Our “Great Adventures” always start with great dreams of going to an imagined place (in this instance Sydney), then there is the reality of the flights offered to us by the U.S. military. This time, there were a couple of false starts – i.e.: a few flights “on the board” which turned out not to be available! We are used to this and returned to our Jacksonville home to try another day.
Just as Carole began to unpack, we heard the blast of jet engines right over our Jacksonville home! A quick call to NAS JAX revealed that this was an (unscheduled) Air Force C-017 with crew happy to take us on its eight-hour flight direct to Elmendorf AFB, AK! We rushed back to the base and before the first day of our Great Adventure was over, we were in Alaska. What a contrast – from 90 Fahrenheit-degree Jacksonville sun to 50 Fahrenheit-degree Anchorage, surrounded by snow-capped majestic mountains!
After settling into our comfortable on-base digs at Elmendorf and trying to catch up with the four-hour time change (“jet lag”), we rented a car and drove an hour south of Anchorage along the waters of Turnagain Arm to the coastal village of Whittier. We enjoyed a fresh fish lunch while watching the Alaska Marine Highway ferry glide away from port. It reminded us of our previous Great Adventure in southeast Alaska by ferry. We were amused by the hundreds of birds diving into Prince William Sound for their lunch!
We noticed several cars pulled over, so we joined others and saw what they were looking at, a big moose next to the road! Alaska has some of the most spectacular scenery God has placed on this earth.
In order to “get close up and personal” with Alaska’s magnificent wildlife, we went to the Alaska Zoo. The zoo focuses on Arctic animals. We were only feet away from huge polar bears, brown bears, black bears, snow leopards, bald eagles, etc. Unlike other zoos where they “jail” animals in small cages, here they have huge grounds, lakes and trees where these creatures can roam around, swim, etc.
Later, we went to the glistening new Anchorage Museum where we saw excellent displays on Alaska’s rich history.
Alaska to Europe (via Jacksonville, FL) Sometimes, as Robbie Burns said, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft gang aglee (go awry)”.
While we hoped that our foray to Alaska would help us (eventually) get to Sydney, our possibilities of connections from there did not materialize. Checking out our options for Space-A flights from Elmendorf AFB, we came to the realization that there was only one offered – a rare Navy C-40 flight directly back to Jacksonville. So, after a great week in Alaska, we were home for the Memorial Day weekend, in time for Tropical Storm Beryl.
It was good to relax at home after our whirlwind Alaska adventure, but our wanderlust beckoned! An unscheduled (C-017) military flight took us from NAS JAX to McGuire AFB, NJ and an immediate connection put us on a most unusual military flight to Ramstein AB, Germany. We crossed the Atlantic on a NATO Hungarian Air Force C-017 (no goulash served!) with crew from Sweden, The Netherlands and USA. This was the first time for us on such a flight.
Slovenia Our luck continued and within hours of landing at Ramstein AB, we were off again on the once-a-week Patriot Express flight to Aviano AB, Italy!
After a good night’s rest on base at Aviano, we left early next morning on a complex (but very enjoyable) journey by taxi/train/bus to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, once part of former Socialist Yugoslavia.
The local tourist information office found a nice apartment for us in a residential hillside suburb of the city, giving us a wonderful opportunity to see Ljubljana through the eyes of locals.
They were very curious about life in the west and as we explored the neighborhood, stopping at a fruit stall and supermarket for our breakfast items. We met and chatted with numerous friendly and interesting people who wanted to practice their English (we don’t speak Slovenian!) and share their life stories with us.
Exploring “just around the corner”, we were delighted by local bakeries with delicious boreks (cheese and spinach pastries) and dined on local dishes quite similar to those we had eaten in nearby Croatia a few years ago.
Ljubljana Ljubljana is a small capital city with a rich history going back thousands of years, from the Celts to the Romans, conquest by Attila the Hun, the arrival of the Crusades, Hapsburg rule for several centuries, occupation by the Nazis during World War II, then under the thumb of Yugoslavia.
Last year, a glittering concert there commemorated Slovenia’s 20th year of independence.
We headed into Old Town (on the local city bus) which was vibrantly celebrating a festival of children, then took a funicular to the castle with its spectacular views over the city. Locals told us that a third of the country of ers, writers and national leaders.
Resting our weary feet, we boarded a small river boat and wound our way through Ljubljana by water. After all this, we stopped at a cafe for coffee and were amazed to see a 16-page menu of tempting cakes and pastries (influence by nearby Vienna).
Imagine how surprised we were to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” sung in Slovenian by a nearby rock band in concert!
Completing our first full day in this beautiful city, we dined on delicious Slovenian dishes while being entertained by folk dancers and musicians in full costume at a restaurant that has operated continually at the same location since 1776.
On a beautiful Sunday, we joined thousands of locals enjoying the spring weather in Old Town. Flea and craft markets, singers and musicians, ice cream stalls, and countless sidewalk cafes dispensing endless cappuccinos were everywhere.
