GoOpti – Ride-sharing the Long Haul to Milan

One thing that Ljubljana does not have is very good travel connections to Italy. When researching, flights were not real practical as they almost always connect through some other European capital and there is not direct train service between Ljubljana and Milan, my next destination. But, in checking on TripAdvisor’s forums, I found mention of a relatively young company called GoOpti which is a ride sharing service based in Slovenia.

Here’s how it works. You put in your desired route. If they serve it, you have a few options. First, you can pay the lowest amount and tell them when you want to arrive at your destination “no later than.” They will give you a four hour window when you might be picked up and you will only have a better idea of actual time one day before departure. For a bit more, you can buy a shorter, two hour window for pick-up. For even more, you can be the last person picked up and know your exact time. And, finally, you can pay a huge amount for private transfer where only your party will be on the vehicle.

I opted for the two hour window – between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. – and paid 114 euros. Perhaps because of the location of my hotel by the highway and well out of town, my 24 hour notice told me that I would be picked up at 7:30 a.m. so I got that benefit without paying for it.

Now, the downside of being the last one picked up is that you get whatever seat is left. For me, this was the middle passenger in the front seat. I don’t believe I’ve sat in that spot since I was 8 years old and driving with my family across the vastness of the U.S. Back at that age, it was a real treat, liberating one of the three children from sharing the back seat with their siblings.

This wasn’t so much of a treat. All was okay if I held my arms out in front of me and remembered to move my left knee to the right when the driver needed to shift the manual transmission. It wasn’t quite a full seat so not all of my arse was ever on the seat at the same time. But, I did have an air conditioning vent right in front of me, so that was nice.

I only had to ride this way until Treviso, Italy – about 2.5 hours – where we let a few passengers off. After a further stop to let a couple of more passengers off, we were in Milan at the central train station right at 2:00 p.m., the promised time. Everything ran exactly on time and the driver could not have been more professional so I would definitely consider this again.

One note to the Spanish speaking lady on the trip..if you want to primp your hair and face for over an hour, that is your prerogative but please don’t use hairspray when doing a ride-share. It is rude.

Ljubljana, Slovenia – Compact, Charming Capital

I really did not know anything about Ljubljana before I got here. I had read a few tidbits here and there that were, generally, positive although there does not seem to be any advocates out there for this being a “don’t miss” attraction in the area. But, I found it to be another charming compact city with a decent amount of history, including a castle on the hill, a nice river running through Old Town, and an energetic, positive vibe on the streets.

Old Town with Castle Tower looming high above

Old Town with Castle Tower looming high above

 

I find myself saying just about the same thing for Bratislava, Zagreb, and Ljubljana. They are each quite lovely but there really isn’t much to do for more than a day and a half each. But, don’t get me wrong, I think Ljubljana is a real charmer. Now, if I were back in this area, I would certainly do a side trip into the countryside – maybe Bled.

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

Dragon Bridge, Ljubljana

 

After spending my first half day hiking to the hotel, visiting the Castle, and walking around Old Town, I rented a bicycle for the second day. The Tourist Information Center near the funicular rents bikes for two hours or all day but they were completely booked. However, there is a nearby hostel – H2OSTEL – that rents bikes for the day for 6 euros.

 

I didn’t really have a destination in mind by started following the river out of town based on a few thoughts. First, there were nice pedestrian and bike paths along the way that meandered along with the river. Second, I figured that they might go on for as long as I wanted to ride. Three, if I was right about the previous point, I figured I would eventually come to some small, quaint village.

The reality of it is that I ended up going through a somewhat industrial area before ended up in fields when the paths ended about 9 miles downriver. For the trip back, I crossed over and ended up cycling more on city streets before being deposited right back in Old Town. After a break for lunch, I huffed and puffed my way up to the top of the hill where the castle is situated for more gorgeous views of the area. After an hour or so of riding around town, that was enough and I returned the bike and enjoyed a gelato.

Huffing and puffing to Castle on single gear bike

Huffing and puffing to Castle on single gear bike

 

As for the hotel, we now know that the Four Points by Sheraton is nowhere near city center. But, it really is a nice hotel and the staff was great. They do have a contract with one of the local taxi companies to provide a flat rate to city center for 6 euros. It is a flat rate of 9 euros to the bus station. This was nice but did mean I ended up spending 24 euros over the course of visit for two round-trip visits to town. I was able to use 4,000 SPG points for my two nights but would have to consider whether this would be the best location for a visit to the city if I were to return.

An Unplanned Hike in Ljubljana – Sometimes I Don’ t Plan Well

Okay, I was back on the bus this morning for a two hour trip from Zagreb to Ljubljana – the capital city of Slovenia. The bus trip, which cost something like $7 USD, was fine. Comfortable and with good wi-fi. But, I had not really looked at my plans for how to get from the bus station to my hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton Ljubljana Mons.

Once we arrived, I checked to see if Uber was in operation in Slovenia. It was not. I checked Google maps and it showed walking to be a bit over an hour, public transport to be about 40 minutes, and a taxi about 15 minutes. This should have sent warning bells off in my head, but it did not.

When planning a trip like this one, there are a lot of variables that have to be dealt with:

  • Dates of travel
  • Award flight levels and cities where best deal can be scored
  • Pay cash flights, use miles, pay for economy and use upgrade certs, etc.
  • Time to spend in each location
  • How easy it is to move between cities
  • Hotels for each city – costs, award options
  • Visa requirements and any special considerations
  • Family calendar

It’s complicated.

When I was planning this trip, I was largely looking for value from hotel points for my lodging to keep costs down. So, Hilton, Starwood, Marriott, and Hyatt were all in play. In some cities, like Milan and Venice, they were not realistic options. But, in other cities I was able to find properties that worked but, in retrospect, I was more concerned about the cost/points issue than anything else and didn’t really do enough research on location.

That worked out fine in Vienna, Bratislava, and Zagreb even though I was out of the city center in each case. But, in each case, I had very convenient public transport. But, my lack of planning, bit me in the backside in Ljubljana.

Given that I was not sure to trust the taxis and the public transport seemed too complicated, I set off on foot for the 3 mile + hike to my hotel. Somehow, it did not dawn on me how far this was and the implication for how far out of the city that my hotel is located.

After 10 minutes of walking in the city, I turned right into Tivoli Park and there was no turning back. Now, I like hiking. Luckily, my ultralight packing plan allowed this option. The fact that it was in the high 70’s and very sunny and I was in long, black slacks, made it a bit warm. But, it became pretty comical.

I wasn’t anywhere near a city or town. Here are pictures I took along they way..

 

It is my understanding that Ljubljana was recently voted the “Green City” of Europe and that is where I was walking. After a little over an hour of walking, I was near the hotel that is located near the highway that runs in the outskirts of the area and a technology park.  After all that walking, I was afraid I was going to be killed in the last 800 meters when I had to go along a busy two lane road with no sidewalk.

20160525_132441

 

But, I did make it to the hotel. I was a sweaty mess and the front desk personnel affirmed that they were unaware of anyone ever walking to the hotel from the bus station, so I have that going for me in addition to total consciousness on my death bed.