Thursday, September 20, 2001

Oh crikey. I've finally got a little time at a reasonably cheap internet place, and I've got to catch up on the last two or so weeks. I seriously doubt I'm going to manage it in one sitting but here goes. I'm in a very pretty coastal town in Slovenia, called Piran.

I'm going to start from Ljubljana, the day before the World Trade Centre went down. Before that was Budapest and the eight Irish, and then Szechesfehervavrvar and the Sajtos's and the quacking cat. I do intend to get it all in writing, but maybe not in this sitting.

Ok, so yeah.

So we spent a couple of days in the attractive but rather dull city of Ljubljana, camping in some place that was an hour's walk away from the main city. An hour's walk along this huge long straight and busy road, so on our second day there we opted for the bus. Ljubljana is undoubtedly a great city to live in, as there is a proliferation of bars and cafes and it's all very pretty. However, aside from lack of cheap accommodation and any sort of internet facilities, there really is very little to see for someone like me, who is uncultured enough not to really care about museums and only wants giant castles and towers and gothic architecture. I mean, Ljubljana had a castle, but it was a pretty pansy castle. Like a big house really. If I was a king I would've been embarrassed to live there.

So our first day there was unexceptional, and the people were mostly fairly surly (in stark contrast to the Slovenians elsewhere, who have virtually all been lovely). Simon was also a little grumpy because he'd had to get up at 7am, which is approximately 7 hours before when he'd prefer to get up in an ideal world. The 8 hour train journey had been ok, in as far as 8 hour train journeys can, but Simon had been pissed off that the passport guys had opened up his rucksack and asked him a few questions (like are you carrying drugs, or weapons). They barely even noticed me, which was a good thing because I had 20kg of heroin stuffed into my backpack.

The second day in Ljubljana is the one that you can all probably remember, because that was when two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Centre, reducing it to rubble, another one crashed into the Pentagon, and another one just crashed. I'd spent the morning pissing around in Ljubljana but got bored so had gone back to the campsite, and lazed around feeling a bit ill - just a general exhaustion from the tiring last week. It was quite hot too. I had the radio on, listening to BBC World Service, but not much was happening, so I tuned into some bollocky Slovenian radio station, playing bollocky music. This went on for a while, until it was interrupted by a woman speaking Slovenian, in something that sounded vaguely like this: "zsz gjdjfjxj sisfjkhdf d dhskh vzvzvzvzv World Trade Centre ghhfjkdk djfhjh fh ffos explosion..." Intrigued, I went back to World Service and got the whole story as it unfolded.

When Simon returned from Ljubljana, I told him the news and he'd just nodded and agreed with me, and only the voice of the BBC convinced him I wasn't making it up.

I didn't see the very bizarre pictures until the following evening. Crazy to think I was there last year, standing below them. And they are totally colossal. I didn't go up because I was short on time, but just reckoned I'd do it another time.

I saw the pictures in Bled, a small but popular town north of Ljubljana, in the Julian Alps and with an astonishingly attractive lake with a small island in the middle, with a church. By this time we'd been joined by two New Zealanders, and were about to begin three great days.

The first New Zealander we met in Ljubljana. Called Peter. He was in a nearby tent from us, and had been since we'd arrived the day before. I'd seen him about there, but not spoken to him because for some reason I presumed he was German because he had long hair. The logic behind this isn't worth explaining. But anyway, he'd seen the Scottish flag that Simon had very wisely bought in Budapest and so approached the tent and we got talking. We discussed plans and it appeared we were heading in the same direction, so the three of us went to Bled the following day.

The second New Zealander appeared as if from nowhere. Wanted or unwanted, she forced herself upon us. She was called Cindy. As we got off the Ljubljana to Bled bus, she simply appeared. Waiting on unsuspecting prey perhaps. She just saw our backpacks, got talking, and we were all wanting to camp so headed round the lake and set up camp in an amazingly well facilitated and very attractively positioned campsite between a clump of hills. We set up our small colony of tents deep into the site, away from the caravanning riff raff.

Actually, some of these caravans were colossal. One looked like an armour plated fire engine. Half of them had massive unfolding canopes (if that's the right word) that took up a space three times bigger than the caravan itself.

It was a good day, and still just early afternoon, so we decided to check out the island in the lake. Seriously, the whole place was just too attractive for reality. A church on a small island in a beautiful lake with a small town clustered on one side with a castle perched on a colossal rock overlooking it all, and all surrounded by forested hills and huge craggy mountains providing the backdrop to it all. But the island was what first appealed to us, so the four of us went and hired a rowing boat, and after a "determined" effort by Simon, we managed to get there, and check out the church.

It was cool, but two things disappointed. Firstly, there was a big tower, and I wasn't allowed up it. Seriously, if you have a big tower, let people climb it. As the saying surely goes. But come on dudes, you can't make towers and then not let people go to the top. And then in the church itself was a bell, called the "Wishing Bell". A rope hung down in the middle of the church and you pulled it to ring the bells, and you were granted a wish. For the entire time we stayed at Bled, we heard this bell ring, from the various package toursts who got their gondola ride to the island. So it seemed fair enough I get my wish. But nothing happened. I pulled the rope and it didn't budge. Cindy tried too, but it simply wouldn't move. Somehow all these old people managed to get their wishes, but we were cruelly denied.

Perhaps a good thing. My wish was a little corrupt.

We went back to the campsite then, hung around for a while, watching a bit of CNN in the TV tent, and then later went out for some drinks in the town.

