A Travellerspoint blog

Mom, I am Safe

Split, Croatia

sunny 36 °C

My ambition with this message board was to draft an entry for, at minimum, each city where I chose to spend the night. Seemed reasonable enough, but the free market has in recent days, again, proven to my demise. Internet is readily available on the Dalmation coast, but for 30 Kuna an hour I found it only prudent to check my email - and my first place fantasy baseball team - and move on. For those who are not familiar with the Croatian currency and exchange rate, thats about six dollars an hour, which to me would be better spent on plenty of other things one can do here on the coast. Lets just say mom isn´t too happy about this decision - received several emails concerning my having gone silent. So mom, I´m quite safe, and having a great time, and will check in with you soon. I promise, you need not worry.

This past week has been busy, but still quite relaxing. Having moved on from Zagreb, I have spent the past four nights on the coast in Dalmatia, which is quite different from Inland Croatia. Situated on the Adriatic, it has more of a Mediterranean feel and garners greater influence from Venice, then the more Habsburgian Capital which, like Slovenia, seems far more akin to Austria. The first three nights I spent in zadar, an interesting though by no means special coastal town about 5 hours ride from Zagreb. Its most interesting aspect is its diversity of architecture, with buildings from many different ages sitting in close vicinity to each other, a result of many different sieges on the city. It was nice to be back on the coast, to have a chance to spend a few hours each day reading on the beach. From here, I was also able to take two day trips, one to Sibenik, also on the coast and home to what many describe as the most beautiful cathedral in Dalmatia, and the Plivice Lakes National Park. This second trip I had been looking forward to for a long time and still met my ambitious expectations. It consists of a series of 18 lakes - water with greenish tint - which pour from one to the next, with waterfalls of all widths, heights passing from one to the next. It was a whole day event, and quite pressure filled/agonzing at times as missing the last bus - at 5:20 - is a frequent problem for ambitious travellers. It is a must see though on a trip here and best done on your own terms, without the time constraints and pressure which to an extent took away from the beauty of the moment.

I am now in Split, Croatias second largest city and main transportation hub to the islands. It is as great as I expected. Since I am running out of time, I will write about this next time - and there will be a next time as I have found much cheaper internet here. That said, from here I go to Mostar, then Sarajevo, and it seems to my moms relief, I might have a travel partner for these two destinations. When I was up Bled I met a kid from Connecticut with a similar Balkan itinerary. We went our separate ways after a night of talking about our intentions and other travel stories, only to stumble into each other again here in Split, same hostel, same room no less. So, as we both intended to go to these stops next, we will to an extent be moving together. Anyway, a weird coincidence from the road, but one which seems to happen more often than you would think and more so in the balkans where there are much fewer of us backpackers - cringing as I call myself that - to go around. Anyway, im out but its been good to be writing again and hope my next one is sooner than later.

Pices from Plitvice Lakes National Park:

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Posted by AAY 09:09 Archived in Croatia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Bled Picturesque, Bohinj Serene

Lake Bled, Slovenia

overcast 16 °C

Internet has proved harder to come by in Lake Bled region - and to be honest, I did not seek it out (wasnt the kind of place where one is anxious to spend time playing with anything remotely electronic) - so this posting arrives perhaps a little later than I wished. It also seems I will have to cut short the second, less analytical posting promised from the few days I spent in Ljubliana. So, for those who want to know about nightlift in Slovenia, it must wait though im sure those who are curious are satisfied enough that I am finding time to go out and am willing to spend the Euro or Kuna to check out the scene, whether it be an outdoor jazz venue or a disco saturated with teenagers.

Again, Ljubliana is best enjoyed on a sunny afternoon, sitting river side in a cafe talking with friends, reading a paper and generally enjoying the serenity of the moment. But, there are a few worthwhile things that might keep you away from the cafes for at least a few hours. The castle is the natural first choice. It sits above the city, just above the river bend and offers fantastic views of the city. The museum isnt that special, but thats not why one goes up there, its to head to the top of the tower to look down on the city and to glance into the distance at the Snow dusted mountains of the Julian Alps. At the foot of the castle hill is a fantastic market open daily where one can pick up almost any food or clothing item desired, which is also flanked by St Nicholas Church, probably the best Ive seen in 3 weeks on road.

