Let’s start from the beginning. While in Paris, what seems like a month ago, our friends Caleb and Kyla gave us the news that they will be in Italy from Nov 11th or so [around the same time we would be there!] They suggested we should meet up to travel through the Amalfi coast. Great, we said!
Come November and we find ourselves with limited time in Europe before we head to the middle east. We need to get to Budapest by Nov 17th and have a Eurail pass [a train pass that can be used within 22 countries in Europe for a hefty price … but that’s a post for another time] that we need to use to get there. While in Venice, Sara and I were planning our next move, as if we’re making the decision between life or death on where to go next so that we minimize our spending, use the Eurail, see friends, and visit cities we’ve never visited before. We spent two days going back and forth between what seemed endless possibilities:
1. Venice – Florence – Siena (Or some other random Italian city) – Napoli (meet with Caleb and Kyla) – Rome – Fly to Budapest
2. Vencie – Florence – Napoli (meet with Caleb and Kyla) – Venice – Insbruck – Budapest
3. Venice – Florence – Ljubljana – Bled – Zagreb – Budapest
4. Venice – Ljubljana – Zagreb – Florence – Napoli (meet with Caleb and Kyla) – Rome – Fly to Budapest
5. Venice – Ljubljana – Florence – Napoli – Rome – Fly to Budapest
6. Venice – Ljubljana – Piran – Florence – Napoli – Rome – Fly to Budapest
Option 1 was good since we got to hang out with our friends and we got to go eat pizza in Napoli. However bad because we had the extra cost of flying and we wouldn’t really see anything new that we hadn’t seen before besides Napoli for Sara. Option 2 was OK for a second because we would somehow get to see our friends [for two days] and use our Eurail. However, it meant we would embark on what seemed a train suicide of three days of traveling for 5 or more hours each day. I vetoed that one right away. Option 3 was what made financial sense since we would only pay 20 euros for transportation and got to see new cities and countries. However, we would not get to see our friends from Paris and who knows when we were going to see them again. Option 4, 5, 6 were great because we got to see at least one new country and got to hang out with our friends, but we would have to pay more on transportation.
You have to understand, we planned this trip on a $100/day budget for the both of us if we were to do it for 10 months. We realized that traveling in Europe first would set us back a bit but the more we travel, the weaker the dollar felt and we wanted to be more careful with our spending.
After going back and forth for what seemed an eternity, we decided that money, although important, should not be a factor in wanting to have it all if it will not make you entirely broke. We decided we wanted to see our friends and go to Southern Italy. We bought our tickets from Rome to Budapest for Nov 17th! We know we’ll end up working one day and the $200 extra costs were going to be chump change in our 75+ years of existence in this earth.
However, the question of where we should go until we met Caleb/Kyla on the 12th remained: should we go to Florence or Slovenia? Stay in Tuscany or go to Cinque Terra? Or straight to Rome? Or Croatia and make our way back to Southern Italy? Freedom of choice can sometimes be a curse, specially for Type A personalities like ours. Staying put in Venice or Napoli or Slovenia for two weeks was out of the question because we had 4 more days on the damn Eurail pass. Not using it meant we wasted an equivalent of approx. $400.
It was 10 pm on Friday, after stuffing ourselves with a family style margherita pizza we still did not know where we were going to sleep on Saturday night. We decided to give up and we ensconced ourselves in our kindle iPhone apps. Sara was reading “Eat, Pray, Love” at the moment and 10 minutes from hiding, she screams: “It’s a sign!”
She had just read the following paragraph:
“I met a young Australian girl last week who was backpacking through Europe for the first time in her life. I gave her directions to the train station. She was heading up to Slovenia, just to check it out. When I heard her plans, I was stricken with such a dumb spasm of jealousy, thinking, I want to go to Slovenia! How come I never get to travel anywhere?”
Elizabeth Gilbert. Eat, pray, love: one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia (Kindle Locations 1406-1409). Viking.
Yes, it was a sign! We made up our minds to go to Slovenia and go check it out!
Earlier in our decision process [or should I call it indecision process] we had learned that the only direct train from Venice to Ljubljana [Slovenia’s capital pronounced “lyoob-lyAH-nah”] is at 9 pm and arrives at Ljubljana at 2 am. Who in their right mind wants to arrive at 2 am in a city where you’ve never been, don’t speak the language, and the only thing you know is that their country played in the last World Cup and won for the first time? We weren’t sure it was the best idea.
Fortunately for us, Sara’s type A personality saved our asses as she researched and re-researched possibilities on how to maximize our Eurail pass. She had found on a random website that you can get to Ljubljana from Venice during the day! by taking a local train from Venice to Trieste [a border town to Slovenia in Italy]. Once in Trieste walk 300 meters from the train station to the bus station and hope there is a scheduled bus to Sezana within the next hour, a border city in Slovenia. Once in Sezana, you hope there is a local train that can take you from Sezana to Devaca, where you switched yet again to another train to Ljubljana. However many switches we had to make, it did not matter, we were not getting there at 2 am.
