Wednesday, December 15, 2021

A "dream" come true!

"There are more things that frighten us than injure us, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality."
 ~ Seneca

Greetings, friends. I'm shocked, even if you're not, how challenging I'm finding it to sit down and post photos that I like into a blog for my friends. There was a time when I found it satisfying and enjoyable. What happened? Maybe it partly relates to how unusual it was, back in the day, to be sending missives from afar. Now it's like adding a drop of water to an overflowing bathtub. 
Last I wrote, (unless you're in my WhatsApp group) I was in Slovenia, getting prompt and expert service on my VW engine, only and almost exactly one year since it was rebuilt, and from the same mechanics who had done the work. It had a one-year guarantee, so I was just under the line. Smoke had begun belching, again, from the exhaust, especially going steeply uphill in the pristine Dolomites as expensive Audi's and BMW's impatiently followed me, desperate to pass. Did that make me uncomfortable? Why, yes it did! Incredibly, this was my fourth trip to Slovenia to get some fricking relief for my obviously struggling engine. But they were there for me! And they offered: a thicker engine oil, plus an additive. OK, American tourist, be gone, and let us know how it goes! Continue reading, and you'll find out how it went...
Enjoy the many photos, with captions below (for years I had them above the pics...)

Just over the northwest border of Slovenia, I crossed into Italy, still in the mountains, and made my way to this wide spot in the road. Let's call it wild camping. Directly across the road from me , and crossing the little stream, are tunnels dug into the rock during World War II. I scampered through them last time I was in the area. (If I have really bad luck one day and end up stuck in one of those tunnels? Unpleasant for me, and I apologize in advance.)

So, I may not be manly, but I'm stereotypically all-boy when it comes to tractors and trucks and gnarly mechanical stuff. I can stare at these contraptions transfixed, just like the other mostly-men nearby, if anyone else was nearby. I took this photo because I thought it was funny that someone attached a "Lamborghini" label on the front of it. Those wacky Italian loggers and their jokes! After I walked away, it occurred to me that it might not be a joke. A quick web search taught me that Mr. Lamborghini started making tractors before sports cars. Very cool.

Venice?! Tropical Storm Julieta (my Argentinian girlfriend who lives in Germany) is making landfall in half an hour. Then we hightail it north for some more hiking in the Dolomites. We'll add a road trip to Split, Croatia, where she'll fly back home. I am grateful for this strange life...

Before coming back to Italy, I had been in Slovenia for about a week to get my van not-fixed, then saw that the weather in the Dolomites was going to be rain-free for 10 days. That was too good to pass up. Then Julieta suddenly had some time free so I picked her up at the Venice airport and we were back in the mountains. Here's the start of our first scenic hike.

It wasn't a long hike, but had a nice climb through the forest to a rifugio that's closed for the season.

The deck of the closed rifugio, looking down the valley in the direction that we'd come from.

Many of these narrow alpine valleys are filled with rock that rivers bring down during big storms.

Coming down was a little treacherous. It was warm in the sun, dang cold in the shade. But those views!

On a shorter walk, starting from our wild camping spot we climbed up to the town of San Martino di Castrozza. It's in an amazing setting, surrounded by rugged peaks.

Julieta and I are starting a long-ish hike up this valley. Dang! I have a new favorite expression when I see scenes like this: "Oh, get out!"

We started down in that valley, around the corner in the distance.

There was a welcome cable to hang onto where the footing was tricky. What a great day. AND... we learned that the next we're meeting up with my godson Sebastian and his mom Rachel in Padua, Italy, just near Venice! Wow, so cool.

We drove down from the mountains to Padua and met up with friends from home, the first in two and a half years. That handsome young man is my godson Sebastian, and that's his lovely mum Rachel. Sebastian decided to go to university in Holland, which seems brave to me. Part of the reason I went to UC Berkeley is that it was close to home. Really.

The spectacular ceiling of the massive Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, started in 1232 and completed in 1310. I find it incredible that they built magnificent structures like this so long ago. But to be honest, I don't know how they build them today, either. At least they have power tools now, among other advantages.


Cruising down the Italian highway after leaving Padua, near Trieste on our way to Croatia. Uh oh.

