25 December – 1 January: Oh what a year! Reflecting on 2019 as we enter a new decade

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.

Christmas and new year’s fun with friends in Sydney, Australia

Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.

The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.

January 2019 in New Zealand

From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.

February-March 2019 – Victoria, Australia

At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.

Our first month with Truffy, touring friends and family

In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.

Champagne and Provence, France

Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.

The stunning Italian Riviera

We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.

Fun with friends in Le Marche, Italy

Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.

Amazing sunsets and turquoise waters greeted us in Croatia

Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.

Picturesque Slovenia

We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.

Awestruck in Austria

A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.

Beers and bikes in Bavaria, Germany

Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.

Cycling and river swimming in Swizerland

We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.

A final jaunt across France

Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.

Previously unexplored corners of the UK

We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.

A final fling visiting friends and family before we jet off around the world

Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.

Beautiful Victoria before the fires

We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.

Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.

There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.

Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.

We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?

Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!

PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!

5-6 September: And so back to the UK!

Author: Mr (and Mrs) A

Location: Dieppe to Newhaven ferry, English Channel, Europe

And so after just over 4 months touring Europe (we find ourselves already distinguishing that from the UK!) and we are on our way back to the UK. A time to reflect on our experiences.

We started Europe on a high, with a few days with friends (new and old) Champagne tasting
We feasted in a farmhouse in Provence

110 of those nights were spent camping, in all sorts of places from car parks in the middle of towns, ‘fancy’ (often not) campsites charging more than a hotel, vineyards, oyster farms, beside crumbling castle ruins…and so the list goes on. What those places had in common was a respect for other campers. Even when crowded together a metre apart, not once were we were disturbed by thoughtless noise from our fellow campers or passers by. In Australia, as our camping friends know, you’re lucky to go a couple of nights without some booze ot drug fuelled hoons running your serenity. A very different culture here, both on campsites and on the roads. We’ve loved that.

A vineyard with a view in Barga, Italy
Magical sight of Assisi complete with friendly cats
Seafront views complete with oysters in Brittany
A little bit of history in Normandy

What we’ve missed is the ability to just chat to people easily because we share a language. This morning my trip to the boulangerie went particularly smoothly, even ending up with what I thought I ordered, a rarity I have to say. There was a real sense of achievement in that, given my very sad state of linguistic ability. I spent French lessons at school being mostly slapped with a ruler by a very uninspiring educator. I will though miss being challenged to learn at least the basics to show courtesy to our local country hosts. But our UK friends and family beware, we are incoming with A LOT TO SAY!

Plenty of English spoken with friends in La Marche, Italy
New friends made in Austria
Old connections reestablished in Germany…

We have loved the variety of scenery and culture that Europe offers. You drive a few miles down the road and everything you see changes so fast. The landscape, the architecture, the farming, the signs (despite the EU’s best efforts), it’s a constant assault on the senses and we have loved it. The variety in the food as well, stacked up in supermarkets groaning with options. And please explain why you travel 20km down the road and go from one “country” to another and the food is completely different. How did that come to pass? Well I’m glad it did anyway. For us, Italy was an absolute standout winner on the dining-out front, quality, price, service, ambience…all just brilliantly executed. And on dining in, well we found great fresh produce everywhere, and the very talented Mrs A turned that into awesome lunch and dinners in our little Truffy.

From Italian hilltop villages…
….to fields of poppies….
To Lake Bohinj in Slovenia….
…and Slovenia’s Lake Bled…..
Alpine lakes in northern Italy
Incredible scenic cycleways in Austria

In the driving department (there’s only me working in that one), it was a little stressful to start with getting used to the dimensions of our Fiat truck, with its the manual gear box changed with the right hand (it is left hand drive), plus everything happening on the other side of the road. But…OK…settled into it. A few hairy moments, like driving into a tunnel in Italy having roadworks performed, which clearly didn’t involve fixing the tunnel lights, and seeing massive lorries thundering towards me in the other lane, usually reserved for traffic going the same way!! But I have to say while on the subject of Italy, the drivers there were some of the most courteous we encountered, overtaking in places I wouldn’t, but understanding of my constraints in Truffy. We had one horn honked at us in 4 months, I was a little cautious after the tunnel nightmare of every dark yawning hole that I approached…a little too carefully it would seem.

