An Angel Rushes In

Saturday, May 10, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Day 19:  
Padua, Italy to Ljubljana, Slovenia
In our effort to avoid a major Hertz drop-off fee for ending a rental in a different country from where it began, we arose on our forty-first wedding anniversary at 6 a.m., something we rarely do when traveling.  As planned, we departed Padua at 8, giving us what we felt would be plenty of time to drive the 126 miles to Trieste, turn in our car, and catch a taxi the 15 miles to Koper, Slovenia, where our next rental would be waiting.  In fact, four hours seemed generous for the tasks involved.  Then came reality.

Back on the A4 toward Trieste, traffic was pretty light, as befits a Saturday morning.  We were a bit concerned because the information we had from Hertz indicated that the rental office we were seeking was at the New Ferry Terminal on Pier 4.  Not exactly an address you can offer up to your GPS.  So we opted uncertainly for a Hertz location in the GPS database that appeared to be in the harbor area.  Arriving in that part of town about 10:45, we drove in circles through the congested area following the instructions of the GPS, searching fruitlessly for any hint of a yellow Hertz sign.  Round and round we drove, stopping to ask police officers, security guards, and even a taxi driver if they could assist.  Though they clearly understood the question, they were as puzzled as we were.  We tried calling the Hertz office for assistance; there was no answer.

Finally at 11:20, we decided we would just drive across the border to the Koper Hertz office and maybe try to persuade a Hertz employee there to drive the car back to Trieste for us, a prospect we held very little hope of accomplishing.  All was going smoothly in terms of reaching the Koper office before their scheduled 12 noon closing until we hit a construction back-up on Slovenia's H5 freeway shortly after entering the country.  Traffic stopped.  And did not move.

After a few minutes, the vehicles in front of us began creeping along at a snail's pace, advancing a few feet, then stopping again, advancing, stopping.  We were only two minutes from the Hertz office as the time ticked away.  In the worst case scenario, the office would be closed by the time we arrived and we'd keep the car from Italy and take the hit on the drop-off fee, but the frustration level continued to mount.

We finally crept to the exit at 11:50.  After our misadventure in Trieste, we had lost faith in the GPS, so Google Maps was providing directions from my iPhone also.  When we exited H5 and arrived at the street where Hertz was located, the GPS indicated we should take the third exit from the roundabout, while Google said the first.  We didn't have time to try both and arrive before noon.  "We've got to go with Google," Ken said.  "It hasn't screwed us up...yet."  We did, and it didn't.

The Hertz office was located in a building housing a tire store and several other offices.  Swerving into the parking lot at 11:55, we were both desperate for a restroom but didn't dare stop to search for one.  We followed the sign for the Hertz office, only to find the office door locked.

All this rush and no one is here?
Dutifully dialing the number, we heard the voice of the Slovenian Hertz agent.  "Hello.  I am delivering a car and am only half an hour from the office."  Only?  Half an hour?  Was it worth it to wait when we were pretty sure we were going to have to just eat the extra fee?  "Half an hour?  Uh, OK," we replied weakly, then went into the tire shop to locate the restroom.  Within minutes, the agent called back.  "I am five minutes away," she said.

By the time we walked out the door, a young woman in her mid-twenties speedwalked into the parking lot.  "I am here," she said breathlessly.  "I am Ana."  We followed this bundle of energy into the Hertz office and told her our tale.

"OK," Ana replied.  "So we are going to Trieste and return your car.  The timestamp on the parking ticket will show you returned it before the end of your rental period at 1:30.  I will call my uncle and he will pick me up there."  She went on to offer us a free upgrade from our reservation, but we declined after our Italy experience, not knowing what to expect in the way of Slovenian roads.  After we expressed uncertainty about finding a place to park the car near our hotel, Ana called the Ljubljana Hertz office, which was just a few blocks from the hotel, she assured us, and obtained permission for us to park the car there.

Soon enough, our angel Ana had completed the paperwork for our new rental and we left for Trieste, with her driving our new rental and us following in the Italian car.  Patiently she waited at roundabouts and other intersections, making it very easy for us to keep up, even in areas with busy traffic.  When we arrived in Trieste, the office was still open, our car was returned, and Ana's uncle and father arrived to pick her up and return her to Koper so we wouldn't have to detour through there on our way to Ljubljana—as if we would have minded, especially since it was now more than an hour after she was supposed to get off work for the day.

After thanking her profusely and persuading her with much difficulty to accept a token of our significant appreciation for all her assistance, we asked if we could take her photo.  "You can take a picture of my Garfield shirt," she replied.  Then she relented, "OK, but don't post it on Facebook or the internet, OK?"  We certainly had to comply.  Only later when we looked at the photo did we read what the T-shirt had to say.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Relaxing?  We doubt that very much.
Leaving Trieste, we finally began to relax and enjoyed a leisurely drive through the Slovenian countryside to Ljubljana.  As we approached the Postojna area, we noticed the first of hundreds of damaged trees.  Our initial guess was that a tornado or straight line winds had wreaked the havoc, but the the area of devastation was far too large for such a storm.  Later we learned what really happened.

Tree damage in Slovenia
A freak ice storm in February damaged more than 40% of Slovenia's forests, almost 2,000 square miles of destruction in a country with a total land area less than 8,000 square miles (between the size of New Jersey and Connecticut).  Damages were greater than the amount of wood typically cut in a year in the country.  Freezing rain encased trees, power lines, cars, and houses in layers of ice inches thick.  Half the country was frozen in place as electrical towers toppled, roads were covered in six inches of black ice, and rail service screeched to a halt.  A photo from Reuters of the level of ice coating gave a totally new meaning to the term ice storm.

Slovenia's ice storm (photo from Reuters)
Tomorrow we'll explore some attractions around Ljubljana (lyoo-BLYAH-nah) and see a bit of the capital city itself.

Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  216
  • Weather:  56° to 75°, sunny, partly cloudy, light rain
  • Diesel:  $8.78 per gallon
  • Tolls:  $17 (in Italy)
  • Damaged trees:  28,954
  • Slovenian angels:  1