunning. You can take the funicular if you don’t feel up to walking.

View from the castle
View from the castle

We then went past the strange façade of the university and into the Krizanke Summer Theatre, once the monastery of the Holy Cross and wandered about Congress Square before buying bureks (a filo pastry sknack wiht a savoury filling) at Dvor and having coffee at Solist.

Krizanke Theatre which houses the Summer Festival
Krizanke Theatre which houses the Summer Festival

After a little nap, we decided to risk the possibilty of rain and go cycling. You can read all about our adventure in another post. It took a somewhat surprising turn!

Collage above a basement clothing shop
Collage above a basement clothing shop

We didn’t get back to the hotel until 9 pm, but after a quick shower, found a restaurant in Juricidece Trg. called the Okrepceurlnioa where we felt we really deserved our tagliata and Slovenian wine ! The next day, we were off on the next leg of our journey – Innsbruck.

My Croatian Itinerary – Part 1: Paris to Milan (via Annecy)
My Croatian Itinerary – Part 2: Milan
My Croatian Itinerary – Part 3: Ancona
My Croatian Itinerary – Part 4: Split, Mostar & Dubrovnik
My Croatian Itinerary – Part 5: Sibenik, Zadar & Plitvice
My Croatian Itinerary – Part 6: Porec and Pula in Istria


Sunday’s Travel Photos – Ljubliana, Slovenia

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I loved everything about Ljubljana – the city itself, the atmosphere, the people, the restaurants, the countryside – but I found it hard to photograph successfully. The weather wasn’t particularly good either which probably didn’t help. We had a wonderful bike ride through the suburbs and out into the country which I have described in another post.


Christmas Tree’s Up!

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

When I was a child in Townsville, our Christmas tree was an athel pine. Well, I think it was anyway. You certainly couldn’t buy fir trees or go out and cut them down in the forest as Relationnel and his father did when he was little. After a while, my mother got sick of all the mess from the athel pine and decided, to our great dismay, to buy an awful looking imitation tree. It was also tiny.

So when I had my own children in France, we used to buy a real fir tree until the first year I spent Christmas on my own after my divorce. I had decided not to have a tree that year but felt so miserable on Christmas Eve without my kids or a tree that I went to the local hypermarket and bought a pretend one. These days, they are far more realistic than the one Mum bought. Black Cat and Leonard were not impressed though.

When we started coming to Le Mesnil Jourdain for Christmas, there were no more excuses for not buying the real thing. First, there is always a vendor in Louviers, second, they sell Nordman trees that don’t lose their needles and third, there is plenty of room for a big one. Last year, it snowed so much that we nearly missed out because we were housebound for two days. By the time we got back to Louviers, the vendor had packed up and gone. Fortunately the flower shop in the main street still had some left. This year, it was the first thing we did when we got here. I love the system. First, you choose your tree, then they put it through a Christmas tree packaging machine and it comes out the other end in netting so that it’s easier to transport.

Black Cat is coming this afternoon so we’ll decorate the tree together. The male element (as my father used to say) likes the idea of the tree but are not even remotely interested in decorating it. All our decorations have a story, starting with the oldest, two little Chinese lanterns a friend brought back from Hong Kong when I was in high school and that I kept safely until I had my own tree. Several of the decorations were made by Leonardo who is an origami expert and one by Forge Ahead when he was little. All the others come from our travels.

We try to bring back something for the tree from each place we visit. We began in Rottenburg in Germany after we discovered the wonderful Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store. I could have bought the whole shop! The decorations are absolutely fabulous. Our latest acquisitions are a flamenco shoe from Seville, a traditional heart from Croatia, a pendant key ring from Bosnia Herzogovina and a violin from Innsbruck in Austria. We seem to have forgotten about Slovenia! Black Cat also adds to the collection whenever she can. This year she brought us back a lovely hand-painted bauble from Sweden. Friends who know about it contribute as well – we now have a little plaque depicting the French quarter in New Orleans.

