My Wandering

 

Triglav, Mussala and the Warm War in Between (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Bulgaria)

December 2001

PART 2 (SLOVENIA)

The next thing I remember was that we reached Zagreb at almost 5 in the morning. I sat on a bench on the platform and ate some bread and processed cheese from a twisted and smashed box. Then I looked at people: they were so different from the others: so neatly dressed, so "civilized", one would say... Without making too much noise, they were simply going to the trains or simply waiting. This was so unfamiliar to me. Eventually I left and, after dropping my backpack in the station, I headed for the city. It had something from Vienna, although I had never visited Vienna. The streets were neat and clean, the taxi drivers were silently waiting in front of the station without bugging people with thousands of questions. It was not raining, it was snowing. Zagreb was too neat for rain to stain it. The classical buildings and the well lit streets with perfect pavement made the city enjoyable, yet I had left behind the challenge and thrill imposed by a first visit to cities like Istanbul, Sofia or even Bucharest. Everything was easy here and people did not look at tourists like at a wallet full of green bills ready to be snatched open; people simply watched their way to their own business. I wandered in the first empty streets, then I reached the central square where they had this huge Christmas tree and some music. It was a holiday atmosphere with clowns, many Santas, different games for children, money collectors for God knows what charity and so on. It was the kind of place where tourists go and shoot pictures, then ending the day in a fancy restaurant, drinking a riche bouquet expensive red wine. I crossed the square and headed up, on narrow streets, to the city museum. The view was spectacular.

Going downhill, I noticed many small shops where they sold everything. They had these small pastry or baker's shops, but the typical Turkish influence was far, some hundred kilometers to the East. I reached the local cathedral, where I was lucky enough to get inside exactly when the mass was beginning. I enjoyed the huge, impressive, gothic arches falling down on me and the Christmas-like singing for a while, then I went out, crossed a Christmas crowded market place, where I though as opportune to buy some bread, so the wisest thing was to just enter a baker shop and do that. Yet more was to come out of it. After entering the so vividly decorated shop, which seemed to me more like a jewelry shop than like anything else, a joyful girl dressed in a Santa-like outfit came from behind the counter. She served me and in the end said a long line of Christmas wishes; at least it seemed to be about that. This was impressive, maybe not for the local people, but for sure for me, coming from a country where one might have to wait for 10 minutes to draw the shop attendant attention and another 10 minutes to be served with a "why have you come here to bother me from doing nothing?"-like gaze.

I left the market and wandered on in the streets, ending a couple of hours later in the station. I waited for the train to Ljubljana and got in a compartment with a two Japanese guys and a seemingly Croatian lady. We soon reached the border and, after a brief passport check, the train departed. We did not have to wait for 2-3 hours at the border, like they do between Romania and Bulgaria. And we were spared of the rude and cheeky behaviour of the customs officers I was used to.


When the train was stopped on the Slovenian side and the customs officer saw my passport, he started asking about my documents. I showed them one by one, but that was still not satisfactory. Very politely and still being professional, he asked me to get off the train and follow him to the customs building, where I had to take everything out of the backpack. When he realized that the guns were hidden on the direct train and the drugs had already been sent by pigeons from Bucharest to Ljubljana, he told me to pack everything and to rush if I want to catch the train.

"Where are you going in Triglav? You should know the snow is quite big", he said all of a sudden.

"To the mountains, I hope to hike up the summit"

"I am an extreme skier myself; you should be careful with the weather", and he went on with some mountaineering advice while I was packing.

It was unbelievable they way he acted. First, he spoke very good English, which was something new for customs officers. Then he was professional. He wouldn't even dare touch one of my things and insisted that I should present my belongings without him touching them. And then he was giving me advice about the mountains. This was outraging. Later on, after getting back to Romania, some friends said it was rude that I was taken off the train. It was not. The law said this was their right and they obeyed to the law instead of asking for a bribe, as they would have done in some places. Yet the law was something new for Romanians to understand.

