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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Departing from Venice for Patra
16th Jun 2006 - 19th Jun 2006
Slovenia and Italy with Ed

And so Joanna departed, and in rolled Ed Colley, a UBS ex-colleague of mine, on the same flight. Naturally, Kiki and I spent the intermediate fifteen minutes snogging.

Ed, Kiki and I stayed for a night at the exotically titled "Ljubljana Resort" campsite. It featured no fewer than three swimming pools (all of them exactly 1.35 metres deep), a sauna (where I got to see Ed naked) and "Adrenalinski Park", which seemed to mostly consist of firing children a quite considerable height into the trees using some rather rickety-looking elastic contraption. After an evening of swimming and adrenalinski, we headed into Ljubljana for a jolly night out - it's surprisingly like Greece, and was mercifully free of the British stag dos (DOs? do's? does?) that had been with Ed on the plane. Some surprisingly good food accompanied the jolly nice beer ("Union", apparently) until we had to go home.

The next day we headed for Venice, via what is apparently Slovenia's most visited tourist attraction. As I'm sure you know, these are the limestone caves at Postojna. I was quite taken aback by these in almost every way. Not only is it mind-bogglingly touristy, it is also one of the most extraordinary natural spectacles I've seen. After battling through several restaurants, endless gift shops, currency exchange, donkey rides et cetera you find yourself at the mouth of the cave, having paid a quite remarkeable sixteen Euros to get there. There you climb onto a little train - I'd say each train took around a hundred people, and there was a train perhaps every three minutes. The train zooms you about two kilometres into the caverns down the course of a now-dry river, through some absolutely wonderful caves and multi-coloured limestone structures. This was perhaps the oddest part of the whole experience - the train goes at such a pace that you can barely take in the vista, yet the scenery is so amazing that you can barely believe you're looking at it. At the end of this Million Years of History Rollercoaster the passengers are tipped off onto a concrete platform in an utterly awe-inspiring cavern. Everywhere there are limestone structures that could easily have been the glorious centrepiece of another cave tour (and believe me, we've been on quite a few cave tours this holiday, so I know what I'm talking about), but no time for that now! You must hurry to the muster point for whatever language it is you're wanting a guide in. Sure enough, mounted on some of these enormous backlit stalagmites are signs reading "Deutsche", "English", "Italiano" and such - each one mounted above an ominous-looking grey megaphone for the tour guide to be amplified through. Throngs of tourists busily squeeze this way and that in order to get under the megaphone of their choice. As I remarked to Ed, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you'd ended up in hell.

One tour departs every two or three minutes, in order by language. The Italians are always behind the English, which probably explains why the Italian guide knew quite so many different English ways of saying "stop bloody dawdling" to the backmarkers. No doubt inspired by the trains, the tour guides rattle along at a decent pace, stopping perhaps five times on the route to give what is actually a very well-informed and interesting commentary. It takes ten years, apparently, for a millimetre of stalagmite to grow, and Ed and I were pretty sure that many of the ones we were looking at (or our concrete path was plonked upon) were at least ten metres high. As we contemplated several hundred thousand years of natural history, the Italian guide poked us with a stick and we had to run after the English group, who were busy sprinting through another jaw-droppingly beautiful cave. Many of them barely had time to stop and take the digital photos which they weren't allowed to take, and which would come out looking crap anyway. Once we'd seen the final gapingly enormous cave where orchestral concerts were once held, we were back onto the train for another jet-propelled ride into the daylight. And plonk, there we were, out in the open with the thronging millions. I can't help recommending the trip if you ever end up in Slovenia, but it might be worth taking some sort of psychadelic drug. Don't take a camera, as your photos will either be crap (like any other flash photo) or shaken to buggery (like any other non-flash photo taken in the dark). Photography tips here free of charge.