My favourites are two baubles from the decorative arts museum next to the Louvre, the one Black Cat brought back from Saint Paul’s in London, the beautiful ruched egg a friend made me, Leonardo’s origami unicorn, Thoughtful’s king on a reindeer and the crib inside a glass bauble.




It’s a good thing we’ve bought a house of our own in Blois – we’ll need a truck to transport everything soon!

Another Country, Another Language: from Taipei to Ljubljana

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We were in Taipei on a 24-hour stopover on our way to Australia and Black Cat must have been about twelve.  The language barrier was not easy as very few people spoke English once you set foot outside the hotel. Black Cat was quite scandalised at my lack of preparation. She was used to being able to communicate with people in two languages. “Mum, we don’t even know how to say hello, goodbye, please and thankyou!”. It was a lesson to me. I’ve made sure ever since that I can say those four words in the language of whatever country I visit.  And I’ve added “excuse me” and “do you speak English” for good measure. They certainly open many doors.

Being able to download dictionaries and automatic translation apps on your iPhone and computer definitely makes things easier. There are a lot of apps to teach you basic words and phrases along with pronunciation. Definitely a bonus when we went to Croatia last summer.  I practised away beforehand saying “dober dan” and “dobro jutro”, “hvala” and “molim” until I felt comfortable with them. I was delighted to learn that I could use them in Slovenia too.

The French have a terrible reputation with languages. I had a funny experience twice last summer in Ljubljana in Slovenia. We were in the tourist office waiting for a cycling map and I was speaking to Relationnel in French. When it was my turn, I spoke to the young man behind the desk in English. After a few exchanges he asked me where I was from. “France”. “Are you a teacher then ?” “Why ?” “Your English is too good to be French”. I had to laugh! So I explained I was really Australian. He looked reassured.

Dragon Bridge with Ljubljana's mascot

On another occasion, we were pushing our bikes up a steep hill that definitely shouldn’t have been part of the bike route, particularly at the end of the day, when a young woman asked if she could help me. I thanked her but thought I should really push the bike myself. However, she kept me company and chatted as we went along. She asked if I was Canadian. She had heard me speaking French with Relationnel but after hearing my English couldn’t believe I was French. What a reputation …

A word about the Slovenia biking experience while we’re on the subject. Ljubljana is really set up for bikes. They have rent-a-bikes in the street like they do in Paris and there are lots of bike paths in the city. But, for some reason, they don’t have a proper bike map. However, the young man in the tourist office found me a map that had a little dotted line around the city that was supposed to be a bike route. It was a bit worrying to see that it went off the map at times but we decided to give it a try. It was supposed to be 34 K so we left at 3.30 pm, following signs marked POT (and sometimes 88). Very occasionally, the letters PS were indicated on the ground showing a change of direction. We liked those.

Well, we started out on flat ground, riding past weeping willows and beautiful gardens and really enjoying ourselves. Twice we had to take shelter from showers of rain but otherwise the weather was fine and warm.  We wound our way through residential areas, industrial estates and low income housing all surrounded with lots of trees and shrubs. Sometimes we had to backtrack because we’d loose the POT and 88 and PS signs.  As a result, it took much longer than it was supposed to.

The real challenge came when we suddenly found ourselves out in the countryside, riding past fields of wheat and saw to our dismay that the road led into a forest and up a steep hill. The path had horizontal logs about every meter practically all the way along to stop the ground sliding when it rains I imagine. I don’t know how you are supposed to ride a bike up there. Even coming down on the other side was a bit dicey. I had to keep getting off so that I wouldn’t go head first over the logs. Of course, when we got out of the forest, we discovered we could have taken a road around and not up the hill. It ended up being 42 K and we didn’t get home until 9 pm by which time I was exhausted!  We found a lovely place for dinner though. And I forgot to mention – Ljubljana is one of my favourite places.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...