Our train tickets to Rijeka
At the Ljubljana station, we bought tickets and made our way to platform 8 by way of the tunnel under the tracks that we’d used on our arrival the previous week. A kindly Slovenske ┼Żelezne employee helped us carry our bags up the stairs to the platform. The 2:45 train to Rijeka wasn’t there yet, but it soon rolled up. Unlike the smaller local train that had brought us from Bled, this one had cars built in standard European style, with a corridor along one side and a row of six-passenger compartments along the other.

We settled into an empty compartment, where we were soon joined by a couple who were ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. They knew no English at all, although in addition to Albanian and (no doubt) Serbian, they seemed to be fluent in German, a language of which I know only a few words. Despite these difficulties in communication, however, we managed to inform each of our of our nationalities and a few facts about our children and grandchildren, relying on the few words we had in common, a couple of family pictures, and a good deal of pantomime.

They have two grown daughters living in Switzerland, both married to physicians, and spend most of the year there. They were now returning to Kosovo, where they live during the summer months. Two of their three sons live there, and the third, 14 years old, lives in Switzerland with his sisters. The husband is in poor health; his wife told us that three years ago he had had a stroke that left him unable to speak for a year. Although that was no longer a problem, she did most of the talking.

Kosovar fellow passengers
One reason they spend so much time in Switzerland, she told us, is that her husband can get good medical care there, an impossibility in Kosovo. She was skillful at making herself understood to two linguistically challenged foreigners, and gave us a very clear description of economic conditions in their homeland. First she said, “Kosovo!” Then she rubbed thumb and fingers together in the universal sign for money. Finally, she crossed her forearms in front of her, palms outward, and swept them violently apart — translation: ‘Absolutely not!’ It was as succinct and forceful a report as anyone could have wished for.

During our conversation, the karst country of Slovenia slid past our window, and it didn’t seem long before we crossed the Croatian frontier — a highly informal process that consisted of a uniformed Croatian official sticking his head into our compartment for a moment. We had our passports ready, but I don’t recall that he wanted to look at the outside of them, let alone the inside. (Remembering the lineup at the airport in Brnik when we arrived, I suspected that the Slovenes, conscious of their duty to guard the E. U. frontier, would check passengers coming the other way a good deal more thoroughly.)

Click here to display a map that will open in a separate window in case you want to keep it open simultaneously with this one. (Although the map doesn’t show the railway, it shows a highway that follows pretty much the same route, south through Logatec, Postojna, Pivka, and Ilirska Bistrica on the way to Rijeka.)

Our fellow passengers invited us to visit them in Kosovo, though I assume that this was mostly out of politeness in the Balkan tradition of hospitality. We were of course in no position to accept, though we thanked them for the gesture, and I believe that both parties were fully satisfied with this outcome.

The train reached the end of its run in Rijeka at about 5:30. Our first concern was getting some kune out of an ATM. Well, that was my second concern, actually, because first I was more interested in finding the men’s room, whose location was by no means obvious in the large but nearly empty station. I asked a young man for directions, and he kindly showed me the way. When, I emerged he requested a few kune for this service. I didn’t mind giving them to him, since the kuna was trading at a bit over 22¢, but Dorothea was carrying all the kune we had — the money we’d bought from English tourists on our first day at Bled — so we went back to her. However, none of the bills she had were small enough, and as far we can remember, my guide went unrewarded. He must have given us credit for trying, however, because I don’t recall any recriminations.

We found an ATM, which a woman had just been using, putting to rest my fears that we’d find the ones in the station out of cash. Sizing us up accurately as naive English-speaking tourists, she warned us to cover our hands while typing the PIN — it’s common in Croatia (and elsewhere in Europe, too) for larcenous types to hide a tiny camera above the keyboard to capture the keystrokes. To complete the crime, of course, the thief would have to be close enough to see who entered the PIN, and then to succeed in stealing the card. However, this was by no means an impossible sequence of events, so we took her advice, and followed it every time we used an ATM after that.

The machine dispensed cash in the form of 200-kuna notes (which, being worth about $22 apiece, made it pretty similar to American ATMs with their universal twenties. Packing this wad of native currency into our wallets, we went outside and asked a man where we could get a taxi to the bus station. “Oh, you can walk there,” he assured us. “It’s only 200 meters.” He urged us to come with him, and we set off. We guessed that this service would not be free, but it would have seemed churlish to refuse his kind offer, and no taxis were in sight, so we followed, bags in tow and backpacks strapped in place. It wasn’t the easiest of walks, along a busy, dirty street, over broken sidewalks, past empy and grafitti-covered buildings. (We couldn’t read the grafitti, but they probably reflected some of the conflicts in Croatian national politics, as well as the politics of local gangs.) Rijeka’s dirt and squalor were all the more striking in that the architecture of many buildings reminded us of those in comparatively tidy Ljubljana. But we had to remember that Ljubljana isn’t totally spotless either, and, more important, that it is a financial, political, and cultural capital with a thriving tourist industry, none of which advantages apply to Rijeka. (The following weekend, we would find Zagreb, a more proper subject for comparison with Ljubljana, looking equally prosperous and well scrubbed.)

