Travel diary: Slovenia, Italy, and San Marino

Although the weather could have been better, we’ve had a fantastic week, discovering new places and revisiting some of our old haunts.

Monday 15/10: Our plan to go hiking during our one full day in Bohinj, Slovenia, was foiled by the torrential rain that we woke up to. We headed out anyway; our couchsurfing host Marjana drove us to the lake and we took a short damp walk around it, checking out the picturesque bridge and admiring the lake.

She had to go to work for the afternoon and we decided to do the same; we both got quite a lot done, which is always a good thing. We did go for a short walk around the town during a break in the rain, but were forced into a cafe by a sudden downpour. Marjana came back around midnight and we had a glass or two of wine and a chat together before bed.

It was a slightly damp day…

Tuesday 16/10: The weather had improved significantly so we decided to head back to the lake for a drier walk; but first we watched the first showing of a music video that had been filmed in the hotel where Marjana works.

After a short hike, Marjana dropped us at the train station, where we hopped on a tran to the border between Slovenia and Italy. Unfortunately to get from one side to the other you have to get off the train at Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and catch a bus to the station in nearby Gorizia. This achieved, we hopped on another train in the direction of Venice, but got off in Udine for a lunch of pizza, chicken and salad. We’ve spent quite a lot of time in Udine, so it was nice to see it again, albeit briefly.

Two trains later we arrived in Padova, where we wandered around for awhile then caught a tram towards our couchsurfing host’s place. I’d sent her a message and hadn’t got a reply, and it wasn’t until we got off the tram and got online using the Droam that I realised that the number I’d saved into my phone was missing a digit. Duh!

Laura’s garden.

Laura, our host, picked us up from the tram stop and took us back to her place, where she prepared a delicious dinner of soup, salad (made from home-grown vegetables) and prosciutto. We also met Laura’s flatmates Wendy, from the Dominican Republic, and Nevena from Serbia, and the evening was a mishmash of languages: Laura spoke to us in English and to Wendy in Spanish, who spoke to Nevena in French, who spoke to Laura in Italian. It was awesome.

Wednesday 17/10: In the morning Laura took us to see both of her gardens. The first was right by the house, but the second was an allotment a fair way out of town. We checked out the lake and the animals that also form part of the complex, and smiled at the small children feeding the birds and eating corn, then harvested some of Laura’s produce, including an impressively large zucchini.

Since Laura’s parents lived nearby, we stopped in to visit, and her mum fed us tasty tarts. Next, Laura dropped us in the centre of Padova, and we explored a little on the way to the train station. It’s a beautiful city, full of amazing architecture and pleasant squares; we realised that we had completely underestimated what it had to offer and that three nights was certainly not going to be enough to do it justice… Especially because we were spending one of our evenings in Venice.


The journey there took just half an hour and cost €3.50, and we arrived at around 3pm, a good couple of hours before the start of our tour. So, we took our time wandering through the city streets, crossing bridges and admiring the canals. Although we didn’t have a proper map (the tourist office charges €3 for them!) we didn’t get lost, as the way from the train station to Rialto Bridge, and from there to St Mark’s Square, was clearly signed. It felt great to be back in Venice, even if it was with several thousand other tourists.

The thing which has always struck us about Venice is how expensive food and drink is, and how shameless the establishments are about charging cover fees for everything imaginable. So, we decided to do Urban Adventures Cicchetti of Venice tour, partly to learn how to get a good feed without getting ripped off, and partly just to get a good feed!

Our Urban Adventures guide, Cecilia.

Our guide, Cecilia, was friendly and informative, and expertly instructed us how to find the locals’ bars which serve tapas-like snacks called cicchetti. The accompanying wine was delicious, and it was fun to cross the Grand Canal in a traghetto.

At the end of the tour, one of the other guys bought a bottle of wine for us all to share, so we stood around talking for a bit longer, then headed back to the train station to return to Padova. Once again, the way was signposted, and we were following the signs when we came across a group of lost Americans. They hadn’t seen one of the signs and were about to turn back when I pointed it out to them; they gratefully followed us all the way back to the station.

Despite this demonstration of travel skills, we’d unfortunately misread the timetable and the next train wasn’t for another half-hour; we bought a slice of pizza and sat on the station steps admiring the Grand Canal.

Thursday 18/10: Laura headed out to work in the co-operative gardens and we caught the tram into town to see a little more of Padova. We started in Prato della Valle, an oval garden surrounded by a moat and adorned by 78 statues of famous men. Next, we checked out St Antony’s basilica, where we were stunned by the quantity and quality of the artwork adorning its walls, and a bit repulsed by the reliquary chapel.

Prato della Valle.

