Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Hungary - scratching the surface
Once Upon a Saga:
I am amazed...amazed by the people I meet, the cultures I merge into, the history of the regions and the architecture around me...
I believe that no matter what you do in life...if you are not careful...then it will emerge into a pattern and even the most interesting and complicated job will become similar to standing at a production line. Like the people who actually stand at a production line...seeing the same stuff passing by day by day...that is; if you are not careful.
I left Vienna in Austria by train and when we passed the border into Slovenia I really did not know what to expect. A very militant type of person checked my passport on the train. He stared at it very thoroughly for almost a minute. I know that my passport is legal and real. But I still had that strange feeling in my stomach like if I was doing something wrong. He finally accepted the passport...of course.
It was dark when I arrived to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and train stations everywhere seem to gather a certain type of people in the night time. It was new territory for me...the Balkans. What do I know about the Balkans? War...well in recent years...I mean...the nineties were bad for the Balkans...right? Actually, I was young in the nineties. I am sure that I was educated on the subject...but I stand at risk for maybe not paying a lot of attention :(
There is a kind of ghetto ring to it
I found free wifi. Then I found an address for a backpackers place where I could spend the night and headed off in that direction. I felt that Ljubljana was dark, worn down and potentially dangerous. There was a lot of graffiti and not a lot of life.
At the backpacker place I left my bag and decided to take a look at where I was. And that turned everything around. Because once you get down to the river that passes through Ljubljana the city becomes alive and beautiful! People were standing around with drinks in their hand while talking and laughing. The incredible architecture of a very old city was well lit and a guided city tour was taking place at a statue. Restaurants were open and the feel of the place was just spectacular. An old castle on the top of a hill was well lit and the play between lights and music in the parks and in the streets made it all somewhat magical...I felt the energy level rising inside me!
It is so amazing - I could stay forever
The next day I saw it in daylight. It's funny...a part of town is covered in graffiti and then you have the other part which is absolutely lovely. Have people come to an agreement on this? Well, I made my way to the Red Cross office, I took a few pictures and then I pretty much left for Croatia :) Of course I met some people and talked to a few but I am in a hurry...
While the train rolled out of Ljubljana it was again dark. I spend at least 24 hours in every country and that makes the logistics a little harder. So it was quite late when I arrived to Zagreb. I had a host there through couch surfing. My host left me an address and we met at a shopping mall near his place. It was weekend so he had been drinking a little :) We got up to his place where another couch surfer (from France) also was staying. I was quickly offered Rakia and had a shot of that. Now that is pretty high percent alcohol...so I stuck with one shot and drank some tea. The French guy was going out and invited me to come...but I recalled Ricky in Cordoba and staying out until 6:15am so I declined. That resulted in all Danish people being pussies. Sorry fellow Vikings :)
Especially trains are hit hard by "artists"
I had a good night's sleep and enjoyed a really good time with my host who is a fantastic human being. He has a really nice way of looking at life and after going through a lot of pictures there is no doubt that I will be back to see more of Croatia. It is a BEAUTIFUL country.
Everywhere you will find a hint of the past
I had some time in Zagreb before my train took me closer to the border of Bosnia Herzegovina. The time was spent trying to take good pictures in the somewhat lousy weather. But the city is nice and it was getting decorated for Christmas. I figure this will all be good for motorbiking :)
The night was spent in Sisak. A small town still in Croatia but closer to the border. It might have a lot to offer but I got in late and intended on getting an early start on the border crossing the following day. I was the only person in the restaurant and the music creating the atmosphere was from the eighties :)
It's darn lucky that I am such good company!
It's easy to fall in love with these countries. I hope schools in Europe are making class trips to the Balkans...
Once in a while the train would stop at small remote stations and uniformed men with really long and somewhat odd looking hammers would walk around the train. I had no idea what they were up to but later learned that they can judge by the sound it makes when they hit the suspension...or brakes...if everything is alright.
Riding into the country side I started noticing small red signs along the forest lines on each side of the train. I was a soldier, what feels like a lifetime ago, and I recognized the signs from my time in Africa: land mines! The remnants of war from recent years. It takes forever to clean up after a war but I cannot help wondering if it may be good for something? Sure the forests become off limits for those who value their lives...but does the forest at the same time becomes an oasis for nature which is undisturbed by man? I hope so...but I know that animals also step on land mines once in a while.
