With the traffic, steep hills, and snaking streets my bike continues to overheat as I try to get out of Italy. I ride for a few moments, then the temperature light glares at me. I pull over, let Doc cool down and motor again. Rinse and repeat. It’s frustrating.
So before I can indulge in more this journey and adventure, I must fix this bike. The fan works. There’s plenty of coolant. So I’m at a loss. I located a BMW shop just outside Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. So instead of getting lost in Goriška Brda, the wine region that spans from Italy into Slovenia, I will pass it by and get Doc checked out.
I already received an email response from Rok at Avtoval BMW Service. He is expecting me and will try to diagnose and fix the issue, so I can continue. I also contacted Demo, a friend of Jimmy from the Dinasty Hotel in Tirana Albania. Though he speaks no English, he’s a good contact and has agreed to meet me at the BMW shop.
Soon I’m on a highway. The higher speed and more wind keep my bike cool—no more temperature light. Then out of the corner of my eye, a warning light flashes on. My heart races, I squeeze my grips in frustration. Wait. No, it’s the reserve fuel light. I need gas. I relax.
I pull into a modern rest area. Fill up Doc, and inside the convenience station, I find a restaurant, coffee bar complete with an espresso machine, a wall lined with wine, and an English speaking cashier.
“Pump number five,” I tell him, handing him my credit card.
“You need this,” he pushes a small sticker with a holographic image. “How many days you will be in Slovenia,” he asks.
There are no toll booths in Slovenia. The government closed them several years ago to reduce traffic and emissions. Now all motor vehicles must have a sticker that serves as a pass. Available in various durations, from one week to a year, I purchase a one week pass, stick it on my windscreen and ride to the BMW shop.
Like the rest area, the shop is clean, modern, and fitted with an espresso machine. This location sells and services both BMW motorcycles and cars. There are two showrooms for motorcycles. On the ground floor, complete with a lounge and BMW accessories. Then on the second floor, more bikes, apparel and other goodies that would make most BMW fans drool.
Rok tells me it will be a couple hours before they can get to my bike. After an hour, Demo my new Albanian friend who has migrated with his wife and children to Slovenia shows up in a shiny Mercedes Benz. Demo and Rok utter a few words in Slovenian, and then we head to a local restaurant for coffee and conversation.
Conversation? I don’t speak Albanian or Slovenian. Demo doesn’t speak English or Spanish. Yet we have a complete conversation and share stories. We use sign language and rely on Google translate. While Demo is Albanian, has many Albanian friends back in his homeland, and does business with Albanian companies, he doesn’t seem to have much love for Albanian as he points out the benefits of living in his new home here in Slovenia.
“Top, top, top!” he tells me referring to the wines and business opportunities in Slovenia. He walks me to his car and opens the trunk. It’s filled with boxes of Cognac Skenderbeu, the pride of Albania. He is the only authorized distributor in Slovenia for the infamous cognac. Named after Albanian’s national hero Skanderbeg. The Ottoman’s educated him in the mid-15th century whom he served for some twenty years before dissenting and leading a national uprising and uniting the diverse Albanian people against the Turks. His desertion from the Ottoman’s came after the infamous Battle of Nis, now part of Serbia and a city I hope to explore in the next month.
Though I never tasted the Cognac Skënderbeu while in Albania, I recognized the coat of arms and the bottle design. But the bottles in the back of Demo’s car were different. Instead of Skenderbeu, the labels read “Demo.” Our language barrier prevented me from digging deeper into the reason or rationale for the name change. The best I understood was that Skënderbeu is one of the most bootlegged cognacs in the region. He tells me there are many fake or counterfeit bottles that can easily dupe buyers. In Slovenia, by using “Demo,” he assures customers here that this is the real stuff direct from the distillery in Albania, now private but once run under the government during communist times.
Not only does Demo import and distribute Skenderbeu, but he also represents a handful of Slovenian wineries for export to Albania. When I tell Demo I had great wine in Albania, he scrunches his face, rolls his eyes. “Not like Slovenia. Top, top, top.”
It’s nice to have a local contact here in Slovenia. Demo is friendly, quick with smiles, and genuine. We drive to a local school where Demo picks up his young son, and then to a local market where he purchases a few sandwiches and snacks. Moments later I’m sitting on his porch at his home. His wife prepares the snacks, and he pours me a glass of Malvasia from a local winery. We take a moment, watch the world go by in his suburban neighborhood. He pulls a bottle of “Demo” labeled Skanderbeg and hands it to me. Demo then explains this will be useful in case I ever run out of gas. We laugh.
Later back at Avtoval BMW Rok tells me the technician found air bubbles in the cooling system. They flushed and bled and tell me that the bike has been running for twenty minutes with no issue. Rok also addressed my concern about my chain and sprockets, and as I suspected, he recommends replacing them sooner rather than later. However, they are too busy and cannot do the work for a few days. I cannot wait. Fortunately, the parts are in stock. I buy them and pack them on my bike. It’s easy to replace so I will look for a mechanic down the road.
With the bike running cool and spare parts packed in my panniers, my next stop is Goriška and the Brda Hills, the wine region that straddles the Slovenia and Italy border. But it’s too late to make it there by nightfall, so I follow Demo to a local family restaurant, Gostilna Pecaric on the outskirts of Ljubljana.
Here I meet Joze and Jure Pecaric, father and son. Fortunately for this Slovenian-language illiterate traveler, Jure speaks English. Demo asks him to pour us a glass of Traminec, an aromatic and gently sweet white wine from the Steyer family from Plitvica, a village in the Maribor wine region that borders Austria in northeastern Slovenia. We try another wine from Vipava, another region close to Ljubljana in the southwestern part of Slovenia.
The Pecaric family is from Bela Krajina in southeast Slovenia were the Kolpa River serves as a natural border between Slovenia and Croatia. Also known for its wine and fruit, the family owns a winery near Metlika. They tell me that Bela Krajina is a world apart from the rest of Slovenia. With no major highway and a rural, yet developing, tourist infrastructure, Jure insists that I explore the region before leaving Slovenia.
If I do go there, he tells me I will need a passport to get in. He’s kidding and yet serious at the same time. No worries, he hands me a document that looks like a passport. The verbiage is in Slovenian, but I’m assured with the document they will grant me passage into Bela Krajina. It’s all tongue in cheek, and I get the sense that there is much pride in this little-known region of Slovenia. Jure makes a few calls and will arrange for me to visit a new, sort of, eco-resort on the banks of the Kolpa. He also finds a local hotel here, where I can lay my head for the evening before embarking on my journey into wine country tomorrow.
Joze brings three bottles of wine to the table and presents them as a gift and as an introduction into Bela Krajina—all from the family winery. He then hands me a couple small jars of homemade jam—all from fruit from the region. They are proud Slovenians and perhaps prouder Bela Krajinians (I just made up that word). Demo sits back, smiles.
Before I leave Jure tells me he has something special he has made—homemade ice cream made with pumpkin oil—from where? You guessed it. Bela Krajina.
There’s no doubt in my mind, I gotta get to Bela Krajina. But before I do, I must explore the wine region, meet the winemakers changing the face of Slovenian wine, and dine with the most celebrated chef in Slovenia and her sommelier husband. Demo agrees to meet up with me somewhere in the wine region later this week. Stay tuned. It’s just beginning.
S.P. Pod jezom 47