Day 2 in Bled was the best. The night certainly was the best night out I've had all trip so far, even if I don't remember half of it. It was another nice day, when the sun didn't stray behind a cloud, and the four of us went and ventured up to the castle on the giant rock overlooking everything. The castle itself was pleasant, but not as ferocious as some (namely Spisky Pophradie castle, which was the big almighty mother of castles) but the very magnitude of the rock made it seem impressive. We spent some time looking about, looking at the view, eating chocolate, then headed into town for a couple of pints.

We happened upon a pleasant little pub with a pleasant little outdoor area, and by coincidence found ourselves next to two Irish guys who Simon (but not the rest of us) had met in the campsite earlier. Martin and Derek. And suddenly, we had the makings of a great group, and a great night out.

It was a cool as hell group actually. Peter was laid back and easygoing, occasionally seeming somewhat bemused by proceedings. Cindy was a lot of fun, or so I feel obliged to say because she might be reading this. I actually hated the girl. Martin was a human whirlwind and Derek was just cool and laidback, providing an overall balance for the two of them. They were the epitomy of "Irish rascals". Simon was, as ever, Simon and me, well, what can I say? Tons actually, but for the sake of everyone I'll withhold.

So we all had a few pints, joined also by an Australian girl called Cristy that the Irish had met earlier on. Then we headed back to camp to get some food, arranging to meet at 8pm at the same pub. Officially in celebration of Peter's 28th birthday (which has actually been two days before and the swine hadn't told us) but unofficially for just a piss-up.

It's fair to say that my memory of the night has quite a few substantial holes in it, but what I do know is that our group somehow swelled in numbers very rapidly. From the initial four of us, plus the two Irish and the one Australian girl, we began picking up other people. Two were Scottish girls from inside the pub, that Simon overheard in conversation when one said the word "Edinburgh". They were on holiday with their parents (also in the pub and also very drunk) and joined us outside for drinks. By very strange turn of events, it transpired that one had actually met Simon before, at a party at his house hosted by his flatmate Sergio, whose parents of course hosted us in our first night in Frankfurt. Small world. These girls were drunk and loud. But quite amusing. An Australian guy and a Canadian guy also joined us, but my memories of them are a little vague. I do recall they seemed a little overwhelmed by the entire series of events.

So there was, I suppose you could say, a degree of drunkenness. We moved to another pub, swallowing up a middle aged Yorkshire couple in the process. They were very very Yorkshire. I won't pretend I can remember many details but I do know that I had a big conversation with the very Yorkshire woman, to do with her job. She worked in a factory, making marjorine tubs. This still seems like a slightly surreal memory to have.

I remember nothing more, but from what I'm told, our loud but good natured group stormed some quiet and plush casino bar and I fell asleep in a couch, clutching a glass of red wine. We got back to the campsite at about 4am, running latterly because it began to rain, and five of us (me, Simon, Peter, Cindy and Martin) ended up in Martin's tent pretending to drink red wine until Martin got so abusive we were forced to leave.

I woke the next day at about 9, feeling remarkably clear of any hangover. Travelling has been blessedly free of hangovers so far. It was raining, and there continued the theme of our last full day in Bled.

It rained. Sometimes it rained just very lighty, sometimes it pissed down with fury, but it always rained. I spent a little time in the TV tent (with various other English-speakers) watching CNN, and a little doing a small shopping, but before the evening, I was either tent confined or under a nearby shelter. And I tell you, rain on a tent all day drives you mental. It's so damn loud.

As it got dark, a certain bleakness set in. But then came our knights in shining armour. A middle aged Irish couple from a camper van in the site appeared through the pouring rain and offered to make me and Simon a meal. The woman had met Simon earlier in the day, and by virtue of our Scottish flag on the tent had located us and so made the offer, obviously sensing the misery at camping in torrential rain.

So that cheered things up, followed by the most wise idea of Cindy to go down to the nearby pub. Me, Simon, Peter, Cindy, Martin, Derek. A quiet few drinks...

It was wonderful to simply be somewhere that didn't have the continual drumming of rain. But more wonderful to be somewhere that sold drink, cheap. It was "hot whiskies" all round, ie warm whisky and heaps of sugar. The six of us took a corner and a pack of cards and spent the night playing various card games, drinking, talking and making noise. The middle aged Irish couple were also about, but they said they were too drunk to join us.

That was our final night in Bled, for the following day our group had to split. Peter went with Martin and Derek to Italy, and Cindy went to Salzburg to get a 1 pound flight to London. Me and Simon? We perhaps made the worst decision. We went to the Bohinj valley.

To be fair to the Bohinj valley, we saw it under the most wrong of circumstances. It's a series of small towns situated around a lake, deep into a valley with mountains towering all around. We arrived there in the afternoon and it seemed pleasant, and the mountains looked quite impressive. We'd timed our visit with some cow festival that was supposed to be happening, that involved cows and drinking I believe. We arrived on Saturday. The cow festival was on Sunday.

On Sunday it rained and rained and rained. And it was cold, freezing cold. And I had toothache.

Now, many would say my toothache was slightly deserved. My diet of recent has consisted of much chocolate and much fizzy drinks, but I suspect it was the hot whiskies that were the killer blow. I woke on Sunday morning freezing cold, listening to continual rain, and with teeth that became progressively more painful as the day went on.

The cow festival, it seemed, was off. There was some stuff in the morning, but by the afternoon it had disappeared. Killed by the freak cold and wet weather conditions. There was nothing to do in the tiny town of Ukenc, where we were staying. Nothing. A tiny pub, a restaurant which closed early, and a few hotels. No actual sign of houses, just tourist accommodation. The campsite became almost deserted, as those more wise than ourselves disappeared elsewhere. I was wearing four layers, and was still frozen. For entertainment we wandered the cold and empty streets until it became dark. I took some painkillers and we went to bed, cold and miserable, at 8pm.

And with that happy note I must go now. More later.

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