Zdravo SLOVEnia, Adio Italy
After nearly two weeks in Italy, Manas and Anu leave this sunny land and set foot in Slovenia. Here is how the ride unfolded
Not every morning needs to look sparkling- and this morning did not. I woke up with a swollen head- and that, certainly is not the best mood to start a long motorbike ride. But start we did- past noon, as per established tradition, for a 650kms plus ride from central Italy (mangona village) till south Slovenia (Maribor). With 8000+ kilometres under the belt, distances- or even late starts do not make a big difference anymore. You just ride till you reach- no matter how long. But what does matter is riding in a passive mood- which is how the morning was. At the start I tried to reason- then, to fight it… but every time it bounced back. What’s more, I felt that the struggle also affected my focus while riding- and that is fatal on high-speed roads. So I decided not to resist… and while a part of me watched my blues, the other part watched the road- our favourite route, the serpentine SP8.
Over the past almost 5 days in the remote little country home in Mangona, we have travelled the route SP8 almost daily- and loved every bit of it. It is remote, passes through forests, streams, deep gorges and little villages. It is narrow, the tarmac is smooth and it has steep ups and downs and some really crazy hairpins- perfect! It felt fitting therefore that we ride this gorgeous road one last time while we exit Italy. After 45 minutes, the SP8 joined the route A1. Soon, we crossed Bologna and switched to the A13. We had left the mountains behind- back at Bologna… Padua and Venice lazed in the late afternoon sun and which worked on the grapes- sweetening them, breaking the complex sugars while the bees went about their business in the orchards. Truly, had I not travelled through these regions, I could never have imagined how important grapes could be, for the agriculture and livelihood of a nation.
The shadows now grew longer, the hills started re-appearing now- and at 32 degrees, it was a warm summer evening. As we crossed Venice, we could see rain clouds building up in the horizon. The forecast had indicated that there would be rain expected between 6-7pm at Ljubljana and about 9-10pm at Maribor, our destination in east Slovenia. We were aiming to skip these windows and our ride schedule as well as our pitstops were being adjusted accordingly. We crossed our fingers: please let us not get rained upon…it is wet and slippery and cold… and oh so messy with all the gear and stuff! We rode hard the next hour and I believe our prayers also helped- we slipped away from the rain clouds in Italy. It was when we reached Trieste, the last Italian town bordering Slovenia that we celebrated with a coffee break. As we pulled over at the café, we could sense a mild stir among the few regulars. We shared our greetings, ordered our cold coffees and hot chocolates- and over a cigarette, took stock of the day. We are now on our last kilometre of Italy, we rode the Tuscan countryside, we picked our way through the traffic knots and we could even skip the rain. Somewhere along the way my blues too dropped-off and here we were- a couple from India riding their two wheels, now surrounded by locals at a tiny Italian border-town café!
Our next stop was dinner- at a restaurant at Postojana. The Slovenian cuisine is a beautiful blend of Turkish and Slavic influence and we loved the local palate. We sampled the soups and cevapcici (sausages of various kinds in different sauces, served with onions and fresh bread). That is always the dilemma when we ride- eat much and you risk feeling drowsy- eat too little and you go hungry.
Postojana is a town set in the mist of the beautiful green Alps. The thick forests were of tall beech trees that stretch up to the heavens. At places we could see them going brown- and they caught the colour of the setting sun shining a molten gold. In the higher regions, the deep green pines offered a deeper contrast… while close by the hillslopes were carpeted with grass. The only break in this green was in the form of red roofs and brown walls of an occasional country home. Darkness overtook us somewhere along the last two hundred kilometres before our destination- as we rode the E61 and the E57 to reach Maribor. It was nearly 10 in the evening when we crossed the river Drava… with the town of Maribor spread along its gentle banks. A few minutes later, we met Liliane (Lilli) our host at Maribor.
Our accommodation at Maribor was in a hostel located within a few minutes from the city center. It was new- and we were the only guests at that time. So we had the undivided attention of Lilli who appointed herself as our guide to the city. She was Polish but knew the city, its people and cuisine- and together we explored the food, local get aways and the sights of Maribor. There was also Yani- a young Sloveian studying to be an engineer- who took care of the maintenance of the facilities. Yani was young, curious, intense and well read- a rare combination for his age.
The following evening we decided to engage in some cultural exchange for the stomach- mixed cooking! So Yani made delicious sausages and meats cooked with local herbs and served with local cheeses, Lilli bought local breads and we cooked Indian dal, rice and a curry. As per the local tradition, the food was accompanied with significant quantities of alcohol in the form of wine as well as beer. A few other local friends of Yani also joined in and we also had another guest at the hostel- it was Anna from Netherlands who was on a 3 week solo trip with her motorbike.
And there it was: a merry bunch of people doing what friends do- sharing food, worldviews and bits about their lives: it was a beautiful summer evening that we spent under the stars of the Slovenian sky.