Finding somewhere to park for the night, even in the middle of the high season, never presented a problem. We didn’t always like the prices or the facilities, but there was always somewhere. France the clear winner here. Their network of places to pull up, refill with water, empty your grey and black water, is just fantastic, and many of these are free. We always tried to make sure we went into the town though wherever they were and spent some money, only fair. Many of these places were no more than scruffy car parks with a bit of kit in the corner that allowed for the emptying and filling, with various degrees of success and cleanliness. Mrs A was also an absolute wiz at researching all of these stopovers, allowing me to focus on getting us there in one piece. What a team!

Diverse scenery in Austria…
Our bikes that took us for literally hundreds of kilometres
Our packrafts allowed us to get away from the crowds and see some wildlife

So what would we have done differently? I asked Catherine this yesterday and we both agreed…very little. Splashed out on an awning for Truffy to keep us cooler, that’s about it. We also knew we had a great team in our dealer’s workshop to talk to if something went wrong with Truffy, which it rarely did. We loved the layout of the van, but more of that in a separate post. Having almost constant internet thanks to our 4G signal booster on the roof and a super plan from Vodafail…connectivity and therefore information was almost always on hand…well except in Germany where they seem to be strangely lagging in the internet department given their usual level of efficiency! Even the amount of time on the road felt right, if we hadn’t have had our stopovers “drive surfing” through France and Italy we think it would have been more challenging. As it was we got to stretch ourselves out every so often and move our elbows while having a shower…luxury.

A bit of drive surfing to celebrate a big birthday in Italy
And another big birthday celebrated in Croatia, island hopping by boat and cycling

So…friends-and-family time next and we are both really excited to be doing that. One thing we have noticed about writing this blog, our friends don’t feel they need to check in and share what they’re up to (or maybe it’s the excuse they’ve been looking for all along!?).) We have so much catching up to do.

Red legged bees in Slovenia

Then at the end October its back to Australia, our fur child and Aussie based friends. That also is something to look forward to. Retirement…the holiday that never ends. Or sorry I should say “career break” for Catherine. She gets a bit touchy if I say “we’re retired”. She’s clearly too young for that, and spends a chunk of her time volunteer-working on her role as admin for the health support group she runs along with research with doctors across the world. Much to admire in my wife…

21 July – Kranjska Gora: a ride in the Julian Alps

Author: Mr A

Location: Kranjska Gora, Slovenia

How any times have you said when setting off for a ride…”well we had better take our passports!” Thats what we did today when we set off from the small ski village of Kranjska Gora in Slovenia to ride along a short section of cycleway that joins to one of Europe’s most scenic long distance routes, the Alpe Adria trail.

We’re in love with this rugged scenery

At 477km in total, it runs from the city of Grado on the Italian Adriatic coast, to Salzburg in Austria, mostly on dedicated cycleways, with the odd bit of quite road and one section of main road near Salzburg.

Crossing into Italy…as you do….

It was a Sunday afternoon, and heaving with bikes, everyone from toddlers out with their parents and siblings, to grandads like me, all with big smiles. Then there were the Lycra clad road riders, with their long serious faces, clearly on a mission of some sort. We are all out there for our different reasons. For us it’s the sheer joy of zooming around these new places, breathing in today the fresh mountain air, and being awestruck with the views.

Lago di Fusine Inferiore, Tarvisio, Italy

We cycled up to a couple of lakes, after crossing the border into Italy. No security here of course, both countries are in the Schengen Zone. The view was just stunning up to the Julian Alps, still with some snow way above us on the north facing slopes.

Our fine steeds
Lago di Fusine Inferiore – when the cloud lifts the colours are incredible
Day trippers fill the car park at Lago di Fusine
The mountains almost look unreal with their patches of snow remaining

With thunder rolling round the mountains, it was time to head back to our bedsit on wheels. After our few days of luxury in a hotel room we are back to quick showers in our cosy little Truffy, and a home made red Thai chicken curry to end the day. Not a bad trade for a different view out of our window whenever we fancy a change.