And so on from Slovenia to Venice, or more accurately somewhere beginning with C a mere 50km from Venice. Costanja? Something like that. The campsite was the largest we've yet been to - if you're a caravanning sort then "2800 pitches" will make you go "ooh". If you're not a caravanning sort then you might be more impressed by the fact that the site enclosed two swimming pools, nine restaurants, a beach and several shops, including a jeweller for a reason I can't quite fathom. Despite as yet being engagement ring-less, Kiki and I elected not to bother buying one in Elizabethi Duki. The site even has its own weekly newsletter, and a complex system of loudhailers positioned all over the place to give a real big brother swing to things. I've a feeling this system was bought in error, as all it's used for is to broadcast certain banal truths at set times of the day. At 10am it'll say such things as "today the beach is next to the sea - why not have a swim" and at lunch it'll announce "our shoe shop is open now, with a wide selection of shoes for you to buy with money". Kiki, Ed and I
did sample both swimming pools and the sea (well, Kiki poofed out saying it was too cold) but overally I'm not sure I'd say the site was our sort of thing. Most of the other clientelle were Germans - finally we appear to have found the outer radial reaches of the Dutch.

Eventually it was time for Ed to pack up his swimming trunks and go home. I should apologise here for there being no pictures of Ed, and no pictures of the last few campsites we've stayed at. I've been wearing flip-flops and shorts and as such haven't been transporting the camera around as much as I have been. I'll improve things, I promise. Where was I? Ah yes. Ed's flight departed from Venice on Sunday night at 2140. Our navigation doofer told us that the journey would take us 40 minutes, but when I asked at the information desk the lady there told me "an hour... at most an hour and a half". Given that we weren't exactly coinciding with rush hour anywhere, we elected to leave at 1945, with the intention of getting Ed to the airport somwhere before nine. After a brief confusion in getting Ed's passport back from the check-in desk, and a brief period in which Kiki persuaded the nice lady Ed had threatened not to call security, we drove straight into some of the worst traffic we've seen. After an hour we'd travelled somewhere in the region of four kilometres - it would appear that the ideal weekend break for most Italians is one had on a campsite, and one finishing at 1945 on the Sunday. Eventually we dropped Ed at the airport half an hour after his flight had departed, whereupon he reminded us what being an investment banker means by paying a sum I can't bring myself to disclose for a one-way British Airways business class flight to Heathrow which departed in twenty minutes. I sure hope he enjoyed his sandwiches.

The following morning we allowed two and a half hours to get back to Venice to take our ferry. As the traffic had now vanished this meant we arrived at the ferry two hours early, but in actual fact it didn't seem to matter much as plenty of people were there already, and boarding had commenced. As I mentioned previously we'd elected to "camp on board" - this means they give you electricity (in cables tugged down from the ceiling) and water (from the toilets). You're not allowed to use gas, but you can of course sleep in your own caravan or camper. This is a splendid idea. I'm writing this sitting on the top deck with a splendid view of the Ionian, having had a much better sleep last night than I ever have before whilst travelling. The food on the ferry (Minoan Lines) is actually extremely good, and they even have a games room where they lend out Backgammon boards and such like. Admittedly there's some vibration and it's a little on the warm side as far as sleeping goes, but having your own personal space is fantastic. The ferry is taking us from Venice all the way to Patra, in the Peloponese, whereupon we'll drive for three hours or so to get up to Athens, then another hour or two to Evia. We're leaving the caravan there in the meantime, so I think our arrival in Evia will count as the end of this particular leg of our travels. Once we're there I'll have a couple of drinks and try to write something dewy-eyed about how lovely it's all been.

Distance travelled: 10053km car, 1115km train
Books read: C:4, K:9
Bottles of wine remaining: 1
Countries visited: 11 (UK, France, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy)

Next: Athens, and my Dewy-Eyed Summary of Leg One
Previous: Budapest; Croatia

Diary Photos

Departing from Venice for Patra

Our oddest campsite yet

Busiest campsite so far

Seeing Greece

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