Slovenia September 2010

It’s confession time.  Until a few weeks ago, I knew very little about Slovenia and really only had a pretty limited grasp of where it was.  My school-acquired knowledge said things like it used to be part of Yugoslavia and it probably wasn’t very far from Italy. Or was that Slovakia?

I’m delighted to report that I know a bit more Slovenia now, I’ve certainly figured the difference between it and Slovakia – and it’s a splendid place to spend a few days, particularly in September.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the BBC don’t know where it is either – before I went their weather forecast was that it was going to be damp and cool, and after I got back the forecast for Ljubljana was pretty much the same.  However, when I was there it was warm and sunny and most folks (perhaps excepting those relying on BBC weather forecasts) were wandering around in shirt-sleeves.

I was trying to find a way to sum up Ljubljana in a few words – “cafes” and “bicycles” are the first two that came to mind, and “carnivore” is probably the third.  This trip (I should say that I was actually in Ljubljana for an ASPECT project management meeting, before anyone gets the idea that I was on vacation) was the first one where the standard hotel booking included bed, breakfast, internet access and bicycle hire.  The centre of Ljubljana is pretty much entirely pedestrianised and every one appears to get around on bicycles, and (with the exception of the castle up on the hill overlooking the river) the city is flat enough to encourage cycling.

The centre of old Ljubljana definitely still has a “Hapsburg” look about it – the similarities with Prague and Vienna are certainly pretty strong, but here the river is well marshalled through the centre of town – with lots of bridges - and each side of the river is lined by cafes.   The huge number of cafes and the absence of motorised traffic give a really calm and relaxed pace to the centre of a fairly major city.  I’ll certainly be trying to get back to Slovenia again – I think it’s probably an ideal place for a long weekend (at least in the summer or autumn), and next time I’ll try and make sure I’ve got time to get up into the mountains or down to the coast.

And the carnivore bit – the traditional restaurant menus leave you in little doubt that meat is big is Slovenia.  I sidestepped the stallion steak, but did have vension, wild boar, and what looked very much like Slovenian haggis.

Slovenia September 2010

Shetland August 2010

A Tale of Two Bank Holidays

In May we spent a couple of weeks on Shetland – some of the time was spent touristing with a group of knitters we’d encouraged up from the South, much of the rest of the time was spent house hunting.

We looked at lots of houses – some needed an awful lot of work, some we just didn’t like and some we fell in love with, but none of them were right.  We pretty much gave up on the exercise – we filed it in the “we’ll do something about this next time” box. Then we screwed up reading the arrival time of a flight at Sumburgh Airport where one of our knitters was due to appear.  Sumburgh Airport is pretty small, and on this particular day had a seriously wobbly electricity supply so we couldn’t even get a coffee while we were waiting.  So as wondered what to do with the couple of hours we had to spare, we recalled seeing details of a house about 5 minutes drive from airport.  There couldn’t be anything to lose in having a quick look at one more house – it really was the last one we were going to get time to look at - after the long list we’d already seen and discounted.

Of course this house was different – freshly refurbished, a view of Sumburgh Head and Fair Isle in the distance, and within budget.  All this was happening on the Friday evening of a Bank Holiday weekend.  To cut a long story short – by 4:55 pm on the Bank Holiday Monday, we’d had a look at the house from the inside, been through the survey, found a local solicitor (a lawyer in American English), discovered that someone else had made an offer on the house, made our own offer and had it accepted.

On the Friday of the August Bank Holiday (about the time we’d seen our house on the May Bank Holiday) we were driving North out of Oxford with a very heavily laden car – camp beds, camping chairs, a folding table plus a selection of other household essentials ready to move up North.  Over the next few years I’m expecting to drive up from Oxford to Aberdeen to catch the overnight ferry to Lerwick quite a few times.  This time our emotions ranged from disbelief (Do we really own a house on Shetland?) via excitement (We’ve wanted a house somewhere remote for a long time) to trepidation (Did we really sink most of our savings into a house we looked at for about 15 minutes?).

The driving was fine (for a Bank Holiday weekend), the ferry crossing was smooth and the house was everything we’d hoped it was going to be.

For most of the week, the sun shone and the winds were light.  We walked on the beaches at Quendale, West Voe and St Ninian’s Isle.  We sat in the front room and looked out towards Sumburgh Head and to Fair Isle.  And from the bedroom window we were able to see curlew in the fields and both gannets and porpoises (or were they dolphins?) in the bay in front of the house.

Around  the domestic stuff (figuring out how the electric and gas worked, sorting a phone line, ordering kitchen appliances and furniture),  I spent some time taking pictures and my other half networked with the knitting fraternity at the In The Loop conference.

We’ll no doubt have trips up to Shetland when the weather is foul, and the ferry crossing is deeply unpleasant, but on this visit everything was perfect.  If you’d told me that my ideal holiday would involve ordering fridges, buying paint and weeding, I might not have believed you.  On this trip it did, and it was.

I’ve also needed to revisit one of my blog postings from earlier this year.  In May I asserted that North started at 60 degrees north – I’ve changed my mind.  North now officially starts at 59 degrees and 52 minutes north. That's just about where my new front door is.

Shetland August 2010