18 – 21 July: Lake Bled woos us with its loveliness

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lake Bled, Slovenia

We had driven past Lake Bled on our way to Bohinj and it looked lovely, but totally booked out in terms of camping opportunities. We could have done a day trip, but were really keen to see it in depth, so instead booked a hotel room for a couple of nights.

We selected the Grand Hotel Toplice, one of the oldest and most spectacular hotels on the lake’s edge, with fabulous view across to Bled Castle and Bled Island. We have our 17 year wedding anniversary coming up next month and I will be in London for my next hospital appointment, meaning we won’t be together. So, what better excuse for a few days of luxury?

Breakfast at the hotel was an event in iteself, with the best spread of food either of us have seen in many years of staying in hotels.

Delicious breakfast of poached egg with avocado and salmon, with an amazing view

DIY museli with fresh nuts, seeds and fruit, cold meats and juices, cooked eggs, sausages and vegetables, cakes, buns and yoghurts – the choice was endless and meant there was no need for lunch! All this while sat on a balcony with arguably one of the best views in the world.

We set off after breakfast to Bled Island on which stands the Church of the Mother of God, Mr A valiantly rowing us over in a wooden boat.

Getting a post breakfast workout
Lady muck

No motorised boats are allowed on the lake, keeping it serene. The church date back to the introduction of Christianity in this area (the year 745), with many adjustments over the years – mostly in the mid 1400s. Before this, there was a temple on the island dedicated to the Slavic goddess of love, Ziva.

Traditionally the groom has to carry the bride up these 99 steps before they can marry at the church!
Looking back towards Bled Castle
The church as we approach the island
A shoal of fish under one of the rowing boats
Very fit rowers paddle boatloads of people to the island all day long

Humans have been settled in this area since the Stone Age, with numerous artefacts found and displayed in the Castle, which we walked up to on our return from the island. There we enjoyed more amazing views, and saw our first little Slovenian red squirrel.

A well deserved shady break after the climb up
Impossible to do these views any justice…looking down towards Bled Island
Breathtaking…but breathing well (still hobbling with injured toes though)
Looking east towards the Karawanks…some big hikes through here

After an hour or so enjoying the hotel’s spa we went back to the room to get ready for dinner…Mr A decided to see whether we could get an upgrade. Well, he was very successful – managing to get us room 501, the best lake view room in the hotel!

A room with a view – cheers! 17 years of marriage coming up on 16 August…
Our hotel and new room as seen from the opposite shore, beneath the castle
Yet another photo of our ever changing view to the castle and island

Truffy was parked nearby so we picked up a bottle from our champagne stocks and cracked it open to celebrate with a glass of bubbles before going to dinner.

Dinner was at Restaurant Sova, which we had booked because of its fabulous reputation for both modern and delicious Slovenian food as well as having a wide selection of local wines and highly trained sommeliers. We were not disappointed.

Delicious local wines sampled
They allowed us to split a glass into two glasses to widen the sample tasted
We enjoyed a bottle of the middle wine – Starà Brajda Old Vineyard Red 2015
Food was amazing too – this seafood risotto with a scallop with champagne foam
Mr A enjoyed a pasta with cheese and truffles

Our evening finished off with a free live concert as part of the ‘Taste Bled’ weekend event. A great band called Lumberjack entertained us with covers from Kings of Leon, Lenny Kravitz and Dire Straits among others, before a ‘famous in Slovenia’ band headlined playing their own music (which was great for the locals especially). A perfect end to a perfect celebration!

After sunset – the view out towards Bled Island, the church all lit up
The castle floodlights stay alight all night
The twinkling lights of the township

I really did not expect to like Lake Bled as much as I have done. After Lake Bohinj, seeing big hotels, restaurants and a casino it all felt a little commercial. But in reality it has been far from it. The local people have been so friendly and welcoming, the hotel staff excellent, and everyone clearly loves Slovenia and is full of recommendations of what to see next. It has been more like being welcomed into a small town. This area will always have a place in our hearts.

