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Ljubljana: Multitasking

Bec and I were up at 6.20am to catch a 6.45 bus from the Plitvička Lakes (Plitvice in English) to Zagreb (see, it’s not all sleeping in). Just like the last few days, it was cloudy, dark, with a misty rain floating steadily down. We walked single file along the side of the highway, 500 metres back to the bus-stop, as cars with their lights on sped by, whipping up a trail of water behind them.

The bus was scheduled to take 2.5 hours, and we were hoping to catch a connecting train to Ljubljana, in Slovenia, at 9.45am. The train station in Zagreb was a good 15 minute walk from the bus station, but that should have still left us plenty of time. A couple of lengthy stops in the journey had Bec and I nervously watching the clock, and figuring out what we’d do in Zagreb whilst waiting four hours for the next train, not scheduled until 1.45pm. 9.15am, and we were just reaching the outskirts of Zagreb. “I’ll give it 3 or 4 more minutes, and if we’re not at the bus stop by then, I reckon we’ll miss it,” I said. 9.20am, and we pulled into the bus station.

“Fuck it. Let’s go for it.”

Quickly throwing our bags onto our backs, we began walking as fast as we could, well as fast as one can go with 20kg strapped to one’s back. I was a little ahead of Bec, and I could hear her footsteps landing in time with mine. Problem with that, of course, was that with Bec’s shorter legs I was gradually leaving her behind. So every ten meters or so, Bec would break into a little trot to catch up, before slowly falling behind again. Poor little trooper.

We passed a Bankomat, stopped to grab some money to pay for our train tickets, and walked into the station at 9.35am. We approached an empty ticket counter, “2 for Ljubljana please”. The ticket lady stared back at us.

“Window number 7.” she pointed across the hall.

Bec had an idea to save us some time, “Quick, you take the 160 Kuna for the tickets and I’ll go and spend the rest.”

I went to window number 7, asked for our two tickets, and as the lady was writing them up, glanced at the clock, 9.40am. “Hvala,” I thanked her as she handed them over, and then raced around the corner to find Bec. I was looking forward to seeing if she could improve on my 5 chocolate bars and 2 bottles of water that I spent our last Mark on in Sarajevo. Think about your local major train station; it’s got what? Some vending machines, maybe a fast food joint that does oily chips and greasy handburgers, possibly a stand with some shitty magazines. Zagreb’s station appeared no different. This should be interesting, I thought.

I turned the corner and saw Bec hand over some money. She spun round, holding in her hands two of the most healthy and tasty looking salad rolls I’d seen in a long time. Beautiful fresh white bread, with ham, cheese, lettuce, and red, green, and yellow peppers (capsicum for the Aussies back home). And most importantly for me, no fresh tomato. She just smiled at me, and I laughed. Bec could pull out a decent meal with just 50 cents and some tomato sauce I reckon.

It was 9.42, and we bolted to platform number 2, still with the 20 kg strapped to our backs, and jumped on our train. Someone is certainly looking out for us on this trip – somehow we’ve just made every bus, train and ferry with a few minutes to spare. Here’s hoping this luck continues.

Upon arriving in Ljubljana a few hours later, we found the tourist information centre, picked a hostel to stay at, and waited for the hostel owner to come and pick us up. 15 minutes later, a guy in his early 30’s showed up, and we squeezed into his little hatchback with an older Australian couple who’d caught the same train, and picked the same hostel. Out of habit, I went to put my seatbelt on, but like most cars I’ve ridden in so far in Europe, there was no plug to connect it to. Oh well.

He pulled the car out onto the main road i nfront of the station, and immediately turned down a narrow side street. In pretty good English, the hostel owner explained, “There are police on main road, stopping people for seatbelts, speeding, and other things.” I pulled the seatbelt across my shoulder and tucked it under my arm, to at least give the illusion that I was travelling safely. “I cannot go that way because I have an accident yesterday, and broke my headlight. If they see this, I will be fined. 100 Euros is too much to pay for a Friday.”

Whoa whoa whoa, hang on. When I get into a car with a total stranger in a foreign country, a car in which I cannot wear a seatbelt, I’d rather the first thing I’m told not be “I crashed this car yesterday.” “Redheads stay at hostel for free. New policy.” or “free beer at hostel every Friday”, that I could handle.

As we drove through the city centre, he began pointing out major attractions, “Here is the pizzeria, they have half price pizza in all Septe….. Whoa!” He slammed on the brakes as the car in the lane next to us attempted to merge into our bonnet. I shot a nervous glance at the others sitting next to me.

His phone began ringing, and, as you do, he answered it whilst he drove. As he jabbered away down the phone in Slovenian, another phone began ringing. The four of us not already having a conversation on the phone looked at each other – from the look on the others’ faces, it wasn’t theirs, and I don’t even own a phone, so it certainly wasn’t mine. The driver, still weaving between cars, stopped talking into his mobile, reached down between the two front seats, pulled out another phone, and began talking into that, all the while still pointing out the odd attraction.