We’d hoped to see a little of the university but found ourselves in the hospital grounds instead, and then we had a long wait for a bus to get us home.

Laura prepared a tasty risotto for lunch, then took us and Wendy into the hills to go hiking. The weather was great for a walk: cool and clear, and we collected tiny chestnuts along the way.

Back at home, we had a multi-course dinner of crackers and salsa, chestnuts, a pastry bake donated by Laura’s friend Matteo, and pasta with chicken.


Friday 19/10: Although we’ve been travelling a lot recently, we’ve generally been visiting places we’ve been before. Today, though, we were heading for our first new country of 2012: San Marino. Our journey took us through Bologna, where we stopped for a couple of hours to admire the redness of the city and its impressive architecture, and Rimini, where we caught a bus to our final destination.

We managed to miss our stop and had to find our way back down the hill to our couchsurfing hosts’ place, but we managed eventually. After getting to know our hosts Francesca and Michele a little, I headed out with Francesca to visit the laundromat (there was a small adventure involving a sofa cover) and the supermarket (where I thought it was my duty to buy some local beer).

Back at home, Francesca and Michele cooked us a delicious dinner of pasta with home-made ragu sauce, followed by a dish that was kind of like chicken nuggets with peas, courtesy of Michele’s mum.

Francesca’s mum came over soon after we finished eating, and gave us advice about what we should see and do during our time in San Marino, which was extremely useful.

Saturday 20/10: Francesca had to work and Michele had to work on his thesis, so we headed uphill alone. I hadn’t realised how hilly San Marino is, but it’s impressively steep — the city is perched on the summit of a craggy mountain. We had the choice of catching the cable car up to the city or walking through the galerias (old train tunnels); we chose the latter and visited the cemetery along the way.

Linda in the tower.

Although it was a cool day, we felt quite warm by the time we reached the top of the hill. We entered the city by one of the many gates in the old town wall, and spent an hour or so just wandering around before heading to the towers.

The three towers along the ridge of the mountain are San Marino’s symbol, and are easily seen from almost everywhere in the country. We visited all three, though only the first two can be entered, and the views from the tower tops were awesome. The first tower had some information panels explaining the towers’ history and the second tower featured a weapons museum, but I was more interested in exploring the little nooks, walking along the ramparts, and climbing the steep ladders to the highest points.

The third tower is a little isolated from the city itself, and our route back took us through a small stretch of forest. When we emerged, we soon found a small restaurant for a light lunch of piadines, which we’d been told were typical of the region. They were certainly delicious — tortilla-like flatbreads filled with tasty fillings like prosciutto, tomato and mozzarella.

After lunch we wandered around a bit more then started heading downhill along another footpath that Francesca and her mum had recommended. As we were turning a corner, a woman emerged from a door in front of us and walked on a few steps before turning around and motioning to us to follow her… So we did. She led us down a path, unlocked a small door, and indicated that we should enter. It was a tiny cave, with a wooden bench in the centre of it. She commented on how beautiful it was, then smiled and disappeared. We looked at each other in some confusion, but dutifully sat and enjoyed the cave for a few minutes before leaving in search of an explanation. Apparently it was a space for prayer.

The second tower, San Marino.

Our walk downhill was a lot faster than the ascent, and we stopped in at a fruit shop to pick up groceries for dinner. I wanted to make a Spanish tortilla, but I managed to forget to buy potatoes, which is a pretty important ingredient. Luckily Michele and Francesca were happy to supply us with some.

They were out for the evening, so we worked and relaxed until they came back at around 11.30. When they returned, we drank the beer I’d bought the day before, and ate the delicious panna cotta they’d prepared for us. The Francesca suggested we see San Marino by night, and drove us to the top of the mountain and enjoyed the fantastic views.

Sunday 21/10: We wanted to make a pretty early start to get to Florence in the mid-afternoon, so we said goodbye to Francesca at 9.20 and caught the 9.30 bus to Rimini. There we hopped on a train to Faenza, where we had to wait for almost an hour for our connection to Florence.

When we arrived, we made our way across town to check into our Go with Oh apartment, which was absolutely stunning. The bedroom has a comfortable double bed, the bathroom was overstocked with towels, and the lounge features a sofa-bed and the cutest cupboard kitchen you can imagine.

We spent the afternoon working (or in my case, putting off working) then headed out again to meet our friend Julie at the train station. She’s in Europe for a couple of weeks to visit A) friends and B) Paris, and we managed to convince her to shave a day off the latter to spend more time with the former (us). After a bit of catching up and planning, we went next door to the only open restaurant in a 1km radius, where we had pizza, chips, salad and wine, then finished the evening with grappa and chocolate back in the apartment.

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