Sunrise this morning

It’s so hard not keep looking at this ever changing scene, the chiming of church bells around the water (especially now as I write on Sunday morning, calling people to service). With a late checkout today I think we will treat ourselves to this view just a little bit longer before we jump back into our camper and continue our journey in Slovenia.

17 July: Bohinj – another day another ride!

Author: Mr A

Location; Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Given the state of Mrs A’s toes and inability to walk, another ride was the only way to go. She put her ebike in turbo mode and managed to cycle one footed! An unintended benefit of these little beasts of bikes.

We rode up to Lake Bohinj, which was looking particularly sultry on this Wednesday morning.

Colour coordinated boats for hire along the shore
A serene sight if I ever saw one

We pressed on to the top of the lake and the awful Camp Bohinj…well awful to us anyway at this time of year – lots of people seem quite willing to stay there crushed together in the mud and mayhem.

We explored the upper reaches of the lake then decided it was time to start wandering back to rest up madam’s foot…35km of one legged cycling later!

Ridiculously clear and green water
Beautiful creek running into the lake from waterfalls up stream
It is hard not to admire this view
The off road shared path we cycle along, lined with beech trees

A lazy afternoon ensued, with only a wash loaded and hung out to chalk up any sense of achievement. But it didn’t matter…we’re chilling.

Late afternoon madam decided she was up to another little foray in search of wild flowers. I tagged along cos I’m good like that, I don’t bother to feign any interest.

Shades of purple…
Many shades of white….
And a little yellow thrown in….
And a beautiful native bee collecting red pollen…

It was not long before I noted the storm clouds gathering and pronounced there would be rain before nightfall. Catherine told me the forecast says not. I packed everything up and put us into rain mode, and was then proved correct as just after a lovely reheated pork curry the heavens opened.

There is no better sound to drift off to sleep than the patter of big drops of the wet stuff on the roof of our motorhome.

16 July: Slovenia really takes our hearts

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

We left Ljubljana early to drive the 90 minutes up to Lake Bohinj, Slovenia’s largest permanent lake, in the hope we might be able to find a lakeside campsite for a couple of nights. There is one campground beside the lake, and they had told us to be there early to find a spot as they didn’t take bookings.

Our first view of Lake Bohinj – mirror-still in the early morning

On arrival we found a chaotic jumble of tents, campers and motor homes camped and parked up everywhere and anywhere, no set sites or organisation whatsoever. Most were parked within just half a metre of each other on muddy patches. Oh, but they were close to the water. Definitely not our type of camping., no matter how beautiful the lake is.

We abandoned that thought and found an alternative camp at Camp Danica in Bohinjsko Bistrica – further away from Bohinj but on a picturesque river and off road cycleway leading to the lake.

We got set up with almost no incident. Usually it is Mr A who is the clumsy one, but today it was me. I managed to trip over an unexpected guy rope on the campground. It sent me flying and now I have a suspected broken toe…perhaps two! Either way my left foot is not in a state for walking with two purple puffy toes. Hopefully they’re just badly bruised and my hobble will reduce with time (I will withhold photos – they can be shared on request if desired!).

I dosed up on anti-inflammatory tablets and we jumped on the bikes to ride…it didn’t hurt too much as long as I didn’t pedal with my left foot or step down…again – thank goodness for e-bikes!

It is hard for photos to do it justice as we ride through the valley surrounded by mountains

And what a ride! The path wound through beautiful alpine meadows full of white, yellow and mauve flowers of every variety, surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains of the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park.

Meadows full of flowers, butterflies and the hum of insects
The Bohinjsko River which leads from the lake
Bohinj’s 700 year old St John the Baptist Church is visible for miles around

For most of the ride we followed the crystal clear Bohinjsko River, watching groups of paddlers negotiate the small rapids and gravel races. We explored small villages, full of flower filled holiday accomodation intermingled with farmers. It was just magical.

Absolutely loving this ride!

The lake was icy cold when we dipped our feet in it, though there were a few brave people in for a swim, not us…it did my toes some good though!

