Europe Trip Part 1
August 11, 2022
Back on May 20, Velvet Elvis finally earned her release and left the shop. She's very close to being in a state as close to full repair as is possible, afer suffering an electrical surge just about a year ago. V and I motor-sailed her back to her home dock, and for the first time in a while, I really enjoyed being out on the water.
Meanwhile, we dream of new boats. On top of the disrepair, we'd really like another cabin and another head. We even went to the boat show in Annapolis back in October to see what features and designs the manufacturers are trotting out there now.
We saw some cool boats. A couple of French manufacturers are turning out 45 ft aluminum hull sailboats with centerboards that make them draw just a foot or two. Bali catamarans have a garage-door rear wall, so the whole thing can open up and put the main saloon in open-air (at the cost of having a tiny mainsail, and oh my god when that thing starts to leak. That's how I think about boat features now).
Mrs. theskinnyonbenny also found an intriguing boat online that wasn't at the show. We wathced the video tour and talked to one of the owners about some questions that we had. That turned into an invite to spend a few days aboard one of their boats followed by a visit to their factory in Slovenia. That sounded fun, and we've been wanting to do a little touring in Eurpoe, so one day after school let out, we were on a plane.
(These, and many many more pictures are posted here.
After three planes and a train from Venice to Triste (Italy), a car was supposed to meet us to bring us the rest of the way to Izola, Slovenia. It didn't show. We "wasted" some time in a sleepy Italian town, drinking a couple of beers and watching music videos before the bartender helped us find a cab that would take a credit card (as we had not gotten any Euro-cash yet. I'm pretty sure they all call it Euro-cash.)
We got let off at the marina in Izola, and still had to hike for what felt like three hours to circle around the boats and find the vessel where we were supposed to stay. They had it open, nice and clean, and a chilled local wine and some farmer's market fruit at the ready for us. Two of the owners of the company came by an hour or so later, and we had a good time swapping sailing stories and talking boats, despite how tired we were.
By then, it was getting on toward 9:00 PM on Sunday night, and finding an open restaurant proved to be a challenge. We wandered into a bar full of guys who didn't speak English and took a little while to figure out that there was no food there. But one of the guys was super nice, and he walked us out of the building and pointed us to the only nearby local restaurant. Dinner and drinks were great, and we got our first sign that prices in Slovenia are great.
The next two days, we put the boat through its paces. She sailed great -- having a correctly-shaped mainsail with full battens really helps I think (Velvet Elvis has a main that furls into the mast. It's convenient, but the poor sail shape has lead most of the boat-makers to abandon the design.) We had a lot of light wind, and she still moved. It's probably a better boat test -- in 17 kts, they're all going to move pretty well.
The Northern Adriatic is beautiful. It has deep blue water, and the ocean is rimmed by rolling hills. The Slovenia coast line is small enough that we were able to lay eyes on both Italy and Croatia in a couple of short day sails.
Exploring Izola was fun too. It's a small seaside down, wrapping around a huge marina. Streets are clean and full of flowers, and the town is full of young people and families. Although it was our Summer, their kids were still in school, so there was a definite rhythm to the days. We mostly sat at outdoor cafes, and we kept the boat stocked with wines, fruit and cheese.
At lunch one day, the waiter came by after a long wait, and V wasn't ready to order.
"What the heck?" asked his mother.
"I was staring at the wall," he replied.
"It's a really nice wall."
I turned, and indeed, it was a nice wall.
After some sailing days, we took the bus to Ljubljana so that we could tour the factory where the boats get made. Like all bus routes everywhere, it took a roundabout way through rural towns. It was really pretty, but took an hour longer than it should have. We were shown great hospitality by our hosts, and examining the boats in various stages of construction was pretty cool. They brought us to a local place that served us all kinds of game (bear, goat duck) prepared deliciously, along with lots of local wines. I think we spent at least a couple of hours as course after course of meats came out.
Our planned bus out of town was full, so we ended up wandering around downtown Ljubljana. I'm so glad we did. It's an energetic, lively place with lots of beautiful buildings and a river running through it, which is always a nice touch.
After a night in Ljubljana, we decided to rent a car and move on to being tourists in Croatia.
The drive to Dubrovnik took most of the rest of the day. An interesting thing is that you drive a long way through Croatia, then have to pass through Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then back into Croatia again. These countries aren't part of the Schengen treaty, which is the one that lets you pass country to country without having to do the whole border crossing dance. So that day, we had to border cross into Croatia, border cross into Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then border cross back into Croatia. That significantly increases the travel time.
We got to the gates of Old Dubrovnik just before sunset. Old Dubrovnik is the walled city with narrow alleys between blocks of buildings. It's the part of town that's thousands of years old. I appreciate that the streets are marble stone. I'll go out on a limb and declare that t's impossible for your city to look like a shit hole when you have marble streets.
We spent a few days there, doing the tourist things -- wandering around and drinking wine, mostly. The tour of the city from the walls that loom up above is exhausting but worth the effort. It rewards you with views of the town and views out over the blue, blue sea.
Just over a couple of large hills from Dubrovnik is another border crossing -- this one into Montenegro. We booked a room over a weekend in another walled, ancient city -- this one Kotor.
We spent a weekend in Kotor, which to me, is like a rock-and-roll version of Dubrovnik. It's less crowded, less gleaming, and less touristy, but it was still a really cool place to visit. One thing that stands out is the massive number of stray cats. It's really the only place we visited with lots of stray animals. The cats added some personality to the place. We didn't see any that looked mangy or unhealthy.
Take a look at all the pictures I've posted for this leg of the trip. They tell the story better than anything I would write.