Driving in Slovenia was a pleasure. The roads were good and the signposting excellent. We spent a bit of time in Ljubljana. It was a pleasant city with a "castle" up on the hill. It had a distinctly European feel to it, but it was calm and not at all congested. It had bicycle paths throughout the city, although cars still park on the pavements making strolling a riding a little more difficult.
We got to see more picturesque scenery as we drove up into the mountains toward Bled. We drove for a while on the toll road, which was not very expensive and reduced the number of really winding roads we went on. Lake Bled, nestled in the Julian Alps, was splendid. In the centre of the lake on a romantic little island is the Church of the Assumption. Set atop a cliff is Bled Castle, which looks more like a large mansion. The lake was wonderful to walk around and the water had that pure clarity, where there is lots of limestone.
We walked for a stretch along a lakeside boardwalk and we saw loads of fish (some about 30cm long) swimming near us. Fortunately it wasn't very crowded, but apparently in the summer the place is so busy it detracts from the beauty of the place. We saw tourists in beautiful horse drawn carriages trotting around the lake and other rowing on little wooden boats out on the water. The boats were US$10 per hour, so we decided against it!
We saw some interesting ladder-style hay drying racks on the farms in the area. We didn't actually get to see anyone lying the hay over the racks, but it looks like quite a labour intensive job! We drove to Kranjska Gora and headed south to drive along Vrsic Pass, which is supposedly the best drive in Slovenia. Unfortunately, the road was closed from 08h00 - 17h00 for tarring. We considered driving into Italy and approaching from the other side, but we were concerned the road would be closed tomorrow again so we decided against it. Instead, we decided to head north through the impressive 8km Karawanken tunnel into Austria. Border formalities were non-existent and we paid a €6.30 toll to use the tunnel.
On the other side in Austria we discovered that for vehicles 3,500kg and under to travel on the toll roads you buy a 10 day vignette which you stick on the windscreen. Our carnet states vehicle weight as 3,500kg so we bought a vignette from a local garage and headed east toward Vienna, which is where our friend Peter (whom we met in Argentina) stays. While on the toll road one of the highway agency vehicles pulled in front of us and told us to follow them. they were checking vignettes (though not demonstrably). He asked to see our papers and I asked if he was a policeman. He had a look through our documents and said everything was fine.
The scenery in Austria was kind of what we had expected - verdant green valleys and pristine villages clustered here and there. Very attractive. We spent the night at a big rest area just past Graz. It was relatively quiet where we parked, so that was good. We spent the evening on the phone making arrangements to see Peter tomorrow and forewarn our friends back in the UK that we hope to be home by the weekend of 25th June. We have to get home to get our non-paying tenants sorted!
Today was Michael's birthday. We cannot believe that this is his third birthday of the trip - the time has flown by... We slept undisturbed until about 06h00 when some rather noisy East European people started banging car doors and shouting to each other right next to Nyathi. We drove all the way on the toll road to just south of Vienna, where we pulled off to go to the village of Schonau where Peter lives. We gave him a call to let him know we were nearby and we stopped to have a quick bite for breakfast. He came to meet us and then we drove to his house. We parked Nyathi's in the driveway with her nose in the open garage. We sat and chatted for a while and checked emails etc. and then Peter took us into Vienna.
We spent a thoroughly enjoyable day taking in the sights of Vienna. It is a wonderful city with beautiful old buildings, peaceful parks and a distinct lack of traffic and a calmer pace than most capital cities. Our first stop was at a magnificent Cathedral with the most intricate masonry work and eye-catching stained glass. The architect cheekily included a sculpted self portrait of himself peeping through a window under some pulpit stairs.
Afterwards Peter took us to a typical old Austrian coffee house (Hawelka) and we relaxed a chatted (and I read the Sunday Telegraph for a bit). It looked like there were quite a few locals in there and Peter was telling us that old lady who owned the place had died recently. Then Peter had an appointment and we wandered about on our own for the rest of the day. We stopped in the Heldenplatz to look at a living "exhibition" they had on the main square. As the 60th Commemorative Year of the Second World War the city had invited citizens to plant and tend vegetable patches as a reminder to everyone and a symbol of the times that in 1945 potatoes were grown on the Heldenplatz because alleviating hunger was a primary objective during the last years of the war. One of Peter's friends also told us that during the war they built walls around the important buildings to try and prevent them from being damaged.
We walked a fair distance and took loads of photographs, especially of the elaborate statues. The architecture was stunning and there are so many large, imposing buildings to admire. Among the places we visited were the Votivkirche, parliament, museum quarter, Burgtheater, Borsepalais and the bustling Stephansplatz. We were keen to visit the Museum of Natural History which had a strange, child like elephant statue outside the front entrance, (which we later discovered from Peter's friend, is the trademark style of a local artist), but we decided we didn't have enough time to do it justice.
We went to a supermarket and brought fresh rolls, ham and cheese and cherry pies for dessert and we sat in a park in the sun and ate. It was so relaxing, with a fountain nearby and everybody lazing about soaking up the sun's warmth. One of the innovative transport solutions Vienna has developed is self-serve bicycle rental where you can pick up and drop off a bicycle at various automated kiosk points around the city. We caught the train to the south of Vienna and Peter collected us and we went back to the house. We didn't intend to spend the night, but we did. We had a fabulous evening with Peter and his friends, drinking, eating delicious pizza and fantastic fresh lettuce from the garden and chatting...
The only thing that spoilt the day was the sores all over my body which were really painful, itchy and ugly!