The End of Eastern Europe

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
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Trip End Nov 21, 2006


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Friday, August 25, 2006

Well, I finally did it, reached one of my goals for the trip. When I crossed from Croatia to Slovakia I received a stamp on each side, thus filling up my passport. In theory anyway. All my original squares would be stamped but while I was in Budapest I had to go to the Consulate to get more pages to prepare for this day. I was expecting to receive two or three pages. Instead I basically received a second passport, but with only pages for stamps, no space for amendments or the other small type. I found it as an implicit challenge from the embassy, as if they were saying, 'congratulations, you've got yourself a few stamps, now try to fill this one up, wiseass.' Personally, I'm ready to accept this challenge, 88 squares to go, and only 5 years before my passport expires. Might have to run a bake sale or two to raise the funds or find myself a sugar momma, but I'll do what it takes.

Of course I wasn't in the champagne-popping mood that such an event should've deserved. For one thing, it was about 8 in the morning. The other thing was my watch, camera and iPod had just been stolen, and I wasn't in the most chipper of moods. We pulled into Ljubljana at 10 and I got on the phone to my friend Ziva, a Slovenian girl I had met on my booze cruise in Nha Trang, Vietnam. I only hung out with her that one afternoon, but when I mentioned I'd be coming to Ljubljana, she was more than happy to give me an email address and phone number with an offer of a place to stay and a personal local tour guide. When I called her she told me she couldn't put me up because she was in, of all places, Split. I then had to scramble to find a hostel and wound up in a place that is a hostel in the summer, student housing in the winter. I took a room in which I literally had just a mattress, but it was only 10 euro a night and since I was going to be plunking down some serious cash on a new camera, the more budget the better. Once I threw down my bags there was only one thing I wanted in life, and that was a nice hot shower. Naturally, the water was ice cold, apparently a pipe had burst that morning. I was beginning to believe that saying about bad things coming in threes. I was also about to cry. Instead of spending the beautiful day sightseeing around Ljubljana I was hiking around the city in search of a new camera. By a stroke of luck I found a Casio store, selling the exact same camera I just had. It was, of course, listed at about double the price I had paid the first time around. I was less than pleased. I was then directed to a megamall outside town. After 15 minutes of waiting, my bus arrived only to find out that you can't in fact buy a token on board. So after waiting again I got on a bus, deposited my token and then realized the bus I was told I could take, I could in fact take, but I would circle around the whole city, even passing the stop where I had boarded the bus. A 15 minute excursion had just eaten up an hour and a half. Again, less than pleased.

It wasn't until the next day that I could finally bust out my new camera, the third one of the trip. There isn't much to Ljubljana, it's a small city of not even 300,000 and with the university out of session the nightlife is pretty quiet (that first night I was in town I was dragged out by a few guys from the hostel -- the first bar we went to was a binge-drinkin, reefer-smokin, porn-watchin dive, certainly a welcome to Slovenia moment straight out of a tourist brochure). That being said, there is something to the town that makes it a nice draw and a place that seems like an ideal spot to settle down and chill out for a while. And when university does get back in session it also seems like the type of place that could supply just enough mayhem to keep you from getting bored. I started my little tour of the city by climbing up to the city castle. It's a fairly small castle, compared to some of the others in Eastern Europe anyway, but pretty quaint and the tower offers some fantastic views of the city, the river that runs through it and the Julian Alps that serve as the city's backdrop. The museum also offers a less than amazing virtual tour of the city. It captures the whole history of Ljubljana and Slovenia in a tidy 20 minutes that allows it to briskly brush over the major events of the last millenia or so. For example, it informs the listeners that in 1991 the people of Slovenia voted for independence from Yugoslavia and a 10-day armed conflict with the Serbian army ensued. It doesn't bother to mention any destruction, death tolls, or, for example, that Slovenia prevailed. I assume they assumed we know the final result and we don't need any other boring 'details.' It then ended with a 5-minute montage of present day Ljubljana, complete with actors cast as tourists and that awful 'this is a hip and happening city, just listen to this lively soundtrack' music that nobody but tourism agencies like. The whole thing was so corny that if you ate it, when you shat it out it would come out whole.

From there a tour of Ljubljana basically consists of walking up and down the riverfront, occasionally diverging through sidestreets on the chance it might lead to somewhere interesting. There are plenty of old churches to dot the skyline and the main distinctions of Ljubljana are its bridges, most notably, the dragon bridge, with two dragons guarding either end and the triple bridge which has two pedestrian bridges sandwiching a motorist bridge. Like most European cities, it's nice during the day and even better at night.

For my last full day in Slovenia, I took a day trip to Bled, a small town about 50 km outside Ljubljana and home to a large lake with a castle perched on a cliff next to it and a church on the island in the middle of it. Simply put, it's something out of a postcard. The lake is beautiful and is surrounded by mountains. It's one of those places, that as you walk around you're compelled to keep taking photos, even though you know at the end of the day they'll all look exactly the same, aside from the fact that they're taken at slightly different angles. Now I just have to make sure to protect this memory card long enough to get it home.
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