I regret that we were too preoccupied with logistic matters to take any pictures during this part of our journey. The Web hasn’t been any help: I found lots of pictures of the Corzo, a snappy-looking shopping street open to pedestrians only, but none that showed the railway station, the bus station, or ulica Krešimirova, the somewhat run-down avenue (named for one of Croatia’s 11th-century kings) that we walked along to get from one to the other.

It seemed as though we had covered more than 200 meters (about the length of two American football fields, plus end zones), but the hassle of trying to keep our luggage together while negotiating sidewalk obstacles may have contributed to that impression. Whatever distance we walked, thought, we did reach the building where intercity buses arrive and depart, and went inside to buy our tickets (100 kune apiece) for the first leg of our journey to Plitvice. The woman who sold them spoke English, but used as few words as possible, and gave the impression that we were interrupting her in the more important task of counting money. If she had any smiles, she was saving them for someone else.

Tickets for the local bus to Lovran were available at a newstand that was in the same building, but opened to the sidewalk outside rather than the indoor lobby. The young woman there was helpful and warm, fully dispelling the chill we had encountered inside. The local bus stop wasn’t far away, but its exact location on a busy square wasn’t self-evident, so our guide, still hovering near, kindly led us to it. In spite of our transactions at the bus station, we still had no kune in denominations convenient for a gratuity, but we dug out €2.00, which the man would be able to exchange for about 14 kune (minus somebody’s commission, no doubt), and he seemed satisfied with that.

Two-fare ticket to Zone 4, which includes Lovran
Local Rijeka bus tickets are cleverly and conveniently designed. Each ticket, about 1” x 3½” and printed on fairly stiff paper, is good for two fares. You stick it in a slot in the meter next to the driver, and it comes back to you with some numbers (including the time and date) printed on the arrow that was pointing in. You can save it for your return trip, at which time you insert the ticket with the other, blank arrow pointing in, and back it comes with printing on that arrow. The ticket has been identified to the bus company’s computer system by the bar-coded number on it, so it can’t be reused more than that one time. But what made it most convenient for us is that two people going one way can use a single ticket to pay both fares. You don’t have to take a trip in between the two times you use it. We knew we weren’t going to be coming back to Rijeka by local bus from Lovran, so we bought only one ticket (30 kune, or $6.60, which I admit is not cheap by Boston standards, but the distance was 12 miles) and as you can see if you enlarge the picture, both of us used it at half-past six (18:30) on May 25 (25 05) to ride on bus 032.

It was the end of the workday, and when the bus arrived we found it full of commuters on their way home. There was no rack for luggage, so we had to take up an extra seat with our bags. Getting on, we tried to learn from the driver if he could let us off at our hotel in Lovran, which was a short way beyond the regular stop in the center of town, but he spoke no English, and we no Croatian, so the answer remained obscure. The ride on the crowded bus was bumpy, stuffy, and hot, and (with numerous stops and slow commuter traffic) took about half an hour to cover the 12 miles to Lovran. Fortunately, however, none of the passengers had to stand, so we didn’t need to look for another place for our bags.

When the bus stopped in the center of Lovran, the driver made it clear to us that we should get off there, so we did, and so did everyone else. Only a few buses, I later learned, go past Lovran to the next village, Medveja, and we were at the end of the line for this one. Locating a man who spoke English, we asked how far it was to the Park Hotel. “Oh, it’s only a hundred meters farther on,” he told us cheerfully, so once again we took our bags in tow and set off. It may have been a little more than the distance between football goal posts, but it was mostly downhill, for which we were thankful, and when we arrived at the small but beautiful Park Hotel, our weariness was lightened by the knowledge that we had managed to roll and lift our luggage all the way from Ljubljana to Lovran using only trains, buses, and feet for transport.

Park Hotel, Lovran
When we checked in, the young woman took our passports, and we didn’t get them back until we were leaving. This isn’t really unusual in Europe, but it hadn’t happened in Ljubljana or Bled; in both places the desk person ran a copy of the first page of each passport, then handed it back to us.

