Chapter 52: The Hills Are Alive...
Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
56Trip End Nov 2004
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That last day in Croatia was pretty grim by all counts. Rebecca, Scott, and I were all completely beat from getting little sleep the previous night, it was hot and we were carrying packs, and we quickly tired of walking through the back alleys of Split waiting for our train to leave. To make things worse I realized my 512MB digital camera card was malfunctioning and probably beyond repair. Of course, finding a new one in Split that was larger than 32MB proved impossible. Finally 9pm came around, and we managed to snag a train compartment to ourselves. The ride was comfortable enough, until the conductor came around and put the fear of god in us by warning us not to sleep between 2 and 6 am, lest "banditos" sneak in and rob us blind. Isn't it his job to stay awake and make sure everone who is on board is supposed to be there?! We locked the door as best we could by using my extendable pack lock and Scott's belt to fasten the door handle to the luggage rack, and then took turns staying awake from 2 until we arrived in Zagreb at 7. No banditos, naturally, although I wish we'd seen some, as that would have justified the 5th night in a row of way too little sleep.
Scott and I said goodbye to Rebecca, changed our Croatian kuna to Slovenian tolar, and got on the 7:55 train from Zagreb to Ljubljana. Looking out the window at greater Zagreb, we decided it was just as well that we were missing it. The scenery through Slovenia, on the other hand, was beautiful: green, hilly, and cute. We got to Ljubljana in 2 hours, and our first stop was the tourist information desk, where the clerk found us two hostel beds at the BIT Center on the edge of town. It was a 15-minute bus ride out to the place, and then we had to wait for our beds to be cleaned, so we didn't actually get into our room until 12. Scott left to explore immediately, but I needed some sleep, so I napped until 2:30.
Feeling a little refreshed, I joined up with a nice guy from Denver for the trip into town. The center of Ljubljana is charming; it's a very cosmopolitan city with beautiful buildings, quaint shopping streets, efficient tansportation, modern conveniences, and a stately castle/fort on the hill. Slovenia is the most prosperous of the countries born of the former Yugoslavia, and it shows. The people were friendly, too... I bought a new 256MB memory card at a photo shop, and the salesman gave me some helpful tips for camera care, and pointed out some interesting things to see/do on my map. I was also psyched to find a decent bookshop for the first time in a while, so I plunked down for a new Germany LP and a German phrase book so I can brush up on my language skills.
We met Scott for dinner near the town hall at an old-fashioned Slovenian restaurant. I had a turkey cordon-bleu dish with polenta that was very good, and then I parted ways with the other guys to climb up to the fort on the hill, visit the "dragon bridge," and then look for an internet cafe. The concept of internet cafes is taken literally in Ljubljana; each one is a regular cafe that simply has one or two computers in the corner where you can surf while sipping your coffee. It's kind of a pain if you're in a hurry, but I wasn't. I booked a hostel for Salzburg for Saturday night, then went to the train station to buy a ticket to Austria for 10am.
The train ride the next morning was breathtakingly scenic. We passed towering mountains, rolling green fields, and adorable Austrian villages with flowers on every window sill. I'm glad I decided to take day trains to Salzberg and Munich! I was so excited to get off the train at 3pm and be in a German-speaking country. I studied German years ago, and I've never had many opportunities to use it, so I'm eager to brush up and give it a go. I read my phrasebook for most of the train trip and was surprised at how quickly things came back to me.
My hostel (the innovatively-named Youth Hostel Salzburg) was about 15 minutes from the train station by bus, and the ride gave me a feel for the layout of the small city. Nestled between two large hills and taking up both sides of a river, Salzburg is a jumble of backstreets and plazas filled with romantic buildings. It's also a city famous for its musical heritage... Mozart was born here (although he apparently disliked it and found it too small), and the events in "The Sound of Music" took place here. The hostel screens the movie nightly (which must drive the staff batty) and runs $40 SoM tours of the region (the timing didn't work out for me, and my wallet is thankful).
I spent the afternoon losing myself in the attractive city. I loved it instantly and wished I had more than one night there. I also wished it hadn't been Saturday, because all the shops closed at 1. Maybe I'll come back when I swing through Vienna later. I treated myself to some decadent local food last night, and got to try out my Deutsch (with favorable results) at the same time. The local creamy garlic soup was to die for, as were the apple strudel and "Mozartkugeln" - truffle-like chocolates filled with marzipan and hazelnut goo. I'm getting fat. I spent the evening in the hostel giving myself a haircut with my Swiss Army Knife in the bathroom (disaster!), and chatting with a cute young Londoner named James in the lounge. He gave me helpful German lessons and drew up some grammar charts for me to study.
This morning I had another 10am train - this one only 90 minutes to Munich. I guess now that I'm fully in Western Europe the border checks become informal if they exist at all; no one asked for my passport on the journey today. I checked in to the Euro Youth Hostel near the train station, grabbed some pizza (what else) for lunch, and then started walking. Tomorrow I'm meeting Ben, and we'll leave for Berlin on the 8th. Bis später,