26 june 2018






school photos







           All original writing

           2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,            2018        Ian McLauchlin



It was June 1991.

I know, let's have a Different Holiday.  How about Yugoslavia?

OK. But politics there sound a bit unsettled.

That's fine. It'll be cheap then.

So we found a cheap holiday with Yugotours. Never heard of them? Read on and you'll find out why.

Flew to Ljubliana in Slovenia from Bristol. What could possibly go wrong . . .

Well the weather for a start. As we approached Ljubliana, the heavens opened, you couldn't see out of the window for driving rain and I'll swear we were struck by lightning as we approached the runway. That was the first time the hair stood on end. Does it regularly now, what's left of it . . .

Bled is a wonderful small town on the edge of the incredibly appropriately named Lake Bled. You can walk round the lake - takes a couple of hours - and there's an island in the middle with a church which you can visit by gondola. There's a castle on a cliff overlooking the lake. It was idyllic. There were inlets full of waterlilies of all colours and fields full of wild flowers, farms straight out of the middle ages and, in Bled, a coffee shop called 'The Brown Bear' selling the most delicious chocolate cakes you've ever tasted. We bought some jars of saffron really cheaply and a unicycle not quite so cheaply. The most unexpected present ever to bring back, if I could dismantle it to fit in a suitcase. I could.  

The Triglav National Park lies in the Julian Alps. You can reach the peaks by cable car and walk down tracks where you surprise a chamois or an ibex, as both were convinced you were still in the UK.

One day we got a bus to the capital Ljubliana. There was singing in the main square. Well, rehearsals. They were planning celebrations for what they knew was to come, but we didn't - see later.

Many houses seemed to be home to three generations - handy for baby sitting - and gardens were large and more like allotments and grew vegetables. We stumbled upon a celebratory barbecue and even though we had no idea what was being celebrated we joined in and were welcomed. One day we walked up a valley and committed a classic map-reader's mistake and assumed we knew we were in THAT valley there. Wrong. We'd walked up a neighbouring valley and were well out of our way. Fortunately we realised before we'd gone too far, turned round and hitched a lift back.

The Vintgar gorge has a wooden walkway that takes you along a magical winding river bank under trees, lush vegetation and waterfalls.

Lake Bohinj is fed by melt water from the nearby snowy peaks. You can try to swim in it, but you freeze solid after two strokes and have to be chipped free.

After that there's an urge to stabilise your temperature and the Postojna Caves, with a constant temperature of 10degC beckoned. Health and Safety? Hadn't reached Slovenia then and I doubt if it has now. There's a train with open carriages which careers underground at breakneck speed and, considering that your head is within inches of the jagged cave roof, that's what nearly happened several times.

The news on the radio wasn't good. There were rumours of the start of a war. Thomson Holidays evacuated all their customers from a nearby hotel sharpish. Yugotours opened one eye, rolled over, and went back to sleep. OK, let's visit the Lipica stud farm and see the famous Lipizzaner horses strutting their stuff.

While we were there, the coach driver was constantly on the phone and started to look worried. "Time to go" he said. "Slovenia have gone for Independence." So we abandoned the bags of pedigree horse manure which would have given our pedigree roses a welcome boost, and got back on the coach.

After a few miles we went round a bend and there was a tank, in the middle of the road, with its gun pointing straight at us.

The driver, wearing a soviet style leather helmet and slav style features, dared us to approach. His friend decided reinforcements were needed and drove his tank though hedges, fences and road signs to threaten us similarly. Stalemate.

After a while they must have decided that a coach load of unarmed foreign tourists, manure-less, in a coach without a gun turret, were not part of the local resistance plan and blowing it apart might give rise to a diplomatic incident too far. They let us pass.

Turns out that the deal was that Slovenia and Croatia would go independent together. Croatia reneged on this agreement and let Slovenia go alone. One of the hotels in Bled was, strangely,  owned by the army. So that hotel mysteriously had its water and electricity supply turned off.

Back at the hotel we could hear jets screaming over the Lake. We were ordered to stay indoors and the following day we were given a hearty breakfast and allowed one phone call home. "Say hello to the Thomson Tourists just arriving back" I said. "And this breakfast's really hearty." Nothing happened for quite a while. Then we were allowed out, but must report back to the hotel every hour. Just long enough to get either half way round the lake while plane spotting, or have a comforting coffee and cake at The Brown Bear. No contest.

Another day tensions eased slightly so we got a bus to Lake Bohinj. Unfortunately, while we were there, tensions rose again and there was no bus to take us back. Another couple were caught similarly and the locals organised a taxi to take us back to Bled. They were kind like that.

Word got round that Yugotours had a cunning plan. Extend the holiday by visiting several other countries, throwing in a train ride, a coach ride, a boat ride and an armed escort out of Slovenia. And all at no extra charge! So we were bundled onto a train. Soldiers used guns to protect us from  . . . .  they didn't say. The train lurched northwards, stopping every mile or so for . . . they didn't say. Other soldiers boarded and inspected various things for unknown reasons. We came to the border with Austria. Yes, you've guessed it. More soldiers, with guns, went up and down the carriages, having been taught that moving up and down railway carriages was the thing to do.

Eventually we reached a friendly Austrian station and disembarked. Many coaches were waiting and fairly soon, but not before we became even more tired and disorientated, we embarked on another magical mystery tour, this time to Trieste in Italy. Wishing to take our minds off the whole business on land, they then ushered us onto the water and gave us the much longed-for passage to Pula in Croatia. (It's cooler in Pula.) Fresh as a daisy - not, we sat in a random hotel while they decided on the next big holiday treat. Let's make it FIVE countries in one day they decided and we headed to the airport. A plane to Birmingham - just the thing when your car, and your heart, are in Bristol.

Their addled brain opted for another eagerly awaited coach ride between Birmingham and Bristol airports. Soon after, our own addled brains arrived home, went to bed, vowed to give Different Holidays a miss for a while and watched with glee as Yugotours swiftly went out of business.