The hidden gem, where few tourists seemed to venture, was Tivoli park just west of the city center. The city is small, so we are talking no more than ten minutes from the main square. The first ring of the park is a fairly well manicured set of gardens, with walkways leading in numerous directions, each of which likely shares a common endpoint. What is more special though is the center of the park, a wooded hill - approaching mini mountain status - with hiking trails which, when trekking along, conceals not only the sight, but also the sound, of the bustling city below. It was hard to imagine any city having such hiking opportunities, albeit of no real difficulty, so close to a downtown setting. There is also a great, relatively isolated and thus empty, museum on contemporary Slovenian history that presents a few not so special exhibitions on life under Tito which I enjoyed, though doubt the average tourist would.

Now, to my Next Destination:

The last two nights were spent at Lake Bled, an incredibly picturesque lake in the foothills of the Julian Alps. Though its beauty is unquestioned, it is a little touristy at times for my taste. Who can blame the industrious folk who see fit to capitalize on the opportunity presented to them though - its not every day you find a lake situated so close to the mountains, with a castle overlooking it from high atop a mini-mountain and a mini-church positioned on an island that sits right in the middle of it. I promise, I found a chord and will get pictures soon. Anyway, among the better things I did in my time there was to trek 4km north to the Vintgar Gorge and take a day trip to slightly larger, and far more serene, Lake Bohinj which is about 20 miles deeper into the Alps and possesses greater natural beauty, albeit w/out like castle and churches. Still, it was a great place to hike - 3 hours around 3/4 of the lake - and get away from all of the tourists at Bled. Not to say Bled isnt worth the Journey, it definitely is, but if you are allergic to tourists there are better places out there. Thankfully the weather held out for most of my time there, only raining right at the end of it and the morning that I left. It is not a good place to spend time in the rain - unless you find a pub.

Today I left Slovenia - though somewhat disappointed I did not make it to Maribor or Ptuj in the Northeast - and am currently sitting in Zagreb. It is a much grimier city, more graffiti, and you can the changes as you move toward the heart of the Balkans. I have been here before - four nights in fact - and dont intend to spend much time here. Likely two nights, with most of the day spent on some trip elsewhere in the vicinity as I have yet to see much of the inland croatian area outside of the capital. It is my hope to post a similar posting on my way out to the first one I shared in Ljubliana and have my new 1000 page tome by Rebecca West - a Yugoslavian travel memoir from the forties - to help guide me in this pursuit. I cant believe I am towing this thing along with me - it literally weighs a kg. But it is one of, if not the, definitive piece on this region, and should be a great companion for the next few weeks.

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Posted by AAY 09:56 Archived in Croatia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Warm Water Overrated, Ljubliana Not

Ljubliana, Slovenia

sunny 26 °C

After a short train ride - my first taken in over two weeks in Europe, impressive no? - I arrived in Ljubliana, the capital city of Slovenia. It is home to just north of 300,000 people, or roughly 1/6th of the country's total population. As I mentioned in my last post, this isn't my first time travelling here, though given the sunnier weather this time around, it has definitely warranted a repeat visit. The city is likely one of the most pleasant I've been to in Europe, and given the choice to live anywhere, its difficult to imagine any other city across the pond having a more appealing living environment - the only real drawback being its size, which in itself is a virtue as well. I even noticed a posting in my hostel looking for english speakers to teach at a local language school and am extremely tempted to inquire before I leave about the terms of this employment. The streets, and mainly the riverside, are littered with cafes where locals spend much of their day sitting back and enjoying the scenary. The people tend to be very friendly, perhaps reserved at first, and speak some of the best english I have found on all my travels through Europe. It has yet to become a real mecca of tourism though it has increased since my last time in town. I have enjoyed my time here so much that I have extended my stay another night and might, if feeling the itch, step in for one more on my way back from Lake Bled.

Leaning Westward:

The Balkans have become a special interest of mine because of their position at the fault line between east and west. Situated between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires, this region has suffered through a constant tug and war between these two powers (among others), enjoying only a few fleeting moments of independence over the last thousand years. This fault line has been in constant flux, leaving cultural remnants of each power who has held control of region. Existing ethnic divisions, the drawing of arbitrary borders, and likely even more destructive, the forced religious conversion, has helped cultivate an environment ripe for civil war, culminating in the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia less than 15 years past. In what might be but a brief moment of peace, I came here to see firsthand the impact of each of these variables, and to an even greater extent, how the people are coping with the sudden and dramatic shift from the most recent authoritarian regime under Tito (Yugoslavia), to six (likely soon to be seven - kosovo) struggling, independent states in the midst of rapid modernization, and for some, recent or in the near term accession to the European Union. So at its core, a study of history and identity on 2 levels; the collective damage of a millenium of occupation under multiple leading empires of the time and the more recent, and likely more transient, challenge of transitioning away from its socialist past to a westward leaning capitalist partner with the rest of europe, and the world beyond. Potentially ambitious to apply meaning to this trip - a focused purpose for journey - but at the very least want anyone reading to understand how I am approaching my trip, what im seeking to gain from it, and lastly how and why I have selected these destinations. It also seems a necessary explanation to precede my discussion of Slovenia which follows.

