I’m uncomfortable with surprise (among many other things…human contact, nice people, spiders).
It is how I’m wired. Being a lawyer certainly reinforces it. I research, analyze, review and plan. I define the options, weigh the contingencies, have alternative strategies, document the known unknowns and unknown unknowns, develop a BATNA and plan for the worst. Thus, surprise, is antithetical to my daily experience. If I get “surprised,” more often than not, something has gone horribly (and expensively) wrong.
Trieste, Slovenia and Croatia surprised me. ( I went there, and this is a Trip Report).
And I loved it.
I’ve wanted to go to Slovenia for a long time. It’s a small country with a long history. Documented settlements date back to the Roman empire, and cave dwellings further back than that. Moreover, like other interesting parts of this world, Slovenia has had many “mothers” over its history. In just the last few hundred years it has been partof the Ottoman empire, the Austrian-Hungarian empire, the Italian states and incorporated into Yugoslavia. Tucked up against the high limestone eastern Alps,with a broad fertile plain and connection to the sea, Slovenia has always been a crossroads between the west and east. I’m the moth, that’s the flame.
Surprise though began in Trieste, a good gateway to Slovenia. Like Slovenia, Trieste Italy has had a long blended history. At times it has been controlled by Romans, Venetians, Austrians, Italians, and even was an independent state.
I mean are we in Italy?
Or are we in Austria?
It’s hard to tell. And frankly, I didn’t care once I realized that the marriage of Italy and Austria-Hungry resulted in such wonderful things as cold Aperol Spritz’s with salty snacks at 4 p.m. (and 2pm and 3pm and 5pm…and 11 am).
After a few days it was time to move on to some cooler (or so we thought) mountains. Surprise, they weren’t cool. Surprise they were awesome. Six days of trekking through the Julian Alps was a blur of fantastic vistas, punishing sun, homemade food, full-service mountain huts and grappa.
If you keep walking you get to a pretty awesome hut with no running water and only crowded stinky (seriously stinky) dorm accommodations. Surprise, nobody cared.
Towards the end of the trip, we wandered into an area that had seen some of the heaviest fighting in World War I. There are old stone bunkers, field hospitals and barracks all over the mountains in this area, including along the old front lines which ran along the ridgeline of some the highest mountains.
Let me repeat that: they fought a war on knife-edge ridges 7000ft in the sky. In the 19-teens. All year long. Wearing only wool and with no advil. Surprise, we’re wimps.
Following a boot explosion (grrr) it was time to leave the mountains. Wanting to check out Ljubljana, and thinking a hot shower would be valuable to maintain relationship bliss, we headed that way. While we had a an auspicious introduction to Ljubljana (the original hotel we booked was wedged between a stone crushing operation and a used auto car dealership and across the street from a derelict farm and monument to fallen communist brethren of the great Yugoslav Republic… Booking.com app to the rescue) Ljubljana would come to simply blow me away.
On a picture perfect late summer night, Ljubljana came alive in the way only a European city can. By 4pm it seemed the entire city had decided it was time to relax. Cafés all throughout the old cobblestone town center were packed with stunning (seriously everybody is extremely attractive here) locals enjoying a macchiato, an aperol spritz or a glass or two of exceptional local Slovenian wine.
Walking around the city fueled by Slovenian wine and macchiatos, the city revealed itself to us.
After a few days of this, it was time to head into Croatia.
The Istrian sections of Croatia are another one of those ancient parts of the world that have had many “mothers” over time. More Italy than Croatia, I only knew Istria was a place because the Mirna river valley is renowned for its truffles. I had no idea I was about to visit a cheaper, cleaner, less crowded and more welcoming version of Tuscany. Surprise.
Istria really feels like Tuscany.
Now, if you only hit the well known highlights you’ll miss the true magic of Istria. We were tipped off by a Ljubljana local to pull off the main road and follow the signs to any one of the many small konobas (taverns) that dot the farm roads. These small family eateries are often overlooked by tourists because they sit away from the hilltop town centers, have small hand-painted signs, take no credit cards, and don’t appear in any guidebooks. But, take my advice: find one. You’ll be rewarded with a homemade meal absolutely smothered in local truffles, local organic olive oil and local white wine.
Oh, and it will cost about as much as your last dinner at Chipotle.
Once we finished stuffing ourselves with truffles and pasta, we went to explore the Istria coast. More tourist-y than interior Istria, the Istrian coast is still rather undeveloped compared to the Southern Croatian coast (i.e. Split, Kings Landing, Dubrovnik, and the islands of Brac and Ceres).
Despite the prevalence of northern Europeans who still haven’t quite nailed the “sunblock” thing, its hard not to be in surprised and awed by the beauty that results from medieval stone buildings bracketed by a deep azure sky and sparking cyan sea.
After soaking in this beauty for a few days it was time to head home. But not before one last surprise.
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