July 18, 2010

Sunny is dead.  She died at 10:03pm.  On Friday night.  In Croatia.

I had just spent a rather pleasant day visiting my friend Renata.  We visited the Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management (University of Rijeka) where she works, located in the coastal town of Ika.  Then we walked the seaside promenade to Opatija, an Austrian-era resort town that is still popular today, and later visited the medieval hilltop town of Kastav, above Opatija.  We met up with Renata’s husband for dinner in Lovran.  (In case you are wondering, we had the turkey roulade stuffed with ham and cheese, gnocchi, mixed vegetables, mixed salad and flat bread.)  We had a  sunset swim in the sea at Ičići, and ended the day with a leisurely ice cream that was so fresh that it was almost the same consistency as the whipped cream.

Renata in one of the villa gardens.

On the promenade.

Then, as I started for Koper, the car died as soon as I reached the highway outside of Rijeka.  Despite the general misfortune of the situation (having my unofficially rented car break down on a Friday night, nowhere near home, in a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language and don’t have AAA), I consider myself to be extremely fortunate.  I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Luka and Ingrid – a young Slovenian couple who are truly the best good Samaritans in the world for everything they did for me that night.  Likewise for Miro and Dolores – who are the best landlords and friends for coming to get me in the middle of Slovenia in the middle of the night.

Earlier in the week, I had set out to visit some of the places in the coastal/karst region that aren’t far from Koper but I hadn’t been able to get to before now because of transportation logistics.  (Read: You can’t get there without a car.)  One afternoon I made the short drive to Grad Sočerb.  Honestly, I don’t remember who told me about this place.  It wasn’t in any of my guidebooks, and I didn’t see a sign for it until after I could already see the castle.  The interior has been converted into a restaurant (which wasn’t open), so there’s not much to see, but it is situated on top of a hill near the Italian border and provides a good view of both Koper and Trieste.

Grad Sočerb

Another morning I went to the Krajinski Park Sečoveljske Soline (Sečovlje Salina Nature Park).  Fortunately, my guidebook was very specific that you had to pass the Slovenian border control but NOT the Croatian one (they’re not far apart), otherwise, I never would have seen the tiny sign next to the little dirt road that serves as the entrance to the park.  Although the info said to leave your car at the gate and walk the couple of kilometers to the museum – which I did – apparently that was more of a “guideline”, because a couple of Swiss tourists picked me up about halfway.  No complaints.  It was hot.  The girl at the museum (who turned out to one of my host’s geography students) was very informative.  They still produce some salt there, but it is a landscape of ruins now that has been preserved for natural and cultural heritage.

These ruined seasonal workers' houses have only been abandoned for about 50 years.

The salt pans.

The salt - they handed us bags and that scoop and let us both take some with us.

I had always intended to visit the Škocjanske Jame regional park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I had been avoiding it because it’s an hour by foot from the nearest train station.  I know this because my parents actually did that a couple of years ago.  No photos are permitted in the cave, but they wouldn’t do it justice anyway.  The Šumeča jama (murmuring cave), where the Reka (literally the “River” river) runs through the enormous cavern, is breathtaking – something either out of a fantasy story or the inspiration for one.  After the tour of the cave, I took the long way back to the visitors’ center around the perimeter of the Velika Dolina (Big Valley) at the cave’s natural entrance.

Some perspective on Velika Dolina - if you look closely, you can see the church tower on the top of the cliff.

With Sunny’s untimely demise, I have obviously had to make some changes in my plans for my last week in Slovenia.  It seems that, although Slovenia is a small country, I am not going to make it to all of the places I wanted to visit before I have to leave.  But I don’t want to think about that yet.

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