Colorful train in Ljubljana, Slovenia

FEATURE: Backpacking the Former Yugoslavia, Part 3

9.19.14: Dragons and Schnitzel

Woke up early to catch a train to Ljubljana. Same great train ride, half the distance back, only no bickering with the husband. Saw the cab driver from the day before at the train station. He had a tattoo on his hand above his thumb that I’d recognized from the day before. Um… “Taken,” much? (You know you were thinking it, too.)

We were lucky enough to nab a hotel room as soon as we’d walked in at 9 am. We dropped our packs off and milled around downtown. What. A. Great. Town. I’d wanted to visit Slovenia for some time. It was a mysterious, forgotten little country on the outskirts of the Dolomites and it made Lonely Planet’s Europe Blue List this year. In Jordan’s mind, this translates to: “You’re almost too late to travel here affordably, before tourists take over and jack up prices.” This is exactly how I felt in Croatia (despite how great Dubrovnik was), but it hasn’t quite happened in Ljubljana yet. Go here. Now.

Ljubljana is a mini Prague. Old, white buildings with red and green roofs along a meandering river. It has a couple of cathedrals downtown, most notably Saint Nicholas. Beautiful bronze double-doors telling the story of Slovenia’s history of Catholicism. The inside boasts painting after painting and gorgeous chandeliers. We accidentally walked in on an active service and the cathedral was so grand, we had difficulty identifying where the priest was giving service from. We quietly ducked out after tithing.

Ljubljana also has several fantastic bridges. One is the Triple Bridge, a three-way bridge entering an Old Town shopping area. A second is Butcher’s Bridge, a lover’s lock bridge, similar to the one in Paris. A third is Dragon’s Bridge. Built to mark Emperor Franz Josef’s 60th birthday, it has dragon sculptures at each corner, a common symbol for the city of Ljubljana. (If you read Jeff’s notes on his requested sights to see, it simply reads… “Dragons!” Lol. I love my husband.)

We took the funicular up to the castle that overlooks the city. All in all, a great view, the penitentiary is pretty cool, but not worth the Euro it cost to get up there. One thing we found interesting was that the Slovenians had the Italians digging their sewer trenches during World War I. I’m interested to hear what became of the Slovenians during World War II after that stunt. (Will Google and get back to you.) After the castle, we walked through a couple of busy town squares, bustling and friendly.

Stopped at a produce tent to marvel at the “development” of the produce when a burly Slovenian vendor’s greeting prompted a random response from Jeff… “Oh, nothing. Just… you’re grapes are huge,” he said awkwardly. The guy just started laughing hysterically, for which there was no other response but to laugh along. We also noticed that they actually have milk machines in the produce squares here, where you can purchase a plastic milk bottle from a vending machine, and fill it at what is basically a soft drink dispensary… with fresh milk. We took a picture as an elderly lady used the machine; she just laughed at our amazement.

In typical Jordan and Jeff fashion, we’d visited everything we wanted to visit by noon and had even shopped around a bit, so we just decided to start drinking and get some schnitzel at a restaurant on the river. One thing we’d noticed: the people here are incredibly friendly. And selfless. A elderly man fell off his bike and a man from a nearby restaurant ran out with napkins for his scraped palms. A waiter dropped a saucer from his tray and passer-bys stopped to pick them up for him. We witnessed several of these instances. I just don’t see this that often in my day-to-day life. (Or in Zagreb.) People would be agitated that folks stopped midstream in a walking path or that they were being held up from reaching their destination. It was really quite refreshing.

Have come back to the hotel for another afternoon nap. We’ll be traveling back to Zagreb early tomorrow to pick up a connection to Sarajevo. This will be an all-day event, unfortunately. After that, however, we’ll have a full day to relax and stroll Sarajevo’s Old Town before we fly home.


9.20.14: A Real-Life Bosnian Pyramid

Went to dinner on the river last night after our nap. I ordered the goulash and prayed for the best. Goulash whispers love songs to my Eastern European tummy, but releases some heavy-duty beef scent onto my favorite travel zip-up that’s impossible to get out without an official wash. Fingers crossed everything smells red-meat-free in the morrow.

Awoke early to hoof it to the train station. Ljubljana was a little reminiscent of Reykjavik in the wee hours of the morning; people are drunk on the streets having just left the bars at six am. Our Ljubljana-Zagreb ride was uneventful, but wouldn’t you know, we ran into the same miserable woman at the Zagreb station purchasing our train tickets to Sarajevo. Yep, still unhappy, exasperated, sighing. We’re not even high-maintenance travelers, Lady. Makes you think she’d make for an angry drinking buddy. #NoFun

We’d heard mixed reviews about the train to Sarajevo, so we weren’t expecting great things. The train was outdated and dirty and the only open cabin was a smoking cabin, which is awesome for two ex-smokers (shaking my head ‘no’). We took it and hoped no one would stop by in the hopes of actually using it to smoke on the nine-hour ride, but that turned out to be a silly concern since people just smoke in the train halls with the windows down.

As we crossed the border into Bosnia, customs and border patrol came through. The young Bosnian officer who came to collect our passports had a lot of questions for us. We never know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Is this your first time in Bosnia? Why are you here? How long are you staying? Where have you been? Jeff always has a special way with words at border crossings, like the time he asked Customs if they’d tried Johnny Walker Double Black and how he “almost pulled that trigger”… but, no, he didn’t have anything to declare. …Yeah, less is more, buddy. As a general rule, chit chat and humor are wasted on border patrol. This is the same in every country. I felt we were drifting into that familiar downward spiral, so I just interrupted that we started our journey in Sarajevo, did a big circle and now we were returning to spend a couple days there before flying out. The officer seemed stunned. “You started in Bosnia? And are visiting?” I confirmed. “Oh,” he said smiling, “Good luck.” And along his merry way he went. He seemed genuinely surprised and happy that we were visiting. We’ll figure out if his “Tropojë good luck” was sarcasm or not whence we return home safely.