While we had previously taken an informative guided walking tour of Old Town, we followed it up with our own exploration, looking just around the corner.
The flea market, over-looking the river, was full of obsolete Yugoslav memorabilia, including printed currency and coins, military medals, as well as portraits and statues of Marshal and Mrs. Tito – all from the socialist days of the former Yugoslavia.
As we strolled through Old Town, we stumbled upon an attractive sidewalk restaurant with appealing dishes being served and there we chose to have lunch. We chatted with others who told us that this is the Trip Advisor #1 rated restaurant in Ljubljana. What a marvelous discovery!
Inspired by American travel writer and TV host, Rick Steves (whose program on Slovenia prompted this Great Adventure), we made a wonderful day excursion from Ljubljana to Lake Bled.
Again using convenient public transport (we almost never rent cars), we enjoyed the one hour bus/coach ride from the capital city through the beautiful countryside of Slovenia to Lake Bled.
What a sight! No wonder this has been a popular destination since Hapsburg days when royalty and nobility came here. Not only was this glacial lake crystal clear at its shallow edge, but its center was a rich deep blue. Just close your eyes and you can picture its medieval castle perched majestically high above the lake!
We took a tour by Pletna boat, a special large “rowing boat,” the local equivalent of a gondola. We passed one of Tito’s former summer homes, and a splendid island with a stunning church on top of a steep hill.
There was an elaborate British wedding going on at the island church, so we unabashedly took pictures of us with the guys in tails and the ladies in elegant gowns! Marv even kissed the bride just before her father escorted her into the church. Wonder if she lay awake on her honeymoon night trying to determine who this unidentifiable and uninvited fellow was?
Slovenia’s Adriatic Coast
After a wonderful four-day visit to Slovenia’s capital city, it was time to “hit the road” and venture to her Adriatic coast. This country only has a 28-mile-long coastline, sandwiched between Italy and Croatia, but it is “quality Riviera”.
What a breathtaking view, as our bus descended from the mountains and concluded its more than two-hour
journey from Ljubljana. We were treated to a splendid panoramic vista as we journeyed to the seaside town of
Piran, skirting the sea and passing through other picturesque coastal towns.
In many ways, this felt and looked like the Amalfi coast of Italy – shops closed for a two hour “siesta” and many signs and menus written in Italian.
And talking of menus, our only complaint about stunning Piran, with its Venetian style architecture and friendly people, was that all the eateries seemed to have the same (Italian) menu. It was quite different from Ljubljana with its diverse and creative cuisine. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed our two-day sojourn on the coast, finding an absolutely charming B&B, within minutes of our arrival in Piran and close to everything.
A classic, Old World capital city (Ljubljana) with vibrant, youthful energy; a beautiful lake (Lake Bled) nestled in the Julian Alps; and a pretty Adriatic Sea town (Piran); gave us a wonderful “taste” of Slovenia.
After about a week there, we returned to Aviano AB near Venice where our mini-adventure to this small country had begun.
Our Journey Home
While Space-A flights are free, this mode of travel is truly an adventure and is not always successful. As we arrived at Aviano AB, Marv proclaimed, “Let the adventure (of returning home) begin!”
After we checked into the base, we were told that our chances of getting on the Patriot Express flight to Baltimore (BWI) looked promising. However, as there were so many others ahead of us, this opportunity was dashed.
We were also told that there were more flights to the U.S.A. from Naval Station Rota so we determined that we needed to head to Spain in order to find better military air opportunities.
Carole put together a complex, multi-step itinerary (she used to be a travel agent) which took us all day and fit together perfectly – taxi, train, buses and a three-hour flight from Venice to Seville.
This was our first time flying on Ryanair (Ireland’s discount airline) and we were very pleased with the experience.
Traveling to Spain was the right decision and within hours of arriving at NS Rota, we were on a C-005A crossing the Atlantic. This flight took us to Ft. Campbell, KY, just north of Nashville, and within comfortable driving distance of Jacksonville.
This adventure took us to Alaska, Florida, New Jersey, Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Spain and Kentucky!
While our original destination of Sydney was unattainable this time, we made the most out of military flights offered and enjoyed every minute of our Great Adventure.
Of course, the highlights were Alaska and Slovenia. Alaska has some of the world’s most spectacular natural scenery and our return to the Anchorage area (where we had visited several years ago) was “refreshing”.
Our first trip to tiny Slovenia, a 21-year young independent country with thousands of years of rich history, was delightful. Her traditions, warm people, delicious food, music and proud cultural heritage were fascinating to discover. We were so fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience this.
Our unusual “Great Adventure” was fantastic! If any R&R Travel News® readers wish to see the Shutterfly slideshow of this trip, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to share this with you.
Over the years, we have learned that the best way to have fun by “Traveling less per day…the military way™” is not to be rigid with a firm destination and firm dates, but simply to “go with the flow” and have fun. We did just that and had a ball!
Col. Marvin Feldman USAF, (Ret) and Carole Feldman
Reprint from Sep-Oct 2012 • Volume 42, No. 5