After getting back on the train, I enjoyed the mountain scenery until we reached Ljubljana. Big houses in Austrian style, decent train stations, snowy slopes and endless forests...

I eventually reached Ljubljana in a most spectacular scenery, with the Alps in the back, to the North. Before boarding on an evening train to Jesenice, I had an hour to wander through the city which was fascinating. It was quite small, but it was like a jewel, with the castle hanging on top of a nearby hill and the lovely river flowing at the bottoms of the hill. The narrow streets and the many different cafes and bars made the place look special, especially as it was not - at the time - invaded by tourists. Eventually I had to return to the train station and take something which looked to me more like an airplane than like a local train. The conductor looked at my EuroDomino and noticed it was issued in Romania.

"Romania?", he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Bucharest?", he insisted even more wondering.

"Yep"

He looked with a smile at me and wished me a nice evening, then he left.

The train reached Jesenice, where I was supposed to get a bus for the next 7 km. to Dovje. A bus in Slovenia seemed to be expensive, so I tried walking to the town limits and then I tried to hitch-hike, which was not advisable, as the tourist guide said: "hitch-hiking is very unfamiliar with Slovenes". However a car stopped 15 minutes later and took me to Dovje. As always, it is better to trust one's own senses, rather than what the others say.

From the road to the centre of Dovje (it is difficult to say "the centre of Dovje", as the village had like 30-40 houses) there was this narrow steep street which was like a Sisif hike for me at that hour. However eventually I reached my very nice host which led me to my room. After saying "hello" when I entered their house and saying "this is heaven" when entering my room, my last words were "thank you and good night". I had a well-deserved shower and instantly fell asleep in a huuuuge bed dreaming of peaks and ridges.

I woke up in the morning and it was already late. I looked through the window towards the mountains which looked down on little me. I realized how happy I should have felt there. After a brief snack, I packed a few things and met my host which gave me some useful advice about the mountains. Then I left and walked towards the mountains.


After a 12 km. long trek on a road I reached the path going upwards, towards the main ridge. The weather was very good and the views were impressive, with those huge rocky walls and that wild scenery. I returned in the evening and a car took me: it was the second and yet not the last time when the guide book was wrong. Slovenes were very hospitable, yet, dislike people from the Balkans, they did not do a fuss about being hospitable, they found it natural to act like that. When I got back at my host's house, he invited me to dinner, after all it was Christmas evening. After a refreshing shower I went there and met some very nice people from France. I had the dilemma of a lifetime when I did not know whether that bad small came from my socks (which were supposed to be clean) or from something else: yet it was the cheese. I listened to many stories from the area, but the most interesting was about an old man which had climbed Triglav Peak starting from Mojstrana Village 365 times in only 278 days. The hours slowly passed by and I could not leave those nice people until over 1 AM.

The next day was meant to be destined for the mountains and so I woke up at 7 and started walking at 8. Another 12-13 km. on a road and then I started hiking on a beaten path. Many people were coming down:

"The weather is going to be bad the coming days" they were all telling me, yet I did not have the time, I wanted to hike. The valley was quite pleasant, with a constant slope and being invaded by juniper bushes. It was bordered by extremely steep, very scenic rocky walls. The weather was indeed getting bad, as the sun could be seen less and less, with high altitude clouds and an increasingly strong wind that was stirring the pulver-like snow. I went in the upper glacial circus of Krma Valley and then turned to the right. The mountains were at least a bit different from the ones I had hiked before: they were constituted of dolomite, which is a kind of lime stone after all. In Romania lime stone mountains are neither that extensive as these were and nor as high or impressive. After a while I got close to the place where I expected to find the hut. Right before reaching the hut, the last tourist from the hut passed by me and went down. Was there a big party down there and I did not know?! No, the "party" was waiting for me up there. I eventually found Kredarica Hut which also served as a meteorological station. In Romania meteorological stations were endowed with equipment and other facilities when they were built and nothing has happened ever since to improve or at least maintain their situation. People working there have to go out every now and then to check the equipment and to make the needed recordings in order to prepare the weather forecast which is usually sent down by SMS messages (where there is mobile phone network covering) or by ancient phone lines.