The lake – not as mirror perfect as first thing in the morning, but still beautiful
We followed a path part the way around the lake – stopped by a pile of boulders we couldn’t cross
Amazing colours in the shallows
Ah the serenity….

It was a beautiful ride – just over 35km (about 22 miles) all up, so we were ready for dinner on our return. In spite of an unexpected injury, a brilliant introduction to this area.

We rode 35km today – many more little lanes to explore another time too

15 July: Ljubljana – a pocket sized slice of city gorgeousness

Author: Mr A

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

We found a place to park Truffy and wandered into Slovenia’s capital city – all very easy as it’s so dinky! The vibe was just so good.

We climbed up to its centrepiece, the magnificent castle.

Our first sight of the castle walls as we climb up
Mrs A relishing every single easy breath
Looking down to where we started…great views all the way

We did the whole Ljubljana Castle tour with audio sets and it was so worth it. From the unique artefacts showcased in the museum (including a 5,000 year old Celtic vase), to the description of its turbulent history as it suffered the onslaught of the mighty Ottoman Empire – at one stage only 100 miles from its doorstep, to the beautiful entertaining spaces that have been created inside the old castle walls and are a hub for modern day culture in Slovenia.

An art exhibition space in what used to be artiilery storage
Restored rooms with colourful stories
On climbing to the highest tower, amazing views over the city and beyond
Looking into the castle grounds
You can see a third of Slovenia from the top of this tower
Spiral staircases – wisely providing separate staircases for up and down
Now that’s what I call a wine fridge…or two…

Really the only parts of its history not covered was that during the Second World World War it served as an Italian prison (was that a deliberate omission? I don’t really understand the unwritten rules around what’s not spoken about in a tourist context). Then right up until the 1960s the castle was used as overspill city housing for the poor.

Imagine calling this your home…
One solid building

A short ride down on the funicular railway and it was time for lunch. We seem to have slipped unconsciously into that Mediterranean pattern of no breakfast (well we substitute tea for their coffee), then lunch as our main meal and a snack at night. I think Catherine’s missing her creative time in the kitchen!

Water is a key feature in the city with the Ljubljanica River forking off and looping around, creating an island
Our seafood restaurant with a view
A tasty Chardonnay for Mrs A – we are rather appreciating Slovenian wine after the desert of Croatia

We had a lovely meal by the river at a fish cafe, then wandered around the lovely streets filled with interesting shops, cyclists and happy smiley folk! What a great vibe…a city we would call at first glance like this very liveable.

A colourful city
Bustling with outdoor dining

In fact it’s the most likeable capital city we have seen so far on our travel based on our criteria – easy to get around by bike, waterways and green spaces everywhere, loads of food and wine choice, easy access to the mountains.

At just over 20,000 square kilometres, the country of Slovenia is a good deal smaller than Australia’s largest cattle station (Anna Creek in South Australia at 23,600km²), so its major tourist attractions are apparently heaving …we will find out tomorrow!

We capped off the day with a sunset cycle
The bridge of dragons
Dragons do indeed live here…

13 – 14 July: Travelling the backroads of Slovenia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kostanjevica na Krki and Dolenjske Toplice, Slovenia

Saturday: After nearly four weeks travelling around Croatia we crossed the border into Slovenia this morning. A quick showing of passports and we were into new territory, and back in the European Union. Having lived in Australia for so many years crossing borders still feels bizarre to us – the concept that you can drive a few metres and there is a whole new culture and language. Thankfully our basic Croatian language learning of ‘thank you’ and ‘good day’ are exactly the same in Slovenia, so if nothing else we can be slightly polite, if largely ignorant!

Waiting our turn for passport checks…

Once over the border we continued on to the little settlement of Kostanjevica na Krki. Mark was earning his brownie points having found an old monastery which had been completely renovated and turned into a sculpture park and art gallery – an absolute culture hit, really not his style, but totally mine! Thank you Mr A, brownie points stored.

The centre of the settlement of Kostanjevica na Krki sits on an island in the middle of the Krka River.