The border crossing was somewhat old fashioned. The trains are quite old fashioned and uniforms seem to be a big thing for anyone working on trains, at stations and particularly with passport control. On these old trains you can open the window and stick your head out which was absolutely fantastic. Probably one of the best experiences for me so far. I did this quite a lot in the lands between Slovenia and Croatia. The signs signaling danger of land mines would come and go...old houses had collapsed and were being reclaimed by nature and some farms here and there looking like they were doing really well. The train was not going fast and having my head out the window was excellent :)
Then an old man got on the train and sticking my head out the window came to an end. He engaged in conversation. He is 63 years old and from Serbia. The best country in the world! An innocent country which has been wrongly treated by the world for many years he continued... But he seemed nice enough and interesting. He pulled up his shirt and showed me the scars of the war. There was a very bad scar from a shot he received from the hands of drunken Russian soldiers. Now he sells books to students on the train and in student camps near universities.
63 year old book salesman
I quickly got off the train in Banja Luka so I could meet with the Red Cross. I had decided not to go to Sarajevo on this trip. A sacrifice for me in order to get to Poland faster. Because in Poland I will apply for visa's for Belarus and Russia and time is running out on my train pass.
When I got back on the train I was heading for Doboj. Still in Bosnia Herzegovina. I made the assumption that given the location of the city there would be a better chance of catching a train from there to Belgrade in Serbia. On the train I sat together with a man and a young woman. But I kept quiet all the way to Doboj...a mistake on my part...because the woman turned out to be amazing.
This part of our world is amazing and precious
Once we got closer to Doboj the woman and I engaged in conversation and her English was flawless. She offered to help me find my feet in Doboj...and I received first class treatment! Later I met up with her and her boyfriend and we had a great night out while tasting the superb beer in a city I will one day return too.
Yeah...so...the map showed an active train line to Belgrade but in reality the line had been cancelled 6 months earlier...so I got on a bus from Bosnia Herzegovina to Serbia.
It kind of sounds like a dangerous place to me. But that all changed. Belgrade is an amazing city and I grossly underestimated its size and modernity. I figure it might as well be Copenhagen if only a bit smaller.
The history of Belgrade goes back around 7000 years!!! Yes! And it is definitely visit worthy. I had a great time with the ladies from Red Cross who were very kind and helpful. The Red Cross happens to be situated in a building that was given to the organization by the Queen more than 100 years ago.
Mmmmm...Sarma with Ajuar
Belgrade remains on the top of my list. A great city that deserves much more than a short visit. I was walking around in the evening the next day before I got on a train to Budapest. I was situated in a charming well lit park while sitting at a fixed chess table. Then Sasha approached me. He is in his early sixties and was hit by the financial situation through which he lost his job. But we had a nice talk and after about 20 minutes he wanted to show me the damage made by the NATO bombings. We walked a few minutes and arrived at the national TV and radio station. A section of the large building was completely destroyed and looked unstable. Everything else looked modern and you could see people working inside the offices of the station.
The building had in fact been stabilized but was left in that state as a reminder for future generations of the past. A terrible past of many civilians murdered by allied forces. I must admit that I am not completely up to date about the war history of Serbia or the Balkans for that sake. But I am quite convinced that there was foul play involved. Who knows...maybe a part of many years payback for starting First World War?
The sunset from the the castle overlooking the Donau was amazing. Perhaps the best so far. It painted colors worthy of a master...and perhaps represented thousands of years bloodshed in a society struggling to exist. I will return some day...
I shared a sleep wagon with 2 Americans from Utah. They were on a 3 month trip cruising around Europe. I have met quite a lot of Americans on this trip and they have all been great. And none of them were obese ;) So much for stereotypes...but I do like Americans in general...I just struggle a bit with their foreign policy. Did you know that Americans as a population only represent 4% of the planets population? Interesting...hey? ;)
A view over the Donau and Budapest
Budapest is AMAZING! Well, the part I saw was. It was raining as it has been most places...I I only got to see the city in the dark. But it is such a masterpiece! And yet another city which the Danube flows through. I love Istanbul in Turkey. Mainly for its incredible history of all sorts. I must say that Budapest ranks right up there!
Even in the dark November rain she is beautiful
And before I forget to mention it; I have been treated well by the Red Cross in every country. But the spirit of hospitality from the office in Budapest takes the prize! You really need to up your game if you are going to beat them.
At this point I was really under pressure to keep moving. And it just does not do these amazing countries and cultures any justice! I would love to hang around in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Hungary...I would feel privileged and honored to spend more time there. But I do see the sand running through the time glass and I need to round up in Europe and get to Norway. Why Norway? Because from there I will begin a journey across the Atlantic on an adventure second to none!! This is a great adventure - thank you for joining me!
As it happens I have arrived to Poland now. But I will combine Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland into another blog later this week ;)
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31 buses, 4 boats, 28 metros, 66 trains, 11 trams & 1 bicycle...
Torbjørn C. Pedersen - Weeeeeeeeeeeee :)