Got a little panicked halfway through the train ride when the conductor told us… something we had to do to continue on to Sarajevo… in Bosnian… that we couldn’t comprehend. In a town called Banja Luka. Turns out, they were splitting the train in two and we needed to move to the back cars to proceed to Sarajevo. Seating was tight, but we discovered where first class was. And that there was a first class. (Hint: It wasn’t where we spent the first five hours of the train ride.)

Shared a car with some Spanish gentlemen, who we’ve since seen several times downtown. They broke out what could only be described as a feast part way through the journey, with breads and sandwich meats and nuts and a two-liter of beer. (Only jealous that I didn’t think of it myself, folks.) After “lunch,” they created poker chips out of different colored pieces of paper and played until one of them cleaned the other two out. Men of their words, they paid up the owed Euros. (If anyone knows what “La Charanga” means off the top of their heads, one of the men was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of himself, with this presumably Spanish title over it.)

We’re all tired and bored and antsy towards the end of our ride… when we roll up on a town called Visoko. This town is supposedly home to the “world’s greatest pyramid, built approximately 12,000 years ago by a long-disappeared superculture.” In Bosnia. Yes. It is actually alleged that this town is home to the largest and/or oldest pyramid in the world. …And theeere goes the pyramid. Picture, picture, click, click, it’s gone. …Okay, cool. Totally random. The Spaniards knew about this place, too, evidently. “Pyramida!” (Pointing…) As we closed into Sarajevo, Jeff commented that he knew we were close because of the increase in stray dogs. To Bosnia’s credit, we also had a conversation about how awesome the country would be if it had just a little more money to devote to it’s infrastructure; its countryside is beautiful, but very, very poor.

Cabbed to our hotel, where the receptionist remembered us. Strolled through the club district, where the waitress remembered us. Makes you wonder if it’s something we did, or if there just aren’t that many Americans in this neck of the woods. We noted that Bosnian club kids love both Beyoncé and Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle” before heading back to the hotel for a well-needed night’s rest.


9.20.14: The Birthplace of World War I

Slept in this morning for the first morning in a while. It was glorious. Took advantage of the free continental breakfast, too. (We’d been leaving too early to do so most of our vacation.) Cruised around Sarajevo for a bit this morning.

Stopped by the infamous Latin Bridge downtown, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Principe in 1914, sparking World War I. I’m reading this very excerpt aloud on the bridge when Jeff exclaims, “Oh shit, they shot his bitch, too?” Yes, Jeff. His bitch ate lead, too. (I do love these educational outings we have.) Principe was considered a Serb hero and his footsteps were tracked in concrete on the bridge until the Yugoslavian War, when the Serbs unsuccessfully laid siege to the city and the footsteps were removed.

We wandered through Baščaršija, the Old Town Turkish market. Sarajevo is extraordinarily interesting in that it’s home to not one, not two, but three different religions, each very prominent—Catholicism, Islam, and Greek Orthodox. A short walk downtown and you’ll see elaborate places of worship for each of the three religions. Minarets dot the landscape throughout the country. On the train yesterday at a stop, we heard evening prayer echoing through the town over loud speakers. Not something I’d experienced before, but interesting and beautiful all at the same time. Harbored a little paranoia in that I wanted to be respectful of different customs (as a human being), but also wanted to proceed with… how I operate (as a westernized female). I just stayed quiet and observed what seemed to be all-male social activities from a distance (moving three-foot chess pieces around on a painted board in a plaza, for example).

Ran out of sites to see and decided to have some lunch, drinks, and watch some futbol for the afternoon. Alcohol and food is so cheap in Sarajevo, it’s ridiculous. Jeff spent $2.62 on a glass of Johnny Walker. (Not overwrought with tourism yet, folks, so strike while the iron’s hot!) After “a few” beers, our waiter politely told me I’d drank all of the Tuborg they had to offer. Probably for the best. It was about that time, so we headed back to the hotel, where I was fortunate enough to have a warm shower before the city shut the water off for the night.

As always, disappointed to be going home tomorrow and back to the grind, but my Fibro is acting up and I miss my baby kittens. Another adventure is waiting the wings. I just have to start day dreaming and planning again. I’m not short on either one.


Next Week’s “Edition:” I’m calling this next rotation “Freestyle Debauchery,” an opportunity for me to post whatever uncategorized travel-related material I want, and an opportunity for you to read more… which I know you’ll love. In this “Freestyle,” help the husband and I figure out what our spring trip should be and take our desperately-needed poll.


Today’s featured photo: Colorful graffiti on a Ljubljana train in Slovenia.

© 2015 Jordan Campbell. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “FEATURE: Backpacking the Former Yugoslavia, Part 3

  1. There is no doubt that the Eastern Europe’s countries are interesting, for their recent struggle, but also for their people’s high level education and geographic/historic knowledge. I spent a while in Serbia and would do it again, just for all the stories I’ve heard of my friends, going up in bunkers. A completely different life…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d definitely do other countries in the region as well. I think the Dinaric Alps run through the north of Serbia? We drove through in BiH and they were beautiful!

      Like

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