Our destination lay a mere five hours from Florence, but with autostrada traffic and two small children in the back, we knew we would have to break it up at least once if not twice. Our plan: to hit the Autogrille in Bologna, and then to meet with our friends Tomaso and Francesca at their house in Treviso for lunch with their two young children.
Note: Tomaso and I both studied abroad in the same year in Strasbourg, France 20 years ago and recently attended a reunion in the UK last month with a number of other people who had also accompanied us on the journey of that glorious Gallic year.
The lunch having concluded at an appropriate Italian hour of 4 p.m., with ample barolo, panettone, and coffee, we set off for Slovenia as the sunset over the Adriatic Sea, with Jason monitoring the GPS on both his iPhone and the car's system. Night fell and fell quickly. We were unfamiliar with the landscape and so did not recognize the mountains and the lights atop them for what they were, thinking instead that they were low flying airplanes. We were promptly pulled over at the border by a Slovenian Highway Patrol, who threw broken English convey to us the fact that we had failed to equip our rented Italian car with a proper Slovenian documentation to use on Slovenian highways. The vijneta is a sort of prepaid annual traffic toll. The officials asked for all of our documents and documentation, took numerous pictures of us in our car, and finally returned to say that we would be allowed to drive and continue on our trip if we were to pay them 15 euros for the document for the car and a 150 euro fine.
"That's too much!" Victor helpfully yelled from the back seat.
"I don't have that kind of money, Jason told her. We will just turn around and go back to Italy and not do our trip here in Slovenia."
"Of course this is a scam," Jason muttered. After long minutes the female officer returned to our car.
Jason again muttered, either they're going to arrest me or we will continue on our trip. The officer gave us a receipt for our 15 euros and did not charge us a fine at all. She wished us a Merry Christmas, and we were on our way.
We arrived at our albergo agriturismo at what felt like midnight after many wrong turns in the pitch black. Dinner was laid out for us. We all went to bed under thick eiderdowns atop soft mattresses dreaming of the magical caves we were to see the next morning.
Jason woke me up at three. "Eleanor has a fever," he said.
The next morning we gave Eleanor some baby Tylenol and headed to the caves, Postojna Jama. They were never mines but always just tourist attractions so did not extend deeply but rather very far into the limestone mountains of the karst. So far in fact that we had to take a train! Well, that was exciting.
We stopped at a Lidl to provision and headed back to the hotel. Jason and I split the nap. In the second half, Victor and I toured the farm.
When Eleanor awoke from her nap, she was hot, sluggish and cranky. And wheezing. Etc. After a quick consultation with the office we decided to take her back into town for some urgent care.
I was concerned she had an ear infection, bronchitis, or both. The Postojna hospital was all but deserted. Eventually a very unofficial looking woman came out and directed us down the hall. The urgent care clinic was more ambulance driver depot. We sat in the hall for some time. Jason called a hospital in Trieste who confirmed they could see us right away if we made the 30 minute drive.
Eleanor looked worse.
We finally went and knocked on the door and told them that we would take Eleanor back to Italy if they were not able to see us, or if they were unable to call a doctor. We were quickly assured by a paramedic that a doctor would see us soon.
Moments later we were ushered in and Eleanor was immediately attended to by no less than two doctors two nurses and two paramedics and some other sundry staff who were wandering around to help out. It was clear that they had no routine experiencing 2 year old with fevers, as they subjected her to a battery of diagnostics that were impressive to say the least. Her oxygen saturation was checked multiple times, as was her blood pressure and resting heart rate, as well as a blood panel to check her white blood cell count before they can make a definitive diagnosis. We were there for about an hour and a half. Finally they said that she did not have an ear infection, and bronchitis was borderline, but they were going to give her a nebulizer treatment. After having been messed with for so long Eleanor was in no mood for such a treatment but she did it through tears.
They wrote us prescriptions and told us that we could come back the next day for another treatment because the doctor also wanted to see Eleanor again. It was a very international staff that spoke English and Italian from Slovenia and Serbia. The cost for all of this care? 11 euros. Parking was 4 euros. Eleanor characteristically gave the Serbian doctor a running hug and warm embrace before we left.
Back at the hotel everybody was feeling better and so we went to dinner again which was infinitely easier with a baby in better spirits.
We returned to the hospital today for Eleanor's follow-up nebulizer treatment, with the same staff who had seen us before last night and greeted us like old friends, due in no small part to Eleanor's superb social skills. The Serbian doctor pronounced Eleanor much-improved, and we gave her our panettone and gratitude for their wonderful care.
More to come! We are on the road until December 30.