Among the many surprises today was the one that I've anticipated/contemplated for years: driving down some random interstate highway in Europe as my van engine blows up. Today was that day! Fortunately for our shared horrific/wonderful memories, the Argentinian Hurricane, Julieta, took charge of getting a tow truck. The first guy hung up on her when she asked if he spoke English. "Call him again," she said. "But didn't he hang up on..." "Call him back!" she barked. The final result, the tow truck, under the French insurance for my van, delivered us to a parking area at the Slovenian border, for no charge, and we were happily wild camping in the strangest of places. Many stories remain unspoken...

Home Sweet Border-Wasteland Home. You can just make out the border entrance to Slovenia in the distance.

Slept like babies. I woke up early, thinking, wait, what happened again? Oh right, the engine is shot. Now we're on our way to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Tomorrow the mechanic will see if the engine is a total wreck, or if it can be repaired/rebuilt. Meanwhile, Julieta and I need to get to Split, Croatia because she flies from there in five days. Bus? Rental car? Both? It's not boring!

The tow truck driver, a friend of my Slovenian mechanic, dropped us off at the bus station in Ljubljana. We wanted to go to Split, Croatia, but the bus would arrive at 2:30 am. That doesn't work. How about somewhere else in Croatia, I asked the business-like ticket seller. She looked at us like - you don't know where you're going?? I said that our van blew up on the highway last night, and she got this very sympathetic look, like we lost a pet, and said, "I'm so sorry." I was wearing a mask, but I had the same dumb grin as I do in this photo, as I said, "It's not that bad, actually. In a way it's kind of fun, it's like an adventure." She liked that answer, and she smiled through the rest of the transaction, as we discovered that the bus to Zagreb is only 2 hours. So Zagreb it is!

On Day 2 of the "I used to drive a van" experiment, our intrepid non-woke travelers awoke in a too-big hotel room in Zagreb, ate too much at the all-you-can-eat-breakfast (I can eat a lot) and decided to take the train to Split. First we wandered around the old town of Zagreb.

It's a six and a half hour train trip to Split, or five hours in a bus, or four in a car - which is why not that many people take the train.

The train is a little like riding a bucking bronco, both of us feeling a little nauseous from all the movement. But lovely views! Ciao!

#NoVanLife in Split, Croatia, inside Diocletian's Palace, completed in 305 AD. Crikey.

The waterfront and the Palace from a distance.

Around this time we found out that, as expected, the engine was completely shot. My mechanic was probably too embarrassed to come right out and say how badly they screwed by sending me out in the wild with a van that was leaking so much oil. He and his partner didn't quite believe me, I guess, because the engine was running so well - which it was. He's a young guy with a small business and two young kids, and I wasn't going to hold him completely responsible, even though I could have made the argument for it. Basically, I had the money and he didn't. So I told him if he found another rebuild, I'd pay for it. See, I told you I wasn't that manly.

The beautiful waterfront, on a beautiful warm night.

I spent hours looking for vans to buy, or vans to rent. I found a very fancy van to rent for three months, as long as I could drive it to Turkey...

Everything looked good for the three month rental until he made me the deeply discounted offer of: €7,500, or $8,500! Crikey. Rental vans are pricey, but that's just impossible.

Julieta walking past some ever-present "Hajduk" graffiti that you see everywhere in Split. They're the local soccer team and are pretty much worshipped in this town. As a non-sports guy, I can't say that I get it.

Plan B was renting a van. What was Plan C?? I had really given up the idea of driving my green van again, and I was ok with it somehow. Julieta was saying, "Well, at least you know you can't use your van anymore," right as I got an email from the mechanic. They found a meticulously rebuilt engine from a guy in Germany who does that as a business. He replaces every replaceable part, and rebuilds it about as well as can be done. New engines aren't available for my 30 year-old van, but this is the closest I'll get. It will cost €2,600, or $3,000, and my mechanic will install it for no charge. "Let me know," he said.

This is a very old artist's rendition of the waterfront at Diocletian's Palace.

The waterfront today.

Much of the old palace has been structurally restored, and this is a restaurant in what would have been the ground floor or basement.

The waterfront, called the Riva, on a rainy night.

Friendly locals fresh out of their painting class. One was American with family from here, and had moved here.

