Slovenia II

I left Simon and Stane and headed east toward Croatia. The main road was nice enough, and soon I was on smaller roads as I neared the border. You know that old saying, “I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.”? I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s just so beautiful here I can’t describe it, and my camera doesn’t capture it. Like the Maine woods only drier, either pastoral or wooded, post-card villages and clean, quiet towns. People out in their gardens wave as I glide by, truckers honk and give thumbs up, even the road crews wave their hard hats and shout, “Dobra dan!”. Little tweety-birds flit along next to me for a few seconds and chirp cheerful chirps. A shepherd lifts his crook and nods; cops salute and smile. Have I died and gone to heaven? To top it off there are sunny skies, it’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade, there are patches of snow on the hillsides, and a slight breeze. I napped at a picnic area after lunch, since I was up late talking with Simon.

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Running low on food and stove fuel, I was considering a restaurant, but I found a nice grocery store.

Alcohol for my stove is hard to find sometimes. Big city hardware stores or paint stores have denatured alcohol, a cleaning solvent and paint thinner. Denatured alcohol is ethanol and/or methanol with poisonous additives, often unspecified, to prevent use as an intoxicating beverage. I can also use the gasoline antifreeze additive sold in gas stations (HEET in the USA), but it is rare here (and I’d rather not because of toxic fumes). Rubbing alcohol from the drug store burns cool and leaves soot. But…

They sell liquor in grocery stores here. Vodka works poorly and leaves soot. Moonshine works great—the only thing better is laboratory-grade alcohol (100% ethanol), unavailable to civilians. Liquor stores sometimes have clear potable alcohol, 96% ethanol, just like moonshine (Everclear and Alcool are American brands). So I got some of that with my groceries. It’s expensive: since its potable and taxed, it is more than twice the price of denatured alcohol, but still, by my calculations, about ten cents to cook a meal.

So, as you have probably already guessed, I have cooked my dinner and I am enjoying a cocktail of pure alcohol, water, a tangerine squeezed in, and a pinch of salt. It’s potable.

Late afternoon, early for camping now that Daylight Saivngs time has ended here, I spied an irresistible woods road, grassy and pine-needled and bordered with wild flowers and pine cones. There were many such roads today, but this one just made me turn. A quarter-mile down, in a clearing surrounded by giant Norway Spruce and White Pines, were two hunter’s stands, little open-sided shelters up on small towers, twenty feet above the ground. Nearby was a bear-bait setup. There are brown bears here, not grizzlies but the size of the black bears in the eastern US. I’ve seen a few signs with bears on them, a few hides hanging on barns, and Simon told me about them last night. The hunting season is in the fall, and like deer season in New England, it contributes to the economy. Austrians and Germans, not far away, and other European hunters come for hunting this bear.

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If bear baiting and hunting from stands makes you uneasy, let me tell you that it is just how it is done, for centuries now, around the world, including America, Europe, Russia, even Japan. The bleeding-heart liberals put a stop to it in Vermont and a few other states back in the seventies, and England outlawed it, in typical British fashion, a decade after the last bear in England was taken.

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I’m cozy up here at sunset in my bear stand. It’s silent except for birds. An owl hoots in the distance, and earlier a hummingbird approached, but didn’t touch, my squeezed-out tangerine skins, arm’s length away. I heard a wild boar, too; I recognize their grunts and barking sound from Spain and Italy. I hope a bear comes…

No bears last night but a beautiful cold, clear starlit night and awesome sunrise. I am still following the route laid out by Dominik four days ago, and it keeps getting better. A two hour stretch of unpaved road was to my liking, and some climbing brought me to a vista that showed mountain after mountain, into Croatia, as far as the eye can see.

I reached the border about 3:00PM. This is where I leave the European Union. My passport didn’t have an entry stamp because of my clumsy departure from the ferry to Holland, but the Slovenian guys were great and accepted my story.

But the Croatian customs lady took the receipt for my bicycle, asked me a bunch of questions, and took my passport and paperwork inside for half an hour. Then she refused to let me in to Croatia. Reason: my bicycle was too expensive. I didn’t understand, but that was the only answer she was willing to give. I think they didn’t believe my bike matched my receipt, and I was trying to fool the tax man somehow. This was a tiny crossing in the boondocks, far from the city, the nearest town of any size miles away.

Was I suspected of wrongdoing? She was not at liberty to say. Can I see your superior? He was standing right behind her and spoke no English. What am I to do? Not my problem. I am reluctant to call any woman a bitch (she might be somebody’s mother); let’s just say she was bitchy.

So I crossed the bridge back to Slovenia.

Problem: once you leave a country that is party to the Shengen agreement (like Slovenia and all the countries I have visited so far), which I just did, you can’t return for six months without a special visa. This time it was a young woman at the Slovenian immigration window. Apply at the Consulate in Ljubljana, 120 kilometers away. But I can’t re-enter. Apply by mail. Where’s the Post Office? Vinica, three kilometers. But I can’t go there. The sun was setting. This woman saw the humor of the situation, however. I told her I was eyeing a nice spot on the bridge for my campsite. This got her laughing. She consulted her colleague, the guy who let me OUT of Slovenia. They decided on a stamp, stamped my passport IN, and waved me through, telling me to try another border crossing 40 kilometers north.

So I’m back in good old Slovenia, camping in the woods.

Now I’m at a great country restaurant, early in the morning, using their wi-fi. Nice folks. Reminds me of the Brunswick Barbecue and Brew, of which I have many fond memories.

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As soon as I find some wi-fi in Croatia, I’ll let you know how I made out at the border.

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