Slovenia and homeward bound
Continuing North beyond the Dalmatia coast the abruptness of the change in landscape was astounding. One moment I was passing the familiar barren rocks and thorny scrub; a few miles later I had emerged into verdant, green fields rolling towards forested hillsides. And real grass! I hadn’t seen this stuff in months. Suddenly it felt as though I had been transported in time and space to Surrey or Sussex on an old ride from London to Brighton. That had seemed such a long way at the time. To find myself in a place so reminiscent of home and yet so far was painful.
The reason for this transformation of my surroundings was explained as the hills grew higher and higher; the moisture in the air was being condensed into rain as it was pushed upwards. I had barely seen rain in weeks but there were three short but heavy showers that day. The air felt fresh and was filled with the smell of the forest as I wound my way up the hillsides on shaded roads. Oh, the joys of a temperate climate. Be careful what you wish for, Brits!
After a night camping in a tucked away spot behind leafy trees on the aforementioned real grass I awoke to a long-forgotten problem; slugs. The morning’s dew had brought them out of hiding and towards me and my things, which they have always inexplicably so loved. Thankfully I had packed away my shoes (their favourite hiding place) but they had made a good mess on my tarpaulin.
Signs pulled me towards Pivka’s “Park of Military History”. Inside there were tanks, trucks, planes and a submarine. My dad would have loved it. Enthusiasts in uniform had set up camp for a reenactment later that day as part of a weekend of special events.
On towards Postojna the simmilarities to England grew. The grapes, olives and pomegranites were replaced by windfall apples by the roadside and cute arrangements of marigolds welcomed me to the villages I passed through. Quite unlike anything in England were the caves that Postojna is famous for; another karstic phenomenon (Croatia owes many of its natural wonders to its simmilar geology). First you ride a train deep into the dark, dank caves with jagged shadows thrown across the rocks by the moody lighting – think Harry Potter being taken to his vault in Gringotts – then you emerge into an enormous cavern which continues into a network of tunnels that you explore on foot. It’s like a dragon’s lair or an alien world.
A detour took me to deeper into the countryside to Prejama castle, buried in the cliff face. More wooded hills and little villages, almost every one of which has its own church.
Next stop, Ljubljana, Europe’s most confusingly spelt capital. The river around which the capital is centered looks more like a canal, to either side of which is a classy, remodelled riverfront. It’s a charming place and with all the dutch bikes pootling around it felt a little like Amsterdam. There’s a lot of grand, secessionist architecture from when the country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and also a lot of weird sculptures. There are fantastic views of the surrounding country and mountains from the castle sits high on a hill top to one side of the old town. In the main square stands a statue of Preseren, a famous Slovenian poet.
Slovenia was a country full of surprises and I’d like to go back to Ljubljana one day but as far as my trip was concerned, I’d had enough. Second thoughts about cycling all the way home had first struck me as I passed Split airport and realised I would dearly like to be one one of the plains taking off. I was feeling wretched without Myla but I think I’d had enough of travelling anyway. I told myself not to make any rash decisions and to reassess once I reached Ljubljana but Slovenia only reminded just how much I missed home. On top of this, the alps did not seem like a challenge to take on half-hearted and over the other side the weather would be getting colder and wetter and the days shorter still. I would miss the Slovenian lakes – Bled and Bohinj – that I had been so looking forward to but this didn’t bother me any more. They weren’t going anywhere. So after arriving on Saturday I made the decision on Sunday evening and booked a flight home for Tuesday morning. Monday was spent finding a bike box and packing it away (a little less daunting now that I had done it once before). Come Tuesday morning I squeezed it into a taxi and rolled up to the Ljubljana Airport, surely the loveliest in the world. Enclosed by forest, the trees ran right up to the lawns fringing the runways.
My boxed bike and luggage weighed 31.6kg – 0.4kg under the limit – the flight took off on time, I watched the continent recede and before I knew it the plane was descending and Luton loomed larger and larger through the window. “I think I just saw your plane touch down. You’ll feel right at home – Luton is like a third world country”, mum texted me. Luton is not the lovliest airport in the world. “I don’t know, the people look less contented”, I replied. But I was home (well nearly, I don’t live in Luton thankfully) and it felt great.
That was two weeks ago. In half an hour Myla’s flight touches down at Stanstead. She is coming to stay for two weeks. After that it’s home to Busan, South Korea and our futures will be uncertain. But that’s what’s so wonderful – anything can happen. Perhaps this journey isn’t over yet.