Mirror perfection on the Krka River
Beautiful displays of flowers throughout Kostanjevica na Krki
Clearly a lot of pride in how their town looks – perfectly painted homes and not a single scrap of rubbish or leaf litter anywhere

You would be forgiven for thinking the Krka river becomes Krka falls in Croatia, the beautiful national park we visited a few days ago, but no, this river flows entirely within Slovenia, and is in fact the second longest in the country.

We continued to the Kostanjevica na Krki monastery.

The monastery and sculpture garden. All sculptures here are made from oak, and with recognition they slowly degrade in the elements, three are replaced every three years
One of many sculptures in the grounds

The Cistercian monastery was built in 1234 and was lived in by practicing monks until the abolition of monasteries in Slovenia in 1786. In the early 1800s all the furnishings were sold off, and the complex slowly fell into ruin.

A grand entrance to the monastery

Throughout the 1900s it has gradually been restored and renovated, the bulk of the work conducted post WWII, and today it is in perfect condition. Today there is nothing religious about the buildings, even the chapel, with all rooms given over to hosting the Božidar Jakac Art Museum and the Forma Viva Open Air Wood Sculpture Collection. The complex has been declared a cultural monument of state importance.

The chapel – today used for weddings and art exhibitions
It really is a lovely space, fresh and modern while embracing the history
Flowers adorn every archway on each of the three floors

I explored the complex with an exhibition showcasing medieval fragments from the old building and telling the story (in Slovenian and English) of the renovation and the work involved. From there, I enjoyed artworks from several important Slovenian artists and some temporary exhibitions. It is an incredible space for showcasing art, and all the more powerful for being just me there most of the time. Time just flew.

Incredible sculptures which physically moved you
Artwork picturing somewhat sinister stories
Beautiful immaculate exhibition spaces
Sculptures you wanted to quiz the artist about, like this dancer and bull
Modern bronzes in a historical space
A temporary exhibition inspired by bark beetles
And yes, even a cat!

Invigorated, I went back to meet Mark, who was relaxed, reading in the picturesque car park and we headed off for our next destination. As we drove, the sunny sky disappeared and the clouds began to darken.

Dramatic weather ahead…an ominous view through our windscreen…

We diverted off the main road to see a castle (now expensive hotel) on another island in the Krka River.

Otočec Castle – dating to 1252

There was just enough time for a quick photo of the beautiful building reflecting in the river before the first crack of lightning and boom of thunder split the silence and we retreated to find our camp, a further 20km away near the settlement of Dolenjske Toplice.

The storm raged for about an hour, with incredibly heavy rain, almost deafening on Truffy’s roof. Early evening it abated, and we emerged to go for a walk to see where we were staying.

We followed a woodland pathway into the small town. It’s famous for its hot springs and attracts a number of German tourists it seems. We had a little look around before returning to camp as the sun set.

The Krka River near to where we are camped
Apples dripping in rain along the roadside
Dolenjske Toplice
Sunset on our forest walk back
And the sun goes down on our first night in Slovenia

Sunday: Blue skies greeted us as we awoke so we decided a bike ride would be on the cards. A little research online revealed a mostly off-road and on quiet lanes ride along the river to the settlement of Novo Mesto. We decided to investigate.

Beautiful lanes along flower laden meadows

We found the pathway and followed it along the river – beautiful little agricultural villages, fields of corn, wheat, strawberries, pumpkins, tomatoes….mostly small scale, local workers.

The RIver Krka our constant companion
Beautiful barns, the detail in the woodwork is gorgeous
Mr A heads off towards the next village
Still some puddles from yesterday’s downpour
The river is full of fish
We find a riverside restaurant full of cyclists upon reaching Novo Mestro
Mr A samples chicken breast with a dumpling stuffed with cottage cheese
Ribs for Mrs A
And a glass of Slovenian red house wine – surprisingly drinkable
Yup, that river again!
Storm clouds are rolling in again over Novo Mestro

We had a fabulous ride, around 35km (22 miles) all up, and felt we got a real taste for Slovenian life in this part of the country. Despite being only about 60km from the Croatian border, Slovenia feels quite different.