Ljubljana, Slovenia. D-Day plus 19

by - September 15, 2010

Events have rather got the better of the blog at the moment. And also the internet connections have been shocking.  As a result I am now on the computer in Venice - sorry to spoil the conclusion for those of you wondering whether we would complete the trip alive.  On Sunday we moved from Budapest, the capital of Hungary, to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.  Having spoken to lots of travellers on our trip so far, it seems that most people barely know of Slovenia’s existence.  A lot of those who do assume that it is some kind of twin of Slovakia.  This is not the case, despite the similarity of their names and flags.  Slovenia gained its independece from Yugoslavia in 1991, whereas Slovakia gained its independence from Czechoslovakia in 1993.  At no stage have the two countries ever been one. 

We said goodbye to Tom in the morning, as he sets off further east to Romania and Serbia, while the remaining four of us headed back west.  This was to be our longest journey by both distance and time - an approximate straight line distance of 240 miles that actually ended up taking 9 hours.  For some reason central European trains seem to be unable to a) gain any reasonable amount of speed, or b) travel in the same direction for a sustained period of time - on many occasions we would leave stations on the way in the same direction as we had entered.  Luckily we had chosen a direct (I use that term loosely) train and had compartments, so were able to just sit back and relax.  Lonely Planet (our travel bible) recommended taking a long train journey through central europe and actually it was a really good experience.  It was a really nice day and we had an epic sunset.  Also the lack of light pollution meant that the night sky was second only to the one that I saw from the Costa Rican jungle last year.  Unfortunately there was a connecting bus for part of the journey due to line maintenence and it was on this transfer that my passport fell out of my pocket.  This was not only a body blow due to the obvious reasons of losing my identity, but also because I lost 10 passport stamps including the irreplacable Istanbul stamp I had got on my 18th birthday.  I was, and am, completely gutted.

It was only once we were at our hostel in Ljubljana that I realised it was missing.  We had arrived at about midnight and were greated by a very amusing drunken receptionist who had been asked to do overtime to let us in.  He made me promise to buy him more beer. Luckily I didn’t see him again.  The next morning therefore, I went straight to the British embassy in Ljubljana.  This was actually quite an interesting experience, though I don’t quite know what it is that the British ambassador to Slovenia does with his life.  The people there were really helpful and told me that they could get me an emergency passport if I provided them with a police report and €115.  I therefore spent my morning being interviewed by the police and the British embassy, while the other three lazily got out of bed.  As if to prove my point about the pointlessness of the life of the British ambassador, the embassy was only open for 3 hours a day, so I was told to come back the next morning before my journey to Venice.

With my mind partially at rest, I was able to meet up with the others for lunch in the town centre.  For some reason I had this vague concept in my mind that the Slovenian people would be really nice.  This turned out to be true (the hostel gave out free, home picked apples in the morning for example), but what I hadn’t been prepared for was how nice the city itself was.  Lonely Planet had said how it was a city based around a cafe culture and an interest in watersports (we missed the World Kayak Championships by one day), but somehow the feel of the city was overwhelmingly pleasant.  The river that the city was built upon was at its widest about 15 metres wide and flowed at a lazy pace with restaurants and cafes built up beside it.  We had lunch at one such cafe before heading up towards the castle, built upon a hill overlooking the city.  In a similar way to Bratislava, the view from the castle tower showed just how small the city was, and how close in the countryside came.  It is strange to think that the majority of British cities would dwarf Ljubljana, which is a nation’s capital.

We got the funicular railway back down into the centre and went across the ‘dragon’ bridge - a bridge that has been built with four statues of dragons on it, which have become the national emblem of the city.  Het and Ellie wanted to go into the main Cathedral to see some frescoes, whereas Daniel and I had to spend the rest of our afternoon looking for a photo booth where I could get a passport picture from.  Having spent an hour looking, I eventually ended up at the station’s tourist information.  The helpful girl assured me that there was one a few streets away and that it would just be closing so needed to run.  On leaving said tourist information, I found that there was a booth outside it.  Said helpful girl needs a new career path.

That night we planned to go back into the centre where there was a free concert.  Unfortunately it had started pouring with rain, so we decided to have our meal at the restaurant that was underneath our hostel.  Ellie and I opted for the “platter” which is always a massive mistake because when they say it is suitable for two, they must be thinking in terms of Bavarian portions.  We barely scratched the surface of the pork chop mountain that arrived.  The rain put us off doing anything else the rest of that evening - having found that our hostel amazingly had both a TV and a computer we were able to entertain ourselves.

The next morning I headed for the embassy and got my emergency passport - it is actually really cool and I hope I can keep it, before having a final drink in town.  We went for the “tea and toast” deal, forgetting just how god-awful Europe as a continent is at making tea.  Ellie got lucky and had Earl Grey.  I unfortunately ended up with some kind of milky sugary rum tea. Rank. We strolled to the station and spent some time on the platform waiting for the first of four trains and a bus that would take us to Venice.  We found that we would actually have to cross the Slovenian/Italian border on foot, which is pretty cool.  Ellie and Het had got to the stage of confidence with their backpacks that they had now taken to humiliating each other (and by implication me and Daniel), by pushing each other over.  This first took place outside the British embassy when Ellie jumped on Het and was repeated on the train station platform, infront of a whole station full of confused Slovenians, when Het got her own back.  I mention this only because of the photo I got of the two of them, which conveys a look of sheer joy on Het’s face that I don’t think I will ever see repeated by anybody.  You can see it below.  Anyway we are about to go out for our last Overlord meal in Venice (we have been waiting for the girls to get ready, hence the rambling towards the end).  I guess the next blog may well be written from back in blighty.  Cheerio.

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