Trip Start Mar 05, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Saturday 14th June: Ljubljana

My exploits leaving the Czech Republic the previous night still had me in a state of amusement. How I end up walking blindly into such situations never ceases to surprise me. It was 3:00am and the early morning was so cold that it was unbearable trying to hold a cigarette. Halfway through I caught a look at my reflection in a window, asked myself 'what am I thinking' and tossed the cigarette in the bin. I always said id give them up for good before I turned 30, even if I was turning 30 tomorrow I knew I was ready. Thankfully the train was leaving for Linz on time so there was every chance that I was going to make my connections. As much as my misadventures create good stories to tell after the fact, at the time they can be nightmarish events to go through. I wanted to get to Ljubljana as smoothly as possible from here on in. As I boarded I had the group of official looking guys waving me off, they were probably just making sure that I was on my way and would be somebody else's problem if anything was to go wrong from here, but I welcomed the gesture all the same as its not often I get a send off. Having not slept I was completely exhausted when I sat down into the soft reclining chairs of the train but I needed to fight the urge to slip into a slumber as it was just over an hour to Linz and I was worried that if I slept I might miss my stop. With the best of 'Creedence Clearwater Revival' on my headphones I was bopping to the 'Born on the bayou & Susie Q' while watching the Austrian countryside roll by. Judging by the industrial nature of the route into Linz I wouldn't have thought it would be on the tourist trail of anyone visiting Austria. The only fact I had read about the city, along with it being Austria's second largest, was that it was also Adolf Hitler's favorite town. To be honest I don't think either fact would be appealing for a visit by anyone with a right mind. With a transit of only 30Min's I was back on a train in no time, only now I was heading on a packed commuter train to Vienna. If I had more time to spare before getting to Greece I would have liked to have spent some time in Vienna or more likely Salzburg, but with a real sense of urgency I was skipping Austria altogether. In any case, with the Euro football championships on it was probably not such a bad idea as I'm sure all accommodation in the city is either booked solid or costing a fortune. In fairness, Austria isn't going anywhere and will be still be around whenever I get back from Australia. The journey time from Linz to Vienna was just under 2hrs and when I got there I had a longer transit time of 90Min's but having to traverse the city to change stations the 90Min's didn't feel like long at all. One good thing about the football championships being on was there was no shortage of station staff to dole out directions. Arriving at the Wien Nord Bahnhof station I was going to have to travel to the Westbahnhof station to catch my connecting train to Slovenia. The easiest way to get between the two is using the underground rail network (U-Bahn), the cost is Eur1.50 for a single fare. I was across the city in no time and relieved when the last piece of my traveling jigsaw fell into place with the arrival of the Ljubljana train and with a journey time of 7hrs I could allow the comfort of the cushioned seats to lead me into the land of nod. I couldn't tell you how long I slept for but I felt like what id imagine 'Rip Van Winkle' must have felt like when he awoke after years asleep because everything had changed. Looking out the window I could swear that the train had been somehow teleported to Brazil, the landscape we were passing was more in keeping with the Amazonian rain forest than southern Europe. It could all be easily explained, while I was asleep the train had crossed into Slovenia, arguably the most scenic of the formerly communist countries, and was now slowly snaking its way through the forest covered national parks of the southern limestone Alps. There was a light drizzle falling and a covering of mist gave the scene a magical atmosphere, it was stunning and eerie at the same time. I was literally open mouthed as the train passed over scenic hills only to then sweep down into deep valleys below. If the train journeys of Norway were a fantastic experience then this was equally so. If I had a video camera I would have had it glued to the panorama outside, instead it was me glued to the window breaking concentration only to wipe away the frosting from my breath. I held this pose until the train rolled into Ljubljana where the forest views were replaced by a spattering of farms and homesteads.

