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)