Ancient ruins make my heart ache! I just want to know everything about everything - is that too much to ask??

Speaking of ancient ruins, here's a 30 year old VW diesel engine, fully rebuilt, and about to be installed in my van. I said yes!
(The End)

Friday, October 08, 2021

Hiking the Dolomites - the second "DavemoPosts" WhatsApp group compilation

"What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears."
~ Seneca 

"I teach one thing, and one thing only - suffering, and the end of suffering."
~ The Buddha

Greetings, friends. I'm writing from Slovenia, and have some 'splaining to do, Lucy. My last blog post was in July, after I'd driven from North Macedonia to Croatia. Since then? Camping, hiking, seeing a group of friends in France (my first in-person group of friends for two years,) many van not-repaired-but-I'm-trying moments. I took a hot shower for the first time in two months a few days ago, since I was wild camping that whole time - more than usual. I started making a list of newsletters that I wanted to write but never managed to write, and had to add to it ones that I was sure I had written but didn't. It's a long list. I have a lifetime supply of posts I'll never get to.

If you would like to subscribe to the WhatsApp group, with updates more often than the infrequent newsletters, you need WhatsApp. When you have it, just click this link on your phone:

Blathering completed. Enjoy the photos and stories below.

Love, Dave

Sep 10, 2021

Lovely people, I'm not dead yet, some some of you will be happy to know. It's Dolomites season here in the, uh, Dolomites, and I'm just starting this hike! Yay.

People say the Dolomites are beautiful. Yes they do. Julieta and I just had a delicious lunch at a rifugio with cold beer, local cuisine, nice desserts. There is really no equivalent in the US. But now we have to finish the second half of our hike, yikes.

Sep 11, 2021

Making friends on our second hike in the Dolomites, Julieta and I are hiking across the valley from where we were yesterday. We hiked along the base of those massive mountains in the distance. What an incredible place.

Sep 13, 2021

Today, hiking! The Dolomites are working for me...

Ja, as they say in German. Some years ago I was mad when I found out how spectacular the Dolomites are. "Why did no one tell me?!"

Sep 14, 2021

It's hiking o'clock. Across the valley is Cortina d'Ampezzo, ritzy and beautiful.

Julieta is a good sport! It's not as dangerous as it looks, though I might not be the best judge.

Sep 18, 2021

Heavens to Mergatroid! Yesterday's hike was challenging, with the most climbing I've done for a while. Super beautiful! Julieta left the day before to go back to Germany, so I'm fending for myself. Scary.

Another pic from yesterday. The Tre Cime peaks are the most famous rock formations in the Dolomites. And just now I'm starting on a new hike, brace yourself for more photos later.

Sep 20, 2021

It's supposed to rain this afternoon, so I'm doing a short walk through this valley, just up from where I've been wild camping the last couple nights. It works for me! I took so many nice photos my last walk that I couldn't settle on only a few to post, so I didn't post any. But they're coming...

These next few photos are from Saturday's hike. I'm surprised I hadn't done this hike before, because it's pretty spectacular. After a reasonably steep climb you come out to this plateau with impressive rock formations surrounding it.

This photo looks quite different but it's just to the right of the same area. You may be able to see the rifugio roof just peeking out at the center left of the photo.

This is the rifugio where I had lunch. They serve delicious hot Italian food, cold beer, espresso drinks and fresh pastries. Will I get used to this one day? Yeah, no, I don't think so. All the supplies for the restaurant are brought up on a cable from the start of the hike. Incredible.

There was a super steep descent where you need to hang on to a cable with one hand and your cojones with the other. I love these kind of hikes, but I was still surprised how challenging it was. The terrain was much more rugged on this side.

New hat, new glasses, new earbuds, and even a new head. Come on, look at it - that head didn't used to look like that. Must be a new version. I can't say it's an improvement.

Sep 21, 2021

I'm just starting out on one of my favorite hikes in the Dolomites, called the Val Fiscalina hike in my guide book. Last year I hiked it in full snow and it was brutal. In 2017 I hiked it with Julieta and we got lost and had to spend the night in a rifugio. Today it's sunny and beautiful, and no snow. Yay!