Slovenia is a healthy, high growth, west leaning country which conjures memories of my time spent in Austria rather than anything that Ive seen, or expect to see, further to the East. Due to its geographic location, its historically lied within the Habsburg sphere (sprinkled with some Italian influence near the coast), too far from Anatolia to ever fall under its control. It has little diversity, not plagued by any of the ethnic or religious tension that have caused such division and reaped such havoc in some other former Yugoslavian states. The relationship with former Yugoslavian counterparts seems strained, a reluctant partner which has looked to the west to rekindle ties with central europe, not the Balkans. One college student I met 2 nights ago at a kebab stand explained that with the Slovenian economy so much better off, many bosnias and serbians are crossing the border illegally to find work in cities like Ljubliana - he pointed to the guy the stand, acknowledging that his accent gave away his distant home. This same guy then articulated a sense among the Slovenes that the current government appears quite anxious to embed itself within the European union, and in effect distance themselves from the rest of the Balkans, that Slovenes are worried that their identity, already quite fragile, will be threatened. This concern seems common among euroskeptics who question the benefit of an "ever closer union" which to the average person scream greater bureaucracy with no personal benefit - its true to an extent, though at a macro level, Europe benefits greatly as a single economic center.

Another guy I met last night, a bit older but probably not past his early thirties, spoke some of us about a growing frustration among the older generation of Slovene workers with changes made since independence, in particular the ills of capitalism. These workers never had to worry about a job, the cost of food, but with the rise of unemployment, and movement of jobs across the world (sounds familiar no?) they are upset, and to an extent, yearn for the predictable but lower quality of life that the socialist way afforded them. It was quite interesting to hear such a perspective and understandable perhaps for those who are caught in the middle during this migration. That said, it is quite evident that the younger generation has embraced the change, and in the process, have begun to adapt to the changing economy and opportunity.

So anyway, I am beginning to enjoy the opportunity to notice and learn from locals about how they feel and are coping with all the change occuring in their country. So far this trip, mostly my time in Istria, it was hard to recognize or enjoy these shifts, mostly due to the holiday package tourists which were all around me, and spending time in places which witnessed little of the recent conflict - for all intensive purposes Istria is an Italian peninsula - all bilingual - as distant as Venice from the damage of the Croat-Serbian war. In Ljubliana I have only begun to scratch the surface I feel, and look forward, after my time relaxing and hiking in the Lake Bled region about an hour drive north of where I currently am, that I will find more of this when arriving in Zagreb and beyond later next week.

For now though, Im heading out. Expect another post from Ljubliana regarding some more of the highlights of what their is to do here, and to those who are more curious about what the nightlife is like, some info on my jazz club and discoteque experiences from the last two nights which includes my first plum tasting which was placed within, and saturated with, a homemade moonshine-like local specialty drink which I couldnt even spell if I tried. Until then...

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Posted by AAY 08:03 Archived in Slovenia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Independence Day

Postojna, Slovenia

rain 10 °C

I spent July 4th in a small regional capital in Slovenia, Postojna - located half way between the coast and Ljubliana, Slovenia's capital. I expected to have two days here, one to see the heralded caves located a mere km north of the town and a second to venture an additional 10km or so to see the Predjama castle I had hyped in my previous post. Well, to my disappointment, and also to my relief, I'm heading out one night early to Ljubliana content with having had a pretty amazing cave experience, but no castle. Though much cheaper than the coast, or the capital to come, this town has absolutely no character to it, as warned by the guide. I thought two peaceful days out here would be nice retreat from the sun so close to the mountains and such, but the castle seems impossible - either walk, not such a good option seeing as it poured most of yesterday, or hitchhike, less appealing for now, in time it may change as the site becomes more appealing - to get to. So I guess if I had the will, there would have been a way - but the dearth of things to do in the town have forced my hand. No problem though, Im off to Ljubliana which having seen on my previous trip to europe, really enjoyed. At that time I was only able to enjoy a brief day trip in the rain, but think I will devote up to 3 nights there, as I remember it to be such a peaceful place to spend time. Im sick of moving around so much - I think I have been in 8 different beds in the last 15 days - so hoping to ease the speed at which I see places, sit a bit to enjoy what is there for longer than a day to really get a better understanding of what the place is like. This switch in philosophy was somewhat inspired by a fellow american I met in Piran, some 32 year old guy just laid off from a job in America who was spending one to two weeks in five or six cities. Seemed a far better way to do it, so their seems to be a compromise at hand given my ambitious travel plans and my hope to not exhaust myself by mid summer. Pacing is essential.