Our impromptu tour of Ljubljana was being given in a car with no seatbelts, by a driver who’d crashed this same car the day before, whilst he drove pointing out major sights and speaking into two mobile phones. Forgive me for not picking up the finer points of the tour, but all my concentration was going into gripping the sides of the seat in front of me as hard as I could, and hoping I wouldn’t have to call my folks back home from a Slovenian hospital.

Once out of the car, and able to see Ljubljana through more than a scrunched up face preparing for death, the city revealed itself to be a gorgeous town, hardly a city at all. A small river ran through the centre of the old town, lined by cobbled pedestrian streets filled with market stalls. People sat by the river, sipping coffee and drinking beers out in the sunshine. We spent the next few days walking the streets, reading, and taking advantage of the hostel’s free internet.

The hostel was a little out of the city, which suited Bec and I fine. Our first afternoon in town, we found a cool looking pub not too far form the hostel, but still out of the touristy areas of the city. We planned on one or two beers, but ended up staying there most of the night, watching Slovenia play Germany in the European basketball Championship Quarter Finals with a few locals. We got chatting during the game with Borut and Katya, a couple of locals in their late 20’s, early 30’s, and after the game had a wonderful discussion with them about the history and politics of the region. They both spoke almost perfect English (as well as, in Borut’s case, German and French. Wow, I struggle with just English), and Katya invited us to visit her the next day at her market stall in town, where once a week she sells her paintings and illustrations.

So the next day, as the sun once again shone brightly from a blue sky, we stopped in the lively market for a chat with Katya, and she kindly shouted us a coffee and a beer, as we sat down with her and one of her friends, a theatre producer named Sasho. We had a lovely old chat, more about Slovenia, and about some other cities nearby.

Again, it is meeting locals like this that I’ve found really makes a country more enjoyable to visit. Ljubljana seemed a like a fiercely intelligent city, keen to be seen as different from its Southern Balkan neighbours Croatia and Bosnia. And much like back home, the young Slovenians we met all bemoaned the right-wing government in power and their conservative politics.

It seems Little Johnny Howard isn’t the only goon running a country.

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4 Responses to “Ljubljana: Multitasking”

  1. cian higgins Says:

    Nice to see you guys are keeping ok, have read all your blogs, very enjoyable, keep up the good work and keep enjoying the traveling, its a long way from enistymon to zagreb, but the stories are ENJOYABLE all the way. Off to OZ on the 16th, looking forward to it. Anyway, best wishes and safe travelling. Cian

  2. Posted from Ireland Ireland
  3. admin Says:

    Hey Cian, good to hear from you mate. Have fun in Aus, if you need to know anything while you’re there, fell free to ask. Of course I could just answer it now and save the trouble – the nearest pub won’t be far away, just walk in any direction, and there’ll be one on a corner soon. Trust me.

  4. Posted from Hungary Hungary
  5. b Says:

    kewl blog

  6. Posted from Croatia Croatia
  7. The Old Australian Couple Says:

    Hey, Dave and Bec.
    You should have got the return trip with the hostel owner to the train station. There were still four of us crammed into his hatchback. Anne marie had booked the him to pick us up at 7.30AM just to make sure that we caught the train. He said that he would be there no later than 8AM as it was a Sunday. Does he go to church. Is he religious? At exactly 8AM he arrives. How he fits in four backpacks and four passengers is worthy of a PHD thesis. With Anne Marie, the old Oz couple and another hangeron, we sped off to the station. This time a different way than before, only buses and a few cars to dodge in the early morning mist. This means he can now drive faster. Again he regales with his exploits about driving this car. Speed was essential now. Does he worry about a speeding fine, No way. He was caught for speeding last year, did not pay his fine, ( business was too hectic and did not have the time) ended up in court with the fine doubled and pleading to the judge that he needed his licence to do business. So he kept his licence and paid his €1000. He calls this a business expense. i think he goes to church too, just as he avoids a bus coming out of the mist. God looks after the brave. With one hand twirling the top of the steering wheel and the other gesticulating about the wonders of his city he brakes sharply as swerves around another car while trying to find his mobile phone. This guy can drive! Only just last month he was at a party. he said he was the soberest one and drove his mates home. Still like all slovenians, whats a party without a few beers. No harm done. That is until he was pulled over by the cops for weaving over the road. After stopping, his mate in the back seat distracted the cops while he swapped places with the front seat passenger, who said he was driving. It was the only way the hostel owner was going to avoid a prison sentence and more fines, ( a second offence). His mate failed the alco test, could not find the car rego documents – he never carried the documents in case the car was stolen, and was fined €500 for the offence, which the hostel owner rightly paid- only a business expense. As the owner of the car he was also fined €500 for not having the ownership documents and a licence. Now this is some business expense, which totals €2000, all in 10 months.
    Now this bloke is good. After dropping us off, double parked of course. It is a sunday after all. Off he goes to the station lobby and tourist office to snare more backpackers for the ride of there life. Business is business.
    Steve and Andrea

  8. Posted from Australia Australia

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