The rain was no longer a drizzle by the time we arrived into Ljubljana, it was now more of a torrent and not the kind of weather to be trekking around town looking for accommodation. I had heard about a youth hostel called 'Celica' that was renovated from a former prison and the 20 rooms (cells) still had the original bars. Unfortunately as a result of its quirky nature it's become something of a landmark and was completely booked solid when I arrived. It's not my style but sometimes it's good to book in advance, by not doing so sometimes you run the risk of missing out on some cool experiences. On the other hand you don't want to be too rigid with your plans either or you can never go with the flow and take advantage of the unexpected experiences that come your way. I guess the ideal is finding a balance between the two and if you can manage that then you can't go too far wrong. Denied by the Celica hostel I didn't have a plan B to put into action but walking the streets adjacent to the hostel I came across the 'Park Hotel', a nice hotel where the 15th floor has been converted into a hostel. This time I had no problem getting a room and at Eur23 per night it was pretty good value for Ljubljana, even if the location of the room was not to my liking. I convinced myself that I was no where near the 15th floor and in order to accept this myth I didn't look out the window the whole time I was there. After I had a shower over me and a change of clothes I was ravenous having not had food since leaving Cesky Krumlov. I was also feeling a bit of cabin fever having been stuck in public transport and their stations for most of the last 24hrs. Bracing myself against the rain I went in search of what would satisfy my feelings, fresh air and a delicacy of burgers. As your reading this I can imagine you thinking 'how disgusting' maybe even 'how cruel' or even 'how could he eat one'. Whether I agree or disagree with the idea of killing horses for meat is irrelevant, my philosophy when I go to a country is to try and immerse myself in the local cultures and customs, to try and get into the minds of the people, for I believe that is where a true insight and appreciation comes from. Its for this reason that I will try horse burgers while in Slovenia, goats lung while in Nepal, deep fried crickets and beetles while in Thailand and even widgety grubs (from the celebrity jungle fame) while in Australia. I have to say, the grubs and the lung were both as disgusting to eat as I'm sure you would imagine them to be, can I say though that the horse burger was incredibly tasty. They are massive and eating one will really set you up for the day. I had tremendous difficulty trying to take a picture of myself taking a bite out of one, trying to balance the camera in one hand and hold the burger intact in the other proved problematic. Numerous attempts were made before I eventually got the photo that accompanies this blog entry. With the rain still teeming down and with no sign of a let up, I talked myself into a couple of beers to wash down my horse; not that I needed much persuasion you understand. It was like leading a horse to water!!. Leaving the sightseeing to the next day I was hopeful that the weather would be better and the sun would be smiling on me as I woke.

The Ljubljancani locals believe that the city was founded by Jason, the same Jason from the Golden Fleece stealing Argonauts fame, although there is no remaining proof to substantiate this claim. What is correct to say is that Ljubljana is a city full of charm, with a perfect mix of ancient history, atmospheric bars, and a vibrant street-café culture. Thankfully the weather God was on my side and had coaxed the sun to come out and play as the city is small enough that you can walk everywhere. The heart of the city is Presernov trg, the main square. It houses the monument of France Preseren, Slovenia's greatest poet, and the salmon colored Franciscan Church of the Annunciation. An artery off the square is the Triple Bridge (Tromostovje) Ljubljana's trademark central bridge. The Tromostovje consists of 3 separate picturesque bridges located next to one another which span the Ljubljanica River that flows through the centre of the city. The western side of the city is the more modern and commercial face of Ljubljana where the square is the main cultural point of interest. The real treasures are located in old Ljubljana on the eastern side of the river where numerous monuments, well preserved old buildings, and churches, attempt to steal the glory away from the magnificent Ljubljana castle that towers above all else from its perch atop castle hill. The walk up the hill is pretty steep but on this glorious day is was the perfect way to get there. If you're not up for a leisurely climb then you can catch the 'tourist train' that leaves from the Triple Bridge. No matter what way you choose to get there you will be rewarded with some of the most magnificent of views. Entrance to the castle courtyard if free but as with these types of sites there is a charge to access the castle tower which provides a 360degree panoramic view of the city and scenic views of the Kamnik Alps in the distance. Located immediately below the castle are the grounds and parks, where strolling through you will emerge into narrow streets lined by medieval houses all with pretty flower displays adorning the windows. With the bright colors of red, yellow and purple, every single house is picture postcard and would melt even the coldest of hearts. The district to the east of the castle is full of all designer shops, restaurants and cafés that on this day were jam packed with Ljubljancani providing a colorful and vibrant atmosphere. With it being the weekend the banks of the river were lined full of stalls and their owners selling all kinds of antiques and knick-knacks. With an ice-cream in hand it was a real pleasure picking my way along its banks eventually coming to the cities other famous bridge, the Dragon Bridge. The bridge gets its name from the four dragon statues that adorn it and are said to be keeping guard at all times. Actually the dragon has become a symbol of the city and it's quite common to see a dragon motif on buildings throughout the city. Arriving back at Presernov trg I was entertained by a classical violinist, playing Chopin, and Mozart among others. Its not a style of music I would listen to very often, if at all, but he was an incredible musician and when he told me that he was buskin to raise extra money for his wedding the romantic in me couldn't resist dropping him a fiver. I bet he says that to all the guys ;0). After a busy day walking around all the sights I like nothing more than to wind down with a few beers while watching the sun go down on a beautiful day and with the sound of the numerous cathedral bells singing to my ears it was a perfect way to bring Ljubljana to a close. Tomorrow morning would be the early start to Trieste in the hope my information about the ferry to Albania is correct. I was in danger of not getting to Athens on time if I had got this wrong. With my track record I dont know why I was worried.
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