That said, the caves here are really special. Not sure whether I was simply ignorning the potential all these years, but wow, what a cool afternoon it was walking through the Jama - cave in Slovenian - yesterday, even with the tour group of 50 or so heads which traveled along with me - you can not meander along on your own, stuck in a group. Anyway, wish I had pics to share, but even then they forbid you from taking them down there so I have a few stealthy shots, but none came out too well, or so at first blush this is what I think. As for the request for pics, I hope to address this and by address this I mean purchase the necessary cord, when I get to the capital today - Istria wasnt the place to find such a thing.

Now, for what most of you have been waiting for: food. Its pretty much been a nightmare trying to find balance between cost, what is healthy, and what I eat. The balkans are not known for having much chicken and or turkey, which has made protein a difficult thing to find. Ive been eating a town of cheese, even tried one of those disgusting yogurt drinks (cherry) but could not finish it. Last night I was fortunate to stumble upon a kebab place which had chicken, and surmise that this will be my best bet moving forward. The distances I have walked in hopes of finding something which comforts me has been enormous, and think that a diet of banana, bread, peanuts, and "cut pizza" may not be sustainable. Lets just say I havent become desperate yet, but in time, who knows..

Well, time to head to the train station. Happy Independence day to those at home, I literally didnt realize it until the day was over, but oh well.

Posted by AAY 12:28 Archived in Slovenia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Head for the Border

Piran, Slovenia

28 °C

After a pleasant few days in Rovinj, Ive made the leap across the border to Slovenia and am spending one night in the coastal town of Piran. It is a pleasant place. Though possessing slightly less charm than Istria, this is easily countered by the lack of commercialism for which there was little respite in Rovinj. Here, the back streets remain vacant, perfect for me to meander along with little fear of being run over by anxious tourists hoping to find the next tourist trap restaurant or store to step into. The coast is also more majestic, with a more rapid ascent into the mountains, terraced with homes and grape fields for wine. From the church atop the city one can look left and see Croatia, look right to see Italy. It is really quite the spectacle, knowing that right around the next bay is a new city - trieste - which serves as a major transportation hub for Italy. There is far more development, givent he dearth of coast, than in Istria where once leaving a town center, one could expect a brief ring of suburban homes and then nothing for long distances. Here, with such limited coastline, the Slovenes have been forced to build, though have done so in a way which remains not so obtrusive. In the morning, I leave for Postonja, a small, relatively forgetful - or so i read - city half way between the coast and the capital ljubliana. It is famous for having one of the country's most famous caves as well as being quite near to the Predjama castle which, if you find the time, is worth a google image, its really cool.

Yesterday was spent away from Rovinj, mostly in Pazin which is the seat of the Istrian government - slap in the face to Pula, too Italian. Not the prettiest of towns I might add, though it is positioned deep in a valley which was a quite impressive descent via bus. I had hoped to trek 6km to the next hill town but unfortunately there were few signs to ensure I was going in the right direction, and too infrequent of bus links to ensure my ever returning to Rovinj that day. I did headoff in one direction for forty minutes in hopes of reaching Beram, but given my uncertainty of direction, I returned to Pazin, exploring its castle and a gorge below - quite cool, said to have inspired both Dante, the gate to hell, and Jules Verne, some underground river. The bus home was a mess, having to switch once in Zminj, with little direction from my bus driver who spoke only a few words in English.

As to not use up my goodwill on the free internet, people are waiting, I am going to head out now. And one more thing, I am promising now no more determinstic quips about losing my readership, whoever you are - I am no longer preoccupied with your degree of interest. Keep reading at your own pace.
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Posted by AAY 09:33 Archived in Slovenia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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