The book of the blog

As a WordPress blogger I receive a stream of emails about changes and improvements to the way WordPress works. The vast majority receive a cursory glance and are consigned to the trash.

One that arrived recently caught my attention. A company based in Germany called Feedfabrik could take any WordPress blog and make it into a book – both as a hard copy printed book and a soft copy PDF.

Given we had just reached 100 posts it seemed only sensible to make use of this offer. To that end, for those of you interested, below is a PDF booklet of the first 100 Toscanakiwi posts. The file size is 7.3Mb.

It is best viewed with the page setting “2 Up” in Acrobat.

Toscanakiwi – The First 100

Three countries in three days

It’s been a hectic week. Starting last Saturday we headed home from Slovenia to our cottage in Tuscany. Two days later we headed north to Nice on the French Riviera to swap cars – and spend 5 days at Villefranche Sur Mer with Mike, Charmaine and James – then it was back home on Friday.

Daisy takes everything in her stride

Time for a cup of tea and a lie down I think.

A driving tip for Slovenia

One thing you notice driving on the highways in Slovenia is that they have great roads – on a par with the best in Europe in terms of width, smoothness, etc.

How does a country of 2 million people maintain such a great road network? We wondered this as we drove from Italy to Slovenia’s capital Lubiana recently without having to pay any tolls.

We discovered they do, in fact, have a toll system but one that differs from the usual take a ticket and pay system that operates in Italy and France. They run a Vignette system. You purchase a windscreen sticker which covers a period of time – 7 days up to 12 months. Get caught driving without a valid sticker on your windscreen and a fine follows.

Slovenian driving tip - have one of these

You would think with such a system the Slovenian authorities would publicise it widely for visitors – billboards, notices at hotels and the like. Well, not really. We found out once we’d arrived in Lubiana only because Gill and Andre who had preceded us, passed on the tip.

Apparently if you don’t find out and try to leave the country without a sticker on your windscreen the police at the border will impose a fine of between 300 and 800 Euro.

We know this is true because as we went through the border with our 7 day 15 Euro sticker a gaggle of Slovenian policemen complete with little paddles to flag cars down were scrutinising every car that went through.

It must be an Italian thing

On the car trip home from Slovenia we were driving south from Bologna towards Florence on the A1 – Italy’s main north/south motorway – when we passed a flashing sign warning of an accident ahead and after another kilometre we gradually slowed and slowed and then stopped.

Both southbound lanes were blocked by cars as far as we could see. Clearly there had been some form of accident ahead and the road was blocked.

When it became clear the delay was more than just a momentary stop all around us car engines were turned off and the drivers and passengers got out of their cars to have a smoke, stretch their legs, have somethnig to eat or drink, or just chat with other motorists about what may have happened ahead.

Now we were not used to this behaviour but quite clearly in Italy this is what you do when there is a delay. No one seemed to be getting anxious or stressed, everyone just smoked, stretched, ate, drank and chatted until the traffic eventually started moving again about 25 minutes later.

This movement was short lived and 300 metres further down the motorway we stopped again. Same drill – the cars emptied out and the impromentu social gathering reconvened. We did our bit to amuse the locals by taking photos of the traffic and having Jean and the girls pose by the car.

After another 15 minutes we were on the move again, this time for good.

36 hours in Slovenia – an in-depth report*

After all our visitors had headed off – Gill, Andre and the kids to Venice and Slovenia and Mike, Charmaine and James to Nice – it was time to get back to normal life in the cottage. For a week at least as we are driving to Nice to swap our lease cars over in early August and to catch up with Mike, Charmaine and young James.

It was a beautiful afternoon and we were sitting by the pool – as you do – when a text arrived from Gill. They had arrived in the capital of Slovenia – Ljubljana pronounced Lubiana – and were getting ready to celebrate young Jordan’s 6th birthday the following day. The text effectively said “am I being silly but what about you coming to Slovenia for Jordan’s birthday?”

Initially we dismissed the idea out of hand, let’s face it we didn’t know exactly where Slovenia was anyway – but then we got to thinking. How long would the drive be? Around a six hour drive – easily do-able. Can the dogs travel to Slovenia? It’s part of the EU so they can. Can the mighty Peugeot go to Slovenia? It’s on the list of eligible countries. Can we find our way around? TomTom maps for Eastern Europe are available and downloadable. Where could we stay for a couple of nights? Booking.com have a list of 23 hotels in Lubiana. Did we have anything else to do? Not really.

Within an hour we had all the answers – and we were off to Slovenia the next morning!

Driving from Italy into Slovenia you notice two things. Firstly the terrain goes from the dry, yellow/brown and hot Italian plains to the mountainous and green Slovakian hills and mountains. Secondly the architecture changes from Italian villas to Austrian style mountain houses. This isn’t surprising considering Sovenia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918.

We had booked a boutique hotel in the centre of the old part of Lubiana. An area overshadowed by the historic castle on the hill which dominates the capital city. Sadly our recently purchased (24 hours earlier) Eastern Europe TomTom maps didn’t take account of the fact that the heart of the city was largely a pedestrian area and blocked off to traffic other than that of residents. This caused problems as we circled the city centre trying to find a way in to our hotel and getting more frustrated by the minute. Eventually the good old “get out and walk approach” did the trick and we located the hotel who kindly provided access for our car to off load us, the dogs and the bags.

Our hotel was in a restored historic residence. We had booked a suite and it turned out to be a complete apartment with kitchen, dining room, lounge, bedroom and terrace. At 100sq metres it was about 3 times the size of our tuscan cottage. The dogs loved the space and intially did laps exploring, sliding across the parquet floors, and generally enjoying the freedom to run around.

We met the Mays at a nearby restaurant and celebrated Jordan’s birthday in style. The food, wine and service were superb. Apparently horse meat is a local delicacy and Andre, sticking to his mantra of trying anything once, had “Black Beauty” as a main. The rest of us did not.

Lubiana is a pretty city which has put time and effort into making the “old city” a tourist friendly place to be. A river runs through the city and the banks are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops. The river has been named 7 times due it’s habit of diassapearing for a period of time and then reappearing. Over time it has been called the Trbuhovica, Obrh, Stržen, Rak, Pivka, Unica and Ljubljanica.

Although the official language is Slovene, English was spoken by pretty much everyone we encountered so communication is easy. Prices are also cheap compared to Western Europe so your Euro goes that bit further.

The temperature was around 25 – 28 degrees although we were greeted at the Slovenian/Italian border with thunder storms, torrential rain and a 12 degree drop in temperature. For the next two days, however, it was warm, sunny and settled as we explored the cities sights, cafe’s and bars.

We left Slovenia with fond memories. This is definitely somewhere to add to your next European holiday – ideally for a little longer than 36 hours.

*This great title is borrowed and adapted from P J O’Rourke and one of the stories in his book “Holidays from Hell”.