The location of the Park Hotel was perfect for our purposes: the two recommended seafood restaurants were right across the street, as was the starting point for the seaside promenade. The late Marshal Tito’s “promenade” runs between the hotel and the waterfront, so close to the hotel that I felt lucky not to be driving. I didn’t want to think about maneuvering a car out of the tiny parking space squeezed in front of the hotel, into a busy avenue (not in any recognizable sense a promenade) that seemed to attract more than its share of would-be race drivers. (“More than its share” is factually if not morally inaccurate — both Croatia and Slovenia appear to have large populations of drivers who love to go fast and make lots of noise.)

View from our balcony — Rijeka in the distance
A short distance to one side, much less than a block, was the entrance to the Old Town. Everything we had planned to see in Lovran was right at hand.

The hotel was approaching its third birthday at the time of our visit, and it was by far the most modern accommodation we enjoyed on the trip. The building, at one time a villa, had been thoroughly rebuilt on the inside. (I know that it looks pretty large for a “villa,” but Habsburg millionaires and the architects they employed tended to think big.) The outside of the hotel was painted in fresh blue and white, and the rooms were spotless. We got a corner suite (called an apartment) on the front of the building, facing the water. The living room was on the corner, and had a little balcony overlooking the gulf. There were also a bedroom, with its own balcony over a side street, and a bath. None of the rooms was huge, but after the Hotel Slon they seemed spacious enough.

Here’s a quotation from Dorothea’s notes:

Our room at the Park was very high-tech. We would need a user’s manual to figure out all the various settings on the shower, which has several possible jet-streams for squirting all parts of the body. We couldn’t figure out the air conditioning system, but the cheerful young woman at the desk called up our rooms on her computer. She told us that one of our windows was open, and that the air conditioning would not turn on with open windows. She changed some of the settings, we made sure that our windows were closed tightly, and the rooms were comfortable from that time on.

By the time we were settled in, we were ready for a leisurely seaside meal, and the Najade (‘Naiad’) Restaurant — the one most highly recommended by both the hotel and the Rough Guide — was ready to accommodate us. We had only to cross the street and walk 50 feet or so to the entrance. The day had been summery and the evening was still warm, so we were happy to be seated outside at a table just above the water. (Dorothea took the picture below of me being happy.) The people at the next table were amusing themselves by tossing pieces of bread over the rail as treats for the fish.

At our table in the Najade Restaurant
The guidebooks had told us that fish was sold by weight in most restaurants. This had been the system in Slovenia, too, but — fish being an expensive entree everywhere these days — we had decided to wait until we reached this seaside location before ordering any. I wasn’t sure how this kind of purchase was negotiated. Should I tell the server to bring me a quarter-kilo of halibut? Or would I have to buy a whole fish and pay whatever it cost? (If so, I doubted that the fish could be halibut, which average about 12kg and have been known to grow as heavy as 333kg [734 pounds].) Our waitress, a very pleasant lady, solved this mystery by bringing over a large tray holding uncooked pieces of several kinds of fish, and a knife with which she could cut slices to order. Dorothea chose a sole or flounder, and I requested a chunk from a piece of fish that looked more like cod or (very small) halibut. Unfortunately the combination of different languages and different oceans prevented us from establishing the proper identity of either. The parts we ordered were taken to the kitchen and weighed before cooking, and the bill was calculated accordingly.

Afterglow of sunset (from our table)
While our fish cooked, we started the meal with octopus, the tenderest and freshest we could remember ever tasting. There was also excellent bread, delicious with the mixture of garlic, parsley, and oil provided to dip it in. The fish arrived in the company of chard sauteed with potatoes and French fries cooked in olive oil. We drank ¾ liter of a house white wine and a liter of Jamnice sparkling water — Croatia’s counterpart to Slovenia’s Radenska — and finished the meal with sour cherry strudel, to which I decadently added vanilla ice cream (called sladoled also in Croatian, though the accent is on the first syllable rather than the last, where it is in Slovene). Dorothea remembers the pastry as “fresh and crunchy,” and the cherries as “perfectly sweet/sour.”

Villas at dusk (also from our table)
Though not a cheap meal, it was perfect in every detail. As we made our leisurely way through it, the evening darkened and the western sky over the island of Cres went from pink to lavender to purple and finally to complete darkness. We returned to our “apartment” in the Park Hotel. One visitor had complained, on the Web, that he had had to shut the windows to keep out noise from the street, and thus been forced to sleep with the air-conditioning on all night. But he was a Briton, unused to muggy summer weather. We Americans are better equipped by experience to endure the rigors of air-conditioned comfort, and (once we had obtained the technical assistance Dorothea described above) slept peacefully, undisturbed by the roaring motors of Grand Prix fanboys zooming past on šetalište Maršala Tita. We were looking forward to the next day, the only one we would spend entirely in Lovran.