Sep 22, 2021

More photos from yesterday's hike, which was so much easier than hiking in the snow as I did in the past, but still a little ambitious for an old fart like me. Fortunately I was in good company because there are people of all ages hiking in these mountains!

Usually on a long hike at the halfway point I don't even realize that I'm using energy, and I feel great. As I'm finishing up the walk I'm feeling quite tired, and by the time I sit down in my van at the end, I could fall asleep literally in about 2 minutes. And yesterday that's what I did, taking a little nap in my van before I drove to get a pizza for dinner.

In the center of the photo is one of three rifugios on this hike. I had a really nice meal here. I don't even know where they get their food, because there's no drivable road here, and also no cable to bring up supplies. I think in a previous year I might have seen a 4x4 ATV type vehicle bringing supplies.

What a treat to come across these local guys, maybe employees of the rifugio, playing beautiful music. It sounded too good to be live at first. Any idea how old this song is? It's The Police, and I was surprised to read that it was released in 1978!

Ok, last pic for today. This is the famous Rifugio Locatelli, the third rifugio of the day, where I had apple strudel and a cold draft beer on tap. Are you kidding me? With that view?! Do you think I've raved enough about the rifugios in the Dolomites, cuz I don't! I'll let you know when I'm done. Ciao!!

Sep 23, 2021

Today's challenging hike started here. The hike is called Rifugio Vandelli Traverse, even though the highlight is the blue lake, named Lago Sorapis. An unfortunate name? Me thinks so.

Great views and some mad scrambles up the loose scree you can just see on the right. An Italian couple in their 20's didn't have a map or a clue where to go, and I was showing them the route. But she balked when the footing got treacherous and they went back. She was just getting started - it got much worse.

The famous lake with the unfamous name. It's one of the more popular hikes around here, which is why I hiked in reverse direction this time. It didn't really help. Beautiful weather, lots of people. It was my fifth time hiking this route. Ciao!

Sep 25, 2021

Yesterday's hike began here, as I'm looking up to Monte Lagazuoi. You can just make out a dark spot at the top of the mountain, a cable car station. My route is steeply up the loose scree to the left, out of view.

The view from the top is amazing. After a meal at the rifugio, I was tired and took the cable car down with the other old people!

An hour's drive later, I came across this view as I was heading to a different hike. Wow.

It's lunchtime on what is maybe my last Dolomites walk this season. Supposed to rain tomorrow, but I'm still from California, so walking becomes unlikely. It's a beautiful area, my first time in this area.

Sep 26, 2021

That looks kind of impossible. What did these rocks look like before they eroded into these formations? And why is it that I've never seen this before, with all the trips to the Dolomites I've taken? If you didn't tell me about this place, you're in trouble!

I didn't even hike to get up here, I took the tram. It was supposed to rain, so I didn't plan to do much walking at all, but when it cleared I decided to walk halfway down. An hour later I realized that I missed the last tram and had to walk the entire way down. Oops. I hiked up 230 meters and hiked down 1,500 meters. (That's 750 feet up, and 4,900 feet down.) I'm glad, at least, that all this hiking has gotten me into better shape.

Oct 4, 2021

I'm in Slovenia. Getting my 30-year-old van repaired isn't an event - it's a lifestyle!

Oct 8, 2021

I'm in Slovenia now, but this was my last and hardest hike in the Dolomites. The hike plan included a gondola that wasn't running, and after trudging up the steep hill for two hours and over the pass I came to the "Jimmi Hutte" rifugio, where I had lunch.

"Hey, I'm on vacation, I can do whatever I want!" And, as everyone knows, you don't gain weight on vacation. This is probably the least fattening dessert I've eaten in a month, and I rarely miss a chance to eat dessert.

Hiking uphill out of this big valley, you can just make out the rifugio in the lower right of the picture.

The landscape got rougher and wilder at the top of the next pass. You can see the path I had taken in the lower left of the photo.

After a long walk across a rocky moonscape, I came to this view at 4:30 p.m., not really knowing how much longer it would take me. I had to walk a long way to the right before taking the trail down into that valley, and then exiting the valley at the far distance. It was getting dark as I exited the valley, and it was completely dark for the last 2 hours of the walk. I'm glad I always pack a head torch.

(The End!)