Our day started with a fight with a mosquito at 4:30 am. It had rained the day before and mosquitos were coming out of their holes in Venice. It reminded me of a similar battle we had in Guanajuato. After not being able to go back to bed, we read until 7:30 am, packed, got ready, had breakfast and went to the train station at 9:30 am. There was a train to Trieste at 9:51. Perfect we said. We get to Trieste at 11:50 am and walk to the bus station to find out the next bus to Sezana is at 12:45 pm. Not bad. However, our indecisiveness and our curse of freedom of choice came back! There was a bus to Piran at 12:30 pm.
During her research, Sara had learned about three places within Slovenia we could potentially go besides Ljubljana: Piran, Skocjan Caves, or Bled. She had learned that Piran is a medieval town on the small coast of Slovenia but nothing else. Seeing the short distance from Sezana to Piran, why not go there? It was an hour and a half bus, we would get there at 2 pm and visit something new … after discussing it for about 15 minutes, we decided against it because we had no idea if there were budget lodging, or if it was a city that catered to backpackers. The last thing we wanted was to arrive at a place where the only place to stay is a 5 star resort at $500/night.
At this point my head was exploding from our inability to make up our minds. We buy our tickets to Sezana. After a beautiful 30 minute bus ride over the mountain range between Italy and Slovenia overlooking Trieste, we arrive at Sezana to find out the next train to Devaca is not for another 2 and a half hours. We walk into the tourist office, where a young girl named Nastja [pronounced nastyah] was waiting for someone to entertain her. Sezana does not see many tourist this time of year and she was probably bored out of her mind, I know I would be.
Sara and I started shooting what seemed a thousand questions a minute: should we go to Piran? [Yes, it’s beautiful, she goes to school there] Should we go to the caves? [Of course! It’s an UNESCO site] How far is it from here? What time does the train arrive? Where should we stay? Should we go today? What’s the population of Slovenia? [2 million] What’s the unemployment rate? [not as high as Spain or Italy] How is the relationship between Croatia and Slovenia? [not so good, Croatia is trying to take more land from them] Is there a lot of Italian influence? [Oh yes] On and on and on….
Lucky for us she was a nice sport and actually enjoyed our curiosity. She was most helpful in reserving a hostel in Ljubljana and convincing us that we will go to Piran and the caves [but not today!] After learning about her masters in tourism, her interest in Eramus, and sharing with her a few pics of Spain [she’s learning Spanish], we were off to catch our 15:20 train.
Not knowing the language, we were able to find the right platform for the train that would take us to Devaca. We get to Devaca and have only 2 minutes to find the next train to Ljubljana. Luckily it’s a very small station so it was not very difficult. At last, our final train of the day, one more hour and a half and we arrive at our destination! Lacking sleep, we pass out after a few minutes on the train. I wake up freaked out that we had missed our station and were probably somewhere in Romania. What seemed like hours was only 20 minutes of deep sleep.
We arrive in Ljubljana with zero expectations and not really knowing what to expect. Our friend in Sezana had already helped us arrange a room for the night and we had a rough idea on how to get there walking [a 10-15 minute walk from the train station]. It is 17:00 and it’s already dark … damn earth, why are you tilted I ponder? We start walking and I secretly start to become a bit paranoid.
There aren’t that many people on the streets and the few that are speak a language I’ve never heard but to me sounds between Russian and Italian. I’ve only heard Russian a few times. At the Vodka Bar in New York, at a friend’s Jewish-Russian wedding, and playing Call of Duty Black Ops. Whatever the reason, the damn Call of Duty came to mind instead of the two wonderful memories. I relived the horror of waiting to enter a building in Kazakh SSR to disrupt the Soviet space program and eliminate members of the Soviet Ascension program afraid I’d be shot.
Luckily that thought only lasted for a minute and I was able to start getting excited of arriving at a new city I’ve never been to before! We check-in to our hostel and rapidly head out to enjoy the rest of the night. We had read about great drunk food called Brek and head straight to the restaurant. Brek is a type of pastry with cheese or meet. It’s probably not very good for our health but our tongues were happy we were eating it. We decided to sit in the main plaza of Ljubljana. It’s a beautiful city with a river, beautiful buildings, no cars in the old town, and although not many people, those in the street were cheerful and excited to be alive. We start walking around town and before we know it we’re sitting down in another part of the plaza listening to a Slovenian group play american blues. I ordered a beer and Sara orders what we thought was a chocolate pudding but ended up being a very thick hot chocolate. The band stops playing, we finish our drinks and we continue our walk. This night we practice Emerson’s famous quote: ““Life is a journey, not a destination.” We walk with no destination in mind but to see the city at night. We get to Tivoli park and there is an exhibition of the city’s architecture in photography. Unfortunately we weren’t very motivated to take pictures and cannot show these to you, but it was a beautiful showcase of the city’s detailed worked in the city’s buildings.
After an unexpected day, I am happy to have lived it. There is nothing more precious than being able to be spontaneous and fear nothing (or close to nothing) to create adventure. By no means is our day today the most adventurous of the trip, but the story makes me think of so many things:
– pre-defined notions of what a culture/language is
– fear of the unknown
– importance of living the now
– be open to new experiences
– and many more
Days like today make me appreciate what traveling really is.