Some of the meteorological huts in Eastern Carpathians remain completely isolated from the outside world for 2-3 months in winter, due to the high snows.

Well, the situation was different here. The first thing that was meant to make one wonder was the fact that they had a chapel next to the hut. Then, after making a small tour of the area, I entered the hut. Apart from the two people working for the meteorological station, there was nobody left. A guy came to me, said "welcome" and asked me whether I wanted a tea. The hut was even more stunning on the inside than on the outside: it had a bar and even radiators in the dining room. While I was enjoying my tea, I looked on the menu board hung on the wall, just to notice what stupidity meant: I was to pay almost two dollars for a tea, when I had a camping stove with me and plenty of tea bags.


I finished the tea, still thinking whether the cup was included or not in the price (in my opinion, it should have been) and I thought about cooking something. I had a couple of dry soup bags and - thinking at the situation of the meteorologists in Romania, I thought it would be nice to offer those people some.

"Look, I have some food and anyway I am going down tomorrow, so do you want some?"

"No, thank you for the offer"

I insisted and, in order to convince me there was no point in going on with it, they asked me:

"Have you seen the concrete platform outside?"

"Yes"

"Well, we have a helicopter coming here every now and then, so do not worry"

Feeling like a caveman (hell, maybe I am one), this made me shut up for a while. Later on I went in their room with my passport to be registered. The cheapest bed in the hut was about USD 8.5 which was a lot for me, but was well worth. Instead of using those analogical ancient equipment they had in Romania and not only, these people had a computer which was recording the data from the equipment outside, providing them with the graphs and statistics they needed for the weather reports. On the same computer, in a small window, the guy was chatting with some friend. The other one was watching TV. This was strange for a 2515 m. alt. hut. I needed water to cook and, when they heard me, they asked:

"0.5 liter or 1 liter?"

That meant bottled water and bottled water meant money or no, not money, but wasted money, when the mountain was covered with tone of solid water. Besides, what is the use for artificial solutions, when nature has provided everything we need?

Before going to bed, I inspected the toilets. There was an underground passage leading to them and they looked better than those in many bars I had ever entered. If this wasn't heaven, then anyway heaven was very close. Indeed, it lay only 349 m. higher to the West. The weather was getting at least unfriendly, with the wind getting very strong and the meteorologist let me know that they expected some 30 cm. of snow for the coming night. I went to bed and slept like a log in that lonely, yet so civilization-connected hut on the ridge.

Waking up the following day, I had only one priority: the weather. It did not seem to have snowed too much, but it was very foggy and the blizzard was there to make the image complete. After briefly eating and packing, I was looking on the map when three people, two men and a woman, arrived from down. I could not notice why, but one of them seemed familiar. Two of them were going to the peak and they agreed to take me with them after one short and straight to the point question:

"Crampons, ice pick?"

"Yes"

It was a pity they did not speak much English and I spoke almost no German. The way to the peak was on a sharp, lovely ridge, which must have provided one with a magnificent view on a sunny day. However it was probably better this way, with the blizzard stirring the snow and sinking us in fog every now and then. There were some iron spikes on the ridge, to help tourists, it looked like a "via ferrata".

The weather made the ascension very rewarding and when we got on the peak, with its small, cylindric metallic shelter, they asked me whether it was my first time there and we shook hands as if we had reached the Moon. It wasn't the highest peak I had ever reached, and only 5 days later I was to reach a higher peak, but it was one of the most rewarding peaks I have ever got onto. I realized why that old man with his grey beard and calm face had seemed familiar to me: he was the same with the one that had climbed the mountain more than once a day, the one that my host had told me about. This made me be even more thankful; I respect such people more than anyone else. We could not stay on the peak more than a minute or two, but that was the moment of absolute happiness I - as everyone else - was looking for. And I found it there, in a country which had them all, from mountains to seaside, from old towns to a well generous and hospitable people which was not showing off though, like some others did.


We returned to the hut and, after a few more minutes, we started going down. As we were going down, the snow was heavier and heavier and it was getting warmer. They had a van at the beginning of the road and that was mostly welcome, as I was spared the 12 km. of walking to Dovje. I did not know how to thank them for all they had done for me, due to language matters. I thanked them, wished them a happy new year and all the best and the lady replied: "Happy years", then they smiled. This was more than there was needed. We eventually splat and I went back to my host, where I spent the rest of the day washing things and trying to dry them. Then I started packing. It was sad I had to leave this heavenly place, but, like a Romanian poet says, it is better to "keep the fast moment" than to live a wasted eternity.

I woke up the next morning, thanked Marko for everything and promised to return for some summer hiking in Triglav. I was going again on the road and rails, with a heavy-like-hell backpack and an even heavier file of memories. Reaching the road where I was supposed to take the bus, I again decided to hitch-hike to the station in Jesenice. A bus arrived and its driver did not understand that I was not willing to take it, almost turning the engine off and waiting for me about 5 minutes. Eventually it left and immediately a car stopped. The very nice driver was heading to Ljubljana and did not want to drop me in Jesenice, taking me all the way to the capital. That was very nice, as I had more time to visit the city. I visited the city that morning and the weather was getting better. With a thick layer of snow and snow-covered trees, with all those people doing the last New Year's shoppings, with that open market on the river shore and with the scenic castle on the hill top nearby, Ljubljana looked quite fairy-tale - like. It was perfect like that, being quite small, but that made it cute and holiday-like, without a heavy traffic or busy, crowded avenues. The city had best kept its proportions, there were not very big buildings and in the old centre the castle hill was still dominant, as it should have. The castle itself was the only exception from the harmony in Ljubljana: usually in the old castles they set up either expensive hotels or museums, but in Ljubljana they had set up a bar in the 80s style. This was the bit of spice the city needed and could not be disregarded.


My next destination was Celje, to meet a chat friend, so I boarded another of those fancy trains they called "local trains", once again crossed those scenic valleys at the foothills of the mountains, switched for another train in Zidani Most and eventually reached Celje, another town with that typical Habsburg-like castle on a nearby hill. I met Tanja and we went up to the castle which provided a very good view over the surroundings. We went down as the evening fell and had a stroll in the narrow streets of the old town. This town as well preserved that classical scent of the holidays, with people doing shoppings, attending a mass in the old cathedral or simply meeting in the street and chatting, all happening in a dim carols-like music. We eventually stopped in a bar, just to have another taboo destroyed: Romanians take it very seriously when it comes to "traditional" stuff. They call "traditional Romanian food" something which is Turkish (like sarma or mici) and they are also very proud of the local drinks, one of which being the red wine which they boil with sugar and cinnamon and sugar. Well, people, take it easy, as in Cleje I had a very good "cooked wine", which was more or less the same, if not better, with many other spices.

I had to leave, as I was, as always, glued to a train. I switched in Zidani Most again. Then I boarded on a local train from Dobova. Neither the Slovene, nor the Croatian customs officer bothered to stamp my passport, when I told them my next destination: Sarajevo.


I reached Zagreb and went to the bus station, where... (click here for the sequel)


THE CROATIAN SECTION

THE SLOVENIAN SECTION (you are here)

THE BOSNIAN / MACEDONIAN SECTION

THE SERBIAN / BULGARIAN SECTION

Maybe one of the things I highly appreciated while in this country was the fact that, despite its belonging to the so-called Eastern block, Slovenia has not sold its soul for an Eurodime, it has preserved its individuality, its beauty and specific features one can quite rarely find in other self-proclaimed successful countries changing cap colour in the blender Europe nowadays is about.